§ On the Order of the Day for resuming the adjourned debate on Mr. Wallace's motion,
said, that if he thought in rising so early to address that House, he could influence their determination, he should be guilty of presumption and vanity. He knew well that he could not hope they would do any thing, when they had resolved upon doing nothing, but meant to repose in the hope that something better might occur hereafter. If he could hope to excite them to exertion, he might point to the present state of things as sufficient to arouse them-—he could tell them that there was much peril in their present posi- 1172 tion—he might warn them that the State itself was in danger—that evil was around them, and a still greater evil impending. There could be no doubt that distress pervaded England. He never knew such an unanimity to prevail upon any one subject as upon the allegation of general distress in England. Ireland, too, was suffering; but that, alas! was now nothing new. She was, however, suffering extremely at present. There were two sources from which sprung the misery of Ireland—one was in its nature temporary, but was constantly recurring; and the other was more permanent in its nature, and the relief not possible at present. To give relief, however, to Ireland, they must first have prosperity in England. The first species of distress in Ireland was the consequence of three bad harvests. They had an exceedingly short harvest last year. He had reason, however, to believe—to have the confident hope that the poor man's harvest this year was likely to be very abundant. That was information which he received from every quarter. Of course, be was sure that there was nothing that be could announce to the House that would give more general satisfaction. He feared, however, that a very contrary intimation must be given of the wheat and oats, which were of the greatest importance to Ireland. He wished it might not be so; but he was afraid there was great accuracy in the statements he had received conveying such intelligence. The other distress, which was more permanent in Ireland, was the distress of those engaged in all kinds of trade, and especially the retail dealers. The business of the shopkeepers was diminishing daily—their debts were decreasing —their profits disappearing, and their embarrassments Continually extending. He did not see the possibility of this state of things being relieved Unless be could find it in the common interest which Ireland had in the prosperity of this country. He bad, then, a national interest in relieving the distress that now prevailed in England. To show the distress that prevailed in Ireland he should read an extract from an Irish newspaper. It was to the following effect:—It would appear from the Galway, Roscommon, and Tuam papers received yesterday, that the sufferings of the destitute have been but slightly, if at all, alleviated by the exertions of the local committees, and for the simple reason that the wealthy have neither 1173 aided them by their personal influence, nor contributed in proportion to their means. The whole weight of the burden has, as usual, fallen on the middle classes—the small resident gentry, the shopkeepers, and farmers, have subscribed largely and generously towards the relief funds, but the absentee landlords have done nothing, or next to nothing, for the miserable wretches who are literally dying of hunger in the immediate vicinity of their castle gates. 'The distress of the people,' says the Galway Vindicator of Saturday, 'is far from being abated. Throughout several districts of Mayo and this county the people are pining Under an amount of suffering unprecedented in the annals of even Irish misery. The calamity is aggravated by the heartless brutality of grinding and oppressive landlords who have no bowels of compassion for the poor.' That the people are in the condition described above is unfortunately too true. Famine is stalking over the land, and the calamity, as the Galway paper observes, is aggravated by the heartless brutality of the oppressor. On Saturday last a poor man came before Mr. Brew, the stipendiary magistrate at Tuam, and voluntarily made oath that neither he, his wife, or his two young children, had partaken of any description of food since the preceding Monday; in other words, that for five days and nights a whole family had been subjected to the most horrible torture which human nature can endure.There was nothing worse than that in this country, but still there was not the least doubt of the fearful extent of the distress here. Not a town was spoken of without a description of the distress which existed in it. The statistics of misery bad been over and over again gone through. This had not been a question of relief—not of hopes of prosperity—not of anything like ordinary or temporary distress, but it was a question of what places were most deeply afflicted, what trade laboured under the greatest depression, what class of operatives were worst off, in which town was the greater number of families pining under the influence of want and despair? And this was the way in which this country was now spoken of —this great country, which had so long held its proud state, the first among the nations, the first in arts, in sciences, and arms; the first in commercial industry, acuteness, and in that mental power and vigour which had given its skill free scope and field; which had made it the "envy of surrounding nations and the admiration of the world." What was its condition now? A condition of distress, of despair of people, of families famishing. He felt be could not depict, in language strong 1174 enough for the occasion, the extent of surrounding misery. But were they safe in remaining thus? Was the Social state safe in remaining thus? He had listened the other evening with the most profound attention to the speech of the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department. He had listened with equal attention to the speech of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Ministry, and to that delivered by the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies. He had listened to them all with the utmost anxiety, to hear whether they held out any hope to the people; whether they held out any consideration to come between them and despair. The speech of the noble Lord was characteristic. It was a reply, and of course, an able One; but it had no more to do with the distress of the country, or the mode of relieving these distresses than it had with the late cabinet of Shah Soojah, or a convocation of mandarins at Canton. The noble Lord referred to a whole catalogue of causes, to which different people attributed the distress, and sorry was he to see a smile upon the faces of some hon. Members at the recital; but the noble Lord had given them no catalogue of means of relief; he had suggested no hopes—had held out no expectations of relief. The noble Lord had talked of the causes of distress; but the question was the means of relieving that distress. On that head the noble Lord said nothing. The right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department, likewise, had suggested no measure of relief. He had told them of the impropriety of using language in that House which would have the effect of exciting the people. But if hunger did not excite them, what signified language? Then came the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. And what did he say? The right hon. Baronet objected to the terms of the amendment with all his great ingenuity; but out of these objections, supposing the right hon. Baronet to have been triumphant, could he not have framed a resolution of his own, which the House might adopt. There could be no difficulty in getting ready the words, provided they got the things. But the right hon. Baronet had concluded by stating, that the quantity of cotton which had been entered for home manufacture this year was as great, if not greater, than the amount last year; that some mills 1175 were about to be opened, and some founderies put in blast. But had any men ever held out a hope of the general distress being alleviated by these means. The right hon. Baronet's speech was a mere piece of mystification, not applicable to the question, and presenting no consolatory topics. His answer to the mystification was, that the people were starving. The right hon. Baronet boasted of his tariff as being superior in conception and extent to the proposed commercial plans of the late Government; he had entered into the details of the subject, but had they healed the evils in the land? His answer to the tariff argument again was, that the people were starving. He did not mean to speak of the right hon. Baronet's speech, or those of his Colleagues, with disrespect, but they contained no matter for hope—no suggestions thrown out with a view of producing even partial relief. And if the Government could not even give them hope, ought not they for the sake of the people to consent to an enquiry. The fact of the distress was undoubted. It was undoubted, too, that it was not a distress which had suddenly sprung up. It was certain that it had been approaching gradually, that, like the stealthy progress of the in-coming tide, it had been pursuing its gradual course, and, year after year, going on increasing more and more until it had now arrived at its acme, a deplorable and unendurable height. This they had on all hands admitted. And was it not most melancholy to think—was it not most deadening to hope, to look back upon the gradual approach of that misery, proceeding by degrees, and overwhelming everything which came in its way? Day after day more operatives were being discharged, and want was increasing. Nobody denied all this, and yet there were they sitting talking coolly upon the subject while the country was starving. He did not know, if it was a superstitious feeling, but he could not divest himself of the idea that there was something fatal—fearful, approaching. Why did he think so? It was from this. Did they forget that they were class legislators—did they forget that there was a landed class in this House— that there was also a class having great commercial wealth; and did they forget that the people knew it as well as they did? Did they forget that this House had been thronged with those who had ob- 1176 tained their seats by means of the grossest bribery? Did they forget that it had been admitted that bribery had everywhere been admitted to have existed; and did they forget that the people believed that they owed their seats to the worst and foulest means. They all knew that the Anti-Corn-law League was at present holding sittings in London, and he supposed there was no man so insensible as not to read the speeches which were made there. [A laugh.] Aye, they laughed—they had not thought of doing so. That laugh with which his words had been greeted strengthened his impression of impending calamity, for could he entertain other feelings when he saw the misery of the people treated with ridicule and laughter. But he would read the following extract from one of the speeches delivered at the Anti-Corn-law League. It was this: —Had not the working classes and the middle classes reason to speak with unqualified contempt of the House of Commons? Had it not been returned by gross bribery? Had they not all of them declared such to be the case in the House of Commons? Had not the aristocracy of England, and also the moneybag aristocracy, brought about that consummation? Had they not caused thousands of honest and independent minds, by threats and intimidation, to commit mental treason against their country; and would they not abominate that system that scared men into vassalage, and cursed them with slavery—that maddened them into lunatics, and drove them to acts of incendiarism, and if they did not die upon the scaffold they were sent to foreign lands, or else they were made paupers and buried as such.Was it not something new that language like this should be uttered—not by a constant agitator—not by one who made such pursuits his business, and was often therefore stigmatised as a demagogue—but that it should be uttered by industrious persons of the middle and wealthier orders, who, under the pressure of grievances, were driven to use language which, in their more calm moments, they would have avoided? Was not such a state of things pregnant with danger? The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had told them that in many towns and districts there were individuals who openly tried to excite the people to acts of violence. The right hon. Baronet had told them this, giving them, at the same time, the melancholy consolation that they possessed sufficient military power to put 1177 down any sudden outbreak of violence. It was indeed true that they should be glad to hear that the social state had some means of protection. But was it not melancholy that there did exist in society materials of such an inflammatory nature that the destruction of property might soon commence as a sort of revenge for misery and distress, and that even in these suffering districts the people were not left to the mere incitement which hunger or their own bad passions might lead to acts of violence, but that there were persons among them instigating and urging them forwards. Those great proprietors—those who have lived a life of luxury and ease—did they not hear in the groans of the people a voice of prophecy, a threatening voice, warning them that their state was not secure, announcing to them the perils by which they were surrounded? Would they wait until manufactories were blazing and farm-steads on fire? With such a prospect would they stand still—would they do nothing for the people? Much of the fear of the forebodings which he felt was founded upon the insensibility which, in political subjects, existed among men naturally humane and generous. He was not accusing them of insensibility in their individual characters, but the more kindly and generous they usually were, the more astonished he was that this insensibility should sometimes prevail. Their not rousing themselves to put some bounds to the country's misery, stamped insensibility upon them. They (the Opposition) were often asked, what means of relieving the distress they would resort to. He would, at all events, make an experiment. The state of the country was such as to warrant them in trying any experiment from which they could hope to reap beneficial results. But there appeared to be a simple plan. The simplest housewife would adopt it. The people were hungry—let them eat. But they said there was no food. Let them tell him no such thing. There were at this moment upwards of 1,500,000 quarters of wheat lying in bond, waiting until prices became high enough for the landlord to allow the people to be fed. Let them take care, or a time might be at hand in which no rents would be forthcoming. If this was an ordinary time of distress he would not urge them to make the experiment; but they were in a woeful state; the whole social state was in danger. Make the experiment, then. It 1178 might injure the landholders, but it would hold out some prospect of relief. The people knew that food was within their reach. They knew that it was locked up from them, in order that one class amongst them might prosper. The monopolists, indeed, aid they continued the system for the benefit of all; but the people said they persevered in it for the benefit of hem-selves. The monopolists said that their object was the prosperity of all classes. The people's answer was, "You are prospering, but we are starving." And their complaint had the likeness of truth; nay it was true. That was the condition of the country; and he addressed the House with a solemn conviction that something terrible was in store if they did not rouse and exert themselves. Yet they stood rigid, immoveable, refusing to give relief. Let no man tell him that he had not proposed something definite—something practical. He had proposed a plan which, even if it failed, would enable them to say to the people, "Your distress is not our fault; as far as we can we have relieved your starvation." But they still persevered in refusing even to attempt this. If their minds were not made up upon the effects which the adoption of his plan would produce, let them inquire. Let them inquire into the bearing of its adoption upon the markets. That they could easily find out. He, therefore, in the name of the people, called on the Government to make the experiment. He did so with the conscientious conviction that at this moment the State was in danger, and he could not see how those who allowed the distress to be as deep, as extensive, as it was on all hands admitted to be, could believe that the people would long continue patiently to endure the misery in which they were plunged. Let them remember that this was not the first time in which the country had been placed on the verge of revolution. He remembered the fearful state in which the country was left when the last Tory administration went out of office. The southern counties were in a state of insurrection. Well he remembered that, night after night, houses were attacked; that lives were lost; and that a special commission was obliged to be issued; that the law was disobeyed; that the judge and the hangman were left to be the sole vindicators of social order. He could remember all that. They had escaped the main danger then; 1179 but would they continue to escape it? Was the distress which existed then at all comparable to that which existed now? No; the state of things at the period in question was plenty and happiness to what it was now. Did they want to wait until another insurrection should take place? There was no country which would suffer more from acts of revolutionary violence than Britain—the state of society here was so complicated—the different classes so much bound up in each other, that the shock of revolution would produce miseries greater than were or could be contemplated. Surely, this was an additional motive for acting; the very distress which such an event would entail upon those who brought it about was surely a motive which should not be without its effect upon the Legislature in urging them to take some step of relief. Were they to wait until the incendiary began his work— until the manufactories were blazing, and woollen and cotton mills spreading abroad their flames upon the night? They themselves could not be safe unless they made an effort for the relief of the people. If they stood silent—if class legislators, introduced to the House by such means as he had alluded to, refused to give the people relief, he had at all events done his part. He had laid the distress before them; he had suggested means of relief. If that plan should be found wrong, let those who objected to it make, some other suggestion; if they could not make a better, let them take up with his. At all events, let them not close upon the people the door of despair. The Ministry had given the people no hope—they had shown insensibility to suffering; but let them retrace their steps, and let not Parliament separate until some effort had been made to relieve the suffering millions of this country.
§ Lord Eliot
would not have considered it necessary to rise, had it not been for a particular statement which the right hon. Gentleman had made in his speech. He had referred to a particular case of distress which he had stated on the authority of a newspaper. Now he had received certain statements with reference to that case from Mr. Brew, the stipendiary magistrate, who had been already referred to. He would read to the House the communication which he had received, but in the present state of the affair he would mention no names. The noble Lord read a statement from Mr. Brew to the following effect:— 1180I beg to report that the supply of potatoes is abundant, whole cart-loads remaining unsold. The price is from fivepence to fivepence halfpenny for cups and apples, and threepence halfpenny per stone for white potatoes. The distress arises not from scarcity but from want of employment, which is not unusual at this time, after the termination of the spring work and before the commencement of the harvest. I believe the accounts of the distress published in the papers to be greatly exaggerated, and I know strong steps to have been taken to get up cases. One I will mention. A man came to me and said he had been sent to request me to take the affidavit of a man by whom he was accompanied, and whom he stated to be in great distress. He further stated that the man, by making this affidavit, would get relief for himself and his family. The man stated that he had been five days without food; I said that that could not be the case, as there was a plentiful supply of food for the relief of the poor. The person pressed me to take the man's oath, and having effected his purpose said, 'Now come off to the printers until we get it inserted in the papers. I asked him, 'For what purpose?' The answer was, 'The gentleman told me to get it—that there was a reason for it.' The printer afterwards came to me, and asked me if I had taken an affidavit, and said that he knew it to be false, and that he had told the gentleman at whose instigation it was made, but he had received for answer, 'True, or not, you must insert it; I have a purpose for it.'Such was the statement which he had to meet the case alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, He hoped, however, that it would not be understood that he underrated the distress which prevailed in Ireland. He knew it to be great and severe, yet to be generally born with fortitude and resignation, but he could not permit unfounded statements to pass without contradiction, which would lead the House to suppose that the Irish landlords had not shown any bowels of compassion. He believed that that was the term used. On the contrary, the Irish landlords and clergymen of both denominations, had exerted themselves in the most praiseworthy manner to alleviate the suffering of the country. He did not mean to make the right hon. Gentleman responsible for the opinions of a newspaper, but he thought that unfounded statements should not be allowed to pass unnoticed. He would just remark before sitting down, that he had heard with much satisfaction the declaration of the hon. Gentleman, that he conceived the prosperity of Ireland to depend upon that of England.
explained, that the ex- 1181 tract which he had read was from the Morning Register newspaper, of the 5th of July, and that he had read it so as to distinguish the remarks of the Morning Register from the original statement, as given in a Galway paper. He quite agreed with the noble Lord, that many clergymen of both denominations had exerted themselves in the relief of the suffering poor, but there were melancholy exceptions.
§ Mr. Escott
said, there might be a way of making a speech in, which the speaker might dilate with great eloquence upon the distresses of the people, and yet, at the same time, couple with the most glowing descriptions the most mischievous suggestions, which meant that the people should adopt the course which the speaker appeared to deplore. Why did the right hon. and learned Gentleman talk of the burnings of farms and stacks? Did he wish for a recurrence of those scenes which had afflicted the country when the agricultural labourers were out of employ? It was admitted that distress pervaded all classes; but he wished that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would bring his powerful mind to bear upon what was the proposed remedy for this distress. The right hon. and learned Gentleman commenced his speech by saying that there was a remedy, but that in the present state of the Session and of the House, and seeing how the people were represented, they despaired of seeing the remedy carried into a law. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said he would suggest a practical remedy for the evil; and what was the remedy he proposed as a cure for the distress of the people? Why it was that the Legislature should reconsider that self-same question which the House of Commons had decided in the negative on the previous night. The hon. Gentleman said he despaired of this; but for the sake of the suffering poor, said he, grant a committee of inquiry. Now he would contend, if the hon. and learned Gentleman was not prepared to point out any remedy, let them not have an inquiry. It was a mischievous mode of proceeding to teach the people to look for legislative remedies for evils which were inherent in the present state of things. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked of the insensibility to the sufferings of the poor on those (the Ministerial) benches, and as a proof of that insensibility taunted them with not having read trumpery 1182 passages from inflammatory papers. He said:—The Corn-laws are preserved for the interests of the landlords. You have tender hearts, why will you not spare some of this protection for the benefit of the poor?He would tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that they would do so when it was proved that the repeal of the Corn-laws would be beneficial to the poor. It was to secure a sufficient home supply that these laws were continued, though no person had discussed the question upon that ground. The debate on the Corn-law question was remarkable for the speeches of the three noble Lords who formed a part of the late Administration. They produced a remedy which met with a fate not like that which was proposed last night. It was negatived by the votes of two Parliaments, and by the voice of the country, as expressed at the last general election. The noble Lord the Member for Sunderland admitted that one great step had been gained; for though the advantage to be derived from the tariff would be trifling, much was gained in the avowal of the principle that it was the interest of the country to buy in the cheapest market. This principle was not new, but it should be remembered that it was likewise the interest of a country to sell in the dearest market, and the interests of those who sold should be consulted as well as the interests of those who bought, and care should be taken that what had benefitted the consumer did not fall too heavily on the producer. As to the tariff, he had always expected something from it, but no relief to the extent which some hon. Friends near him deprecated as equal to what their fears predicted. Though it would not increase the amount of the prime meats, it would introduce those of inferior quality to cheer the poor man's cottage. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton admitted that the tariff would afford some relief, but that it would be counterbalanced by the Income-tax. Among all their misfortunes, there was nothing which the people regarded with so much dread as the return to office of the noble Lords opposite, who had inflicted so many calamities on the country. To their neglect much of the present distress was to be ascribed. It was their duty when in office to have taken every possible step to open new markets, to pacify the dispositions of nations which might have been hostile to 1183 us, and to enter into wise treaties for the extension of our commerce. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton had come down to the House a few nights ago, flushed, he supposed, with Indian successes, and told them that they had not yet reaped the fruits of his gigantic projects,—that he had passed the Indus, entered Central Asia, and secured a great trade in China. The noble Lord had also told the House on another occasion, that the world was divided into various zones and countries, in order that man might be dependent on man. The noble Lord might flatter himself that he was a great moral philosopher—one who was able to discover the causes of things; but he must be more than a philosopher, he must have the powers of a magician, before he could persuade the people of England that their export trade would be promoted by the war in Affghanistan. It was a grave consideration for the Government and for Parliament whether that war had not been so unjust, so flagrant a violation of the rights of nations, that it ought to be continued no longer. His view was, that it had commenced in unjust aggression, and could terminate only in disgrace. The noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) had told the House the other night that one of the first acts of the present Government after their accession to power, had been to write to Lord Auckland, requesting him to remain in India as Governor-general. He knew nothing of what Government had done, but he would venture to state, on what he considered good authority, that Government had never asked Lord Auckland to remain in India. He believed that there was no particle of foundation for the noble Lord's statement; he believed the noble Lord had stated in the House that which had not been done by the Government, and had made that an article of charge against the Government. With respect to that distress of which noble Lords and hon. Members opposite talked so much, the country had at former periods suffered equal distress, and on each occasion recovered its prosperity; and he was firmly persuaded that the genius and energies of the people would yet enable them to surmount their present difficulties. The hon. Member concluded as follows:—Sir, it has been the practice with some who have taken part in the debates of this House on the various great and important subjects which have 1184 occupied its attention during this Session of Parliament, to address my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government in terms of caution and advice. Far be it from me to caution or advise him, but, as a Member of the same House of Commons with himself, I do petition, and I will implore—I ask him who has been raised to a great pre-eminence by the deliberate choice of a free people, and who has used his newly-gotten power for very noble purposes; who in a marvellously short space of time has done great things; who in a few short months has planned and carried into effect a law for restoring our dilapidated finances, and repairing the damage of others' hands,—I ask him in after time to go one step farther, and to seize for himself, as I think he will, that richer reward, that imperishable renown, that unfading diadem, that deathless glory, which shall be his, whoever he be, who shall comfort the sons and daughters of affliction, and raise up the drooping heads of those industrious men whose labour is their only property, though it has given the value to all our possessions, whose labour too often goes unrewarded, though it has constituted and raised up for itself a perpetual and an indefeasible title to our protection, our solicitude, and our care.
"Hæ tibi erunt artes; pacisque imponere morem,
§ Viscount Palmerston:
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down denies from authority that the allegation I made the other night, that the late President of the Board of Control had, soon after he came into office, written to Lord Auckland, expressing a wish that he should continue Governor of India.
§ Mr. Escott
I did not say I spoke from authority. [An hon. Member: "All but authority."] I stated I had reason to believe and almost knew the fact to be contrary to what was alleged. But I rested the statement altogether on my own responsibility.
§ Viscount Palmerston:
It becomes now equally necessary for me to explain to the House the grounds on which I made that statement. I did so in consequence of an extract I had seen from a private letter addressed by one Member of Lord Auckland's family in India to another in England, of which I have a copy in my hand, and which I shall read to the House. The 1185 letter is dated, Calcutta, November 20, 1841. And, after expressing the regret of the writer that the post had brought no news of a successor, it continues:—In fact it is very lucky that Lord Auckland sent home a positive resignation, for Lord Ellenborough has wrote him a most friendly letter, wishing him to stay, and saying that they should get on together admirably.
§ Mr. Escott:
The noble Lord's explanation is not inconsistent with what I have said; for Lord Ellenborough is not the Government.
§ Viscount Palmerston
My statement was this—that it was one of the first acts of the present Government, through their President of the Board of Control, to express a wish to Lord Auckland that he should continue Governor of India. That was my statement, and I have given my authority for it.
§ Mr. P. M. Stewart
said, that however faint the prospect of relief to the public sufferings might be, it must be some consolation to the distressed people that they had been brought before the Legislature, and discussed amply by the House. The distress of the manufacturing districts, it was admitted on all hands, had reached a point of extreme intensity; and it was admitted also that the fiscal alterations made by Government would have no effect in relieving the sufferings of the people. The distress now prevailing had never been equalled in extent or duration. He wished to say one word in deprecation of what had fallen from several hon. Members on that side, in disparagement of private contributions and individual charities in relief of the distress. If persons in his part of the country had not been actuated by a disposition to contribute liberally, he could assure the House that the county of Renfrew and town of Paisley would have been plunged into still greater destitution than actually existed. For several weeks the people had been almost entirely dependent for subsistence on individual contributions. The Queen had not only contributed towards the subscription, but also effected a great benefit for the community, by creating a fashion for the manufactures of Paisley. He had also to acknowledge the service which had been done by the leading Members of the Government. As a Government they could not act, but as individuals they had given handsome contributions to supply the wants of the suffering population. He admitted there was 1186 nothing practicable in the proposition before the House. It was proposed that they should continue their sittings until means were devised to relieve the present distress. Hitherto they had been engaged in discussing the measures submitted by the Government to the consideration of Parliament; and those measures had been objected to by the Opposition as inadequate to the existing exigencies. If they were to continue their sittings, the same questions would be discussed by the same parties, and the same result would ensue, as was evident from the debate which had taken place last night. With respect to the great question of corn, it had been announced by the Government that no change in that measure would be assented to. Still, if the hon. Member for Greenock went to a division, he would divide with him. He repeated, that he saw no practical result in the proposition; but, as out of the six resolutions moved, five of them, affirming the existence of distress, were undeniably just, he would not vote against the hon. Member, if the opinion of the House should be taken on them. They had done their best, and the question for the House now to determine was, whether they should continue to sit there, or go home to their constituents and perform their duty as Members of the particular community to which they belonged, leaving the responsibility arising out of the present state of the country to the Government.
said, that in the part of the country with which he was connected the distress at this period of the year was dreadful, and was generally of annual recurrence. It had been said, in evidence of the distress in England, that the people were obliged to use oatmeal instead of wheaten bread. But the poor in Ireland, and especially in that part of it with which he (Viscount Clements) was connected, would think themselves too happy if they could procure a small quantity of oatmeal. The bad quality of the food, and the unripe potatoes which the people were obliged to eat, produced fever and sickness to a frightful degree. In allusion to what had fallen the other night from the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, he must state, that the descriptions of dreadful distress, lately given in a Galway paper, were correct. The Poor-law, together with an improved administration of the medical charities, would, he trusted, aid in impro- 1187 ving so deplorable a state of things, but at present the distress was awful.
§ Mr. Borthwick
said, the proposal of the hon. Member for Greenock was so totally incommensurate to the evils which existed, that he was surprised how a House of Commons could have spent so many nights in debating upon it. The party of which be was a Member had not used the same steps to excite and inflame the minds of the people against the late Government which the Whigs took against the Tory Administration in 1830, and which, just before the latter Government left power, led to the circumstance that the Sovereign, however popular, could not proceed into the city to partake of the proffered hospitality. He (Mr. Borthwick) could not vote for the present motion, inasmuch as the plan of Government (of every part of which he was far from approving) was now presented as a complete whole, while there was nothing tangible in the proposition of the hon. Gentleman opposite. The distress of the working classes was unfortunately greater than anything ever before known in the history of this country, but it would be only aggravated by the free-trade policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite. "While he was not overweening in his confidence in the present Government, he was happy that they had now an Administration capable of giving effect to its own measures. There was every element of prosperity in the country; and if the Government was true to itself it would deserve the eternal gratitude of the people for the restoration of this prosperity. In proportion as Liberal theories were acted upon, in the same proportion was there a decay in the prosperity of the country. He hoped, therefore to hear no more of them.
§ Mr. Marsland
observed, that some hon. Members objected to the motion, but they did not themselves propose anything more definite or tangible. By some Members of the Government they were told to wait for a good harvest, that a favourable season would put an end to all the difficulties of the country; but who would contend that pleasing anticipations were sufficient to maintain a starving people? The disease had gone too far to allow of half measures. The people were clamorous for bread, and yet the Ministers looked calmly on a wide scene of desolation, and withheld the only remedy from which the people could hope to derive any relief. A mitigation of the public distress could not 1188 be expected so long as the present restrictions on commerce were allowed to continue. All the interests in the nation were borne down by the pressure of the times, and yet the leading measures of the Government consisted in the imposition of fresh taxes. Such a state of things could not continue. There was a crisis beyond which misery could not be endured, and the people had now arrived at a point when no change could be a change for the worse. No one could view the condition of the working classes in the manufacturing districts without apprehending the most formidable evils from the state of desperation to which they had been reduced, and the middle classes were so dispirited that there could be little hope of inducing them to restrain any tumultuous proceedings of the working men. In the borough which he represented there were from 2,000 to 3,000 of the cottage houses untenanted, and more than half their manufacturers were unable any longer to carry on business. There was, therefore, a diminution of their weekly circulation to the extent of 7,000l. or 8,000l.; that was a void which no charity could fill; that was a state of things which no power less than that of legislative enactments could remedy. The people of England did not ask for charity; they demanded justice, in order that they should not perish in the streets, but be allowed to exchange their goods with the nations of the continent for that corn which those nations so abundantly possessed.
§ Mr. Childers
imputed the prevailing distress to the high prices of corn. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorsetshire expressed a confident hope that the approaching harvest would be one of a favourable character, and the ground of his expectation was this—that we rarely were visited by more than two bad harvests in succession. It appeared to him that facts did not bear out such a statement. Every harvest was to be judged of by the prices of the succeeding year. The prices of the last three years were as follows:— 1839, 70s. 8d.; 1840, 66s. 4d.; 1841, 65s. 4d.; and probably the average price of 1842 would be about 64s. He was, therefore, warranted in saying that we have recently had four deficient harvests. Our average price for the last three years was 67s., a price certainly quite sufficient to account for the prevailing distress. It was said that there was a prospect of an 1189 abundant harvest; but would that prospect be realized? He remembered that when the right hon. Baronet was sent for from Italy to take a part in the Government, it was supposed that there would be a very bad harvest, and it was not until after the Whig Administration went out, and it had been thrashed, that the public were convinced that their gloomy apprehensions were unfounded. The country was now in a position in which great changes must be made in our commercial system, or it would be impossible for us to go on. He believed that the protection of corn was the great key of all protection and the shield of all monopoly; therefore, unless the ports were opened, the manufacturers of this country must still suffer, and increase in suffering. The right hon. Baronet, in the course of the present debate, had mentioned a principle of which in the past year he spoke in rather a melancholy tone — that of buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest; and there was another principle also which deserved equal consideration—that all commercial restrictions should be removed, and that we should trust to the influence of our example upon other nations. These two principles ought to be carried into practice. He was glad that the resolutions of the hon. Member had been submitted to the House, because he thought the discussion of them would Show the people that Parliament was not unmindful of their distresses. He anticipated great practical good from this discussion; because, although he despaired of immediate remedial measures, it would lay a foundation for the prevention of vicious legislation; but, as he saw that no practical good was likely to result from Parliament prolonging its sitting, he could not vote in support of the motion.
§ Mr. M. Phillips
had never risen to address the House with feelings of greater emotion. The distress of the country, spreading among all classes of the community, he had never before witnessed, and which he fervently hoped would never occur again. The statement of the hon. Member for Stockport was entitled to the deep and anxious consideration of that House; and when he reflected upon the deplorable state of a constituency, removed only by seven miles from that which he himself represented, he would ask whether he had not reason to conclude that the distress prevailing in the neighbour- 1190 ing borough would not long be kept from his own. It was not his intention to trouble the House with long statements of figures to prove the fact of the existence of a deep and widely-spread distress. Enough had been said on that point by those who had preceded him. But when he heard some hon. Gentlemen say that there had formerly been periods of distress equal in intensity to the present, and when they said that we were likely to be relieved from it in the same manner as before, he could not help drawing a contrast between those times and the present. The difficulties of the country which arose out of the panic of 1826 were of a different nature, and arose from different causes. Now, the Bank of England had improved, our monetary system had improved, and yet with those means at the present moment at hand and ready to be exercised, we had a stagnate trade; labour unemployed; manufacturers becoming more and more desponding as markets fell. Now, with regard to the Corn-law considered as producing these effects, let him say that his opinions on that subject had undergone no change. He had never considered the prosperity that manifested itself in 1835 and 1836 was permanent and enduring in its nature. He had then stated his opinion that the main, the great evil remained uncorrected; that the undercurrent of evil was silently flowing, not, perhaps, distinctly apparent to the view, of all those men who were anxiously absorbed in their commercial transactions, but still it was there. He had then said, and his opinion was on record, that the Corn-law was at work effecting evil to commerce, although, perhaps, not so palpable on account of the speculations then carried on, the expansion of the currency, and other causes. What was wanted now was a market for our commodities. In the whole course of his life he had never felt more convinced, nor had he ever stated an opinion with warmer sincerity, that unless the trade in the first great necessary of existence were thrown open, all other attempts at amelioration would be unavailing. They might patch by legislation here and legislation there, but by postponing that which he solemnly believed was the only remedy, the country would be placed in such a condition that her institutions would be swept away. None could more regret such a result than he. It was not only a question of the 1191 Corn-law alone, but the safety of the institutions of the country was involved with it. Much had been said of the immigration of labourers from the agricultural into the manufacturing districts. There had, he thought, been an exaggeration, rather perhaps of opinion than of statement on that point, but he begged the attention of the House to a document, the correctness of which he believed no one in the House would question, he meant the report of Mr. Moggridge, dated 20th of July, 1836. [the hon. Member read an extract from the report, which stated that 329 families, or 2,673 persons had so immigrated]. Let the House and the Government consider that they had to deal with persons who were starving. The resources of private charity were utterly unavailing to counteract the distress. He had not himself entered into an exact calculation, but he believed it would be impossible to raise out of that source even the amount of one day's wages of the manufacturing population. Under all these circumstances it behoved the House carefully to consider their course. Nothing could induce him on the present occasion, as he had done formerly, to advocate the repeal of the Corn-law, unless he was thoroughly convinced in his own mind that nothing else could give to the labouring population the means of employment, and give to the people the means of exchanging their commodities for the produce of other nations. He had entertained that opinion at a time when it was unpopular with one party as well as with the other—at a time when he was deemed Quixotic for the opinion he expressed that the corn duties should be gradually diminished until they should cease altogether at the end of seven years. He felt it his duty on the present, as he had on all preceding occasions, to lend his feeble but anxious assistance to the promotion of what he believed to be a sound and wholesome system of legislation—to give to the commerce of this country that free expansion which he felt convinced must redound to the interest of every class in the community, and to that of none more than the agricultural. What, he would ask, would be the position of the country if they refused to do this? What had enabled England to encounter and overpower the difficulties with which she had before been surrounded? What had enabled her to pay the interest of a debt unexam- 1192 pled in magnitude? Had it not been the extent to which her manufacturing industry had been carried—and that thus in former years employment had been found for our increasing population; and manufacturers and merchants had paid large shares of those taxes that had enabled the public faith to be maintained, and England to uphold her position among nations. If the course of legislation led not to improvement in the state of manufactures, the interest of the debt could not be paid from taxes collected from the manufacturing districts, and if not collected there, they must fall upon the land. That was an alternative he should wish to avert. He had no wish to throw upon the shoulders of others burdens which the merchants and manufacturers ought to bear, but when he saw the position in which they were now placed, endeavouring, as it were, to contend with other nations with one hand tied behind them, then it became his duty to point out the dangers he feared, and the means he believed would avert them. He was convinced that the present state of our trade with the United States was susceptible of immediate improvement, by putting us in a position to receive from them what they could give in exchange for our commodities. The United States at present, in regard to their finance and monetary system, was in that state of dislocation and dilapidation that years must elapse before she could become a bonâ fide consumer of our manufactured goods to the extent she had been; and he knew of no means by which the proper commercial connection could be kept up between the two countries than by enabling the two countries to exchange the produce of their industry. In addressing himself to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government on the subject of the present crisis, he sincerely assured him he was actuated by no personal feeling of disrespect, and he would say to that right hon. Gentleman, knowing as he did his high talents—"Declare yourself at once in favour of that movement which will restore the equilibrium of the country. Do not suffer yourself to be guided by the feelings and influences of those around you, when you know their counsels must inflict injury upon the country, but come forward and place yourself at the bead of this movement in favour of free-trade, and you will be regarded by posterity as the Minister who had the moral courage 1193 to throw aside all party prepossessions, all consideration of class interests for the general good of the country. Then you will assume the position to which your talents entitle you, and then will you be rewarded in after times by the thanks and blessings of your countrymen."
Mr. R. Yorke
, in allusion to the Corn-laws, said that the right hon, Baronet, when he proposed his Corn-bill this year, stated that it was necessary to render this country independent of every other. The noble Duke, however, at the head of the Government in the other House, expressed himself in precisely the contrary terms, and yet both of these high personages, differing entirely upon the results of this bill, concurred in passing this restrictive measure. In the year of 1820 and 1821 this House had appointed a committee for the purpose of inquiring into the question of the Corn-laws. Among this committee was the hon. Member for the county of York, now Lord Wharncliffe. The immediate inquiry then was, whether the operation of the Corn-laws was good, and whether the sliding-scale was good. The conclusion they came to was, that the sliding-scale afforded the greatest temptations to fraud, and that a fixed duty was much more just and judicious for the country to adopt. What was the conclusion that common sense would deduce from this fact? Why simply that the supporters of the sliding-scale had reckoned without their host, and by their present measure they permitted the greatest gambling to take place with the famishing stomachs of the people, upon the principle of this phantom of protection.
§ General Johnson
said, that during the whole of this debate on the motion of the hon. Member for Greenock no remedy had been proposed for the relief of the distress but the tariff. The tariff was to work wonders. He could not perceive how it would operate beneficially to the country. The starving people could not wait until the tariff came into full operation. Some remedy must be proposed for the relief of those who were suffering from an alarming state of distress. He should not think that the hon. Baronet would allow the Session to close without bringing forward a measure of relief. It had been stated that a repeal of the Corn-laws would have the effect of mitigating the distress so generally prevalent. If the Corn-laws were repealed, how long, he would ask, 1194 would this country be able to pay the interest of the national debt? He thought that a repeal of these laws would reduce the agricultural interest to the same amount of distress now prevailing in the manufacturing districts. He was disposed, however, to try what would be the effect of a modification of these laws, although he was not over-sanguine of the result. With reference to the distress in the country, he held in his hand a letter from a private correspondent. It detailed some facts in relation to the number of persons who had received casual relief in the first week of July from the year 1838 to 1842, in the township of Oldham. By that letter it appeared that in the first week in July, 1838, and the same period in each year until the present, the number of persons who received casual assistance and the amount of relief afforded were as follows:—
It was alarming to contemplate the increase of distress, and that too during the height of summer. Allusion had been made to the coming harvest. He was not sanguine on that point. There was no prospect of an average quantity of wheat in the country. He would not support a vote of credit or vote for further supplies unless the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government held out some hope of relief.
Years No. of Persons. Amount of Relief. £. s. d. 1838 171 20 14 8 1839 386 39 18 3 1840 364 49 17 8 1841 399 56 11 6 1842 658 92 0 0
§ Mr. Grimsditch
thought, that it was absurd to suppose that a repeal of the Corn-laws would afford relief. He regretted to say that for the last twenty years the wages of the artisans had taken a downward course, owing to the general extension of steam power and the introduction of machinery. The work which in former years would have employed 300 hands could now be performed by fifty. Within a circumscribed district round Manchester there had been an increase of 10,000 horse power. Machinery had increased to so great an extent that it rendered this country capable of, not only supplying the world, but another equally 1195 as large. Look at our position with reference to America. That country owed us 50,000,000l. That was enough alone to exhaust the energies and resources of this country. He was satisfied that it would be necessary to relieve the distress of the people, which had been occasioned by the vast increase of machinery in this country; it would be necessary to legislate on the subject of labour, and he would be quite prepared to give his vote for a ten hours' factory bill. If the Corn-law were repealed to-morrow it would not mitigate the distress of the people one iota. That was not what was wanted, and he would give his vote against the motion of the hon. Member for Greenock.
§ Mr. Leader
ascribed the distress of the country to that system of class-legislation which had had the effect of closing the markets of the world against the reception of our manufactures. Part of the distress undoubtedly arose from causes over which the Legislature had no control, but by far the greater part of it was occasioned by the unwise and mistaken course into which our legislation had been directed. Had that House really been the representative of the people, he believed he should not now have to lament the distress under which the country was suffering. When the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire (Lord Stanley) said that the country was now reaping the fruits of the political seed sowed by the late Government, the noble Lord ought to bear in mind that for the last two or three years of its existence the late Government was completely under the control of the party who now held the reins of power, and that it had been the boast of that party that the Minister of the day could carry no measure nor adopt any one act without their sanction and concurrence. That being the case, the Gentlemen now upon the Ministerial bench were as responsible as the late Government itself for the very measure to which the noble Lord now attributed so much mischief. Previous to the accession to power of the present Ministry all the evils of which the country complained were attributed to the weakness of the then existing Government. "You cannot carry your measures," said their opponents; "you are tottering upon your legs; your power has passed away from you; you are weak; the country has lost its confidence in you. We, on the other hand, are strong; men are dis- 1196 posed to trust us; we have power in our hands; give us the reins of Government, and we will replenish your finances, give prosperity to trade, and restore the happiness of the people." These strong men were now in power, but what had they done? They had given the people an Income-tax, pressing more heavily and oppressively upon trade than any other tax could possibly do, and they had effected some alterations in the tariff. Those alterations undoubtedly were good, as far as they went; but they had this vice, that they involved every small interest in the country, without ever touching the great ones. It was a mockery to say that the alteration in the Corn-laws touched, in the slightest degree, the monopoly of the agriculturists. Under these circumstances, the working classes, finding that the strong Government from whose promises they had been led to expect so much, did not carry out the views it had professed, would begin to adopt a sterner tone of language. They would say:—"You, the House of Commons, who claim to represent the morality, wealth, and intelligence of the country, say that you can do nothing for us; you refuse to listen to our grievances, even when we put on your Table a petition signed by 3,000,000 of the people. You will not hear us explain our wrongs, nor listen to what we believe would be a remedy for our sufferings. You have been tried long enough. Let us now he admitted within the pale of the constitution, and as you can find no remedy for our distress, let us see whether we cannot find one for ourselves." He maintained that the course pursued by the late and by the present Government—the distress which prevailed, and the denial to listen to the remonstrances of the people—would do more to strengthen the power of those who sought for an alteration of the representative system than any travelling lecturers, any ardent speeches, or any public meetings could ever do. One of the great mischiefs resulting from the restrictions still imposed by our tariff was the difficulty thence imposed in the way of effecting commercial treaties with foreign nations. The Member for Shrewsbury had asked, "What had become of our long-promised commercial treaty with France?" He begged to repeat that question. France had lately imposed an additional duty of 12 or 15 per cent, upon our linen and linen yarn. This, would cause great 1197 additional distress in several districts of the north of England and of Scotland. Further than this, he should like to ask her Majesty's Ministers whether they had not heard of a negotiation going on between the French and Belgian governments, by which the French were endeavouring to induce Belgium to put an additional transit duty upon British goods passing through Belgium to France; and if they had heard of it he should like to know what measures they had taken to prevent its being concluded. Everything of this sort, indirectly operating against the commerce of England, necessarily added to the distress of the working classes. It was right, therefore, that this House should know whether the Government were alive to the subject, and whether they intended to take any decided step in reference to it? Again, what had become of the much talked of treaty with Spain? It was only the other day that the Spanish government also had put an additional duty upon English goods. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman opposite fancied that this could not materially affect the causes of distress in this country, but he begged to tell them that the recent acts of the Spanish and French governments would have the effect of throwing thousands of men out of employment during the next winter. He mentioned the failure of our commercial negotiations, and the additional suffering which he believed would thence be entailed upon the people of this country, in order again to say that he was satisfied that all our commercial negotiations with other countries were broken off on account of the system which our rulers seemed determined to uphold, of preventing the free importation of corn. Speaking upon this point of our commercial relations with other countries, he could not but refer to what had been said on a previous evening, by the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, (Lord Stanley.) The noble Lord spoke upon that occasion, as he always did, with great energy and talent, but certainly with more than his usual indiscretion. The noble Lord condemned, as strongly as language could condemn, the policy of the late Government in respect to China and India. Now he should like to know what foreigners would think of a Government, one of the leading Members of which actually went out of his way to attack a policy which his Col- 1198 leagues had adopted. What but divided counsels could be expected from a Government, the subordinate members of which did not even appear to know what their head and chief had approved and adopted? When the noble Lord attacked the policy of the late Government in respect to China and India, he ought to remember that all the responsibility for the adoption of that policy did not rest with the Members of the late Ministry, for at the very time that that policy was under discussion in Parliament, the Gentlemen now in office made it their boast that they could, whenever they pleased, stop any measure of the Government. If, therefore, the policy in respect to China and India had turned out to be disastrous, the present Government was fully as responsible for it as the late Government could be. The evils of which the country now complained he believed to have been caused by the bad policy of the executive; and, in his opinion, the remedy was only to be found in making our tariff much more libera, and by adopting, to the fullest possible extent, the principles of free-trade.
§ Mr. C. Buller
felt anxious to state his feelings upon the very grave question before the House, and he was most anxious to discuss it without the slightest particle of party feeling. Before going into the subject, be wished to refer to the attack made by the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies upon his political opponents. He said the present Government would devote the whole of the summer and the autumn in repairing the blunders of the late Government; and then he attacked their policy in Affghanistan and in China, and pointed at that policy as the cause of the distress. The noble Lord alluded to this portion of the policy of the late Government as one of the causes of the prevalent distress. He would not enter into any discussion as to the policy of the Government in reference to this subject, but he thought the noble Lord would be unable to prove that that policy had any effect in producing the distress under which the country now laboured. Could the noble Lord point out any trade or interest in this country which was affected by the policy we had pursued? The late Government engaged in war with China, in order to restore the commerce which had previously existed, and which had been interrupted by the edicts of the Emperor. But he would ask, 1199 had the trade with China sustained any interruption in consequence of the present hostile state of affairs? The fact that the import of tea into this country still continued, the fact that since the commencement of the war the supply had been more abundant than previously, and that the price had fallen, showed that hostilities had not interrupted the trade. The noble Lord had also referred to the policy we had pursued with regard to India. What interest, what department of the trade of this country, he would ask, had been affected by our Indian policy? What description of goods manufactured in this country had been prevented from finding a market in consequence of the hostilities in India? He believed the fact was, that since our armies crossed the Indus, the import of British goods into India had increased considerably. If they looked to the commercial history of India, they would find that during the period the late Government held office much had been done towards developing the resources of that country, and opening new channels of industry and wealth. During that period the cultivation of tea had been introduced into India, and it had now become an article of extensive export, and the amount exported was gradually increasing. During the same period, also, the production of sugar for the English market had been commenced and encouraged; and a still more important step had been taken, in the introduction into India of a mode of preparing cotton. He thought the noble Lord, in endeavouring to obtain a cheer from his partisans by throwing discredit on his political opponents, had not pursued a course which was likely to aid them in the attainment of their present object—the determination of the causes of the existing distress. The question now under consideration was one which he conceived ought to be approached with the greatest delicacy, for there were two causes of apprehension which must be entertained by all who entered into such a discussion. The first was, that they might hold out hopes of relief with regard to matters which were beyond the control of the Legislature; and the other was, that, in timid apathy, they might, because they could not remove all the causes of distress, forbear to grapple with those which it was in their power to deal with. He thought the present was a most important crisis in the history of the coun- 1200 try, and if hon. Gentlemen were desirous of preventing an absolute check to our prosperity, it was their duty to inquire whether, by any alteration in our present policy, a larger field might be afforded for the exercise of the energies of our countrymen. The intensity of the distress which existed at this moment was admitted on all hands. It was also admitted, that at no former period had distress prevailed to such an extent as at present. This distress did not affect any one branch of manufacture alone, but it extended to all departments of trade. Not only was the cotton manufacture depressed, but the iron and woollen trades were in a most lamentable condition; and he believed, that there was hardly a town in the country which suffered more severely than Leeds. The distress was not, however, confined to the northern districts; it was felt extensively in the south of England. He had seen a letter from an intelligent country gentleman resident in Devonshire, who said, that the distress which prevailed in that district—and especially in the towns of Exeter and Plymouth—was such as had never been witnessed before. He considered that, with regard to this metropolis, the gaiety of the season—the balls and parties which were given—deceived many people as to the actual state of affairs. He believed there never had been a worse season than the present for the tradesmen of the metropolis. He might allude to one trade in particular, the bookselling trade, which was in a state of the utmost depression; and he thought it might be regarded as a fair index of the condition of other branches of business. One alarming feature of the present distress-was its extremely long duration; and the great question was, under what circumstances, and from what causes, could they hope for any revival of trade? He thought the right hon. Baronet, at the head of her Majesty's Government, had not used a very consolatory argument, in alluding to the large imports of cotton, and the activity of our manufacturers during the period of this distress. If any circumstance was calculated to damp the hopes of a revival of trade, it was this, that, during the prevalence of the existing distress, the stocks of the manufacturers had continued to increase, and that they had carried on their competition more vigorously than before, endeavouring to make up by small profits upon large quantities of goods, for 1201 the decrease of their usual amount of profit. The result was, that at the present moment, the world was deluged with our manufactured goods, and that there was now less chance of the revival of trade than there was at the commencement of the depression. He thought, then, that it was the duty of Parliament and of her Majesty's Government, to look these difficulties fairly in the face, and to give full consideration to the various proposals for the relief of the existing distress. The great question was, what remedy could be provided for this distress? The deduction he drew from the debates on this subject was this, that there never was a period when the people were more ready to work than now, or when they would labour with greater energy; but that the existing distress arose from the fact of our being unable to obtain a market for our manufactures. How, then, could we obtain a market? It had been said, that our inability to obtain a market arose from the detestable system of commercial policy we had pursued in endeavouring to induce other nations to take our manufactures, without receiving their productions in return. Let them reverse this system—let them deal on the ordinary principles of barter. If they expected other nations to take their manufactures, they ought to take the productions of those countries in return. Above all, they must repeal those laws which stood most prominently in the way of free commercial intercourse—the Corn-laws; thus giving the people cheaper food and more extensive markets with corn-producing countries. What course had her Majesty's present Government pursued on this subject? They had considered the question, and, to use the language of the right hon. Baronet, the Paymaster of the Forces, they had determined, that the great object of their legislation with regard to corn should be to maintain the country gentlemen in their present position. The Government had endeavoured, by the measure they had introduced, to render the monopoly less offensive, but the law still operated as mischievously as ever. Hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House had last night proposed to give the Government the power —as they would not consent to a free-trade in corn—to admit corn free of duty, if circumstances rendered it expedient to adopt such a measure; but the Government, by their majority, rejected the pro- 1202 posal and refused to accept the power of conferring this boon on the people. But it was said, that the tariff introduced by her Majesty's Government was founded on free-trade principles, and would tend to promote our commercial intercourse with other nations. He certainly considered, that the principles of free-trade were never more fully advocated than in the speech by which the right hon. Baronet introduced the tariff. The great principles of free-trade were laid down most admirably and consistently in the speech of the right hon. Baronet, but they were most inconsistently carried out in the tariff. He considered the tariff a bold measure; it shook the whole system of monopoly, and he had no doubt that eventually results most satisfactory to hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House would ensue from its adoption. But how did it bear on the comforts of the people? He thought the measure had been ingeniously contrived in such a manner as to avoid dealing with any article of general consumption by the people. First, the tariff did not affect the price of one of the greatest necessaries of life—bread. He might observe, in passing, that since the adoption of the Corn-law proposed by Government the price of bread had risen considerably. The tariff did not make any alteration with respect to the article of butter, although attempts had been made to induce the right hon. Baronet to consent to a reduction of the duty. A similar attempt was made with regard to cheese, but it was equally unsuccessful. No reduction had been made in the price of beer by diminishing the duty on malt, the import of which was, in fact, prohibited. Nothing had been done with regard to tea or sugar. He presumed the duty on the latter article, in support of the West-Indian monopoly, was maintained in order that it might not be said that the monopoly of the landed interests of this country was the only monopoly which received the sanction of Government. With regard to the reduction proposed on coffee, it was found on investigation that it would amount only to about 2d. per pound. It had been said that a considerable reduction would be effected in meat, but he believed it would only amount to a halfpenny per pound; and they had the admission of the right hon. Baronet that at the proposed rate of duty no meat would be admitted into this country. No reduction 1203 whatever was proposed with respect to soap, candles, fuel, or leather. Although, then, it was alleged that this tariff would relieve the distresses of the country, it did not effect a reduction in the price of any article of general consumption. He thought it was evident that the tariff could not afford any relief to our manufacturers by opening markets for the sale of their goods. A second mode of relieving the existing distress was to introduce a larger system of emigration, and thus to raise up colonies to become markets for the mother country. Had the Government done anything in this way? It seemed that the object of the Government with respect to emigration was to disabuse the people of this country as to what they conceived to be the fallacy of any system of emigration to do the people any good. Another mode of relieving the distress was by a good Poor-law; but had the Government yielded in that? No; he thought very properly, and very much to their credit, they had refused all those propositions for turning this country into a country of paupers. It was not by Poor-laws they could repair the mischief done, and they would not alter the Poor-law. At last a Gentleman, a great friend of the poor, had proposed another measure. The hon. Member for Knaresborough, driven quite to despair by the conduct of the Government on the Poor-law, had proposed a vote of a large sum of money for the relief of the distress. But the Government had resisted that also. They would neither give any relaxation of the commercial system to relieve the existing distress, nor favour extensive emigration, nor concede a better Poor-law, nor grant a million of money. He wanted to know what relief that House would have afforded to the distress of the country by the time it broke up The right hon. Baronet had trusted to the chapter of accidents to relieve the country from this awful state. In the discussions on the Corn-laws a year and a half ago the right hon. Baronet used to deny the distress that existed, and used to contend that there were only a few people crying out but that there was no real distress in the country. The right hon. Baronet at his election last year had made the first admission of distress. He made the important admission on the hustings at Tamworth that there was distress at Nuneaton. During the last short Session the distress had been gradually elaborated. 1204 They were then told of the distress this Session, but that it would yield to natural causes. They were told to do nothing, but to go on legislating quietly, chipping a little bit off the Corn-law and a little bit off the tariff. He believed the notion of the Ministers was, that there would be a revival of trade in the spring, and that they would have the credit of it as a consequence of their tariff and Corn-law. But there had been no revival in the spring, and the right hon. Baronet had been obliged to admit that he was disappointed. And that was the way the House was to separate with nothing but an acknowledgment of the universality of the distress, and a general declaration of the Parliament that it could or would do nothing to alleviate that distress. He asked hon. Gentlemen opposite whether this was a safe way in which to leave the country? He asked them whether they believed the people of this country would think that this was the duty of Parliament, and, if so, whether they would not inquire if Parliament existed for their benefit at all? The right hon. Baronet had complimented the people of this country in a very handsome way for the manner in which they had borne the distress, and had certainly used no eulogium but what their conduct fully entitled them to. But there was one thing which would turn a patient people to a discontented and furious people. It was not the pressure of calamity alone, for he believed the people of this country were so intelligent and honest that they would not look to the Government for that relief which no Government could give, and if they saw that the privations which they endured were inflicted on them by the hand of God they would submit to them patiently. But there was one thing which drove any people to madness, and above all infuriated them in proportion to the spread of intelligence amongst them, and that was the misfortune, not of any mysterious decree of Providence, but of the very intelligent and palpable selfishness of their rulers. And this was the general impression of the people, embittered by every hour of suffering, strengthened by every discussion that took place—that they were suffering, not because God had denied them the means of labour, not because the world would not take the commodities which they raised, but because their dishonest Legislature refused to allow them to exchange their 1205 labour for the labour of others. And he thought the people judged very rightly in this matter. He must say, disapproving of the schemes for the immediate extension of the suffrage which had so large a circulation, and spread amongst those excluded from the suffrage, he did not at all wonder at the general feeling of the working classes of this country, that as our legislation was so obviously carried on without regard to their interests, they would endeavour to get the power of the Legislature into the hands of the people, who would then be desirous to use it for the benefit of themselves. By their measures, the Parliament was fast converting the middle classes into Chartists. The recklessness of real and utter despair of the Government doing anything for their benefit was producing the impression that it was better to "fly to evils that they knew not of" than bear those that they were suffering under at present, and that, unwise as universal suffrage was, it could not be worse than the present system. His impression was, that there must be a change in the representation of this country—that there must be an extension of the suffrage; but he must own that he doubted the value of such an extension of political power. He should wish to fit the people for the use of political power before it was granted to them. But they (the Parliament) were precipitating the evil which he deprecated. There was but one way to stave off universal suffrage, and that was, that they should govern the people so honestly and wisely, that none of them should ever believe that universal suffrage could ever make legislation flow more in the interests of the people. It was precisely this, that they were preventing every day their Corn-law existed. They were giving an argument to those who would shake the institutions of the country to their foundations, and, what was worse, giving plausibility to their wildest schemes. It was for those who were a majority of that House gravely to consider these consequences. He did not mean by any such argument as this to appeal to a great number of Members on the opposite side of the House, because many hon. Members opposite seemed to exhibit that spirit, always shown by an oligarchy in its decrepitude, of clinging to their privileges and to abuses with greater tenacity the more the people tried to wrest them from them. Disregarding 1206 all experience, they seemed determined to have no surrender of their privileges tilt they should be deprived of them. He was happy to believe that there were some Gentlemen opposite who had better views of the purposes for which the privileged class was intrusted to govern. There were some Gentlemen—and they had a memorable instance of it in the Member for Pontefract last night—who, whatever their feeling's of party might be, would yield to the common feelings of humanity, and to the general outcry of a distressed people. He would fain believe that there were Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House amongst whom the distresses of the people would make an impression, and that however, they might now vote, their prejudices would be shaken, and that they would begin seriously to consider whether it was not time for an alteration. But there was one person who must feel the responsibility which weighed on him—he meant the right hon. Baronet opposite, who knew he was there at the head of a party attached to him, and following him even when they disapproved of his measures, because he was the only one among them whom they trusted for knowing the way at all. The right hon. Baronet knew, and the country knew, and the wide world knew, that he had an immense party ready to follow him. He knew that in an honest and straightforward course he might rely on the national feeling as elevating him above the support of party. He knew the circumstances under which he came into power—that he had called the Conservative party into existence. When the old worn-out Tories were defunct, the right hon. Baronet had come forward and evoked the more rational spirit of Conservatism, and had said to the world, that even with a greater freedom of Government and a wider system of representation, the aristocracy of England should be induced so to govern the country that the electors of England should acquiesce in their honest and enlightened rule. He perfectly believed in the honesty with which the right hon. Baronet had made that pledge. He had always, when speaking of the right hon. Baronet, done justice to what he believed to be the purity of his motives, and he would say, that he believed he had an anxious desire to use his power for the good of his country. He did think he (Sir R. Peel) was free from some of the prejudices and feelings 1207 of those amongst whom he was placed; and even in their hostile ranks he had some sympathy for the people of England. He would do justice to the right hon. Baronet's enlightened views, which he believed he was anxious to carry into effect; but what they wanted to see was, whether he had the heart and courage to carry into effect that policy which he knew was fit for the people of England—whether he would use his power for the benefit of the people. His lot had not been cast in times when he might use power as lazily and as innocuously as his predecessors had done; it was not given to him, as to Lord Liverpool, to potter on from quarter-day to quarter-day, and meet the party questions of the day by popular nostrums. He believed the right hon. Baronet felt his responsibility. He knew not whether this responsibility would act on him for good or for evil—whether it would induce him to persevere in the measures of his party, or to take that wise and bold course which could alone save this country; whether, he would, in fact, become the Minister of a nation and carry into effect the great measures called for by the pressing emergencies of the time, or whether he was going to persevere in the miserable course which perhaps would be more consistent with the means by which his party had got into power, and be the mere minister of the follies and passions of his party, and the agent of that destruction in which his party were about to involve the whole people.
§ Mr. Ewart
said, he had been struck, and he was convinced the country had been struck, with the inconsistency which had marked the proceedings of the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Baronet had admitted the whole of the premises of the free-traders, but he had refused to accept their inevitable conclusions. There were two means open to the right hon. Baronet by which he might have served the interests of the manufacturers of this country. He might have adopted a free-trade in corn, or he might have admitted of the free exportation of machinery; indeed it was open to him to have done both. The subject of the exportation of machinery had not yet been adverted to in the course of these debates, and yet, next to the repeal of the Corn-laws, there was no measure which the right hon. Baronet could have introduced with more beneficial 1208 effect on the manufacturing interests of this country, than a measure to allow of the exportation of machinery. But machinery had been altogether omitted from the new tariff. Above all things the right hon. Baronet ought to have admitted the corn of America into this country. It was a singular thing that while we, in this country, had very strong symptoms of a deficient harvest—["Oh."] He should be happy to find that the hon. Gentleman who exclaimed "Oh," was better informed upon this point than he was; but he had heard from various quarters that the prospects of the coming harvest were not of the most promising description, and yet while that was the case in England, there was every prospect of there being one of the most splendid harvests in the United States that ever blessed those fruitful regions. This country ought to encourage free-trade with America, because he did not believe that one year would pass over before France and Belgium would compete with us successfully in that country, while there was every ground for concluding that the German League would soon be joined by the whole of the Hanseatic Towns, and by Hanover itself. The right hon. Baronet had by his tariff recognised principles which would make it impossible for him to rest where he now was; those principles must inevitably lead him on in the path of free-trade, and that in spite of all the opposition of his own party. He saw nothing but danger to the peace and the property of the country unless there speedily took place a total change of the Corn-laws. It was his conviction, that the course which had been pursued by the Government was a course at variance with the peace as well as prosperity of the country, and was one which they would all have to deprecate as long as they existed. Unless that course should be changed the people would be driven on to a spirit of resistance. There was, however, this consolation, that if the people did resist, it would not be a resistance of disorder, but one of peace. They would act with energy, and that energy would be wise and powerful, because it would be guided by knowledge, and would be grounded in justice. If the right hon. Baronet should allow the Corn-law question to slumber, the people would seek other and greater changes. It was not very difficult to see what those changes would be. They would in the first place 1209 demand the total repeal of the Corn-laws, in the next place the whole of the taxes would be thrown on property, and in the last result, if the Government much longer lingered in their fatal course, political changes would be called for such as had never hitherto been anticipated. It was easy to see that the present system of Government, beginning in a denial of justice, would end in disorder. It was from a deep conviction that unless the Government made those timely changes, which were founded in sound principle, they would be called upon to make other ulterior, and much more dangerous changes. He therefore called upon her Majesty's Government, and those who supported them, to pause, reflect, and reform in time, and to grant at once to the material wants of the commercial and manufacturing population those changes which, if much longer withheld, would be wrung from them by the adoption of political changes that would be forced on by an incensed and injured people.
§ Mr. Cobden
, notwithstanding the many statements which had been made during the present Session, and notwithstanding all that had been said in the course of this debate, really entertained serious doubts whether hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House were at all convinced of the actual existence of distress amongst the people. After listening to the speeches which had been delivered by Members on the Opposition side of the House, and observing the silence that had been kept by hon. Gentlemen who supported her Majesty's Government, he certainly did entertain serious doubts whether, after all the complaints made of the great and grievous distress that prevailed throughout the country, those complaints were not considered by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House as mere party statements, and the question of distress itself a mere party question. For, he would ask, were there really no hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial benches who represented any portion of the community that were afflicted by distress? Where was the hon. Member for Leeds? Where were the two hon. Members for the West Riding of Yorkshire? Was there no distress prevalent in that vast and populous district of the north? They were silent. Why was it left to Members on the Opposition benches to carry on this debate? He could account for it on one ground only either they did not believe in the existenc 1210 of distress, or, though believing it, they were willing to hush up all the facts connected with it, for the sake of party purposes; and he must say that he thought her Majesty's Government had in some degree lent themselves to the first persuasion, for he had not heard from the right hon. Baronet any sufficient acknowledgment of the general distress of the country. The right hon. Baronet's remarks went merely to consider the distress of the cotton trade in the districts surrounding Manchester, and his observations were calculated to impress the minds of his supporters with the conviction that things were not so bad there as they had been represented. The right hon. Baronet brought forward a statement of which he had just right to complain, because it was calculated to mislead his (Sir R. Peel's) followers, as to the state of trade in Lancashire. The right hon. Baronet told the House that during the first half of the present year 74,000 bales of cotton more had been taken out for home consumption than were taken out for the first half of last year. True, the fact was so; but if the right hon. Baronet had instituted a comparison between the first half year of this year, with the last half year of last year, he would have found that there had been a diminution of 145,000 bales; or if he had made a comparison between the first half of this year and the two half years of 1840, he would have found a deficiency of 105,000 bales; or if he had established a comparison between the first half year of this year, with the average of the last ten half years, he would have found a diminution of 35,000 bales. There were reasons, well known to all who were conversant with the cotton manufactures, why the quantity of cotton taken out for home consumption during the first half of last year was less than usual. But why did the right hon. Baronet go through all the statistics of the Board of Trade, for the purpose of finding out the state of the cotton trade? Was it to give consolation to those hon. Gentlemen who were ever ready to give him their support? Was it worthy of him, who was the Prime Minister of this great country, to stoop to such an expediency as that? Was there not danger in the adoption of such a course on the part of a Prime Minister? Might not those who looked to him as their authority, and who knew little of these matters themselves, say, "So long as we find the right hon. Baronet buoyed up with confidence in the state of the trade of the country, we need not be much alarmed 1211 about it?" It was true that the imports of raw cotton had not much diminished since last year. But what had been the fact? The consumption of cotton had been from the spinning of the coarsest description of yarn. Looms had been thrown out of employment, and the spinners had been employed just to spin the coarsest yarn, by which the manufacturers were saved from a great loss, which they would have otherwise incurred. But did this give relief to the people? Did it give wages to the country? He did think that it would have been more becoming of the Prime Minister of this great country to look the matter fairly in the face, and to tell his followers and the country what was the condition in which we were really placed. The right hon. Baronet went into no inquiry as to the cause or causes of the distress which prevailed, except as to the condition of one branch—the cotton manufacture. And in reference to that branch, the right hon. Baronet said that we Were suffering in consequence of alterations in the construction of machinery. The remark of the right hon. Baronet was, that sudden improvements in machinery threw great masses of the people out of employment; that while new inventions gave employment to women and children, they always displaced the labour of large masses of the adult population. "I agree with you," said the right hon. Baronet, "that ultimately improved machinery must give additional employment to those whose business it would be to make it; but in the interval the introduction of that improved machinery threw large masses of the manufacturing population out of labour." Now he denied the fact. The proposition was not true. He denied the proposition that machinery threw great bodies of the people out of employment. It was well known that improvements in machinery were very slow and gradual. It took a long time to bring them into work, and their introduction was so occasional and gradual, that they never could have the effect which the right hon. Baronet had attributed to them. Capitalists resisted the improvement of machinery as far as they could. Every body knew what difficulties patentees had to get capitalists to take up an invention. Every body knew the loss which the capitalist sustained by a new invention superseding existing machinery. The tight hon. Baronet had evidently been misled by what took place during the riots of the Luddites; but he might as well argue that because men went about and 1212 burnt wheat ricks, therefore wheat ricks were the cause of agricultural suffering. It was true that the stocking machinery was destroyed in Leicester and in Nottingham, in the years 1811 and 1812, but was the stocking machinery a new invention at that time? No: it had been in use many years. It was also true that many power-looms were destroyed? But were those looms a new invention? On the contrary, they had been in use upwards of forty years. The cause of this destruction of machinery was not that improvements in it had superseded the labour of large masses of the people, but because of the well-known Orders in Council. The spinning machine was invented by Arkwright, in 1767, long before it was brought into use. The power-loom was invented by a clergyman, in 1787, and inl817 only 2,000 power-looms were in existence in Lancashire, and only half of those were employed. The right hon. Baronet admitted that ultimately machinery must give immense employment to the people, by adding vastly to the demand for labour. What was the history of the cotton-trade? Arkwright's machine was invented, as he had Said, in 1767, and only 30,000 persons Were engaged in the cotton manufacture; now, more than 1,500,000 subsisted by it. When had there been an instance of any craft carried oil by hand labour, in which the growth was so rapid? What Was the history of agriculture? No man could justly accuse the proprietors of estates of being too ready to adopt improvements in implements of husbandry. In many parts of the country they still used the plough that Cincinnatus followed. Did agriculturists give employment to increased numbers of the people? No; they annually sent thousands to the towns where machinery was in use. What were Manchester, Bolton, Stockport, and other towns but the creation of labour-saving machines? They were towns filled by persons who had abandoned their ploughs and spades for the spindles, shuttles, and hammers of a former generation. Pandering to the prejudices of the working classes on the one side, and soothing the ignorance of the upper classes by fallacies oh the other, was surely unworthy of the Prime Minister of this country. He did not complain of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Grimsditch); he was only following his vocation. But he did complain of the right hon. Baronet, and he sincerely hoped that he would in due in no more tirades against the employment of machinery. How 1213 then (continued the hon. Member) ought we to be engaged now? Instead of looking out for something to cover and conceal the mischief, we ought to do what we can to uncover and disclose it, in order that we may apply a remedy. What can restore your trade and give employment to your people. That is the question. You talk of over-production. What a charge to bring against a people that they are over-industrious ! I can imagine a case of a person going to a foreign country, barbarous and unimproved, and bringing word back that the inhabitants were idle, vicious, ignorant, and deficient in forecast; but what a tale would it be for such a man to speak of a distant people, and to complain that they were over-industrious—that they had accumulated too much—and that their fault was over-production. I do not ask either of the hon. Members for Macclesfield—they are privileged men—but I do ask the right hon. Baronet what is the meaning of overproduction? It means that too much is produced; and what can be thought of a country which produces so much, and where the great mass of the inhabitants possess so little? Does it not show that there is some mal-distribution of production? It is because we have lost sight of that science which teaches the right distribution of wealth. We have adopted the steam-engine, and have employed it in every possible way, but we have lost sight of the great philosopher who was contemporary with Watt, and who told us how the wealth to be acquired by the steam-engine was to be distributed Because we have lost sight of that discovery, the great mass of the people is at this moment so wretched. Those who are so fond of laughing at political economy, forget that they have a political economy of their own; and what is it? That they will monopolise to themselves the fruits of the industry of the great body of the community—that they allow the productions of the spindle and the loom to go abroad to furnish them with luxuries from the farthest corners of the world, but refuse to permit to be brought back in exchange what would minister to the wants and comforts of the lower orders. This, in one word, is the true reason why the mass of the people is at this time so wretchedly clothed and so miserably fed. As legislators, you have the charge of giving employment and sustenance to the people. Fault has been found with the wording of the motion. I can only say that my hon. Friend is willing to change it, in order that 1214 no man may have a pretext for voting against it. All he wants is, that this House, before it separates, should pledge itself to inquire—that it may devise measures for the relief of the suffering population. You cannot give that relief by charitable contributions, by preaching, by collections, and I will prove it. You have heard from my hon. Colleague (Mr. Mars-land) a pathetic statement of the present condition of the borough of Stockport; the population were formerly paid 6,000l. a-week in wages. How will you make up that sum by charitable contributions? How will you supply the vacuum if the whole cotton trade is to follow the fate of Stockport? 20,000,000l. were annually spent in the cotton trade. Does not this fact show the prodigious importance of finding employment for the people, as the only means of putting an end to the present distress? How many men are engaged in the cultivation of wheat? 6,000,000l. a-year would pay them all—not one-third of the sum paid in wages in the cotton trade. Open your eyes, then, to the real condition of the country; knowing that your own permanent interests are as one with the manufacturers, you will see the necessity of looking the difficulty in the face, and dealing with it not as a party question, but as a matter in which the welfare of the whole state is concerned. This might be said to be a Manchester question three years ago, but it is not so now. I see the hon. Member for Leeds in his place, and I challenge him to say whether the condition of Leeds at this moment is not worse than that of Stockport. We have not 40,000 utterly unemployed; our poor-rates are not so high; his borough must be one vast poor-house. I ask him whether charitable contributions will be sufficient, or whether something else must not be done to meet the growing evil? You may talk of machinery, but go into districts where machinery has not been improved for the last 200 years. I ask the hon. Members for Nottingham, where there are no tall chimneys, no change of modes of working, but where they pursue the plan pursued 240 years ago, what is the condition of that town? There has been no change of fashion to make a difference, for there has been no change of fashion in stockings, excepting that it has become the fashion to wear them all over the world. Yet the condition of Nottinghamshire is worse than the condition of Lancashire. But if I were to point to one place, which is in the most 1215 deplorable, the most hopeless state, I would say it is Hinckley;—there there are 1,500 stocking frames, and only 21 fully employed. Benefit clubs and associations of every kind have been broken down, and the place has been given up to pauperism. The locust swarms are spreading even over the land, and the poor-rates in the neighbourhood, I am told, are 1l. per acre. Let country gentlemen take this as a warning. The locust swarms will spread rapidly, and the land will have to maintain them. I tell you that I believe before we meet again, several other large towns will be given over to pauperism, and the people must be fed by the surrounding districts. Let us look, then, at the pottery districts. The hon. Member for Macclesfield will rejoice to hear that they there work with the same machine which was in use in the reign of the Pharaohs. It is as old as the time of Moses, and let that console him. I apprehend that at no period of its history was the pottery trade so severely depressed as at present, its prospects are not only cheerless, but hopeless. Go into your mines—your collieries; you have heard how they work them; there has been no great improvement of machinery in them, and what is the state of the mines of Staffordshire? There are 25,000 utterly destitute of employment. I am informed that in the time of the Orders in Council they were prosperous compared with their present condition. Go to the glass-cutters of Stourbridge and Warrington, or to the glovers of Yeovil, and you will find the same. If there be one part of the country better off than another, it is where the best machinery is in use; I mean Lancashire, where the working classes have for several years been living at the expense of their employers. [Cheers from Sir It. Peel.] The right hon. Baronet cheers me; why then did he make such indirect allusions to machinery? True it is that he invests his remarks in honied phrases, very satisfactory to those who are sitting behind him, but, on the one hand, he panders to the working classes, and on the other, the tail end of his party rejoices in the delusive consolation he affords them. I know at this time a place where 100 wedding rings were pawned in one week to provide the owners with bread. Men and women have subsisted only upon boiled nettles; and in the neighbourhood with which I was originally connected in business, Burnley, the starving people dug up the putrid carcase of a cow, rather than die of hunger. [Cries of "oh! oh !" and disapprobation.] I 1216 know by that groan that Gentlemen do not believe it. I wrote to a trusty man, a schoolmaster, to ask if the report were true, and he sent me not only his own attestation, but that of many of his neighbours. The multitude dug it up, carried part of it away for food, and the farmer was obliged immediately to bury the remainder in order to get rid of the effluvia. Another case occurred in which the carcase of a dead calf was carried away for food. ["Oh, oh!"] You may well cry "oh, oh!" and groan. If you believe these statements, why do you sit here and refuse to apply a remedy? From these individual cases you may picture the condition of the whole mass of your suffering fellow creatures. You may tell me that the people have the Poor-law. So they have; but, thanks to their spirit, they would rather live on nettles and on garbage, than go into a union workhouse. Is this state of things to be left till the winter? We want inquiry, that Gentlemen on both sides may know the truth, and apply a remedy. I do not wish to mix up the Corn-laws with this question; I care nothing for the Corn-laws, if you can provide me with a better remedy. The noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, might reasonably be expected to show some sympathy for such suffering, but he doubted whether the repeal of the Corn-laws would afford the expected benefit. The noble Lord told us that the Americans took as much again from us in the last three years as formerly. [Lord Stanley: I beg pardon, I said no such thing.] Perhaps I am reversing what fell from the noble Lord, but his commercial views, I own, are rather embarrassing to me. He said that the Americans sent over 2,000,000l. more than they took from us. Their difficulty was not in sending commodities to us, but in taking returns from us. The noble Lord has yet to understand that foreign trade is reciprocity, that it consists of nothing but barter; and before he indulges again in a speech (to the eloquence and reasoning of which all must listen with pleasure), I advise him to make himself practically acquainted with the subject on which he talks. As a states-man, he could not be better employed than in improving himself in practical information. I have heard him both at Lancaster and here, and on both occasions he showed himself pre-eminently ignorant on commercial matters. He told us the other night that we must excuse him on such topics, as he was not accustomed to address the House upon them, this is certainly true, 1217 and I think the right hon. Baronet exercised a sound discretion in undertaking to speak for him on various occasions. The noble Member for North Lancashire, where distress is so severe that the people are subsisting on nettles and carrion, ought to know whether the people can or can not be supplied with food from America. From an acquaintance with the trade on both sides the water, I may state, as my firm belief, that when a repeal of the Corn-laws takes place, the tidings of such a happy event will be instantly followed by a revival of trade: it would be at least the beginning of a new era in which employment would be found for the people. I know no other means for producing such a result, and it seems to me that all Members for manufacturing places have an important duty to discharge before the House separates. I cannot give a stronger proof of the perils which I think surrounds us, than to say that I shall feel it my duty to stop the wheels of Government if I can, in a way which can only he justified by an extraordinary crisis. Nothing can warrant a Member in stopping the supplies, but such a conviction as weighs at this moment upon my mind. I wish to compel Government to enter into the question with a full conviction of its importance. At present it is my solemn persuasion that they have not their eyes open to the truth. What was said yesterday by the mayor of Stockport?—that he could not be responsible for the peace of the place; and what said the chairman of the guardians of the poor? —That he would not undertake to support the starving people beyond three months. The right hon. Baronet knows that the state of Stockport is only a type of the fast-approaching condition of Bolton and many other places. I do not mean to threaten outbreaks—that the starving masses will come and pull down your mansions; but I say that you are drifting on to confusion without rudder or compass. It is my firm belief that within six months we shall have populous districts in the north in a state of social dissolution. You may talk of repressing the people by the military, but what military force would be equal to such an emergency? Imagine the case of Stockport destroyed, and eaten up by its poor, what are you to do with 60,000 starving people? How are you to deal with a population formerly earning 500,000l. a-year? The military will not avail. I do not believe that the people will break out unless they are absolutely deprived of food; 1218 if you are not prepared with a remedy, they will be justified in taking food for themselves and their families. I do not threaten you with this state of things. [Cheers.] I do not know whether I understand that cheer; but I do not mean to tell you anything in a menacing manner. I tell you what is the present state of Stockport, and I call upon you to realise in your minds the consequences of a refusal to inquire. Will you tell me, in reply, that the 60,000 people in Stockport are to lie down and die? If they do, their deaths will lie at the doors of the Government; but, as Englishmen, they ought not to be permitted to starve. Is it not important for Members for manufacturing districts on both sides to consider what they are about? We are going down to our several residences to face this miserable state of things, and selfishness, and a mere instinctive love of life ought to make us cautious. Others may visit the continent, or take shelter in rural districts, but the peril will ere long reach them even there. Will you, then, do what we require, or will you compel us to do it ourselves? This is the question you must answer. The inhabitants of Stockport come here with clean hands, for what does Commissioner Twisselton, in his report say of their condition?We find in connection with the large earnings of the operatives engaged in the cotton trade, industrious habits of no common stamp, regulated and secured in great measure by the peculiar nature of their employment; and a degree of intelligence already much in advance of other classes of the working people, and still growing with the general growth of popular education. It appears, also, that when in the enjoyment of prosperity, they avail themselves to a great extent of the advantages of provident institutions, and that partly through this, and partly through other circumstances equally creditable to their character as a working people, they avoid almost altogether dependence upon poor-rates. On the occurrence of general distress, we find them neither a pauperised mass nor readily admitting pauperism amongst them; but struggling against adversity, beating far and wide for employment, and, in many cases, leaving their country for foreign climates rather than depend upon any other resources for subsistence than those of their own industry and skill. Those among them, who have not been able or willing to leave a place where at present their labour is of little or no value, have been found enduring distress with patience, and abstaining, sometimes to the injury of health, from making any application for relief.Such was the population, which came 1219 to the House and made this claim at his hands, and what do they ask? They do not ask for charity. They do not ask me to come there to obtain a mitigation of the Poor-law. I gained the popular support in Stockport, without pledging myself upon the Poor-law. What the people want, is the means of exercising their industry. They abhorred pauperism as much as any hon. Gentleman in this House. They simply said, "leave us alone." And I say, Sir, that whatever misfortune befals such a people lies at the door of the Government and of this House, and the people are not responsible for it, I am therefore entitled to ask and to insist upon an answer from the Government to the question. "What do they intend to do for the people?" I am entitled to ask whether they are to be satisfied with no better report than the one given by the right hon. Baronet that he expects a good harvest. It is true, Sir, that some of our best workmen are going abroad. If the best go, they leave the worst behind. The manufacturers are going also, increasing the burden for those who remain. Have hon. Gentlemen considered what must be the effect of this emigration upon this country? I can see a remedy for all other evils, but I can see no remedy for this. We are sowing the seeds broadcast for a plentiful harvest of workmen in the western world. Thousands of workmen are delving in the mines of the western continent, where coal can be raised and sold at 1s. a ton. We are sending there the labourers from our cotton manufactories, from our woollen, and from our silk. They are not going by dozens or by scores to teach the people of other countries the work they have learnt—they are going in hundreds and thousands to those states to open works against our own machines, and to bring this country to a worse state than it now is. There is nothing to atone for the system which leads to this, and if I were to seek for a parallel, it would be only in the revocation of the edict of Nantes by Louis 14th, or the decree of the Duke of Alva in Belgium, where the best men were banished from their country. I see nothing why we should not take good measures from the right hon. Baronet, or why we should prefer those of the noble Lord the Member for London. The noble Lord is called the leader on this side of the House, and I confess that when I first came into the House I was inclined to look upon him as a leader; but from what I have seen, I believe the right hon. Baronet to be 1220 as liberal as the noble Lord. If the noble Lord is my leader, I can only say that I believe that in four out of five divisions I have voted against him. He must be an odd kind of leader who thus votes against those he leads. I say this to show that I am actuated by no party spirit. I will take measures of relief from the right hon. Baronet as well as from the noble Lord; but upon some measures of relief I will insist. I do not believe that any one would ask this of the right hon. Baronet from any wish to supplant him; no rational man would wish to supplant him. Seeing the position in which he is placed, I do not know any one who would wish to jump into his seat, even if he had the power. I give him credit for the difficulties of his situation; but this question must be met, and met fully; it must not be quibbled away; it must not be looked upon as a Manchester question; the whole condition of the country must be looked at and faced; and it must be done before we separate this Session.
§ Mr. Ferrand
told the House that those hon. Members who were connected with the Anti-Corn-law League were anxious for a repeal of the Corn-laws, that they might increase their own resources and diminish the wages of labour; and that the working classes were of his own opinion. In passing, however, he must apologise to the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard for an expression he used the other evening, and which the hon. Member considered personal to himself, but the hon. Member should recollect that the word "humbug" did not fall from his (Mr. Ferrand's) lips for the first time in that House; it was first used by the hon. and learned Gentleman himself. In reference to the question immediately before the House, he was surprised that the hon. Member for Greenock had brought forward such a motion for the purpose of relieving the distresses of the working classes, because he agreed with the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government, that if any benefit could result from the present motion it must be by its merging in the same description of relief as he had brought before the House the other evening, the grant of public money, and he was the more surprised at the hon. Gentleman bringing forward a motion for a committee to inquire into the distress when, alas! it was too well known to the House. What measure could result from the committee except a grant of public money? Was this the time for a com- 1221 mittee? Had not hon. Gentlemen opposite supported the right hon. Baronet in all his measures? ["No."] Had they not supported his tariff? and yet before they had tried his measures they came down to the House with a factious opposition. Let those hon. Gentlemen recollect that the right hon. Baronet had sacrificed a great deal by bringing forward his measures, and that he had caused many of his political friends to look upon him with a lukewarm feeling. They (the Ministerial side) had sat silently by, whilst the Opposition had received those measures with hearty cheers. Be just, be generous. Try those measures. Let the right hon. Baronet stand by them, and if they failed let him fall. Let the hon. Gentleman opposite recollect that he only took up his position when they were driven from office by the unanimous voice of the people of this country. He (Mr. Ferrand) for one did not think that those measures would be of any great benefit, but the right hon. Baronet had a right to fair play, and the people said that they should have it. Did hon. Gentlemen mean to say that the country was with them on the Corn-laws? Did they mean to say that the Anti-Corn-law leaders now sitting in London, were deputed by the masses of the people, as their representatives, or that they had met with any hearty response in this metropolis? He said that they came here on their own authority, and that they had met with no feeling of hearty support in the metropolis. They had no aid or countenance, except from themselves in their own room. What had taken place at their meetings? Had not a gentleman who called himself a minister of the gospel declared to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government that his life might perhaps be sacrificed—[Dissent.] Had not a minister of the gospel said this? [Mr. Hindley: No.] Did the hon. Member rejoice in the shedding of blood? ["No."] Then why did he laugh? [Mr. Hindley: I never have.] Did not this gentleman say that a respectable person had informed him he was one in a hundred ready to cast lots to shed the blood of the right hon. Baronet? [" No, no;" and, "Why not name?"] He said it was true; and not only was it true, but it was reported in their own papers. Go and search the journals. If they chose to deny this, why did the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cork (Mr. O'Connell) call upon them to read these speeches? He told them that the Corn-laws had not 1222 caused this distress, but the carrying out of their own principles of free-trade. How had they commenced? By the export of machinery. Let them recollect that a whole generation had been swept from the face of the earth since the restoration of peace, and that foreign governments knew what was due to their citizens as well as our own Government what was due to us; and if we had been such ignorant asses, to use the expression of the hon. Member for Oldham, as to let our machinery go abroad, could we wonder at the result? How had this gone on? As had been said by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, this machinery was now in operation in Europe, and we had to seek a market for our exports in the deserts of Arabia or in Affghanistan. These were opinions in which the people of this country were not likely to coincide. He held in his hand a report of a meeting of the working classes (at which it was said that 5,000 persons were present), and which had been held for the purpose of discussing what steps ought to be taken to relieve the existing distress, and that report, referring to Mr. Frazer, in whose opinions he believed the working classes did coincide, said—That whilst in the course of his speech he attributed the distress to class-legislation, and spared neither Whigs nor Tories from censure, he especially condemned the Anti-Corn-law League party, and told the people they might depend upon it that if the Corn-laws were repealed wages would be lowered, trade would not be increased, and the working man would not be benefitted to any material extent.Hon. Gentlemen opposite in attempting to carry out their principles, never attended to the ruin that must result to the agricultural party, and the frightful distress that must befall them if those principles were successful. Let him call to their recollection the correspondence that took place between the manufacturers of Lancashire and the Poor-law commissioners. In that correspondence Mr. Ashworth had stated that a gentleman had informed him that 20,000 hands would not be too many for the neighbourhood of Staleybridge alone; that machinery and mills were springing up on all sides, and that there would be such a burst of trade throughout the land as to make us one mass of manufacturers. This was in 1837. Mr. Beard said, that strong boys and girls were wanted to work the machinery; that adults would not be received, and that the former were required because they would assist in keeping down 1223 the price of labour. Mr. Ashworth likewise said that that was the object. There, then, was the secret. You had glutted the market, you had destroyed the trade of the country, you had killed the goose that laid the golden eggs; and yet, in this year of 1837, in this period of your prosperity, when you were amassing immense fortunes, the Corn-laws were in existence. Hon. Gentlemen, in endeavouring to destroy the agriculturist, should recollect that it was the agricultural interest that had supplied the immense wealth which had protected our colonies, found ships to fight our battles, and saved us from ruin. That interest had not complained against you, and as long as you had not been bowed down by a false capital you were satisfied to allow the agriculturist to live in contentment; but now that you had adopted measures which were working your own ruin, you wanted to pull down the agriculturist along with you. In Bradford, in Yorkshire, there were combing machines, which only required to be worked by four girls and two boys; and these machines would comb as much wool as 200 combers. There was a loss of work wherever these machines were sent up to 200 men. Ask the iron-founder the cause of the depression of trade, and he would tell you that his works were in Belgium. Ask another, and he would say that it was because of the exportation of machinery. Go to Sheffield and Birmingham, and you would find that it was owing to the frauds of the manufacturers, frauds which had been carried to such an extent that the manufacturers dared not print their name or the place of manufacture at the end of their goods. The shopkeepers would tell you it was owing to the truck system. The English merchant would tell you that it was because the foreigners were now making goods which he used to supply. He believed that we were now reaping the results of our own madness and folly. Hon. Gentlemen had no right to charge the agricultural interest with being the cause of the distress. They should recollect, that the home market was now found only in the agricultural districts, and that if they were destroyed, our home trade would be destroyed also. If he were asked what was the cause of this depression of trade, he should say, that it was because the Legislature had never granted protection except to capital. The markets had been glutted—capital had been protected—but the labourers had been starved. The working-classes had a right 1224 to demand protection, and they had no idea of a repeal of the Corn-laws. They asked the Government of this country to protect their labour, and let him tell the Government and the country that it was the duty of every Government so to legislate that every class should be protected —that they should be made to minister to the wants of each other, that every man should be happy in his own home, and then, if there was any surplus of labour, it might go to the dependencies of the British empire, and to the wants of our own colonies. That Government must fail which did not make protection the polar star of legislation.
§ Mr. C. Villiers
was induced to present himself to the House by the speeches of the hon. Members opposite for Macclesfield and for Knaresborough; and he must say that he had heard nothing from either of those hon. Members which was not a mere recapitulation of what had already fallen from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen of more importance in that House than either of those hon. Members. The only answer which had been attempted to be given to the arguments brought forward by hon. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House, had been given by those hon. Gentlemen, and he hoped the public would read their speeches, and would understand that that was the only answer which was intended to be given to the statements made in reference to the condition of the people of this country. For his own part, if he wanted any reasons (or supporting the motion of the hon. Member for Greenock, it would be those upon which the hon. Gentlemen opposite founded their opposition to it. Two millions of the people of this country, who had petitioned that House, had declared that they entertained but one opinion as to the causes of distress, and the remedies to be applied; and three millions and a half had petitioned, who possessed the same views as to the causes of distress, but differed with regard to the remedies to be applied. When this state of things was found to exist,—when so many came forward concurring in one complaint, it was not too much, he thought, to ask the House to pause before it prorogued, and to see what were the real causes of the miseries to which the people were exposed, and how those miseries were to be removed. The Government appeared to believe that there was no ground for alarm: 1225 and he said, God grant that the people I might continue to be quiet, for their patience and endurance hitherto had been beyond all praise, and confusion would operate not to produce for them comfort and an improved position, but increased wretchedness: but every day, every hour, brought fresh accounts of new distresses, and increased the fears which had been already but too well excited. The wretchedness of the condition of the people was acknowledged, but instead of any remedy being attempted to be applied, they heard nothing but lackadaisical phrases of sympathy, and vague generalities, and hopes for better times. He said that the people were entitled to demand the application of a remedy, for the cause of their distress was that by the operation of monopoly, and by the artificial enhancement of the price of food, the market had been destroyed. The hon. Member for Knaresborough professed to tell the House what were the wishes of the people—that they knew nothing of their real desires. But he begged to ask, were they the representatives of the people or not? He had already stated the number of persons who had petitioned the House, and they declared that they viewed the Corn-laws as the cause of their poverty, and they asked for their repeal, and that they might possess some further power in the State. The hon. Member for Knaresborough opposed the repeal of the Coin-laws, and opposed the proposition that the people should have increased power, and yet he told them that he was the representative of the people. The hon. Member knew nothing of the opinions of the working classes; and by the votes which he had given he showed that he knew nothing of their interests. The hon. Member appeared to be constantly assuming that the British people wanted alms,—that they were by nature and by constitution beggars. He, however, by reference to his own acquaintance with the working classes, knew that there was nothing in the world which they would not endure rather than become paupers. They wanted to have their labour free— to have their rights; and when they saw that, for the purpose of swelling their own fortunes, the Members of that House refused their demands, they felt that they were entitled to call upon the House to give them in reality those rights which the Constitution had conferred upon them. 1226 He had attended a public meeting that day, and if the hon. Member for Knaresborough wished to know where, he begged to say that it was in Palace-yard, and he had met there a great number of persons deputed by the inhabitants of districts whose numbers amounted to millions, to come to London and see what was possible to be done, and at that meeting the conclusion had been arrived at, that hon. Members on that side of the House should continue the discussions on this subject in that House so long as it was possible for them to do so, in order to procure the removal of those restrictions upon commerce, which had been so often pointed to as the causes of the existing deplorable distresses of the people. What was the state of things which presented itself to their notice? The people were starving. What was the remedy? It was food. The people were in a state of actual starvation, and they were told that it was not food that they wanted, but work. He said it was food they wanted, and he demanded that they should have the means of getting food presented to them. They possessed the power to do so in their own skill—there was abundance of food for them all in the world, and he said that the means of procuring that food should be thrown open to them. The real position of the people of this country was this: the people stood with outstretched arms, anxious to exert themselves, and to supply their foreign neighbours with the produce of their labour, but although those neighbours were equally desirous of availing themselves of the superiority of their skill and of their industry, the Government stood between them and relief. Such was the state of the country as described at the meeting of that day, and it had been stated, that throughout the manufacturing districts the most anxious demands were made upon the guardians and overseers to supply the wants of the people, even in spite of the law. He had received a communication from Bilston, a district containing 700,000 inhabitants, confirming this statement, and showing that more of opulence and character joined in the general prayer.We, the undersigned inhabitants or ratepayers of the township of Bilston, truly aware of the very great distress produced among the working classes of the district, by the unparalleled stagnation of trade, especially the coal and iron trades, feel it our duty to urge upon 1227 the board of guardians, in the strongest terms we can, the necessity of affording a liberal out-door relief to the unemployed and their families, during the continuance of the present depression. We cannot but feel deeply the lamentable condition into which numberless poor families in the township are at this moment plunged, a condition very closely bordering upon actual starvation; and we therefore sign this memorial, in testimony of our willingness to bear the burden of any extraordinary rates which the liberality we now urge upon the board may occasion.The people believed that their condition was solely attributable to the refusal of a free-trade with America, and he was convinced that if the House gave them a free-trade with the United States, they would have no more complaints such as had of late been most reasonably and justly circulated. The people to whom he had alluded depended on the trade with the United States and the Brazils: in all the schemes which had been introduced the Government had steered steadily clear of any measure which would afford any relief to persons who traded with those countries. He declared his belief, that they could prove, that the repeal of the Corn-laws would afford that relief which was desired, and he said this advisedly. They were prepared with a remedy, and they said, that that remedy was the repeal of the Corn-laws. The noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, had said, the other night, that the United States possessed no capabilities to consume the productions of our manufacturers, but he said, let them try the question—let them go to the proof—and, until they did so, he should remain of the belief, that they did possess those means and capabilities which the noble Lord had denied. Were hon. Members aware of the capabilities of the United States? There were nine western and southern states, likely to call for the manufacturing productions of this country, which consisted of 200,000 square miles, and contained 6,000,000 of inhabitants, and in these states, not more than 200,000l. were invested in manufactures. The only means which they possessed of obtaining the manufactures of other countries was by exchanging the produce of the land. The hon. Member for East Somersetshire had told the House on the debate on the tariff—That the New Orleans Price Current, in anticipation of the new tariff, had published an 1228 article in which the writer observed that New Orleans was the outlet for nine important states of the Union, containing 450,000 square miles of rich cultivable territory, in which the manufacture of cotton and other clothing, was almost entirely unknown. The resources of this great country wanted nothing for their full development, but that their natural market, England, should be thrown open to' them.He must refer for a few moments to the statistics of America, to show that the views which were entertained on this subject were no mere phantom—no vision —but that, if the trade with that country was opened, all the misery and wretchedness which now prevailed, must cease. The noble Lord had said, that America could not consume our goods. He would read a communication which he had received from a merchant of Liverpool upon this subject, and which he thought would completely negative this suggestion:—I will confine my views", said the writer, "more particularly to those regions which are especially adapted in soil and climate to the growth of wheat, and which, being in the vicinity of the Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Michigan, can now convey their productions to the market of New York. The Erie canal, of 363 miles in length, opening a navigable communication between Lake Erie and the Atlantic, was completed in 1829. It has several lateral branches. This canal enabled the productions of a region extending, in New York, to 15,000 square miles; to 3,000 miles, in Pennsylvania; 10,000 in Ohio; 5,000 in Indiana; 8,000 in Illinois; 30,000 in Michigan; and thus opened a channel for the productions of 90,000 square miles of a region especially adapted to the growth of wheat. The Ohio canal communicating from Lake Erie to the Ohio river, was only completed in 1833, and opened a channel for the whole state of Ohio, of 40,000 square miles, and the fertile countries bordering the Ohio river to Lake Erie. It is, therefore, safe to say, that upon the United States side of the great lakes, there are 100,000 square miles, from which not one bushel of wheat was conveyed to a maritime port previous to 1825, which can now send their products to New York.This correspondent dwelt much in his letter upon the obligation which has of late years been imposed upon the Americans of becoming manufacturers for themselves. He should now read for them the evidence of a person who had been specially sent from the United States, with the intention of showing the people what were the resources of that great country—what was the capacity of the United States to supply England with the food that it re- 1229 quired, and to take from it those goods with which England could supply it. [The hon. Member read the communication, the writer of which dwelt at great length upon the corn cultivation of the States being altogether impeded by the uncertainty of the trade with England.] The noble Lord opposite had once referred to the state of trade with America, and had once contended that it could not be increased in amount. He might be permitted to read the opinion of an eminent landlord in America—one, too, who had taken a very great interest and prominent part in the abolition of slavery. This gentleman, Dr. Bailey, of Ohio, had thus written —He observed that there was no movement in the history of the world, since the abolition of slavery, that would be more important in its consequences, than the opening of the trade between America and England, as a means of greatly benefiting the people of both countries.He was sorry to be obliged to weary the House with reference to these documents. Though they might feel exhausted with the debate, and wish it brought to a conclusion, yet they were to remember that what was said there would be read to-morrow, not merely by hundreds, but millions of people, with the hope that there would be given to them a chance of relief. It was for the purpose of consoling them that he produced these documents, for they must show to the people that much could be done for them. He had now to read for them an address from the state of North Jersey, one of the states by which wheat could be grown to supply the millions of this country. It ran thus:This state represented its extent, its facilities for supplying England with corn, and that the debt' it contracted was for the purpose of making roads to bring agricultural productions to the port most convenient to transport it to Europe.The facilities and the resources of the country for supplying the world with food were confirmed by M. de Tocqueville. Now, on what ground, he asked, did they shut out the people of England from such resources? Why, he asked, should this be done, when property was daily deteriorating in value—when the state of the country was admitted on all sides to be most lamentable. This was a state of facts which he said no one dared deny—no one 1230 dared to question. They knew it was true —they knew that abundance of food might come from America. They could not, dare not deny this, and yet they shrank from giving an answer when the people called upon that House to do them justice. He said that if the people endured this, it was most fortunate for those opposite. He did not understand why the people were so patient. He could only attribute it to this, that there was a difference of opinion between them as to the means by which they might obtain relief. There was that difference of opinion, and it was only on that, that those opposite could depend; but if the middle and the working classes were to unite together to morrow, he asked where would be the power of those opposite to prevent it? If the middle and the working classes united together in condemning their course— in condemning their law—and calling upon them to adopt some efficient means to give the country relief. Those who objected to this might tell them that their reason for not making a charge, such as was required, was, that they were afraid it would add to the distress of the country, by taking from the agriculturists that law which now protected them. He did not believe that the agriculturists sanctioned much their proceedings. He did not believe that the agriculturists thought that by their law their interests had been very carefully protected. At an agricultural meeting in Essex, some sentiments had been given utterance to, which he would quote. [The hon. Gentleman read extracts from a speech delivered on the occasion alluded to, in which the speaker stated that he believed that the Corn-laws were enacted for the benefit of the landlord, not of the farmer. The duty imposed was not sufficient adequately to protect the farmer, although it was sufficient to keep up rents, and it would ultimately tend to the farmer's ruin.] He knew the feelings of the farmers; they were quite aware that they had no interest on the Corn-laws, but they were afraid that the landlords would keep up the rents after the prices had fallen. If they told the farmer that a change in the system of Corn-laws would not hurt him, all his fears would be allayed, but when it was stated in this House that it was for the sake of the farmers that the Corn-laws were imposed, the agriculturist repeated the cry, and then they brought this echoed sentiment forward as an origi- 1231 nal opinion of the agriculturists. It was important to know who were really interested in the Corn-laws. The people required some account of how they came into their present position, and they (the Ministry) must satisfy them that the remedy which he proposed was not the proper one. Every class, mercantile, manufacturing, and agricultural, had been deceived by the new Corn-law, and were calling out against it; and the House must tell them the reasons why they imposed it. Every argument in favour of the Corn-laws had been proved to be false; there was not a single argument in their favour which time and circumstances had not proved to be false. All the predictions made as to this effect had failed. It was said that they would have the effect of keeping up wages—that they would steady the trade in corn. But was the state of the country now what it had been? Would they defend the Corn-laws by pointing to the accomplishment of any of those circumstances which it was predicted that they would bring to pass? The home trade had been lost by means of the Corn-laws; and, instead of being independent of foreign countries by ten years or so, they were painfully made to feel their complete dependence on foreign countries. When the Corn-law was imposed, its advocates should have remembered that this country was limited, but that the population was fast increasing. There was a tendency in the people of all countries to increase beyond the means of sustenance, and it should have been the first care of the rulers of this country to be watchful that food should be commensurate with the extending wants of an increasing population. He believed that the history of human error and human selfishness showed no instance of greater folly and depravity than that of increasing the price of food by decreasing the quantity. They had passed a similar law this Session, God only knew for what good purpose, for all the admitted faults of the old system were to be found existing in full vigour in the new. Indeed all who knew the old law were quite aware that the new system would effect no real change. He would not have troubled the House so long were he not impressed with a sincere conviction that the state of the country was such as to render some change absolutely necessary.
§ Mr. Roebuck
said, he felt under some embarrassment on this occasion, because, from the peculiar manner in which the motion was worded, it was impossible for him to give his assent to it. Yet, knowing what the intentions were with which the hon. Member for Greenock had brought it forward—knowing his usual kind feeling on behalf of those whose interests he now advocated—knowing also what was the real object of the hon. Member—that of instituting an inquiry into the distress of the country, in order to ascertain whether it was possible by any legislative enactment to remedy it—knowing these things, he felt that it was utterly impossible for him to vote against the motion. It was only fair, in proposing a motion of this sort, to consider what would be the conduct of the opposite party—and more especially of the Minister of a great country like this—were an assent to be given to such a proposition. That motion implied, that the Minister of the Crown should provide sustenance and labour for the people. Now, that appeared to him to be a proposition so fraught with mischief, and so dangerous in its bearing, that he could not possibly be a party in any shape to its being agreed to. Why, if the right hon. Baronet were to have come down and said that he was about to accede to the proposition of the hon. Member for Greenock, he would, in his opinion, have shown himself totally unworthy of the station of First Minister of the Crown. He would have shown that he was either cajoling the public or deceiving himself. For this reason, as the motion was worded, he could not give it his support; and he thought that Gentlemen on his side of the House had some right to complain that a proposition of this kind should have been brought forward at such a time, when it was allowed on all hands that great distress existed in the land, and when they were anxious to inquire into that distress, with a view to ascertain whether some remedy could not be devised. He repeated, that he thought that hon. Gentlemen on that side had a right to complain that any one on that side should, in haste and without consultation, or care for the feelings of others, have come forward with a proposition which of necessity involved them in this difficulty!either that they must support that which they felt to be fallacious and improper, or that they must allow it to go forth that they themselves were opposed to an inquiry into the distress, and that they were not really friends of the people. At such a 1233 moment as the present it was a very awful thing to discuss such a question as that raised by this motion, and most awkward to be placed in such a position, considering the peculiar situation of this country. They had heard the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport—a speech fraught with a more melancholy instruction than it had ever been his lot to hear—a speech in the incidents which it unfolded—more deeply interesting to the people of this country he had never heard in his life; and those incidents were set forth with great ability and great simplicity, and, with one or two exceptions which he would presently point out, without exaggeration. With the full recollection of the facts unfolded by that speech, he doubly felt the position in which he was placing himself, and therefore it was that he did ask hon. Gentlemen opposite really to enter on the consideration of this question, not as it was raised by the terms of the motion, but as it must ultimately of necessity come to be decided by that House, if not to-night, at all events at some time ere long. For, do what they might, they could not, sooner or later, help looking the danger in the face. He did hope hon. Gentlemen would enter upon the question in this spirit; and he wanted the House, as far as possible, to lay aside all passion in discussing it, as he would himself endeavour in his observations to avoid saying anything that would be calculated to excite such feeling. For a moment let them look upon the subject as brethren met together to consult the dearest interests of the greatest nation of the earth—of a vast multitude of human beings, whose deepest interests were at stake, whose sufferings by such deliberations might be alleviated. Let them reflect that their deliberations might not merely affect those vast multitudes, but also their posterity, and that the case was one in which the voice of even one individual might influence the future prospects of millions. He was ready, however, at once to acknowledge that there had been great exaggerations with respect to one portion of the subject. Some hon. Members assigned causes for the distress far different from those assigned by others. Some laid the whole distress upon the Corn-laws. In that he could not agree. But at the same time, while he said this, he begged the House to bear in mind that he was considering solely the causes of the distress, and not the remedy. Now, allowing for the moment that the Corn-laws were not the sole cause—allowing to other causes all the 1234 efficiency which the right hon. Baronet himself could desire—allowing that the alleged imprudence in the management of trade had some influence—allowing all the efficiency the right hon. Baronet could desire to the present state of our trade with America and to the internal state of America itself—allowing for the influence of our relations with foreign countries as affecting the "question of peace or war—allowing to these causes all the efficiency which the right hon. Baronet could possibly desire, still it nevertheless must be admitted that there had been and was a great crippling of our energies by any course of legislation which narrowed the field of the markets which received our produce. That being his general proposition, he would next come to a specific proposition, which was, did the law that restricted the importation of corn narrow the markets for our produce? First, with regard to his general proposition. He was sure that no man who looked dispassionately at the state of the country would, for a moment, say, that he had been exaggerating the causes of the distress; and, with the most perfect confidence as to the answer, he took upon himself to ask, was not the narrowing of the markets a cause, and a powerful cause, of the prevailing distress? Before he looked at the remedy, he desired to put this question—were the Members of that House so agreed as to the causes of the distress that they could, at such a moment as the present, say, that they would not inquire into the causes of that distress which pervaded every part of the community? He wished to call the attention of the House to the time at which this distress took place, for the time was most important. He would ask when they saw the evil, when they saw it in its intensity and in its extent, spreading over the whole land, was it consistent with prudence—was it consistent with common sense, at such a time, to refuse inquiry into the causes of that which confessedly was so important—into that respecting the causes of which they were not agreed? He would now pass to the remedies for those evils, and he should begin by admitting, that a great portion of the distress was far beyond the reach of any legislation. He found fault with the re-solution, becauss it attempted to deal with matters wholly beyond the reach of legislation. But though there was much which legislation could not effect, that formed no sufficient ground for saying that nothing whatever was to be done. Suppose there 1235 was no such things as Corn-laws—suppose that trade was as free as the most strenuous free trader could desire, ought a resolution to be passed which was neither fair nor true? It was on grounds, then, such as he had been suggesting, that he called on the House to remember how important it was to separate that which could be done from that which was wholly impracticable. One thing was clear—that no Legislature could support a people—the people must support themselves, if ever they were to be supported. But there was one cause of the public distress which was quite within their grasp, and that was the law which regulated the importation of foreign corn. He would not say that the repeal of the Corn-laws would relieve all the distress; but at such a time as the present he did think, that the causes of the public distress ought at least to form a subject of inquiry, and of deliberate and dispassionate consideration. The Corn-law was a measure which the House of Commons could repeal; but let it not be said that the influence of the landed interest interfered to prevent justice being done to the manufacturing interest. Let it not be said that the landowners of the House of Commons, and they alone, had withstood a repeal of the Corn-laws. Suppose a heated demagogue went down to one of the most distressed of the manufacturing districts—to Stockport for example, of which the hon. Gentleman who represented that borough had given so affecting a picture—and that he were to tell the assembled and starving multitudes that the continuance of the Corn-laws was the sole cause of their sufferings, that the landlords in Parliament resisted the repeal of those laws, and that they not only refused to listen to any proposition for repeal, but declined to enter into any inquiry-—such a man would tell the people that to refuse inquiry in the present state of the country was tantamount to slamming the door of the House of Commons in the face of all those who had sent Members to that House. Looking then at the' circumstances in which they were placed, he would appeal to the prudence, the generosity, and the good feeling of the Members of that House. He would ask them, was it wise thus to separate two classes which ought to be united, to divide those who lived by labour and land, from those who lived by labour and manufactures? He did not mean to say that there were not other portions of the Government measures which did not require revision; he would mention for example 1236 the tariff, and the relations subsisting between this country and Brazil. But, without at present dwelling longer upon those topics, he should bring the few observations with which he had troubled the House to a close by saying, that before Parliament separated for the recess, he had determined to submit to their consideration a proposition affirming the general distress; when that was assented to be should propose to the House to enter upon an investigation of the causes of that distress, and at the same time to inquire if some remedy could not be applied.
§ Mr. Fielden moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ Mr. Wallace
begged his hon. Friend not to press his motion to a division. He had before stated that he had no particular partiality for the wording of his motion, and he was willing to agree to any reasonable alteration proposed either by the hon. Member for Bath or any other hon. Gentleman. He was perfectly willing to leave out the latter part of the sixth resolution, or any other part of the resolutions. He wished the obloquy of hindering the passing of those resolutions, Or of destroying their force to rest with others. The attention of the country had been directed to them, and they had been discussed in a manner which he had not expected. He was willing to alter them, but he hoped his hon. Friend would allow the House now to come to a decision upon the question.
§ Mr. Fielden
said, he was unwilling that the debate upon this subject should close until he had had an opportunity of expressing his sentiments upon it.
§ Sir R. Peel:
On Friday last I stated that great inconvenience would arise, as far as public business was concerned, by the delay of a decision on this question. At the same time, I did not complain that the subject should be fairly discussed, because I thought it would be for the public interest that the sense of the House should be taken upon it. It has now been debated for several nights; and last night hon. Gentlemen who had motions did not allow it to come on. It has been resumed tonight, and after a long debate, the hon. Gentleman finds out that his own proposition cannot be sustained in the shape he has presented it, and therefore he is willing that it should be withdrawn, that some other may be substituted. That was a very unusual course of proceeding. I hope, therefore, that the House will come to a decision. I think the hon. Gentle- 1237 man ought to have acted in concert with those from whom he expected support. Upon the grounds of justice and fair discussion I think I am not asking too much in asking the House now to come to a decision upon the question.
§ The House divided on the question that the debate be adjourned:—Ayes 24; Noes 255: Majority 231.
|List of the AYES.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Murphy, F. S.|
|Brotherton, J.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Callaghan, D.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Cobden, R.||Ricardo, J. L.|
|Collins, W.||Scholefield, J.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Smith, B.|
|Duncombe, T.||Somers, J. P.|
|Ellis, W.||Villiers, hon. C.|
|Gibson, T. M.||Wallace, R.|
|Hindley, C.||Williams, W.|
|Hume, J.||Fielden, J.|
|Leader, J. T.||Johnson, Gen.|
§ On the question being again put,
§ Mr. Hindley moved, "That the House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided on the question:— Ayes 18; Noes 213: Majority 195.
§ Question again put.
§ Sir R. Peel said
, considering the state of public business and considering also that the debate on this motion had now continued for a week, he must leave the country and the House to judge how far these obstructions on the part of hon. Members were justifiable. When he remembered that the hon. Member for Oldham had intimated his intention to avail himself of every opportunity afforded by the forms of the House to obstruct an important measure, if the hon. Gentleman did not give way, be should feel it his duty to do all in his power to prevent the adoption of such a precedent as the course now pursued would establish.
§ Mr. Wallace
said, although they had been engaged on this debate for a week, several hon. Members were desirous of expressing their opinions on the subject; and he begged to remind the right hon. Baronet that it was his fault, or that of his supporters, that Monday and Tuesday were lost. He was willing to go to a division, but he would not withdraw his motion.
§ Sir R. Peel
denied that it was his fault that this debate had not been continued on Monday; and hon. Gentlemen opposite had prevented the subject from being discussed on Tuesday.
§ Mr. B. Escott
thought it would soon be necessary for the House to consider the expediency of altering those forms which were thus perverted to the obstruction of public business.
§ Mr. Cobden
said, if such a proposition were made, he would be in his place to move perpetual adjournments to prevent its adoption.
§ The House divided on the question that the debate be adjourned:—Ayes 19; Noes 209: Majority 190.
§ The House then divided on the question that the words proposed by Mr. Wallace to be left out stand part of the question, when there appeared:—Ayes 174;Noes 49: Majority 125.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Dawnay, hon. W. H.|
|A'Court, Capt.||Denison, E. B.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Dodd, G.|
|Alford, Visct.||Douglas, Sir C. E.|
|Antrobus, E.||Douglas, J. D. S.|
|Archdall, Capt.||Duncombe, hon. A.|
|Arkwright, G.||East, J. B.|
|Bailey, J.||Eastnor, Visct.|
|Baillie, J. jun.||Eaton, R. J.|
|Baillie, Col.||Egerton, W. T.|
|Baldwin, B.||Eliot, Lord.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Escott, B.|
|Barneby, J.||Estcourt, T. G. B.|
|Bateson, R.||Farnham, E. B.|
|Beckett, W.||Ferguson, Sir R. A.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Feilden, W.|
|Blackburne, J I.||Ferrand, W. B.|
|Blakemore, R.||Fitzroy, hon. H.|
|Bodkin, W. H.||Flower, Sir J.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Follett, Sir W. W.|
|Borthwick, P.||Ffolliott, J.|
|Botfield, B.||Forbes, W.|
|Bradshaw, J.||Forster, M.|
|Broadwood, H.||Fuller, A. E.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Gaskell, J. Milnes|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.|
|Buckley, E.||Gladstone, T.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Glynne, Sir S. R.|
|Campbell, A.||Gordon, hon. Capt.|
|Cardwell, E.||Gore, M.|
|Christopher, R. A.||Goring, C.|
|Clayton, R. R.||Goulburn, rt. hon. H.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.|
|Clive, hn. R. H.||Greenall, P.|
|Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G.||Greene, T.|
|Collett, W. R.||Grimsditch, T.|
|Colvile, C. R.||Grimston, Visct.|
|Compton, H. C.||Grogan, E.|
|Corry, rt. hon. H.||Halford, H.|
|Courtenay, Lord||Hamilton, W. J.|
|Cripps, W.||Hamilton, Lord C.|
|Damer, hon. Col.||Hanmer, Sir J.|
|Darby, G.||Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.|
|Hardy, J.||Palmer, R.|
|Heneage, E.||Patten, J. W.|
|Henley, J. W:||Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Peel, J.|
|Hervey, Lord A.||Pigot, Sir R.|
|Hinde, J. H.||Pollington, Visct.|
|Hodgson, R.||Pollock, Sir F.|
|Hope, hon. C.||Praed, W.T.|
|Hornby, J.||Pringle, A.|
|Howard, P. H.||Pusey, P.|
|Hughes, W. B.||Rashleigh, W.|
|Hussey, T.||Repton, G. W. J.|
|Jackson, J. D.||Richards, R.|
|Jermyn, Earl||Rous, hon. Capt.|
|Johnstone, Sir, J.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.||Russell, C.|
|Jones, Capt.||Ryder, hon. G. D.|
|Kemble, H.||Sandon, Visct.|
|Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.||Sheppard, T.|
|Knight, H. G.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Lefroy, A.||Sotheron, T. H. S.|
|Legh, G. C.||Stanley, Lord.|
|Leicester, Earl of||Stuart, H.|
|Lemon, Sir C.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Lincoln, Earl of||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Litton, E.||Taylor, J. A.|
|Lockhart, W.||Trench, Sir F. W.|
|Lowther, J. H.||Trollope, Sir J.|
|Lowther, hon. Col.||Vane, Lord H.|
|Lygon, hon. Gen.||Vere, Sir C. B.|
|Mackenzie, W. F.||Verne, Col.|
|M'Geachy, F. A.||Vernon, G. H.|
|Mainwaring, T.||Vesey, hon. T.|
|Manners, Lord C. S.||Vivian, J. E.|
|Marsham, Visct.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Masterman, J.||Walsh, Sir J. B.|
|Meynell, Capt.||Wilbraham, hn. R. B.|
|Miles, P. W. S.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Milnes, R. M.||Wood, Col. T.|
|Morgan, O.||Wortley, hon. J. S.|
|Mundy, E. M.||Yorke, hon. E. T.|
|Neeld, J.||Young, J.|
|Nicholl, rt. hn. J.|
|O'Brien, A. S.||TELLERS.|
|Packe, C. W.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|Pakington, J. S.||Baring, H.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Gill, T.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Gordon, Lord F.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Hall, Sir B.|
|Brotherton, J.||Hastie, A.|
|Browne, hon. W.||Hindley, C.|
|Busfeild, W.||Hollond, R.|
|Callaghan, D.||Johnson, Gen.|
|Carew, hon. R. S.||Layard, Capt.|
|Chapman, B.||Marshall, W.|
|Cobden, R.||Martin, J.|
|Collins, W.||Morris, D.|
|Craig, W. G.||Murphy, F. S.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Napier, Sir C.|
|Duncan, G.||O'Brien, J.|
|Duncombe, T.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Ellis, W.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Elphinstone, H.||Philips, M.|
|Ferguson, Col.||Pryse, P.|
|Fielden, J.||Ricardo, J. L.|
|Scholefield, J.||Villiers, hon. C.|
|Smith, B.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Somers, J. P.||Williams, W.|
|Stansfield, W. R. C.||Wood, B.|
|Stewart, P. M.||TELLERS.|
|Strutt, E.||Hume, J.|
|Turner, E.||Wallace, R.|
§ Main question agreed to. House in committee of supply. House resumed. Committee to sit again.
§ House adjourned at a quarter to three o'clock, till to-morrow.