§ The Order of the Day for resuming the debate on the Corn-law read, and the House having resolved itself into committee,
§ Mr. Sharman Crawford
said, he was the representative of a constituency which had sent petitions signed by 20,000 persons to that House, but which the rules prevented him from entering upon at the time of the presentation; he was now anxious to say a few words on the subject of that petition, as a duty he owed to himself and his constituents. He rose, therefore, to give his unqualified, unhesitating, and uncompromising support to the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He called for the immediate and total repeal of the Corn laws, not only on the part of his constituency, but on the part of every class of the nation, not even excepting the landlord, for, as a landed proprietor, he felt that though the Corn-laws gave an apparent temporary advantage, yet the landed interest would suffer ultimately more from their continuance than from their repeal. It had been alleged that it was injudicious to bring forward this motion, because it was impracticable to him to carry it. He asked would it not be also impracticable to carry any modification of the measure now introduced by her Majesty's Government? The Government was so powerful that they could carry their own measure without noticing any modification, and therefore it was right to make a stand upon true principles. The Corn-laws were not supported by justice or by wisdom, and therefore the people were right in demanding their immediate and total repeal. He demanded a 815 otal repeal because he thought it was only consistent with justice, and he demanded the immediate repeal because the necessities of the people required that it should be immediate. He felt that those who supported the total and immediate repeal were bound to bring the subject before the House; for he was of opinion that no Member should agitate the public upon a question out of doors, which he was not ready and willing to discuss within the walls of the House. Those who maintained the principle which he maintained might be called "impracticables;" but he would ask, how could any great principle be supported or defended, if there were not some parties ready to stand upon the high ground of principle. Compromises might be useful; but there could be no compromise unless there were some who strictly adhered to principle, on which compromises could be founded. But though he would not compromise the question of a total repeal, he would be ready to take into consideration the claims of the agriculturists to relief and indulgence if they had any just claims. It had' been stated that the county-rate, the poor-rate, and the land-tax were burdens which pressed peculiarly upon the landed interest. Now, he thought, those claims had been satisfactorily answered, and that the landed interest were not subject to any burdens in these respects which they were not justly entitled to bear. He held a different opinion, however, with regard to the tithe taxation. He could not admit that the tithes were justly chargeable to the landed interest. He would be ready to make a composition with the landowners on the tithe question; although tithes might be considered national property, he would be willing to extinguish tithes altogether, and to let every man pay for his own clergyman. There was another question which he conceived ought to be attended to. It was alleged that tenants who had taken out leases at a rack rent, under the high duties, would be subjected to very great hardships by the lowering of the averages. He admitted that there would be hardship, and was prepared to consider some mode of protecting them. He thought the mode by which they would be protected was this, that in cases where tenants had taken out leases at a rack rent since the year 1815, if it appeared in four or five years after the Corn-laws were repealed, that the average of prices were 816 lowered, there should be a proportionable lowering of the rent. In the speech of the noble Lord, who opened that discussion, the noble Lord called for such a settlement of the question as would remove all complaints. The noble Lord deprecated conceding without conciliating, and altering without settling. When lie heard that speech, he hoped that the noble Lord was about to advocate a repeal of the Corn-law; for he was satisfied that no measure short of a total repeal would satisfy the people of this country. The proposition of a fixed duty, or any other measure short of repeal, would only excite fresh agitation. The hon. Member for Liskeard spoke of the Corn-laws as a vested interest, and deprecated dealing with them in any other light. He denied, that they were a vested interest; they were proposed by the landlord's themselves for their own protection, and therefore they could not be considered as a vested interest. He would give the House an instance of the powerful feeling which had been raised out of the House in reference to that object. Mr. Crawford here read to the House resolutions which were passed at a meeting lately held at Rochdale: the manufacturers and the working-classes had hitherto not joined in any combined movement; but the moment they heard of the right hon. Baronet's proposal, they held a joint meeting to denounce the Government measure as an insult to the country, and passed the resolutions he had read, calling for total repeal of the Corn-laws, and complete suffrage for the people. He repeated it, that neither the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, nor that of the noble Lord, could be satisfactory to the country. There was no place, he observed, that had felt more severely the effect of the Corn-laws than Rochdale. It had been stripped of its staple manufacture by means of the operation of that law. Its great trade was in the manufacture of blankets, and immediately after the Corn-law was passed, the American tariff came out with a high duty on English flannels, which was the destruction of the trade of Rochdale. He asked, was it right for them to meet night after night, to consider the protection of a particular class, while thousands were starving? It was, in his mind, a kind of murder, for them to keep up a law that promoted disease and increased want. It was his determination to take every means out of 817 the House to promote constitutional agitatation against the Corn-law, as the only means, of having the grievance redressed. He referred to Ireland to show, that what was called protection for the landed interest, did not promote the prosperity of the agricultural labourers; for instance, there were 2,300,000 persons there in a state of misery, and the rate of wages was from 4d. to 6d. a-day. When such was the case, how could it be said, that the Corn-law promoted the prosperity of the people? As an Irish proprietor of land in Ireland, he could not permit these laws to continue. If the union were to be continued between the two countries, there must be a common system of laws, equally applicable, and equally beneficial to both.
Mr. W. Martin
would not have offered himself to the notice of the House had he not been anxious to express his opinion upon an argument which had been very frequently employed by hon. Members on the other side, and on which he was, perhaps, able to give an opinion, as he had paid some little attention to the subject. During a great part of the last twelve months he had been acting as one of a committee of magistrates in the county of Kent, who were appointed to inquire into the best mode of equalizing the poor-rates. Now, it had been said on the other side that everybody contributed to the poor-rates. That position he would not deny, but he would deny that the burden of the poor-rates fell equally upon every description of property. If they took the case of a landowner of 5,000l. or 10,000l. a year, they would find that the burden of the rates fell upon every description of property he possessed. Every tenant, in taking a farm from him, would, in the first instance, deduct the amount of the poor-rates from the landlord's share of the profits. Every surveyor who valued a farm, would, in conformity with the practice of his trade, take the burden of the rate upon the land into his consideration in forming any estimate as to the worth of it. So, if they took the case of a landed proprietor of 5,000l. a year, they would find that the poor-rates fell upon him to the extent of about 750. out of his income. But if, on the other hand, they took the case of a gentleman of funded property, they would find that he was comparatively exempt from any such heavy burden. He would probably reside in the metropolis in a house rented to him at about 300l. a year 818 (he mentioned a low sum because the rating was always below the rent); on which, perhaps, a rate of about 3s. in the pound would be levied, amounting in all to nearly 45. per annum. It was clear, therefore, that the fundholders contribution was much smaller than that of the landowner, and that it was quite false to suppose that the two paid anything approaching equal shares of the burden. The manufacturing interest was very similarly situated to the fundholding interest. The mills and works of the manufacturers were rated precisely as houses were rated, and it was evident that the sums vested in the mere erection of those works bore no proportion whatever to the incomes derived from the processes, whatever they might be, which were carried on within the walls, and which bore no share of the burden whatsoever. The manufacturer, trader, fund-owner, mortgagee, and all other persons with fixed incomes, therefore, must be admitted to be very insufficiently rated in comparison with the landowner. Objections had also been taken to the argument, that the land paid the burden of the highway-rates. It was said, that agriculturists in contributing to this and similar taxes only contributed to a fund which was expended expressly for their own advantage. In the case of the highway-rate it was said, that that rate was applied to increase the facilities for the conveyance of their own produce to market, and that the general community benefitted to no material extent by its existence. Now, those who urged this argument must have forgotten that the highway-rate was levied precisely as the poor-rates were levied, and that of consequence the proportion borne by the one part of the community was very small in comparison with the proportion borne by the rest. The last accounts he had been enabled to procure stated the annual amount of the poor-rates to be 6,067,426l., and that of the highway-rate to be 1,267,000l. Now, let them consider how great a share of this amount was borne by the landed interest at present, and how large a portion of it would be borne by those interested in funded property if the immense amount of property of that description in the kingdom were rated in a similar proportion. He believed the difference would be felt very sensibly; and if in addition the stock in trade and the manufacturing income of the country were equally taxed, he thought 819 it would not be too much to say that at least half the burden of the poor-rates would be taken off the land. He had already stated that he had been at considerable pains to obtain correct information on this subject. From a calculation he had made, and which he regretted he was not now able to state to the House in all its particulars, he was led to the conclusion that in small villages, of from say 600 or 700 inhabitants, the proportion of the value of landed property to the value of building property was as two-thirds of the former to one of the latter. Indeed. he was convinced that it was not until they came to large towns that the proportion would be found to be at all equal, and taking the county of Kent, in which, as he had already stated, he had chiefly carried on his investigations, he should say that out of 480 parishes there were only six towns in which the value of the building property exceeded that of the property in land. He only asked the House to consider the burdens which must fall upon the land under all these circumstances, and the great inequality of the proportion borne by the other interests of the country. He did not know how far he had succeeded in impressing his view of the question on the House, but as an opportunity had been afforded him, which was calculated to guide him to a right conclusion on the subject, he did not think it right to remain silent, when he heard the propositions which had been advanced by the speakers in support of the amendment.
§ Mr. F. Villiers
differed from the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government, in imagining that a sufficient recompense for the high prices of food, admittedly created by the Corn-laws, could be found in their creating an independence for the supply of food of foreign nations. He was astonished that the landed interest could tax the people for the purpose of keeping up their own station and influence. What that peculiar standing to which they seemed to think themselves entitled was, he did not know. A right hon. Baronet, a Member of her Majesty's Government, would have seemed, by some late transactions in which he had been implicated, to consider that the standing in question entitled him to the exemption from the payment of turnpikes. He differed from those hon. Gentlemen, who, while they were in general favourable to 820 free trade principles, yet would not support that part of the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton which was embodied in the word "now" contained in that motion, and implying the immediate repeal of the protective duties on corn. He thought that they misunderstood the meaning of the word in question, as implying a change without giving time for deliberation, or maturely considering the ultimate consequences of the alteration. Now this was quite a mistake. Ample time would be given for the landed interest to prove, if they could, the pressure of any peculiar and exclusive burdens. He would, indeed, admit, that there were some circumstances which pressed heavily on the landed interest. There was the malt-tax, and if the Corn-laws should be repealed, inconvenience might probably be found in the adjustment of family settlements, which had been originally prepared, under the impression that no change of importance in the Corn-laws could take place. In such cases, if any loss could be really and clearly proved, he thought that no objection would be made to allow some reasonable compensation.
§ Sir Charles Burrell
said, that in the course of the present discussion much invective had been heaped upon the landed interest, which was most unjust and most unjustifiable. It had been said that the present was exclusively a landlord's question; but he would put it to the House whether it was not true, that in times of great deterioration in the price of corn, the tenant was not the first and principal sufferer. He was sure that the first injury inflicted by a repeal of the Corn laws would be felt by the tenant; the labourer would then feel the change, and then, and not till then, would the landowner be affected. He considered that the home trade was the most certain, and the best for the interests of the manufacturers; and by sacrificing that, they would, in a great degree, be sacrificing the best outlet for manufacturing industry and skill. He thought that the allowing foreign corn to pour freely into the home market, a proposition which Canning had denied the advantage of, would be most deeply injurious to the interests of the nation. The poor would suffer by it—there was no class which would not suffer by it. With such opinions he felt himself bound to say, that the man who would bring forward a measure calculated to throw entirely open the 821 trade in corn would be the worst enemy his country could possess. He objected entirely to the principle involved in any such proposition. As he considered that on the whole the measure introduced by the right hon. Baronet was calculated sufficiently to protect the agricultural interest, he had made up his mind to support it. There was one single subject he would touch upon before he sat down; one of the greatest blessings flowing from the Act of Union of Great Britain with Ireland was the opening up of trade between the countries, and he could not conceive the views of those Gentlemen who wished to bring in foreign competition, to injure, and, perhaps, destroy the trade of their own countrymen.
wished the discussion to be conducted with all possible courtesy and calmness, as became a subject of such importance. He regretted, therefore, to observe the sneers which had been thrown out during the course of the discussion upon the present question by an hon. Member on the Ministerial side of the House—sneers which would pass for nothing in themselves, were they not reechoed by too many of the hon. Gentlemen who supported the extreme views of the landed interest. For his own part, he could not see why the skill and enterprise of the year 1842 should be denied the same scope for their exercise as they possessed forty or fifty years ago. He did not see why manufacturers should not create wealth, possess estates, and enjoy them—why they should not educate their children—aye, and give them an university education too, and, by 'developing and improving their minds and morals, fit them for becoming future legislators. He did not approve of an immediate repeal; but he still thought that the landowners had not made out a case which would entitle them to the products of the taxation which was paid by the people for corn. He still thought that there were many and great interests, which had grown up during the last 150 years, which it would be impolitic and calamitous at once to attack. He wished to see the question settled by a compromise, and he was sure, that if the landowners came forward to make liberal concessions, they would be met by the opposite party in the same spirit. He would not say that the landowners should not know and believe that they were not to make preparations for ultimately enter- 822 ing upon competition with foreigners in raising food. As had been before remarked, these were not times to trust altogether to their own powers for the raising of agricultural produce. They had twenty-five millions of people to govern and to feed, and they ought to be prepared to yield that in time which they would otherwise have to grant at a different time with a far worse grace. Before he sat down he would take the opportunity of adverting to a remark made by the hon. Member for Pontefract, with respect to the conduct of the dissenting clergy as regarded the discussion of the present question. The hon. Member alluded to had reproached them for taking such a lively interest, and decided part, in a question which so deeply involved the interests of their flocks. Now, he thought that this reproach conveyed an insinuation against the clergy of the Established Church for neglecting such an obvious duty, and intimated that they were shepherds who took more pleasure in shearing their flocks than in feeding them.
The Marquess of Granby
said, that on the eve of what he trusted would prove the permanent settlement of the great question under consideration, hon. Members would argue that question with the most dispassionate calmness. For his own part, he was the more inclined to preserve such a demeanour, as he felt well assured that the agricultural interest would lose nothing from pursuing such a course, and from pointing to their acts in answer to the attacks which had been directed against them. It was impossible for an Englishman to consider the distress which prevailed in the manufacturing districts, without most fully and deeply sympathising with it, but he did think, that in proportion to the extent and depth of that sympathy, it was the duty of the House to take care, that by repealing the Corn-laws, they did not increase that distress, by driving the agriculturist to seek for the means of a scanty support in the great manufacturing towns. It had been said, that in the repeal of the Corn-laws the remedy for that distress would be found. He did not think so. The natural consequence of cheaper food would be a fall in the rate of wages. In all the countries of Europe cheap wages were the consequences of cheap food. Mr. M'Culloch stated, that in Bengal, where the wages of labour were governed by the cost of the 823 food consumed by the labourer, and the labourer was able to subsist on the merest trifle, the consequence was, that the rate of wages in common employments was 2½d. a day. He thought that this was sufficient evidence that cheap food was not synonymous with plenty of it. He thought therefore, that the repeal of the Corn-laws would not produce the good effects which hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to expect. If he thought that it would, he for one would not oppose it. Another reason why he thought that a repeal of the Corn-laws was not desirable, was, that it ought to be the policy of this country to depend on its own resources for subsistence. The noble Lord, the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs, had told the right hon. Baronet, that the former Government had broken ground and drawn him from his entrenchment, but he thought the right hon. Baronet had strengthened those entrenchments by his present proposition; and as long as the right hon. Baronet made Great Britain his fortress, and looked for the principal supply of the people to the home market, he need feel no alarm at attacks upon his Government from the noble Lord, or any other quarter. On the whole, he would not agree to a repeal of the Corn-laws. There had been another proposition—that of a fixed duty of 8s. or 10s., which was to fall to ls. when the price of wheat reaches 72s. or 73s. offered to the House; but bethought the proposition of the noble Lord would be as great an inducement to fraud as that of the right lion. Baronet was a security against it. The noble Lord resumed his seat, thanking the House for the indulgence with which he had been heard.
§ Mr. Morgan John O'Connell
should not have considered it necessary for him to crave, for a short time, the indulgence of the House, were it not that this was the first opportunity he had enjoyed of voting on the question under consideration. He was anxious that his reasons for adopting the course he intended to pursue should not be misunderstood; and that more especially because that course was different from the one which two or three years ago he should have embraced. He could not consider the question before the House without a special reference to the late proposition of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury; and as one of those who listened to the recent development of that proposition, he must say that 824 he did not believe that great expectations were ever more miserably disappointed in the course of the legislative history of the country. A more completely negative speech, from beginning to end—negative in reasons and in conclusions—he had never heard. The contrast between it and other speeches of the right hon. Baronet was most complete and most extraordinary. He said, although distress certainly existed to a fearful extent, the Corn-laws had nothing to do with that distress. He said that, although the prices of food were high, the Corn-laws were not the cause of these high prices—that if the wages of the labourer were low, the Corn-laws were not the cause of these low wages; he said that if the manufacturer was driven from foreign markets, he was not so driven by the Corn-laws; that if dangerous rivals to their industry were springing up, the Corn-laws were innocent of that also. He had told them—no, he had not told them that —he said nothing about it. He had said nothing about the effect of the drain of metal, and the consequent disastrous disturbances in the monetary system produced in years of scarcity; no — but he told them that the distress which existed in every shape—on every hand—was none of it the effects of the Corn-laws. And to what conclusion did he come? To a most strange one—to the most strange one he had ever heard proceed from the lips of a reasoning creature; he repeated, the most strange, if he (the right hon. Baronet) believed that the measure lie had introduced was one of any importance —of any moment. He said, that because the Corn-laws did no harm, it was expedient that they should be altered. One would have thought that in these circumstances, to quote the words of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, on a previous occasion, the right hon. Baronet would have "let well alone"—that he would have allowed these harmless enactments to have remained unchanged. But when they came to consider the nature of the measure of the right hon. Baronet, it would appear to him, as it appeared to the great commercial bodies of the kingdom, that their surprise at its being brought forward under such circumstances should in a great measure cease; because there never was, he believed, a measure proposed in the nature of change, which had so little of change in it. When they considered that, after the 825 time taken by the right hon. Baronet for the preparation of his measure—when they considered that after all the inquiries which were made at home and abroad upon the subject—when they considered that after all this the measure he proposed was such as it had proved to be—he felt that if they had behaved in such a manner, a shout of indignation would have been raised throughout the country —a cry of horror would have been shouted by the press, from Printing-house-square down to the Bucks Herald. He would briefly allude to a few of the most objectionable points in the measure of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury. In the first place, he would object that the scheme still continued based upon the same vicious principle, however slightly modified in detail, which had been the cause of the failure of all previous Corn-laws. He had heard no argument to convince him that a fixed duty was inferior to a sliding scale. He would say nothing of the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, except that it appeared to him to avoid most 'of the evils of the sliding scale. He thought that overholding and speculation would not be diminished by the scheme of the right hon. Baronet opposite. He admitted that under it there might not be the same temptations to undue speculation, but he would maintain that should the attempt prove unsuccessful, the loss from its failure would be slighter than under the present system, and thus great quantities of corn would continue to be entered at the very lowest duties. He would prove, from papers before the House, what a small variation in duty was sufficient to admit large quantities of foreign corn. On the 3rd of April, 1840 (which he would also remark was not the great season for working the averages), the duty on corn was 16s. 8d. 31,194 quarters were entered. On the 17th of April, when the prices still continued nearly the same, 31,502 quarters were entered; but on the 24th, when the price had risen and the duty fallen a little —to 13s. 8d., he believed—the enormous quantity of 341,925 quarters were entered. There was another part of the plan of the right hon. Baronet he would allude to, but would not discuss, as he perceived that many Gentlemen, representatives of places in the country he came from, were not in their places, and he would rather press it particularly upon the notice of the House in the presence of those Gentlemen. He 826 alluded to the proposed scale of duties upon oats. He had heard no reason assigned why the hon. Baronet opposite proposed to diminish the protective duty on oats, in comparison with wheat. He hoped that a reason would be given for this proceeding. Persons out of doors were already giving reasons for it. It was said —he, of course, did not say it—but it was said, that the Irish were to be punished for their opposition to the hon. Baronet's Government. He did not agree with such assertions, but he thought that some distinct declaration should be made on the part of the Government to put an end to them. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had said that the effect of a fixed duty, such as that proposed by the noble Lord the Member for London, would be that the duty must be lowered in times of scarcity, and that if once relaxed it could never be reimposed. Could any thing more inflammatory be used by the Corn-law leaguists in favour of a total repeal? Could those clergymen who had such good reason, in the distresses of the people, for attending meetings held for their relief, urge any thing half so exciting as this extraordinary admission of the right hon. Baronet? What was it but saying those laws are essentially so unjust, that once let the people see they can be abrogated, and they will never suffer them to be reenacted? For one man that the right hon. Baronet converted from a fixed duty to his plan by such an avowal, he would drive hundreds into the ranks of the Anti-Corn-law leaguists. He could not help thinking that a great alarm was unnecessarily raised, by those who professed to be friendly to the agricultural interest, at the proposed repeal of those obnoxious laws which impeded the supply of the people's food. It was not the first time that this cry for peculiar protection was raised, and that it was disregarded with advantage to the community, as well as to the class in whose favour it had been demanded. He remembered that when the duty on foreign wool was proposed to be reduced, the wool-growers raised such an uproar in that House, that he could not help thinking they were often wool-gathering. He believed, however, that their interests never suffered from the moment the law was passed to the present time. But then it might be said that this was rather a manufacture than a product of the land. But there were other articles which were ad- 827 mitted duty free, and with regard to which no such view could be urged. When foreign butter was introduced without the imposition of a duty, the farmers were again in tribulation, and those in the south of Ireland were particularly fearful of the consequences. But, in spite—or, he should rather say—in consequence of this change the trade flourished, and all who were connected with it became prosperous. The Vice-President of the Board of Trade had had recourse to a fallacy which he wondered one of his acuteness of mind could bear to palm upon his hearers. That right hon. Gentleman said that if you imported three millions of quarters of corn, you must displace so much of home-grown wheat. And this in the face of a starving people. Why, did any man suppose that even if our population were stationary they would not consume a much greater quantity of corn than they did at present if they were better employed and properly fed. Would they not obviously seek a better description of food than that "coarser kind" with which they were now compelled to be content, and which was made the subject of so many declamatory harangues by the advocates for the repeal of the Poor-law, many of whom sat on the opposite benches. Although he was in favour of a gradual reduction of the present duty, he meant to support the motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Villiers), as one which was most likely to give general satisfaction. He recollected a passage in a speech of the right hon. Member for Tamworth, in answer to the motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Villiers) on that subject, which he clung to through succeeding years with so much perseverance and advantage, and which was of so poetic a character, and in a strain so unusual with the right hon. Gentleman that it struck him for its novelty. It was this:—We should remember, with pain, the cheerful smiling prospects which were thus to be obscured. We should view, with regret, cultivation receding from the hill-top, which it has climbed under the influence of protection, and from which it surveys with joy the progress of successful toil.It might be unpoetic; but he confessed he preferred seeing hardy sheep grazing on the mountain-tops, than bad barley growing there. He thought, such a sight would, at least, be more consoling than manufactories closed, furnaces blown out, and a scattered population sheltering 828 themselves under the ruins of those buildings where they once earned an honest subsistence. Though connected with land, and with a landed constituency, he had no apprehensions that his support of this measure would be inimical either to his own interest, or to that of those whom he represented. He had no fear, that in extending employment, and bettering the position of the manufacturing interest, to which agriculture owed its prosperity, and our country its greatness, he was taking a course which would leave any class unaffected by its beneficial influence.
§ Sir F. Burdett
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, had made some severe criticisms upon the speech of the right hon. Baronet who had brought forward the measure. He was not there to undertake the needless task of defending any speech made by the right hon Baronet, but he was enabled to give one proof of the effect which that speech had produced amongst those important classes of persons who were most deeply concerned in the question. He had it from a gentleman who was present on the market-day in Nottingham, where there were public tables or ordinaries, at which those classes dined together; he dined amongst them, and he went to all the tables, made his remarks, and heard their different opinions and arguments, and amongst other things, he learned that they were generally pretty well satisfied with the proposition of the right hon. Baronet. They thought, that as much had been yielded as was possible to the prejudices and feelings of their opponents, and to the necessities of the manufacturers, at the same time that the protection, though low, was sufficient to insure the interests of agriculture. There was no class of men in the empire more inclined to conciliation, more disposed to take a moderate view of questions which affected their own interests, or those of others, than the agriculturists, upon whom so many aspersions had been cast, which were without the foundation of any argument supported by facts. They were as a class far more liberal, disinterested, just, and moderate, in all their dealings, than any other class. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, said he should support the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. If he did so, he would do more than that hon. Gentleman himself, as he would make 829 it appear by what had fallen from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, when he introduced the motion to the House. That hon. Gentleman had begun by stating his views in as polite and gentlemanly a manner as it was possible for any man to do, and he had gained much upon the good wishes and inclination, and the attention of his hearers by that mode—which was natural to him—of proceeding; but he could not help observing, that the doctrines which the hon. Gentleman put forth in that smooth and easy manner were as strong and outrageous as it was possible to imagine. He thought, the hon. Gentleman, in speaking of the agricultural classes, had out-jacobined jacobinism in France. He bad pointed them out as heartless, reckless, avaricious, and selfish. The hon. Gentleman had stated, that such were the tyranny and grinding oppression exercised, that there were upwards of 400,000 persons in a state of absolute starvation, and he described their sufferings with a sympathy that might well be called for; but he did not think those sufferings existed to the extent which had been stated. But what he now complained of, the effects of pointing out to a large body of starving people, that those who so oppressed them were only 30,000 persons, and the showing to them how easily they might overcome this body, without any danger. That was a doctrine which he had never heard advanced in any assembly; it outdid what the Jacobins performed in France, for they covered their murders with colourable, though false pretexts. Having expended a great deal of invective on the landed interest of the country, the hon. Gentleman went on to say, that there were no particular burdens on that interest. Whether that were so or not, he (Sir F. Burdett) was not now going to argue; that point had been clearly stated by an hon. Member behind him. (Mr. Martin), and he desired to have a creditor and debtor account between the landed interest and the other interests. Though they could not have it in all its minutiæ, they had, in fact, the result of a debtor and creditor account; and it stood thus—that the landed proprietors of England were satisfied with so small a return for their capital — and their land was their capital—as 3½ or 4 per cent; and, if they sold their stock, 5 per cent was considered an extraordinary gain. There was no other interest in the country that was satisfied with so small a 830 profit. Were the manufacturers? No. No trader or shop-keeper in the country was content with such a profit on his stock as the landed interest of England obtained. What would the manufacturers do if there were not a landed interest in this country, so productive as to afford an overplus for supporting the manufacturing interest, and enabling that interest to return reciprocal benefits to the landed interest? The greatest interest of the country was, no doubt, the trade which was carried on between the towns and the country—between those who made the goods, and those who produced the food. If they ruined the landed interest then by any measure which they might, perhaps, think beneficial to the country, they would be acting very much like the man who killed the goose that laid golden eggs. At the conclusion of his speech, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, having stated all the aggravated distress that was said to exist, and that the plan of the right hon: Baronet the Member for Tamworth might be an improvement of that system which he was called on to alter and improve, the hon. Member went on to say that it was almost an insult to a starving people to be told to pay regard for vested interests, in reference to dangers occurring or confusion being produced, for what the people wanted was immediate relief. A suffering people, said the hon. Member, could not stay while they were making their arrangements; and yet the hon. Gentleman concluded his speech in quite a different manner, saying all at once, to his astonishment, that the people of this country were not so foolish or so bigoted, but that, if it could be shown that by the immediate repealing of the Corn-law any class would suffer, they would gladly postpone the abolition if they saw a prospect of its being accomplished. Another hon. Gentleman, the Member for Finsbury and coroner for the county of Middlesex, the duties of which office he had performed with so much credit to himself and such great benefit to the country, after asking what the people had gained by the change in the Government, said to be sure they had gained a very able Minister, but still he thought they had gained nothing worth having, for no proposition had been made to remedy the evils which, to a great extent, were acknowledged to exist in the country. He thought it a most extraordinary thing that the right hon. Baronet 831 should be attacked in this manner after he had explained himself so explicitly on that point, holding out no hope, creating no expectation that his plan would prove a remedy for the distress which prevailed, but showing that it would free the country from the objections to the old plan as well as the objections to the new plan, which, just before the retirement of the late Administration, was brought in for a fixed duty of 8s. By the bye, the evils charged on the old system of Corn-law did not appear to have been proved, though, to be sure, combination amongst the dealers in corn was continually turning the whole trade into a sort of gambling concern. When he looked at the rate of prices for the last ten years, lie could not see any reason for believing the statements put forth relative to the evil effects of the Corn-law. He did not see in that period such ups and downs, and backwards and forwards, as were calculated to produce the evils complained of. And to compare this 'country with those countries in Europe where there' was no Corn-law, and especially with America, they would find that their variations in the prices of corn were greater than in England. But the proposed alteration of the right hon. Baronet would do one great thing—it would take away an inflamatory subject which for some time had been held up for public delusion. It would also reduce the amount of protection to the landed interest from 38s. to 20s. a quarter; and that was not an inconsiderable reduction. It was a graduating scale, and in such slow and regular degrees, that it would not afford a possibility for any of those tricks being played which they saw under the present system, and must at the same time satisfy those who objected to the old law on that account that some Corn-law must exist in this country. It appeared to be a great gain, inasmuch as it did not fix the duty at 8s., or any other sum, at a time when it would be most unwise to do so, but by degrees it did away altogether with restrictions and all advantage to the home grower. Upon the whole, therefore, he considered the right hon. Baronet's plan a well-digested, well-concocted, and simple plan, which could not produce the bad effects prophesied of it, and which he trusted would not reduce the price of corn. It was said that the Corn-laws deranged the currency of the country; but that the fact was quite the reverse was a matter to be easily proved, It was very well known 832 that high prices had nothing to do, or very little to do, with the reward the labourer got for his labour. There was a time when corn was 120s. and 130s. the quarter, he believed the price on one occasion reached to 133s. and the country was never in a more flourishing state. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Macaulay) had mentioned the time of Bona. parte, and stated how difficult it was to restrain the importation of corn into this country from countries under his dominion at a time when Bonaparte did all in his power to prevent it. It was shipped for this country notwithstanding all his attempts at restriction; but the hon. Gentleman should remember that, however large the supply thus obtained, and whatever its effect on the price of food, it did not matter one farthing to the labourer. At that time the labourers were all well off and fully employed, and 120s. was the average price per quarter for corn. It was clear that the monied price was one thing, and the real price another: and it was quite a delusion to say., that there was connection between the price of corn and the price of labour, for the price of labour, like everything else, must be dependent upon the number of competitors in the market, and the proportion existing between the supply of labour and the demand. The wealth of this country, both agricultural and manufacturing, had increased in a most extraordinary degree. They could go nowhere without seeing improvement, notwithstanding all the distress in the country. The situation of the people did not depend on humanity or generosity; it was not in the power of the manufacturers to give the wages they might wish to give. However wealthy the country, however fast its wealth increased, the fact was, that the number of labourers was so great, that the share of wages which came into the hands of each man was too small for his wants, and on that, and that alone, depended the distressed condition of the labouring classes of the country. How they would remedy that distress, was a mighty question that could not be considered in connection with the subject now under discussion; but with respect to the latter question, he contended that the money-price of corn did not matter one straw to the labourer. The great superabundance of labour in England was caused to a great extent by the continual inundation of labourers from Ireland; if it were not for that our people 833 would be almost as well off as their best wishers could require. Nor was it true that the great bulk of the manufacturing people employed in mills were not well off and comfortable in their circumstances. A few years ago he (Sir F. Burdett) visited Manchester and other places in the manufacturing districts, in consequence of large bodies of Conservative operatives inviting him to their meetings, and there he sat down to very excellent dinners, given by the operatives themselves, who were an intelligent, well behaved body, expressing themselves in an extraordinary manner, with great good sense and judgment. And among the master manufacturers he found enlightened, generous men. He had previously been little in the manufacturing districts, and he certainly had formed a lower opinion of them than from subsequent intercourse he now had. There were many reasons for the distress prevailing among the manufacturers. One was the habit of having money advanced them by banks; and the system was so difficult to manage, that the honestest man might be ruined, and if one were ruined it was felt in the whole district; one failure produced many others. He was satisfied then that no part of the distress in the commercial world, or among the labourers, of late years, depended at all on the Corn-law, which for years had not interrupted a large importation of, and a regular trade in corn, notwithstanding all that had been advanced to the contrary. The fact was, that the population of this country had got beyond the means of subsistence; and when people talked of having bread cheap, let them go to other countries and see that bread. Some time ago, a large body of Conservatives asked him to meet them at Wolverhampton; he did so, and not only met workmen fully employed and well paid, but men who had once been workmen, and had made large fortunes by their industry. One of these in particular he remembered—he was a Mr. Thornecroft, who had risen from the humblest situation in a foundry to be one of the greatest foundry proprietors in the neighbourhood of Birmingham. And this was not an uncommon thing. Mr. Thornecroft told him what he now said, that he admitted there was distress; but he stated also that at least two-thirds of the working people were extremely well off and comfortable; and he hoped and believed that this was the case with the 834 bulk of the labouring classes of this country. Cases might be pointed out of counties where, from mismanagement of the old Poor-law, there had been an accumulation of poverty; but he meant to say that, on the whole, there was not such a mass of people, possessing every enjoyment which life could afford, with every degree of liberty, fitted to human nature, as had existed and must exist in this country, in any other part of the world. Now, as to the landed interest, he would say that there was no set of people in the world more liberal, just, and honourable than they; he had heard this sentiment expressed when he was abroad, and even in France, notwithstanding the late untoward act of the French ministry, which was considered an insult to this country. Than the landed interest, he was certain, there was no interest in the country so easy to govern, and no interest that was so willing to submit to the principles of public utility and to honest measures for the public good; so much so, indeed, that he was happy to say he believed the right hon. Baronet might consider himself fixed in his present position for a very long period.
did not intend to follow the inflammatory topics contained in the speech of the hon. Gentleman, nor did he mean to question his affection for the landed aristocracy, though he once evinced a very different feeling towards the aristocracy generally. How was old Cato changed. The hon. Member's ideas had undergone an extraordinary transformation since he appeared on his knees, at the Bar of that House:Hei mihi ! qualis erat quantum mutatus ab illoHectore qui vidit exuvias invictus Achilles.He cordially supported the amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, because, in so doing, he should evince, in the strongest manner, his opposition to the measure proposed by the right hon. Baronet. He objected to that measure, not so much in detail, as in principle. He was one of those who contended, that the Government was made for the people, and not the people for the Government. The Government might impose what taxes it pleased, but the taxes ought to be laid equally on all classes of the community, and no Minister of this country had a right to come down to the House of Commons, and state that protection was the foundation of a measure—protection to 835 one class, be it observed, at the expense of another—a Minister, he repeated, was not justified in stating, that protection was the foundation of a measure intended to apply to the taxation of this great empire. It was with surprise he had heard the right hon. Baronet say, that Parliament ought to deal lightly with an interest which had been created and supported in this country for hundreds of years. Did not the right hon. Baronet perceive, that every year that protection was maintained, the difficulty of dealing with the subject was increased? If protection must be maintained, he thought, that the right hon. Baronet, with the majority which he had in the House, might just as well have retained the existing Corn-laws. Let the House look back, not 100 or 150 years, but six centuries ago, and they would find, that in this country, there had always existed a spirit, that would not brook partial and unjust taxation. The Barons of England assembled on the plain of Runnymede, and unsheathed their swords to resist unjust taxation. Two hundred years ago, Pym, Selden, and Hampden stood at the Bar of that House, arguing against monopolies. In more modern times, the principle of unjust taxation lost us America. We founded our empire in India on the plea of protecting the natives from unjust taxation; thus we acquired an empire in the east, by repudiating the principles which lost us one in the west. If there were any hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were not yet convinced of the impolicy of monopoly, and the impossibility of maintaining it, he would refer them to the speech of the right hon. Baronet, delivered last week. Would they, after that speech, be content to rest the privileges of the aristocracy of this country on the principle of protection to agriculture? During the last century and a half, intelligence had made great progress amongst the humbler classes of the people. Look into the cottage of the labourer, and it would be found, that tea and tobacco, formerly the luxuries of the few, now constituted the comforts of the many, and lying upon the counter of the mechanic's shop, might now be seen books which once could be met with only in the royal closet, or the libraries of nobles. Follow the mechanic to a public meeting —to the Crown and Anchor, if you please —and hear him discuss the question whether wages depend more on the demand for labour than the price of food. Let the mechanic's speech be compared with the 836 speeches delivered in that House, making allowance for the difference in education between the speakers, and then he would ask, whether the aristocracy of England were willing to rest their claim to the situation they held in society, on protection to agriculture? Ought the aristocracy—and he was one of them—to found a claim to distinction on such grounds? Ought they to struggle for a miserable pittance, which their ancestors would have scorned to beg, and spurned to take? He appealed to the aristocracy to follow the bright example of their progenitors. He appealed to them, as one of themselves. He appealed, not to the right hon. Baronet, the Member for East Kent—he appealed not to a Cabinet Minister, who, in the nineteenth century, when the manufacturing interest was wavering in the balance, could come down to that House, and indulge in speculations on the protection to be given to home-grown tobacco. If those were the leaders of the agriculturists of England, he would advise the latter to discard them immediately, or they would bitterly regret it. There was not a moment to be lost: ——Vivendi recto qui prorogat horam, Rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis; at illa Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum.He appealed to the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), by the name he bore—clarum ac venerabile nomen gentibus—and if he were an inhabitant of Manchester, he would add, et multum nostœ quod proderat urbi—he appealed to the right hon. Baronet by the name he bore—a name written in letters of gold in the annals of his country—he appealed to him as the first Minister of the first commercial country in the world, having a large majority in that and the other Rouse of Parliament, now that he saw the manufacturing interest in a state of extreme distress, to exert himself to afford them relief, and not to turn the petitioning people dissatisfied from the doors of Parliament, by giving them a stone, when they were begging for bread. The right hon. Baronet had asked for advice. He would tender him his advice. It might be worth nothing, but he would give it without a fee. He would advise the right hon. Baronet to trust to the generosity of the people of England, and not to the tender mercies of his Praetorian guards.
§ Mr. Stanton
said, that if he thought the amendment of the hon. Member for Wol- 837 verhampton was calculated to relieve the overwhelming distress of the working classes, he should have supported it. But he believed, that its effect, if carried out practically, would be to aggravate those evils, and to depress trade. He believed it would strike a panic through the country, by which additional thousands of the labouring population would be thrown out of employ, and, therefore, he should oppose the amendment. He must confess, however, that the sliding-scale of the right hon. Baronet was highly objectionable, and he believed, that under its operation, the prices of corn would be seen to rise. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for East Kent (Sir Edward Knatchbull) opposed a fixed duty, because he did not think it would operate beneficially in times of scarcity; but he (Mr. Stanton) did not see why that objection did not apply equally to the sliding-scale of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth. It had been said, that the landed interest had been unfairly denounced; but he had not been a party to decry them. On the contrary, he held, that they ought to be spoken of and treated with the highest respect; for he looked upon them as the Corinthian capital, and felt, that it would be the greatest misfortune to the country, if that interest was injured, for then, indeed, the base of the column must fall with the ruins of the superstructure.
§ Mr. P. M Stewart
said, he should have been unwilling to deviate from that course which he had hitherto observed on this subject, of giving a silent vote; but he stood there the representative of a county which contained an extensive combination of all the interests of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures. There was one fact to which he was anxious to advert, mentioned in the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite last night, and it had been also touched upon by the hon. Baronet the Member for Wiltshire, (Sir F. Burdett) that night, but more particularly in the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tam worth, in his speech on Wednesday—he alluded to the appeals which had been made to them on behalf of the agricultural interest and the labouring population of England. Hon. Gentlemen must all have felt the force of those appeals, but surely the effort was unnecessary; for he did not think that any man in his senses would do anything to injure interests which were so essential to the well-being and existence of the country. He held all interests, whe- 838 ther agricultural, commercial, or manufacturing, to be bound up together and to be materially dependent on each other. If they were placed in such a situation as to be forced to make a preference, he believed that their choice would fall upon those who were occupied in agriculture, the producers of that which formed the staple of human existence. The House, however, could pass no law affecting any one of these interests which would not affect them all; and he would say in the wise words of the right hon. Baronet, that the best protection which agriculture could enjoy was in the continued prosperity of our trade and manufactures." He had not had the advantage of hearing the speech of the right hon. Baronet, but he could not describe the surprise and consternation with which it had been read in the county which he had the honour to represent. The surprise was great that the right hon. Baronet should have denied that much of that distress which prevailed was attributable to the operation of the pernicious corn and provision laws; and the consternation was equally great at the scheme which had been propounded to the House, in the present state of the country. It could not but be lamented, that the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman differed so much from that of persons who were intimately acquainted with these scenes of suffering. The right hon. Baronet had said, that the operation of the existing Corn-laws was not the main cause of the prevailing distress, and that it had not much to do with it, and that there were concurrent causes which had led to that distress; and amongst these he had adverted to the derangement of affairs in our commercial intercourse with the United States of America. He said also that this distress arose partly from the war in the Mediterranean and in China; and certainly he agreed with the right hon. Baronet that these causes had something to do with the present commercial pressure. But no man, he thought, no practical man of judgment, who could form a clear, unbiassed opinion, could deny that the main cause of this universal distress was the blighting pressure of our restrictive commercial policy, and more especially the operation of that pernicious law which was now upon its trial. He knew not what proof the right hon. Baronet and the Government could desire of this fact, and he must, therefore, refer to the petitions which had been presented, because an hon. 839 Gentleman had yesterday animadverted on those petitions in a way which was unbecoming. He would throw overboard those petitions which had emanated from the poor unfortunate operatives, and he would allude to those of master manufacturers, who declared that they were obliged to discharge these people because the markets were closed up, and their trade had withered and was stagnant. Then there were petitions from the richest landowners of Scotland, who told them that the misery of the manufacturing and commercial interests had extended itself to the land, and they prayed the Legislature to repeal those laws, of which hon. Gentlemen opposite were so tenacious. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) and the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, (Sir James Graham) knew of one petition at least which clearly refuted the assertion that the present distress had no reference to the Corn-laws. He referred to a conference he had the other day with the right hon. Member for Tamworth, accompanied by the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman. The petition which he had presented declared that the starving people were situated in the midst of plenty —that they were placed in the midst of bonding warehouses filled with corn, and the prayer of the petitioners was, "Unlock the bonded warehouse doors; give us food at the cost at which it has been admitted, and deduct the duty." He maintained it was impossible to deny the connection between the state of the present law, and the state of the country. A little incident had occurred to him that morning, illustrative of this fact. He had seen an industrious person who traded to Ham-burgh, and dealt in mariners' instruments. This man declared that, in the absence of any relaxation of the Corn-laws, he could earn scarcely enough to keep his family; but that by removing the restrictions on the corn and provision laws, he should be enabled to extend his trade and to command double the quantity of food for his family, by buying it in Hamburgh. He was confident that the scheme proposed by the right hon. Baronet, would utterly fail in affording relief to the country. In every important particular, he believed, that the measure of the Government was calculated to hinder and obstruct trade, to damage the best interests of the country, by deranging our currency, and to be as pernicious as the law it was intended to succeed. In the speech of the 840 right hon. Baronet, he had justified on two principles alone the protection which he sought to give the landed interests. These were, first, the special burdens borne by the landed interest; and secondly, that it might be worth while to pay something to render our own country independent of foreign supply. He wished to bring these principles to the test. With regard to the first, he was not going to trouble the House with what had been already previously stated, but he would put before them, in simple figures, the real state of the account of the special burdens borne by the landed interest. Now, he admitted the item of the land tax, 1,200,000l. The next item was tithes. He denied that tithes were a burden on the land. He was not a political economist, nor versed in their phraseology, about "the incidents of tithe," but applying common sense to the word "tithe," he asked how could it be reckoned a burden upon land? If he bought an estate subject to tithe, he bought nine-tenths of it and paid nothing for the rest, therefore, he said, in plain language that he was joint proprietor of the estate to the extent of nine-tenths, and that the proprietor of the remaining one-tenth had as much a right to regard the nine-tenths as belonging to him, as he had to regard the remaining one-tenth as his own property. Next came the poor and county-rates, but both imposts rested on the basis of property. He had found an analysis of the poor and county-rates levied in proportion to property, in 1826. The rates were levied upon land and houses, and although the landed interest might pay the larger amount, still it was in proportion to the value of the property. In 1826, the rates levied upon lands and manorial profits were 4,892,000l., and those upon houses and mills were 2,074,000l., making a total of 6,966,000l. Upon this item, therefore, there was a difference against the landed interest of 2,818,000l. From 1826 to 1834, the rate had increased, he presumed in the same proportions; but owing to the wise administration of the new Poor-law, it had since gradually decreased, and was this year within a fraction of what it was in 1826, namely 6,966,000l. He contended, then, that although the landed interest contributed largely to the poor and county-rates, they did not contribute more than was justified by the additional value of the property on which the rates were charged. Land was subject to the stamp duty on deeds, &c., and in 1839, this 841 amounted to l,699,000.l Of that sum we may assume that 699,000l. were paid upon houses, bonds, and other personal contracts, leaving one million borne by the land. He now begged the attention of the landowners, while he alluded to the taxes borne by other property. In l839, there was paid on the succession to personal property to the amount of 40,000,000l., for legacy and probate duty a sum amounting to 2,0l7,000l. Now if real property were subject to the same duty — on succession it would probably amount to 2,500,000l. He would prove it thus:—he estimated the rental of the kingdom at nearly 50,000,000l. the purchase of that at twenty-five years would be l,250,000,000l., and the duty on the succession to that, one-twenty-fifth part at 5 per cent. would be 2,500,000l. The account then stood thus:—special burdens on the land l,200,000l.; special exemptions 2,500,000l. He would say nothing of the large remission of duties in relief of landed interests amounting to nearly l,000,000l., nor anything about the tax which the Corn-laws imposed on the community, but he had stated thus much to show, as far as an imperfect outline would allow, that the argument in support of protection, on account of special burdens borne by the agriculturists, was to a great degree unfounded. With respect to the other proposition, that we should pay something to become independent of foreign countries, he would ask the right hon. Baronet did he think that was possible in the present state of the country? Not to advert to the able speech of the noble Lord, the Member for Tiverton, nor to the statement of the right hon. Baronet himself, that since the operation of the present Corn-law l3,000,000 quarters had been imported, and for the last two years 2,500,000 quarters annually, he would take up a previous opinion expressed by the right hon. Baronet, and ask him to reconcile it with his recent statement. He found that in l828 Mr. Secretary Peel had held a directly opposite doctrine, and said,There was another circumstance that had not been adverted to during the present discussion. It would not be denied, that in consequence of the growing population of the country, there was a necessity for looking to other countries for supply. It was impossible not to see, that in proportion to the increased population of late years, the quantity of land employed in the production of corn was diminished by being appropriated to the production of more profitable articles. The increase 9f manufactures must diminish the growth of 842 corn, but it did not follow that agriculture must be, therefore, depressed. If it were proved to him that there was less corn grown in this country than formerly, he would not admit that agriculture was less flourishing. It was quite clear, that Great Britain did not produce sufficient corn for its own consumption.That was the statement of the right hon. Baronet in 1828. A few nights since, however, the right hon. Baronet expressed himself in quite a different manner. He said,—In considering this question, it becomes important to ascertain what is the probability that this country, from its own resources, can be able to supply its own population. Now, I am not prepared to admit that this country is unable, in ordinary years, to supply its own population. It would be too much to infer, that the population has so rapidly increased, with reference to the production of subsistence, that you must abandon altogether the hope of deriving your supplies from your own fields.The opinion expressed in the latter extract was diametrically opposed to those contained in the former, although in the interval which had elapsed between their delivery, the population of this country had considerably increased. They ought to require from the right hon. Baronet some explanation on the subject; and why, contrary to his previously declared opinion, he stood up now for protection, demanding it on the ground that it was worth while to pay something, to be independent of foreign countries. He confessed, after the interminable discussions they had had on this question for many years past, that he thought the right hon. Baronet, placed as he was, at the head of so strong a Government, would have produced a better and stronger measure than the one he had offered to the House. The right hon. Vice-President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Gladstone), in an admirable speech, too good for so had a cause—had given force and weight to several arguments in its favour which, of themselves, were worth nothing. He would pass over those arguments that had already been disposed of, but he must say, that he was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman employ as an argument against any material relaxation of our commercial system, the fact that the Russian tariff was never so stringent against us as at this moment. If the right hon. Gentleman would search the records of his own office, he would find that the Russian tariff was one of the most striking monuments of the evils of our sys- 843 tem that could anywhere be found, and that it was not until we refused to receive their flax, and tallow, and timber, and corn, except under high duties, thus forcing them to become manufacturers, and independent of us—save for one article, and that almost a raw material, cotton twist — that they framed that tariff in retaliation, which the right hon. Gentleman employed as an argument for maintaining the very system that produced it. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to have been wandering among the ruins of former Corn-laws: but unlike other historians among ruins he had not come forth to write the "decline and fall" of the sliding scale. The right hon. Gentleman's attention had been attracted, (he was sorry to say to so little purpose) to the act of 1772. The preamble ran thus:—Whereas, it has been found by experience, that the restraints laid by several statutes upon the dealing in corn, meal, flour, and other sundry sorts of victual, by preventing a free-trade in the said commodities, have a tendency to discourage the growth, and enhance the price of the same, which statutes, put into execution, would bring great distress on the inhabitants of many parts of this kingdom.That was the preamble to the act of 1772, and for twenty years after the passing of that act, the object was accomplished, for which they were now legislating so unwisely,—namely, stability in the price of corn; for he believed, that the period of the greatest stability in the price of corn in this country, was, during the existence of the Corn-laws, that ruled from 1772 to 1791. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Dorchester, had closed his speech on a recent evening, by saying, that he felt a fixed duty would be absolutely dangerous; but that had not always been the opinion of the right hon. Baronet. He would quote the right hon. Baronet's own words in reply to the noble Lord, the Member for London.The noble Lord," said the right hon. Baronet, "has enunciated a very distinct opinion, but he enunciated one formerly quite as distinct, and quite as opposed to this.The right hon. Baronet was now precisely in the position in which he had attempted to place the noble Lord. He found the following observation in a work which he regarded as a hand-book on this subject, entitled, "Corn and Currency."It is impossible to permit any legislative enactment to continue, that has a tendency to degrade and impoverish the working classes; yet such is the effect of the present Corn-laws,844 That was written in 1827. The book went on to say,—The paramount duty of every Government is attention to the interests of the community, of which the labourers must form the great majority. The right of Government was instituted, not for the few, who possess wealth and honor, but for the majority, who have them not. If the majority want food, private property becomes a nuisance. The least objectionable mode of procuring a regular supply of corn, at a fair market price, is by the repeal of the Corn-laws, and the imposition of a moderate fixed duty, equivalent to the burdens borne by the land.Now, nothing could be more clearly "enunciated" than that. With respect to a fixed duty, the only opportunity he had had of voting in favour of it, was on a motion by Mr. Hume, in 1833, for a fixed duty, with a view to a free-trade in corn, and he believed the hon. Baronet, the Member for Wiltshire, (Sir F. Burdett) had voted with him on that occasion, notwithstanding his horror at such a plan, expressed this night. The opinion of Mr. Huskisson had been claimed by both sides of the House, and great deference to it expressed by all, but he claimed Mr. Huskisson's authority on the ground of one of the last opinions he had expressed on this subject. In 1827, Mr. Huskisson said, thatHe should be prepared in the next Session to concur in some measure for a fixed duty at a certain rate, to be gradually reduced, so that the supply from foreign countries might come in at a fair level. He believed, the intention of the British Legislature was to give the British farmer the monopoly of the home market for a period, to compensate him for loss that he had sustained, but he thought, by the end of the next Session, that period would be completed.On that principle, he then stood. He would vote heartily for the motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Wolverhampton, and he did so as the representative of a constituency, interested neither abstractedly nor remotely in landed property, but directly so, to a very large amount. He had presented several petitions from many very wealthy proprietors, who all prayed for the measure which he was then supporting. But let him not be misunderstood. If the landed interest had special burdens, let them make out their account, and for their special burdens, let a special remedy be found, but let them not be relieved by a tax on the bread of the people. In Scotland, they had nothing to fear from a free-trade in corn; and he 845 had heard that evening, from the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. M. J. O'Connell), that Ireland had nothing to fear from it. He owned, he thought England had something to apprehend, for there was much to mend in the bad system of agriculture pursued in England. He hoped, the English portion of the landowners in that House would not take offence at his saying that, as compared with Scotland, their 's was too often the field of the sluggard, and that the agriculturists of England might repair thither, and find instruction in their art, which, by adopting, would enable them to increase the produce of their land by at least one-fourth beyond its present account. The hon. Member for Canterbury, who said he had studied the subject of the Corn-laws, appeared to him to be in a fair way of adding hereafter to the ranks of the Anti-Corn-law advocates. The hon. Member had praised every legislative measure on the subject of corn, which had been enacted during the last three quarters of a century, commencing with the bill of Lord North, (who he had declared to be entitled to the gratitude of the nation for that measure) of 1772; thence he had glanced at the act of 1828, the authors of which he had also lauded. He afterwards touched on the fixed duty proposed by the noble Lord, the Member for London, commending the principle of it, and he had concluded by declaring his entire approbation of the measure brought forward by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth. The hon. Member was certainly a most hopeful disciple, who could thus shower indiscriminate praise upon four different measures, each resting upon a distinct and different principle. In the year 1815, a law was introduced on the subject of the importation of corn, which was expressly devised for the purpose of conciliating those parties who had suffered from the previous depressed state of their branch of production, and yet what was the result of that bill, and in what manner did it go out of operation? Mr. Huskisson said, with respect to it, that from the bottom of his soul, he lamented the ruin that had been entailed upon so many persons in consequence of the fluctuation of prices under the law of 1815, and during the operation of which corn had been at lower quotations than it would have been under a perfectly free-trade in it. He would not go into the particulars of the discussion, which took place when the bill of 1828 was introduced, but be would only remark, that the 846 right hon. Baronet had lavished the same praises verbatim on that law that he now poured out so profusely upon the measure before the House. He protested against the continuance of a system which was alike a fraud upon the landed interests and the consumers of the agricultural produce of the country, as well as most pernicious to her commerce and manufactures, The question, in order to be set finally at rest, must be placed upon a principle altogether opposite to the principle upon which the present bill was founded. He was not astonished to find, that the country at large was dismally disappointed in the measure brought forward by the Government, when so poor and unsatisfactory a scheme was the only result of such a long deliberation. The time taken for deliberation, the mysterious silence which had been maintained, whilst the mountain was in labour, the throes of which were so great as to detach some noble fragments, and then the miserable mouse which had crept forth in the shape of these resolutions, at once the object of ridicule and of fearful indignation to the people of this country. He would warn the promoters of the measure not to flatter themselves that they would be any nearer a final settlement of the Corn-law question after it should be passed than they now were. The Bill would, he had no doubt, become the law of the land in progress of time; but when it had taken its place on the Statute Book, what could it prove else, than, like its precurser in the page—a cause of commercial derangement—a, source of nation distress—and, as such, an object of unabated national discontent.
§ Mr. Wodehouse
looked upon the proposition of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton to be a perfectly fair subject for discussion, and he was quite ready to admit, that the Corn-laws were only defensible upon general grounds. He would be contented to base his defence of them upon the principle that if they were found to have worked for the general prosperity, then, and then only, they ought to be preserved. On what did the landholders rest their case? On the evidence of the last fifteen years, which would show, that the political, naval, commercial, and agricultural ascendancy of Great Britain had taken their rise from the moment when the principle of protection to the landed interests was recognised—namely, from 1792 to 1815. It could be proved by the records, that the export of wheat 847 from England, antecedently to the close of the great colonial struggle with America, had been nearly balanced by the imports, and that from the year 1792 to 1815 the imports of wheat into England from all Europe put together, did not amount to more than half a million of quarters, and from America a quarter of a million. If, therefore, the people of England were not sustained during this period, by the produce of their own soil, how were they fed? And let it be recollected, that in the years from 1792 to 1815, four of them were years of famine, and during the greater period, there had been a constant range of high prices. He would take that opportunity of bringing to the recollection of the House what the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Edinburgh, had said last evening, in touching upon this topic. The right hon. Gentleman had stated, that it was better to rely on a permanent than on a casual supply of food from abroad, for that then the supply would be more certain; and e had referred in particular as an exemplification of his argument to the importation of wheat that had taken place in 1810 from France and the Continent. He had felt extreme surprise on hearing the right hon. Gentleman make particular reference to that year, without offering any allusion or explanation of the circumstances by which the importation of wheat into England at that period was characterised. The sudden influx of corn at that time was owing to the permission which Napoleon gave to the generals of his army to become traders in corn—a proceeding by which they were enabled to amass large fortunes. The proof of this assertion was to be found in the fact, that Dantzic had been taken possession of by France in 1806, and had remained in her power until 1813. During those eight years, the importation from the eight principal states of Europe, — namely, Prussia, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Germany, Holland, Flanders, and France, was as follows:—The total amount of wheat imported in 1806 from all the countries he had named, was 112,000 quarters, the price being 76s. and 78s.; in 1807, it was 76,000, the price being 73s.; in 1808, the amount was only 6,000 quarters, the price being 78s.; in 1809, it was 189,000, the price being 94s.; and, in the March following, in 1810, the amount of wheat imported was 1,292,000 quarters, the price being still 94s. So 848 that it was true, quite true, that this quantity of corn had been imported into England in 1810, as stated by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh; but it had been done under peculiar circumstances, by permission of Napoleon, to answer a certain purpose, which had succeeded. In the following year, 1811, the quantity of wheat imported dropped down again to 166,000 quarters, the price being 92s.; and, in the year 1812, which was remembered to the present day in Yorkshire as the dear year, the imports did not amount to 100,000 quarters in all, the price of wheat being 122s. In 1813, the whole amount imported from abroad was 339,000 quarters, and, taking the average of the years he had mentioned, the annual importation of wheat did not exceed 300,000 quarters, notwithstanding that in 1810 the enormous quantity of near 1,500,000 had been poured into the country. This certainly did appear to him to be a curious argument upon which to base an opinion that it was better to rely upon foreign countries for a permanent supply of wheat than to take it casually as at present. And before he dismissed this topic, let him call the attention of the House to what occurred in 1801, when the King of Prussia had openly declared, and had put his seal to the declaration, that he would keep his duty upon wheat up to the full mark of English prices; and that if they continued high in England, the duty should remain high in Prussia; but that if they fell, the duty also should be moderated. And this was the reason why the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Edinburgh, would prefer relying permanently upon other countries for the food of the people. A great deal had been said about the peculiar burdens which the land supported, and he was ready to admit, that he asked for protection on no other grounds than on that single one. It would be recollected, that the hon. Member for South. wark had on a former occasion expressed an opinion, that the agriculturists thought they were entitled to some compensation for the mortgages and settlements, and other dead weight upon their rentals, in case the protection should be diminished or taken entirely away. This would be rather a difficult question to settle, and the mention of it revived in his mind the recollection of a former period when some wrangling had taken place in the House upon the same topic, of the protection 849 afforded to the landed interests, and the relative proportion of the direct burdens of taxation borne by them, and that supported by the commercial interests. He had challenged Mr. George Phillips, the present Sir George Phillips, to call for returns distinguishing the relative amounts borne by each class of persons, and when he had asserted that the return was made, he would prove from it, that the land bore by far the heaviest portion of the burden. When the paper was laid upon the Table of the House it was found, that the land bore 4,500,000l., the small householders about 1,000,000l., whilst the sum of 300,000l., and no more, was charged as the proportion paid by the commercial and manufacturing interest. When the return came back to the House Mr. Phillips exclaimed, that there must be some mistake in it, to which he and his party replied by a challenge to try again; the paper was once more sent to the proper quarter to be revised, and when it came a second time before the House it exhibited precisely the same results, and from that moment he had never heard a syllable more upon the subject of the burdens borne exclusively by the land. That was a very good test, and by this test the landholders were prepared to stand. Again, the question of wages had been introduced into the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and they were said not to keep pace with the price of provisions. How could it be expected that this would, or could, ever be the case? But wages had so far progressed, that from 1792 to 1815 their amounts had been doubled. It was true that rents had doubled within that period; but it was also true that wages had doubled. He would next proceed to notice the argument which stated, that the present system of Corn-laws opposed great and permanent obstructions to commerce. He did not undervalue the commercial interests of England; but let him ask if the Corn-laws were to be treated as an obstruction to the free interchange of commodities, at what point was the reciprocity on the part of England to stop? There was, he admitted, a necessity to relax the import duty upon wheat, inasmuch as it formed a principal portion of the food of man; the same might be said of oats, as also forming part of the food of man; but he was not prepared to admit that this argument applied to barley, which was no part of our food. He trusted, that even 850 his opponents on this occasion would admit, that he was a man who would not sacrifice his sincere conviction to an ambition to obtain a fleeting and unsubstantial popularity. Yet he would say, that the Legislature ought especially to keep in mind, that in protecting one acre of barley they would effectually keep up the protection of wheat, and thereby keep up the heart of our soil. Let them read with attention the whole of the correspondence before the House upon the subject of the capabilities of Denmark for producing barley in great abundance from, as Campbell sung—Thy wild stormy steep, Elsinore.to the extreme verge of that country. With these facts staring them in the face, he presumed they must be led to the inference, that the agricultural interest ought not to he deprived of a fair share of protection. Indeed, in his mind, the proposition was so self-evident, that to pass a law or a resolution of that House, in contradiction to that great principle, would neither be in accordance with virtue, sense, or dignity.
§ Dr. Bowring
said, having been present at the last meeting but one of the deputies representing the Prussian League, who had assembled at Berlin to consider the modification of the British and Prussian tariff, he had had the opportunity of discussion with those representatives, and he might, therefore, correct some misconceptions as to the result of the mission which had been confided to him. He had had occasion to make several reports to her Majesty's Government, and the result of those reports was, that the Prussian Government was willing to meet the amicable proposition of which he was supposed to he the bearer. They were disposed to entertain the general question of the modification of that tariff, which regulated the commercial affairs of 24,000,000 of population, and to listen to any proposition which the British Government might be disposed to put forward, provided it was likely to extend the English market for the consumption of their agricultural produce. That extension, so far as in them laid, they were willing to consent to, by a modification of their own tariff, provided the British Government would undertake in return to modify the duties on certain articles, which acted repulsively upon the produce of the German states. The principal article was corn, and, at that time, a 851 moderate mixed duty on corn, would have induced the Prussian Government to listen to proposals for important changes in the tariffs of the commercial league. Next in importance was timber, on which the British Government was, at that period, disposed to attempt a reduction of duty, but he believed the events in Canada had produced some change in their sentiments as to the opportunity of then proposing changes to Parliament. In fact, it was the conviction, that the House of Commons would not consent to any important changes in the imports on foreign corn and timber, which led to the failure of his mission to Berlin. He would no doubt have obtained some beneficial change to be made, conditional on their acceptance by the House of Commons, but that House had shown little disposition to the relaxation of our protective system, especially as connected with the great monopolies of the land. Perhaps he might here be permitted to make a few remarks upon what he deemed the safe and substantial grounds upon which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had based his motion. He, for one, rejoiced that that hon. Member had introduced into his proposition, that word which had been the stumbling-block of so many—he meant the word "now;" he rejoiced because that word presented the motion to the House in a simple but intelligible form. If lie saw great suffering and distress surrounding him on all sides, and lie were to be asked when he should relieve it, he would answer, now. If he saw a great grievance existing, and were to be asked when he would redress it, his answer would be, now. The moment to relieve misery was the moment when misery was discovered. If in the removal of this great grievance, which, in his opinion, was covering the land with wretchedness and starvation, he should see that some minor grievances would ensue from such removal, he, for one, was quite willing to take those grievances into consideration, and see what could be done for their redress. If it could be proved to him that injury would be inflicted upon the landed interest by a great justice being done to the consumer of the produce of the land, he was desirous to meet the landowners, endeavour to ascertain what was the amount of that injury, and most cordially and cheerfully apply himself to redress it. He thought that, in the course of this discussion, very little attention had been paid, to what was taking 852 place out of doors. Where was the public voice in favour of the present law? Where were the petitions and petitioners? Every hon. Gentleman had admitted that the present was a question of consummate gravity and importance, yet two petitions only, signed by less than 100 individuals, had been presented to the House in favour of the scheme proposed by the right hon. Baronet. But how stood the case on the other side? According to the last return laid upon the Table of the House, up to the 11th of February instant, there had been 1,694 petitions presented, signed by 427,666 persons—a number that had since increased to half a million—who expressed themselves dissatisfied with the present state of things, and almost unanimously demanded an immediate and total repeal of the Corn-laws. In that House also great progress had been made in the opinions even of hon. Members themselves upon this subject. In 1829, when Mr. Hume proposed a fixed duty of 20s. per quarter, there were only twelve Members who supported that proposition. In May, 1833, Mr. Whitmore's motion was negatived in a House of 411 Members by a majority of 199. In March, 1834, Mr. Hume again brought forward the question in a House of 467 Members, and was supported by a minority of 155. In March, 1836, 195 Members supported the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. In 1840, 177 Members voted with the same hon. Member; and on the 16th of February, 1842, in a House of 575 Members, 226 hon. Members declared their opinion that the present state of things ought not to be tolerated, and that the proposal of the right hon. Baronet could not be accepted as a solution of the question. He certainly did not expect that, either in or out of that House persons would be able to detach themselves at once from views of their own interests, or that certain prejudices born of those interests, should not have their natural effect upon them. He was, however, pleased to hear the tone in which several hon. Members had spoken of the distress that prevailed in the country. The distress in the manufacturing districts was all-pervading. What sad admission was now universally made, the distress, indeed, was forced upon their notice in every possible shape. Let the House look at the returns which exhibited the decreased consumption in the 150 market towns in England which furnished the averages. In 1836 1837, and, 853 1838, there were 12,346,000 quarters of corn consumed, making an annual average of 4,115,300 quarters; while in 1839, 1840, and 1841, the consumption was only 10,938,000 quarters, making the annual average of 3,646,000. These facts proved that in these 150 market towns there was a diminished consumption in three years of 469,300 quarters of wheat. When the hon. Member for Shropshire, spoke of the small amount of duty levied upon corn imported lie seemed to have forgotten that the lower the duty the higher was the price. The less that entered into the Treasury the more fell into the pockets of the home producer, and the greater amount was paid by the consumer. The hon. Member for Shropshire had said that the tax was a small one, for it only amounted to five farthings a week upon each person. But that hon. Gentleman ought to recollect that many documents existed showing that there were hundreds of thousands of individuals who did not even earn 1s. per week. Consequently, the five farthings per head was an incometax of near 10 per cent. upon those who were in such unfortunate circumstances. The right hon. Secretary for the Home Department had said the operation of the bill would be to give a protection of 14s. a quarter, which upon the estimated consumption of the country amounted to 18,900,000l. Now this 14s. per quarter was 30 per cent. tax upon the wages of poor persons. But that was not all, because to that sum must be added the cost of transport, which was 6s. more, and which, added to the protecting duty, according to the confession of hon. Gentlemen opposite, amounted to a tax upon the people of considerably more than 26,000,000l. sterling. The right hon. Member for Kent had represented that the land, so far from being privileged, was subject to peculiar burdens. Now it certainly appeared to him that the history of the land of this country was not a history of burdens, but rather of exemptions. He complained that tobacco could not be grown in this country. Would the right hon. Baronet be willing to pay 3s. a pound on all the tobacco grown upon English soil, that being the amount now levied upon the foreign commodity? Take an illustration, A new interest had grown up in France by the cultivation of beet-root for the purpose of converting it into sugar; and most sensibly and with a wise anticipation did Lord Sydenham lay a duty of 24s. upon 854 beet-root sugar, the produce of English cultivation. And the agriculturists had no right to complain of this, for if Lord Sydenham had not acted thus, no doubt much land in England would at this day have been appropriated to the cultivation of beet-root, and every hundred weight of English grown sugar would have extracted 24s. from the revenue of the country. Great progress had been made in agricultural knowledge, but he did not think it could be compared to the corresponding advance that was to be observed in manufactures. He did not see among the labouring classes of the agricultural population that improvement and intelligence which had so eminently distinguished persons engaged in manufacturing pursuits, and which had raised some of the latter from indigence to the highest ranks in society. Often might be found, the intelligent artisan elevated by his own intelligence and powers, but seldom did the man who had followed the plough become the possessor of the land on which he toiled. Amidst the manufacturing population, there existed a desire and thirst for information that were not to be found among agriculturists. Artisans had become opulent manufacturers, but where was the peasant who from agricultural skill and knowledge had become a landed proprietor? But was the land of this country so sterile—so unproductive as to authorise their owners to demand peculiar immunities? How stood the fact with respect to the produce of the land of this country as compared with others? He held in his hand the result of an examination that had been taken in France of forty-three departments east of Paris, containing an area of 64,000,000 acres, of which 6,280,000 were employed in the cultivation of wheat. Now, the production of these lands was fourteen bushels and 3.20 to an acre, and he found that of 77,000,000 of acres in the United Kingdom, 23,000,000 were estimated as arable, of which about 6,000,000 were employed in the cultivation of wheat, and gave twenty-eight bushels to the acre—a production nearly doubling that of France. Then what was the comparative tax upon these lands in France and in the United Kingdom? In France, the impÚt fourier, one single land-tax only upon these forty-three departments, was about three millions sterling, being more than twice the amount of the whole land-tax of this country, 855 Many apprehensions had been expressed relative to the low price of corn abroad, and the horror of competition with countries when agricultural produce was of such little value. But the power of augmenting prices abroad was in the hands of the British Legislation who had only to say, "Open the ports of Great Britain, and the immediate result will he a rise to something Ike the level of English prices. It was the buying country, and not the selling country that created the price. There were two species of proprietors who grew corn on the continent for exportation to this country. The great sources of supply were from lands held on feudal tenures, on which the peasants, the adscripti glebœ paid to the Lord a tribute, the portion of the produce which they did not consume, the increased power of production of this class of cultivators would be little affected by a change in our Corn-laws. Then came the small landed proprietors, who already employed such labour and capital as they could command. If the demand were increased, there might be a slow augmentation in the supply, but until these proprietors had materially increased their capital and labourers, they would have no means of sending a very large quantity to the market. Reference had been made to the sliding-scale of other countries, but would the right hon. Baronet give a sliding-scale similar to that existing elsewhere? The scale of France was more complicated than that of England, for in addition to the sliding duties the country was divided into four zones, in each of which a different system of duties prevailed. What was the state of the sliding-scale there? When corn was at 44s. per quarter, the duty was 9s. 6½d.; and when it was above 58s. 3d., the duty was 6d. per quarter, which was the minimum duty. What was the state of the scale in Holland? When the price was lower than 23s. 9d., the duty was 14s. 3d.; when above 42s. 10d., the duty was 1s. 2¼d. The Dutch allowed, indeed, the principle recognised by the noble Lord, the Member for London; they admitted, that corn was a fit subject for taxation, but where was the tax collected? At the mill. And so he would say, if corn were to be taxed, let every sack of flour be delivered to the exciseman to take what was necessary for the purpose of the state revenue. That tax, however, had been a principal cause of the late revolu- 856 tion. It had alienated Holland from Belgium. A tax upon food was felt to be intolerable, and it brought with it terrible social, and political agitations. In Belgium, when the price was above 56s., the importation of corn was duty free, under 34s. 8d. the duty was 13s. 5d.; and when the price was under 27s. 9d. importation was prohibited. Let hon. Members compare these scales with the English scale. With regard to the averages, he would ask the right hon. Baronet whether, if the new system of taking them were to lower the price of corn 4s. or 5s. he would not be doing some injustice to those ecclesiastical interests, of which he was one of the most vigilant guardians, the tithe-commutation having been calculated upon the old scale? Was it well to unsettle all the elements upon which the arrangements of tithes had been made with the Church? Great injustice had been done to the people by allowing corn of an inferior quality, indeed, not fit for human consumption—to lower the averages, by being introduced into the returns, and he hoped the right hon. Baronet would consent that, for the future, the averages should be calculated only upon the corn that was suited for the food of man, and not upon corn that was wholly valueless. The hon. Member for Pom-fret had stated, that the Prussian league had been a failure, and that so far from gaining power and strength, it was becoming weaker and weaker. But he saw clearly that that league would be strengthened as it had been strengthened by the resistance which that House opposed against the introduction of a moderate duty or free-trade altogether in corn. The influence of that league both politically and commercially, would be greatly extended by the progress of our own legislation. That league, he could tell the hon. Member, was becoming every day more powerful, and within the circle of that league free-trade, without restriction, without embarrassment, without a custom-house, existed among a population consisting of between 24,000,000 and 25,000,000. As a political and commercial event, he considered that league as one of the most important and instructive of the time. Much had been said, about the effect of machinery in reducing wages, but let hon. Members look at those handicrafts in which no machinery was employed, and they would discover whether there had 857 not been a reduction of wages, a reduction greater than had been experienced in any of the branches with which machinery had interfered. Take shoe-making in London as an example. The shoemaker on men's work would now only get 13s. 6d. for his week's work of nine pair, subject to 1s. 6d. drawback for grindery, &c.; the closer 6s. for his thirty-six pair: and the binder the same. On women's work, the shoemaker would get 12s. 10d. for his fifteen pair; and the binder 3s. 9d. for her eighteen pair, subject to the drawback for grindery; but women, says a report from a master which he held in his hand, were actually going about crying for work at these prices [Laughter], at 1½d. per pair; and some manufacturers are paying only 14d. per pair. Women are making men's trousers for shops at 6d. per pair [Renewed laughter], waistcoats at 4d. each, and shirts at 1½d. a piece. A master shoe-manufacturer, who employed from 100 to 200 hands per week, had said, that in 1812 (before the Corn-law), he paid his men from 2l. 10s. to 3l. per week, and women from 17s. 6d. to 28s. per week; for the same work he now pays the above 12s. 10d. and 3s. 9d. His attestation followed. Talk of machinery reducing the rate of wages indeed ! What machinery is employed in making shirts and shoes? Or where is steam power applied to the manufacturing of trousers and waistcoats? Have wages fallen in any of the manufacturing districts equal to this. [Interruption.] He well knew that when hon. Members came down to that House to discharge a most painful duty by representing to the Legislature the sufferings and privations of the innocent and laborious, they must make up their minds to be received as he had even then been received. But the facts were notorious. He would, however, contrast the shouts that had that moment proceeded from the opposite side of the House, with the honourable testimony that had been borne by the right hon. Baronet opposite to the meritorious patience and fortitude with which the people had borne their suffering, The hon, Member for Bath had repudiated the idea of the Corn-law being a religious question, but he (Dr. Bowring) confessed he did not enter into the feeling of the hon. Member on that point. When every day in that House, before they proceeded with their daily duties, they uttered a prayer for 858 daily bread, it occurred to him, that they would but be discharging their duties as legislators properly, in a Christian spirit, and in accordance with the spirit of that sublime prayer, if they inquired how they were to provide bread for those whose prosperity depended upon the results of their deliberation, if they asked whether they were carrying into the business of legislation those benevolent principles embodied in the words to which they professed to respond. It was written, that if even an enemy hungered, they were to feed him, and if he was naked, they were to clothe him. Now, he saw hundreds of thousands around him hungry and naked—not enemies—not strangers, but countrymen—deserving countrymen. The women of Manchester had been visited with opprobrious language. What was the position of the women of Manchester? What was the position of those who see around them a mass of intolerable distress, shall they not do what depends upon them to remove it? To whatever obloquy they might be subjected within that House, they would have an ample recompense within their own bosoms. And the House of Commons might be assured, that the interest which the women of England were showing on this all-important--this awful question, menaced the overthrow of all injustice, and would ultimately bring about the triumph which many hon. Members probably might anticipate with alarm. Out of this discussion, a new state of things was growing. His hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, was quite right in saying, that the hopelessness of the people, with reference to the reform of the Corn-laws, was producing at that moment a merging of all questions in a demand for great political changes. Out of doors the feeling existed, and was widely and rapidly spreading, that in that House there were many who represented the few, and only a few who represented the many; and until the interests of the many were attended to with more devotion than they had hitherto received, the demand for what was called organic change would become more clamorous. The middle classes and the labouring population would be fused into one mass; the pressure from without, of which the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had recognised the power, would come again, and would penetrate even 859 into that assembly; and the result would undoubtedly be another Parliamentary reform—a Parliamentary reform, the consequence of which would be the removal of that oppression which the people denounced as intolerable, (and which he thought they had proved within the walls of that House to be so), —which intolerable oppression would one day or other be wholly swept away.
§ Mr. Benett
thought the plan proposed by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government would have the effect of securing a more correct average of prices than was attainable under the present system. The hon. Member for Bolton had referred to the number of petitions which had been presented in favour of a total repeal of the Corn-laws. Notwithstanding, however, the great expense to which the Anti-Corn-law League had gone in endeavouring to get up petitions against the law,—notwithstanding all the exertions of the travelling orators who had been engaged by them, to go round the country and mislead the people, they had only been able to obtain 400,000 signatures to the petitions presented during the present year, whereas last year the number of petitioners in favour of repeal had been 1,300,000. This he thought a proof that some re-action had taken place in the public mind upon this subject. The fact was, that the operatives had now begun to see what effect the repeal of the Corn-laws would have in lowering their wages. He knew that the feeling of the agricultural labourers in the West of England was, that wages would be reduced if those laws were repealed. He was old enough to remember, when wages were no more than Gs. a week in that part of the country when the price of corn was low. As corn rose in price wages increased from 9s. to 12s., and as the price again fell wages went down to 9s. at which they stood at the present time. With regard to the scheme of Corn-law now proposed, the question seemed to him to be whether this country was to import largely to the injury of the British farmer, or whether it should be admitted when it was required at a moderate price? He was of opinion that Cheapness, occasioned by foreign import, would not be advantageous in supplying the deficiency of employment to the people. Upon every quarter of wheat grown in this country one pound was paid for labour, and if they imported 2,000,000 of quarters of foreign corn in the year, to that extent 860 did they reduce the employment of the British labourer. It was idle to talk of preventing the competition of foreigners in manufactures by repealing the Corn-laws. Foreign countries had seen the advantages we had derived from manufactures, and having the means to do so, had entered into successful rivalry with us, and had in some cases almost supplanted us in the neutral markets, which they would continue to do until we reduced the rate of wages to their standard—viz., 5d. a day. Formerly Members opposite came forward fairly, and stated that a reduction in the rate of wages was their object—but it was not so now. They now contended that the repeal of the Corn-laws would not have the effect of lowering wages; but if not, in what way would the manufacturer be benefited?—He was an advocate for cheap corn, but he was also desirous that the poor should be enabled to purchase it. He did not believe that the measure of the right hon. Baronet would have the effect of keeping the price of corn at 56s. In conclusion, he hoped that those Gentlemen who had given notice of proposed amendments in the scale of the right hon. Baronet would see the propriety, if they really had the welfare of their country at heart, of throwing no obstructions in the way of the Government.
§ Mr. Milner Gibson
observed, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had taunted the supporters of the Anti-Corn-law cause with having failed to get up such a number of signatures to petitions, as would show that a very considerable number of the people were in favour of Corn-law repeal. But if he were to infer from that remark of the hon. Gentleman, that any number of signatures would induce him to agree to a repeal of the Corn-laws, he was very much assured he should be greatly mistaken. He certainly agreed with the hon. Gentleman in one remark, that no person could hear inflammatory remarks without pain, and he, for one, come whence they would, must disapprove of attacks made merely for excitement. But at the same time, there were occasions, and this was one of them, in which it did become Members of that House to call things by their right names. This was one of those occasions upon which Members of that House would not be doing their duty unless they spoke up to their convictions; or if, from any fear of giving offence to the over-refined 861 and over-delicate, they shrunk from declaring to the country from what they believed to be the nature and object of the law now proposed to them. There was one position, admitted by all sides of the House, with the exception, perhaps, of the right hon. Baronet the Paymaster of the Forces (Sir E. Knatchbull), which to his mind, was highly satisfactory; namely, that the Corn-laws could no longer be sustained for the benefit of a class; that they could only be sustained upon the ground of the general good. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, declared that he was of no class—that he was for the country. That was a most satisfactory statement. Hon. Gentlemen seemed now to begin to admit that the different orders of men had a right to exercise their industry in different ways, and to bring the produce of their industry into the markets of their country without obstacles being thrown in the way of one order more than of another. Hon. Gentlemen now began to see, that corn and cattle, imported into this country in exchange for its manufactures or its gold, were just as much the produce of British industry as the corn was of the soil. If the English farmer were allowed freely and without restraint to bring corn and cattle, the fruit of his labour, into the British market, the Legislature had no right to throw obstacles in the way of other classes of Englishmen, who also brought corn and cattle into the same market, being the produce of another species of industry. This was a position that was now admitted; and it was a very important one, because those who supported the Corn-laws were now driven to justify the continuance of them simply upon certain reasons of state—certain reasons of public utility, and also upon the ground that there were burdens upon the landed interest which did not fall on any other interest of the community. But before the House proceeded to discuss their reasons, it behoved them to bear in mind the position in which the supporters of the Corn-laws stood in that House and before the country. It was impossible to forget—he said it in no obnoxious sense—that they (the supporters of the Corn-laws) had a personal interest in this question. Therefore, following the rules of our law—following the rule adopted and acted upon by all persons who sought to investigate the truth, the House must 862 subject the reasons of those Gentlemen to a more rigid and searching scrutiny than if they were wholly disinterested parties. There was one thing which gave to their case a very unpleasant complexion. The country believed that these laws were passed by the landed interest for their own special advantage; and when the hon. Gentlemen who supported them attempted to justify them, they differed materially in the character and nature of the defences they set up. One Gentleman took one line of defence, another adopted a different line of defence; there was no agreement amongst them as to the real and true ground of defence. Now it was perfectly well known that in a court of law, when persons were charged with any offence, if they differed from each other in defending the accusation, it gave to their case an unpleasant complexion, and made those who sat in judgment more inclined to suspect the accuracy of the reasons advanced by any one of them. The Gentlemen who supported the Corn-laws had fallen into that predicament. Their statements—their arguments differed from each other. The noble Lord who moved the Address, stated that these laws were maintained to enable the landed interest to bear the general and local burdens of the country. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) said, they were passed only to enable the land to bear the special burdens imposed upon it. The right hon. Baronet, the Paymaster of the Forces (Sir E. Knatchbull) said, that they were passed to keep the landed proprietor in his present station in society. These different statements were at variance with each other, and were, therefore, calculated to make the people suspect the sincerity of the party who undertook the defence of the laws which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton proposed to repeal. Why should the landed interest be so excessively sensitive at being charged with having passed laws for their own advantage He believed, that any other men placed in the same position would have done the same thing. Had the Legislature of the day been swayed by men interested in any particular trade, laws, no doubt, would have been passed for the protection of that particular trade. Adam Smith, who was so often quoted in that House, actually stated, that in his days, people of the same trade could not meet together, even for conversation, 863 amusement, or diversion, without discussing the possibility of raising the prices of their commodities, and conspiring against the public. This was the disposition and tendency of man; and it behoved the Gentlemen opposite to consider that this was the fearful position which they occupied, in the estimation of the public,—namely, that they were making laws for their own advantage. "You yourselves," continued the hon. Member, addressing himself to the Ministerial side of the House, "you yourselves," if you saw a combination of workmen forcibly preventing other workmen from offering their labour in the common market, would hesitate before you said, that that combination was for the public good, and not for the personal advantage of the men who had entered into it. Your own position differs little from this; for although the people admit that you are legislators, they do not forget that you are men—they do not forget that you have not lost the character of mankind by coming into this House, and that you are not less likely to use the power you possess to promote your own advantage than the combination of workmen to whom I have just adverted. Let them consider the nature of the defence which the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, offered to the House in defence of the Corn-laws; and first, in regard to the special burdens said to be borne by the landed interest. He did not admit, but he would suppose, that these burdens were a justification for giving compensation to the landholders. Supposing that they were, would not every landed proprietor, who paid a greater amount of poor-rate, or a larger share of tithe than his neighbour, be, according to that doctrine, entitled to compensation; and should he not have a duty put upon his neighbour's corn in order to raise the price of his own. But did not tithe exist before the Corn-laws? When England became an importing, instead of an exporting country, they took advantage of that circumstance, and placed a duty on foreign grain, and not till then were the landed interest unable to bear the burdens put upon them. He would appeal to any hon. Gentleman, if it was meant to be contended, that if the Corn-law was repealed, the landed interest would not be obliged to pay tithe? That was the position they took. They said, that the Corn-law was a compensation for 864 the burdens on land, and that tithe was one of these burdens; and he, therefore, inferred, that if they repealed the Corn-law, they would cease to pay tithe. Such an argument was calculated to create considerable alarm in those who considered the right of the church to tithe, to be as valid as the right of the proprietor to his estate. He would not go into the consideration of the other special burdens, for that part of the question had been ably discussed by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire. In regard to the independence of this country of foreign supply, he felt surprised that no hon. Gentleman opposite —many of whom were good historians—had pointed out a case in which a country depending on another for a supply, had failed to obtain it, when it had the means to purchase. He said when it had the means to purchase, because on this depended their getting supplies; for if they depended on the landed interest for supplies, without having the means to purchase those supplies, they certainly would not obtain them. He felt astonished that no hon. Gentleman had pointed out such a case; but he forgot, one case had been pointed out by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester, when addressing his constituents. The right hon. Baronet had quoted the highest authority, scriptural authority, so much condemned by the hon. Member for Bath, for a country being independent of foreign corn. The right hon. Baronet stated to his constituents, and he could correct him if he was misinformed—he stated to his constituents that there were two countries mentioned in Holy Writ, Tyre and Judea. That Tyre, rich and powerful, was obliged to send ambassadors to Judea to sue for peace, because Tyre was nourished by Judea. The right hon. Baronet in using this illustration, stated to his constituents that he believed that this particular passage had been written for their especial use and instruction, to show that a country ought to grow its own corn, and be independent of foreign supplies. He would ask the right hon. Baronet whether the instance cited by him was not in favour of one country depending on another, inasmuch as in the case of Judea and Tyre peace was the consequence, and not war? And he thought the case adduced was strongly in favour of their maintaining an intercourse with foreign nations, and that it served to show that mutual dependence 865 prevented a war, which otherwise would have happened. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, in discussing the question, declined to admit that the Corn laws had to any extent caused the present distress of the country, and in attempting to point out the causes of the distress, he stated first of all that the distress might be attributed to over speculation—to the connection of the master manufacturers with the joint-stock banks, and to their facilities of obtaining credit, by which they had been induced to make a greater quantity of goods than they reasonably could expect to dispose of. He wished to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet to a circumstance connected with the cotton manufacture, for to the cotton manufacture the right hon. Baronet had particularly alluded. He was in a position to deny that there had been any over production in that trade, or that the manufacturers had made a quantity larger than what they had good hope of being able to dispose of. He wished to ask the right hon. Baronet whether he was prepared to deny that the quantity of raw cotton worked up in the year 1841, was less than the quantity worked up in 1840?—That the quantity worked up in the three years ending 1841, was less than the quantity worked up in the three years ending 1838. If, then, the quantity in the latter period was less, the manufacturers must have made a smaller quantity of goods than in the former period. True, the right hon. Baronet said that the export trade had increased, but had not the home demand fallen off? Was it not cruel, then, in the right hon. Baronet to tell the manufacturers that they had made too great a quantity of goods—that they had not proportioned the supply to the demand, when he at the same time supported a law which limited that demand, and deprived the manufacturers of a fair chance of trade? No doubt bad harvests affected the home market to a certain extent, but the Corn-laws aggravated the evil, and it was beyond the power of man to foresee the falling off in the home trade. The right hon. Baronet had also attributed the distress to another cause—to their hostilities with China; but the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Hastie), a Gentleman who well knew the true state of the case, had made a statement on this point to the House exactly the reverse of that which the right hon. 866 Baronet had made. That hon. Member had told them that instead of their trade with China having fallen off since the commencement of hostilities, that it had considerably increased, and was continually increasing. He called on the right hon. Baronet, and on the hon. Member for Paisley, to explain this important difference. Now in regard to the employment of the people, he would beg every hon. Member to look at the last census. When he saw that the increase had been greater in the manufacturing than in the agricultural districts—when he saw from the returns of the Registrar-general that the proportion of births to deaths was greater in the agricultural than in the manufacturing districts, how, he would ask, could they shut their eyes to the fact of the large increase in the manufacturing over the agricultural district, or to the cause of that increase. No doubt it bad been caused by migration, and if it had, they saw that the landed interest, even with the protection of the Corn-laws, could not find employment for the agricultural population. The hon. Member for Wiltshire had talked of wages falling with the price of corn, but he would ask that hon. Member whether, with a Corn-law or without a Corn-law, there would not still be a competition between the English and foreign artisan? Whether, if the foreign manufacturer improved his machinery, so as to beat the English manufacturer, he would not be driven, as a matter of course, also to improve his machinery—to reduce the cost of production, or to lower the wages of his workmen, irrespective entirely of the price of food? If the English artisan was then to be brought into competition with the foreign artisan—if his wages were to be reduced by such competition, he asked the House whether the English artisan would not be better off if he could command a larger amount of food for those reduced wages, than if he could only command a smaller amount? The right hon. Baronet opposite had entered into a comparison between the condition of the people of Prussia and the people of England; but he surely did not mean to contend that if corn were rendered less abundant in Prussia the Prussian labourer would get more, or that if corn were made more abundant in England the English labourer would get less. It appeared to him that if the wages of the workmen in this country were reduced by foreign com- 867 petition, the price of food must make a material difference in the comfort of the English labourers. If they reduced the quantity of food in this country by any given amount, in proportion would they raise the price of it, and the labourer would get less; whereas, if they increased the amount they would lower the price, and the labourer would obtain more. But how was it possible for the English manufacturer to compete with the foreign manufacturer, if they forced him to use agricultural produce at a cost greater than that which the foreign manufacturer paid for it? Hon. Gentlemen were not perhaps aware of the great quantity of agricultural produce used in the process of manufactures. In the cotton trade a very large quantity was consumed, and if the home manufacturer had to pay a higher rate for it than the foreign manufacturer, to that extent would he be unable to compete with him. That was one of the effects of the Corn-laws. They also disabled the English manufacturer from competing with the foreigner, not because they made wages higher, but because they limited the power of exchange, and deprived the manufacturers of the power of taking the staple article of foreign countries. How could the manufacturer extend his trade if they limited his power of exchange—if they would not allow him to take what other countries offered in return? Hon. Gentlemen opposite read over the state of the exports as if they were really jealous of the extension of the foreign trade of this country; they seemed to have a notion that there was some sort of rivalry between the manufacturing, commercial, and agricultural interests; they seemed to fear the advancement of the manufacturing and commercial classes, lest ultimately they might vie with the agricultural interest in the power it possessed in the State. They read the statement of their exports in a jealous spirit—they found a great increase, and they turned round to the manufacturers and asked them if they were not satisfied. The question was not as to the amount, or as to the increase of their exports at any particular time, but it was whether the exports were as great as they could be, if not prohibited and restrained by act of Parliament. Was it reasonable or right that trade should be extended only so far as the landed proprietors should permit? Was it reasonable that the merchants and manufacturers of this country should be 868 considered a secondary class, subject to the pleasure, or indebted to the indulgence, of the landed interest? He asked them a still more important question. Was it right in them to allow trade to extend just far enough to minister to their own luxuries, but not far enough to better the condition of the humble? They allowed their luxuries to come in—their foreign wines, their silks, and every thing which could add to their splendour or increase their gratification; yet they would not allow of the introduction of bread—of that which would better the condition of the working man. The hon. Member for Sheffield had alluded to the competition for farms as another evil of the Corn-laws. The farmers complained that in consequence of the damming up of trade, of stopping the channels of commerce, many people were now driven to agriculture for subsistence, and that the competition for farms being so great, the farmer had either to reduce his mode of living to the condition of the labourer, or give up farming altogether. Did it not stand to reason, then, that the farmer was interested in the success of trade, and suffered from its depression? Had not farmers sons and daughters? What would become of them if there were not openings for them connected with the commercial or manufacturing interests in the country? He had read an article in the Mark-lane Express, which he believed was the organ of the Corn-law supporters, in which it was stated that the editor was surprised at the apathy of the farmers on the Corn-law question. He was not surprised at the apathy of the farmers—they knew perfectly well that it was a question of rent; and if prices were reduced, they would be enabled to make their arrangements accordingly. Competition would never allow them, under any circumstances, to get more than ordinary profits for their capital. They knew that well, and that the maintenance of the Corn-laws—this forcing system—had a tendency to make their occupation more hazardous than it otherwise would be. They knew that, as agriculturists, they had to bear the natural hazard of their calling; secondly, the chance of the repeal of the Corn-laws, on which their contracts were based; and, thirdly, the chance that if the Corn-laws were maintained, they would not fulfil the expectations held out respecting them. The Corn-laws had been faithless to farmers, they had been a rotten foundation 869 to build upon; and when the farmer was called upon to make his contracts on the faith of those Corn-laws, he could not help looking back at the distress which he had suffered under them. With regard to the agitation against the Corn-laws making the application of capital to land a matter of peril and uncertainty, he admitted that it was an evil; but whose fault was it? It was the fault of those who maintained those laws. So long as they had Corn-laws, so long would they have agitation, and so long would they have the chance hanging over the farmer's head that these Corn-laws would be repealed. He did not lay any blame on the Anti-Corn-law League, because he believed they performed a sacred duty in endeavouring to expose the unjust laws. As he knew something of the agricultural districts, he would advise the farmers to be very cautious how they entered into fresh leases with their landlords. He knew the amount of this Corn-law agitation, and the bitter feeling which prevailed in men's minds against these laws not openly expressed, and he called upon the farmers to pause before they allowed themselves again to be deceived by the idea that this proposition of the right hon. Baronet was to be any thing like a permanent settlement. He was not one of those, when he was addressing the landlords, to hold out hopes to them that the Corn-laws could be repealed without causing some suffering to them. They could not at once secure cheap bread to the operative and high rents to the landlord at the same time. He believed that ultimately the landlords would share in the general prosperity to be produced by a repeal of the Corn-laws; but at present there must be some sacrifice; and it would become the aristocracy to be high-minded and magnanimous, and on this occasion to come forward in the spirit of self-sacrifice, and say," We will not risk the permanent safety of this country to maintain our high rents." He believed that that advantage of an addition to their rents would be found to be a short-lived advantage; and he called upon the landlords not to be so short-sighted as to peril the permanent welfare of this country for the sake of grasping a temporary benefit to themselves. They might depend upon this as a general truth—that prosperity could not long be based upon injustice and wrong.
§ Mr. B. Escott
said, it is impossible that any hon. Member of this House can be 870 more deeply impressed than I am with a full sense of the great difficulty and vast importance of this question: (notwithstanding the statement of the hon. Member who spoke last night, that it was a subject which every child could comprehend:) its difficulty, from the perplexed and complicated nature of the details which must be mastered before it can be understood; its importance, affecting as it does the supply of the subsistence of the whole people, the protection of our cultivation, and therein the fortunes of those whose fortunes are invested in land and in its cultivation, the daily bread of those who work on the land, the prosperity of all those merchants, dealers, and shopkeepers who much depend on the landed people for their custom, and, in short, the very being and, existence of this whole people. But, Sir, difficult as I allow this question to be in theory, there appears to me to be no difficulty as yet created by the arguments of hon. Members, or from our experience of the operation of the principle of the law itself, which should induce me to support a change as unsupported by facts and reason as it is totally unjustifiable in its origin and commencement. Sir, this is a continuation of the game of last year, but it is played between different parties, and for the benefit of different performers. I do not wish to refer unnecessarily to what is past; but the manner in which a great public measure is proposed is in effect part of the measure itself. If ever there was a scheme of danger—if all the cunningest men of this or any other country had met together to devise a plan of mischief—a plan, indeed, in which there might be a considerable portion of damage to their political opponents, but a much larger portion of damage to the best interests of their country, they could have hit on no fitter expedient for their bad purpose, than by proclaiming a promise of cheap bread to a partially distressed people, to attack in the tenderest place, the most vital and the most vulnerable, the wealth, and prosperity, and very being of the real nourishers of the people—the growers of British corn. But the question has been raised, and the question must be met. It must be met by argument, and not assertion. And before my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) called upon us, the representatives of the people, to repeal and totally abjure the principle of the law for regulating the 871 importation of corn, it was necessary, in my apprehension, for him to prove two propositions to the satisfaction of this House. It was necessary for him to prove, first, that the distress of certain portions of the people is caused by the principle of the law for regulating the importation of foreign corn. Secondly, that the repeal of all laws founded on that principle would not cause greater evils to other portions of the community than those which he assumes it would remove. Sir, the hon. Member and his supporters not only do not prove these propositions, they never attempt to argue them. And yet, until these propositions are not only argued but proved, that man must be, as was well said in another place, a madman, or something worse, who would attack the principle of a law which has not only answered its purpose better than any other principle which has ever been tried, but under which the owners and occupiers of lands have been taught by this House and the Legislature to believe themselves safe and secure. Six Parliaments have maintained this principle. Talk of public faith indeed ! here is the faith of Parliament pledged to the landed property of England—pledged not indeed to particular enactments and clerical details of scales and figures who could imagine such a folly?—but pledged to the principle of protection—protection without prohibition; but still protection to the home grower. And under this solemn sanction and security, and relying on this faith of Parliament, have they purchased, taken leases, made devises and settlements, laid out vast sums in improvements and expensive systems; married, made plans in life, educated and provided for children in business, and whom they fondly thought were safe under the shelter of that protection beneath which their fathers rested. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared for a system of treachery and confiscation? I know he is not; but I know also that his motion, if carried, would be equivalent to such a system. But there are the tithes too as well as the land. Why, the whole tithe property of the Church of England, and the lay tithe as well as the church tithe, has just been commuted; that is, exchanged and settled to its owners by Parliament on this very public and national faith of Parliament. Will you not only sweep away landowners and farmers—will you violate the property of the church which you have just guaranteed? I say 872 not a word of the policy of that arrangement. I was no party to it. I am happy I was not. But I know you have not yet quite dissevered the interests of the landowners and the church. They still derive their all from the same source—the soil of their country. Are you prepared, before the ink of the last commutation deed is dry, to say that the price of Polish and Russian wheat, barley, and oats, shall be the measure of the tithe-owner's annual receipts, as well as the measure of the landowners', and farmers', and labourers' gains? But you must say it. There cannot be two measures. There cannot be one price for one, and another price for the other. Tithes have been commuted at wheat at 56s. the quarter. But the landowners and farmers of England can never pay the tithe-owner according to one value, while they receive another for their own crop; it is too absurd. It is not the weak defence of an act of Parliament which prevents it. It is the more enduring sense of necessity and of justice. Sir, the property of the church and of the landowners rests on one foundation; and it is fit that they should stand and fall together. This has been called a religious question. If it is such, it is because the defence or spoliation of church property may indeed be a very serious religious question. But how is it that those who are loudest in their denunciations of landed protection are generally the enemies of the church? They are the men who have endeavoured to make it a religious question. Of course, religion is the highest and best motive for all good actions, political as well as private. But there is an old saying, that the corruption of the best thing becomes the worst. And thus it is when religion, which should be the handmaid of peace, and mercy, and justice, and truth, becomes the angry and corrupt minister of the hatred and passions of mankind. But this abuse is disclaimed by the wisest of those who support the hon. Member's motion, I trust never to be revived. But, Sir, I will come to what appears to be the strongest argument of the party who support this motion. They say they are not about to ruin the landed interest. They say, we will feed the people from the fields of Russia and Poland, it is true, and give them cheap bread, but we will injure no man. But then, to be sure, the hon. Gentleman is good enough to tell us that he will reduce wheat to 5s. a bushel. I 873 wish he would explain how that would injure no one. Why, the hon. Member for Manchester, who last addressed the House, has expressly told us that his measure is a heavy blow to agriculture, and a discouragement to the farmers: he is right, and yet he too will injure no man. But you will give us cheap bread, will you? Do they who make that promise suppose that the people do not recollect that they are the same persons who made that promise six months ago?— that they are the same Gentlemen, though they have changed their places, who proposed a scheme for giving us cheap bread,(but not till they had lost the power to carry any scheme into execution,) and who proposed to effect their promise of cheap bread by raising the duty on corn? who would have imposed a fixed duty of 8s. a quarter on corn, when corn was really wanted, and when the law which they told us was starving the people, was, within three weeks from the time of their announcement of the proposition, letting it in in abundance at a duty of 1s. Have they settled that little account with the people? No; but the people have more than a six months' memory. They know that they were appealed to on this very question, and that in the very same breath with which they were told that the Cornlaws were an odious tax on the staff of life, they were offered a scheme for raising a revenue by an increase of the tax on its importation. Sir the people knew how to treat such conduct, and they showed their hatred of the treachery, while they spurned the insult on their understandings. But that indeed is not the scheme to-day. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bath exults in the reflection that he has at least got rid of a fixed tax on corn; but even that hon. and learned Gentleman, soaring so high as he does above the flight of his compeers on the other side of the House—even he has not fairly argued this question of agricultural protection. We are congratulated that the fixed duty is abandoned, and that it is a free trade which we are called upon to discuss. Is it a free-trade that is the question. It is no such thing. It is a setting of the producers of English corn, while they pay English taxes and English wages, to compete, in the sale of their article corn, with the producers of continental corn, who pay neither the one nor the other. The whole question lies in this fallacy—the fallacy of giving this good 874 name to a bad thing. And this monstrous injustice is called free-trade, by men who grumble not and never complain that the producers of every other English commodity are protected by a heavy ad valorem duty. If we are really to have free trade then, I admit and rejoice to know it, that there are none, no class of producers, who can bear it so well as those who live upon the land. There are none who can so well afford to trust to their own resources. But then don't mock us by the excellent phrase free-trade," while you mean a totally different thing. Set us not to run a race with a heavy load at our backs against unencumbered competitors; and then when we complain of the unequal start, call us monopolists for our pains, and tell the spectators—the people—that you have offered us a free course in which we were unwilling to contend. The hon. and learned Gentleman asks for a statement of our burdens. He shall have it. That load at our backs contains the whole of the land-tax, the whole of the tithes, the whole of the highway- rates, the whole of the church-rates, nine tenths of the county-rates, nine tenths of the poor-rates, the greater part of the malt tax, four fifths of the assessed taxes, and the whole of the excess of English wages over those of other parts of Europe. But the hon. and learned Gentleman knows this, as he knows every thing else, much better than I do. And how does he meet the difficulty? Why, he says, "Prove your burdens, and we are ready to take them off." He seems conscious that we can prove a claim to protection to the amount of our burdens, and he tells us that while he abolishes our protection he will abolish that which gives us the claim. He says to hon. Members on this side the House, that he will move for the repeal of the burdens which oppress us; and he calls upon us to support him with our votes when he moves for their repeal. I cannot accept the terms of the hon. and learned Gentleman. We are not desirous to break up tile financial system of the country, and destroy the national faith. That is not the object of the agriculturists of Great Britain; and the hon. and learned Gentleman's remedy may be worse than the disease, for which he is kind enough to prescribe. But the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, who makes this motion, has another mode of solving the difficulty. He says, "True, you have burdens and payments exclusive 875 and distinct from those of other classes; but that gives you no claim to protection: for you have a ready mode of compensating yourselves. The burdens which you bear are part of the cost of your production: and the cost of your production is part of the price which you charge for your produce: you are therefore repaid in your high price of corn for your outlay, burdens, taxes, and all; and you have no need to ask us for protection, because in truth you protect yourselves." And then what would the hon. Member do? Why, he would deprive us of the power of charging the higher price, which he truly says is our protection, by reducing the price of wheat to 5s. a bushel, by the competition with untaxed produce from other countries. That is his own statement. He admits in his whole argument the necessity of corn being dearer than it otherwise would be, to remunerate the agriculturist for his expenses; and in the same breath he tells us he would reduce the price to that of European cheapness, and do the agriculturist no harm. Sir, this whole cry of cheap corn is a fallacy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Macaulay) instructed the House with the novel information that cheap bread must be a good thing. Had he said plentiful bread, he would have been nearer the mark. Cheap and dear are but relative terms. The cheapness of a thing depends on the supply and demand. True: but it depends just as much, in the common acceptation of the terms, on the quantity of circulating money in the country by which the article is bought, or, in other words, by which its price is measured. It is not every mode of making a thing cheap that is an advantage to the buyer. It is no advantage, I take it, when the cheapening process deprives him of the money wherewith to buy. And this is the answer to the monstrous doctrine of which we are fated to hear so much, of a dear and a cheap country. Let me apply it for one moment to this very question of corn. It has been frequently stated, that while bread has been 1Od. a loaf in England, it has been 6d. in France. That, perhaps, is not correct: but it has certainly been 20 per cent, lower in France than here with us. But then while in England the wages of a carpenter or mason are from 2s. 6d. to 4s., and of an agricultural labourer 1s. 6d. a day, in the French provinces the same 876 persons earn severally only 1s. 7d. and 1Od. a day. So that if bread is 20 per cent, cheaper in France, and wages 70 per cent, lower than in England, the difference between 70 and 20 being 50, bread is actually 50 per cent, more in the command of the English workman than of the French. Now this is so plain and obvious, that it is impossible to suppose that it is overlooked by those Gentlemen who oppose the principle of protecting English agriculture. I wish that those who sigh for the blessings of cheapness, would look a little deeper into this matter. As far as money prices are concerned, a rich country must be a dear country; a poor country must be comparatively cheap. And those who are now crying out for the cheap bread of other countries, and complaining of the price of English commodities, are, in fact, stretching out their hands for the poverty of foreign lands, and lamenting the riches of their own. What is it but this superior wealth of our country, attended by its necessary concomitant—a high price in money—which gives us, by the superabundance of our money, the command of all the various productions of the earth? In nothing is it so apparent as in this case of buying corn abroad. What is it that enables us to buy the corn of foreign countries when we want it? Only our greater riches— our plenty of money—in other words, our higher prices. And it is this higher price which we are accustomed to pay, and which protection enables us to pay and to receive, that in a time of famine and real necessity for foreign aid, would give us the key of the granaries, and open to us the market of the world. And what would these cheapening philosophers do? They would lower the scale of the wealth of their country, and abandon its commercial superiority. They would lessen the value of its land; but they would annihilate its trade and commerce. Its soil they cannot annihilate, nor destroy its perennial bounty. In spite of their foolish projects, it will still continue to feed their wrongs, and nourish their ingratitude; while its possessors and its cultivators are still the best customers for their trade and manufactures, and maintain the wealth and credit of the country against the subtle lucubrations of economists, or the rashness of disappointed politicians. But while I trust and believe that this will be so, I am not the less 877 bound to guard, by all the means in my power, against the possible success of these ruinous schemes. I am not the less anxious to guard against desolating the corn fields of England, because the desolation of those corn fields would be attended by the ruin of our trade and commerce, our shopkeepers and artificers, and by a great confiscation of the property of the church. I am much the more anxious to do it for these reasons. We maintain, at least I will never belong to a party that does not maintain, that the well-being of all classes of its people should be the one great care of its Government. That in these things there is no priority of interests;—that there is no favouritism. But that this great principle cannot be acted upon for the benefit of a nation like this, nor efficiently maintained, unless we also remember that it is to the soil of every country that its first national obligations are due as the great birth-place and nourisher of its people. There are none more ready than the agriculturists and the inhabitants of the country towns and villages, to acknowledge, to the fullest extent, the obligations which they lie under, and the advantages which they derive from all the manufacturers and traders of every description, as customers for their produce, and active and ample contributors to their comforts, their happiness, and their wealth. But then we ask them to consider, what the wisest of them have ever been ready to acknowledge, that they owe to us what we can never owe to them;—that they owe not only their growth and increase, but their very existence to the prosperity of the land on which they have grown up. They have started into being from its labours. They are the growth of its exuberance. May we not ask them also to remember how their growth has been encouraged, as well as whence their origin was derived? And if the manufacturers of England have attained a high position, and a clear superiority above those of Europe and the world, they have done so under that very system of commercial law and British policy which has protected the land of England, while it has promoted their increase. And would a little party of them now ask leave to overset the corner-stone of that commercial policy by which they have grown so great? Whence is this strange insanity? Has too much prosperity made theta mad? Sir, I know not 878 what it is, nor to what catastrophe success may lead them; but I know that in other times, and in other countries, the predominance of manufactures has been the prelude to decay, and the neglect of domestic agriculture the forerunner of the misery of the people. And when I find that the soil of this country is, and ever has been, the main source, not the only source, from which its population has been fed, I feel it my duty to take care lest in seeking for foreign supplies the cultivation of our soil be discouraged or neglected, and the people one day be fed with the vain and bitter hope of obtaining from the fields of an enemy, or a rival, that which they might have grown, but have neglected to grow, at home. It is scarcity, it is famine, which are really to be dreaded from playing tricks with agriculture. May I be pardoned for referring for one moment to antiquity in this great matter. When the historian of the Roman empire was recording the distress which a scarcity of corn had produced in Rome, he expressly attributed it to a neglect of Italian cultivation, and the encouragement given to the produce of other countries by a dependence on foreign supplies, he says:—Frugum egestas et orta ex eo fames: quindecim dierum alimenta urbi, non amplius, superfuisse constitit. Deum benignitate, et modestia hiemis, rebus extremis subventum. At hercle olim ex Italiæ regionibus longinquas in provincias commeatus portabant. Nec nuns infecunditate laboratur; sed Africam potius, et Egyptum exercemus; navibus casibusque vita populi Romani permissa est.,He does not complain of ruined farms and cultivators, of landowners reduced to poverty, and the starving labourers of the fields. No, he does not speak of class-interests, as the noble Lord, the Member for London, calls them. This great man knew better than to consider agriculture a class interest. He speaks of the life of all—of the whole Roman people reduced to fifteen days' provisions, not because they did not import corn, but because they would import it—because they trusted for their supply of bread to fragile ships and foreign fields, and preferred a precarious merchandise to the improvement of the fertility of their own. It is the same here to-day. But without saying now, how far that parallel may be carried, I am sure there is no country under heaven in which rash experiments on 879 the cultivators of the soil are less to be encouraged than here with us. There is none in which they are so likely to fail miserably; and there is none in which their failure is so sure to be attended with so tremendous and wide-spread a ruin. There is none in which the utter destitution and misery of the people would be so sure to follow the destruction of what the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) calls class interests; but which we call the lawful depositories of arts, of wealth, of knowledge, and of power. What, then, shall we do? I can feel to the full the danger of the changeful system in which we move. I can feel the full force of the argument which would call upon Parliament to stand by what, in some measure, has been proved by experience to be right, rather than to set out upon the interminable search for what may possibly be better. And, surely, I can honour those, who taking up their position on the old ways, refuse to be diverted from their path by a dread of the precipice to which it may leads them. That is a lofty and an enviable position. Mine shall be a humbler choice; to oppose mischief by the means afforded me to oppose it; but if a humbler, not the less honourable. I will not assist to carry the ruinous measures of the noble Lord, because I may not quite approve of the measures of her Majesty's Ministers; I have not forgotten 1830, nor the mistakes in vain now lamented, nor the events consequent on that unhappy era, nor the impulse then given by well meaning men to the downward movement. The opinions, too, of her Majesty's Ministers are entitled to great respect. They have every motive to mean well, and their ability and knowledge are unquestioned. There are amongst them the first statesmen in Europe. True, they have yielded something; they have retreated in bringing on this question at all at the present moment, and after late events, from what many believed to be a firm position; that is no proof that they are wrong. There have been retreats which have been only second in glory to great victories. They have lain in the road to victories. This is an age, too, in which everything tends towards concession, and there is little of reward for a stern inflexible career. I cannot but think, that this retreat has been dictated by wisdom and by conscience, and therefore, that it is a retreat 880 in which there is no dishonour. And last of all, what, if by opposing their measure, I give effect to the principles of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck), and the consistent opponents of landed protection. I make the best bargain for agriculture by supporting her Majesty's Ministers; I make the best bargain for the constitution of the country. This is not only a question of Corn-laws; it affects the very principles of this constitution, and the honour no less than the constitution of this House. I think I see very plainly what is coming. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) once said this country could not afford a revolution once a-year. No doubt what he said was true —no doubt he said it in sincerity—and yet he must take his share in a new revolution if he will oppose himself in sincerity to the landed interest. Under this constitution, that interest, supported as it is by the best portion of all the others, while it maintains its interests with moderation and respect to them, must in effect be the governing power in this country. The noble Lord said it should be so, and I rejoice to know that it is. But the noble Lord's associates, who know it too, full as well as he, and are as desirous of the exaltation of their party, will make that fact, ere long, their strong reason for new changes, and a fresh reform; and having first argued that alleged grievances cannot be redressed, without abolishing landed protection, they will tell him, and according to their views they will tell him truly, that under this constitution of Parliament relief is hopeless. They will tell him, that he has given them a reform indeed, but that the fruit of that reform, when ripe and gathered, has been a landlord's and a farmers' Parliament, and that all that he has been about is useless, while the real work of popular reformation still remains to be performed. Will he follow the bolder spirits and far better logicians of this downward movement, or will he hold back and tremble when pressed with the doctrines drawn from that old school of Parliamentary sedition, in which he was himself, too long a time, so accomplished a teacher? Will he cry peace, when there shall be no peace? Will he, in this great political conflict, vainly strive at the last to place a barrier between the living and the dead, and with a feeble hand, but stirred by a pulse of better [aspirations, and the memory of those who have gong 881 before him, hope to save in the last struggle, the land and liberties of his great ancestors from the tyranny of modern inventions, and the coarser horrors of democratic rage? Sir, I know not what the noble Lord will do next. But having no proof of national benefits to be derived from his changes, or those of his more rational associates, and seeing all around me much of the distress and mischief, the effect of ill-considered change, I am resolved, for the benefit of the country, and the preservation of its liberties, to stand by the landed interest, which is only another name for the English interest, and to oppose, by the best means in my power, and now, by voting for the measure of her Majesty's Ministers, the schemes of those who for years past have shewn by nothing so much as their rashness in new legislation their hostility to English liberty, and their incapacity to govern their country.
§ Debate again adjourned.
§ House adjourned.