Viscount Howick moved that so much of the Speech of her Majesty at the opening of the present Session of Parliament as referred to the depression of the manufacturing industry of the country, should be read by the clerk at the Table. The following paragraphs were then read.
My Lords and Gentlemen:—Her Majesty regrets the diminished receipt from some of the ordinary sources of revenue.
Her Majesty fears that it must be in part attributed to the reduced consumption of many articles, caused by that depression of the manufacturing industry of the country which has so long prevailed, and which her Majesty has so long and deeply lamented.
§ Viscount Howick
again rose and said,* Mr. Speaker, I rise for the purpose of moving that the House do now resolve into a committee of the whole House to take into consideration that part of her Majesty's Speech which has just been read. My object in making this motion is, to call upon the House to pronounce a decision upon the question, whether the distress under which the country now unhappily labours is not of such a character as to impose upon Parliament the duty of some immediate interference upon the subject. I apprehend that I am taking the most regular and the most Parliamentary manner of*From a corrected Report.449 bringing this question before you, and that the House, by consenting to go into committee upon the paragraph of her Majesty's Speech which adverts to the "depression of the manufacturing industry of the country," will, in fact, pronounce its opinion that we ought to take the state of things, thus brought to our notice, into our immediate consideration, with a view of adopting some practical measures of relief. This, I believe, will be the effect of the decision at which we shall arrive, if we determine upon going into committee. Before, however, I state the grounds upon which I ask the House to come to this conclusion, I beg to assure you that I do not bring forward this motion in any spirit of hostility to her Majesty's Government. On the contrary, I deeply regret that they have not themselves come forward and recommended to the House a perseverance in that policy, the principles of which were so ably expounded and maintained by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) and the Vice-president of the Board of Trade (Mr. Gladstone), and partially carried into effect by them in their measures of last Session. It would have been with far greater satisfaction that I should have supported with my vote further measures founded upon this policy and brought forward by her Majesty's Ministers, than I now attempt (I know how inadequately) myself to recommend that policy to the House. But, unhappily, her Majesty's Government have not thought proper to take that course which I earnestly wish they had. We have learned, as well by the express declaration of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) as by the absence of all announcement of any remedial measures in her Majesty's Speech, that the Ministers of the Crown contemplate proposing no such measures for our adoption. Under these circumstances, it is the duty of an independent Member of Parliament to consider whether things can be safely left in this situation. I, for one, believe, that they can not; I believe the situation of the country to be one of the most serious danger, in which we are threatened with evils which our inaction may render overwhelming, but which we nevertheless still have it in our power to avert. Having this conviction, I have thought it right, with the advice and concurrence of the friends who sit around me, to bring forward this motion, and to do my best to induce the 450 House, by its vote this night, to declare, that in the present situation of the country, it is necessary to make some attempt to improve that unhappy state of things which at present exists. In asking the House to come to this decision, it appears to me that what I am called upon to show is, first, the existence of great and general distress; and next, that the causes of that distress are such as not to place it altogether out of the reach of legislative interference. Because I am at once ready to admit that the House ought not to assent to the motion, or go into the committee I now propose, unless with a view of arriving at some practical result, and unless they are satisfied, not merely of the existence of distress, but likewise that the Legislature can do something, at least, for its alleviation. I am aware that the more difficult part of the task I have undertaken will be to make out the second part of my case; namely, that the causes of the distress are not altogether beyond the reach of legislative interference. Indeed, as to the first part of my case— the existence of distress—this is so severe and general, beyond ail former example, that I might almost content myself with resting the matter simply upon its notoriety, and upon the admission of the fact which her Majesty has been advised to make in that part of the Speech which has just been read at the Table. I shall, therefore, pass over this part of my subject as briefly as possible; and will merely endeavour to recall to your recollection— I hope at no great length—what is at this moment the actual condition of the country. Let me, then, remind you, that time is now to be reckoned not by months but by years, during which the manufacturing and commercial interests of the country (to use the words of her Majesty's Speech) have been in a state of great "depression." That distress which, in the first instance, affected only one great branch of our national industry, has lately— as must always, in my opinion, be the case-extended to all the other great interests of the state. I believe hon. Gentlemen opposite will not differ from me when I state that the present condition of the agricultural interest is one of great difficulty. It is suffering from a depression of prices, arising from a diminished consumption of some of the most important articles of agricultural produce. The consequence is, that the farmers are every 451 where exposed to great difficulties, and in many places those difficulties extend from them to the agricultural labourers, the reduction of whose wages, in various parts of England, we must all have seen announced in the newspapers. And even where wages have not been reduced, I believe there has been almost an universal scarcity of employment, which has been too often seriously aggravated by the return to the rural districts of numbers of men, who for many years have obtained ample employment in the great seats of our manufacturing industry. The mining and shipping interests of the country have more than participated in the general pressure. They feel more than their share of the general distress; while the retail tradesmen and shopkeepers in the metropolis, and the towns throughout the kingdom, are in a similar condition. They are at once exposed to the difficulties arising from the increasing weight of the poors' rate, and from the falling-off in their business owing to the general diminution of consumption. In the course of last summer it had already become a matter of no inconsiderable difficulty in many towns to collect the poor rates; and at the very time when this burthen has been so frightfully increased, tradesmen have also suffered from a great diminution of their business, a diminution which naturally follows from the reduced earnings of the working classes, and also from the diminished incomes of persons in the higher and more wealthy classes. Because a large proportion of the more wealthy classes either directly or indirectly derive their incomes from sources depending upon the prosperity of some branch of the national industry, so that they, also, are now beginning— and I am afraid they are only beginning—to feel the effect of the present state of things in the reduction of their incomes. And even those whose incomes have not been at once affected by the general distress have been exposed in common with others, to some reduction of their means by the new and direct demand made upon them to meet the exigency of the public service. The consequence of all which has been, that, whether in the lower or higher ranks of life there is hardly a family which has not to a greater or a less extent, been compelled to practise economy, to retrench some former expense, and to give up some luxury to which they have been accustomed. The 452 result upon the whole has been a very great diminution of the expenditure on which depends the business of the tradesmen, the artisans, and the shopkeepers by whom the consumption of the country is supplied. Such, I believe to be a most unexaggerated statement of the actual condition of the country, in which every branch of industry and every class of society, from the highest to the lowest, are in various degrees labouring under difficulty and distress. And now, Sir, as I do not wish to go into details, as I am anxious to avoid them as far as is practicable, knowing that I shall have to trouble the House longer than I wish, in attempting, as I think I ought, to make good the general description I have given of the condition of the country, by some facts relating to particular places, I will content myself with referring very shortly to what I have ascertained to be the present condition of the important town I have the honour of representing, and of the county with which I am most closely connected. Since I have given notice of this motion, a great deal of information has been sent to me from various quarters; accounts of distress from one end of the kingdom to the other, of the most appalling character, have reached me: but I think it better to leave it to other gentlemen to state the local circumstances of the places they represent, and confine myself strictly to the large town I myself represent, and with the county with which I am most closely connected. With respect, then, to the town of Sunderland, I have taken some pains in endeavouring to ascertain its actual condition; and having written upon the subject to gentlemen on whose accuracy I have the most perfect reliance, I have obtained information which I believe to be entirely trustworthy. I need not tell hon. Members that the town of Sunderland is mainly dependent upon those two great branches of our national industry— the coal trade and shipping. The building and navigation of ships and the trade in coals have been the chief support of that town. In the first place, with respect to the coal trade, the statement I have received is, that the coal trade is in a deplorable state. When the present engagements (which are for a year) expire, there must be a reduction both of the number of pitmen employed and in the amount of their wages. I may observe in explanation of this statement, 453 that the hewers and underground workmen engaged in raising coals are generally hired by the year, which engagements will terminate on the 5th of April; and unless some great change previously takes place, on the 5th of April there will be a considerable reduction both in the number of men employed and in the amount of wages paid. I ought to add, as hon. Gentlemen may not be aware perhaps of the fact, that the common agreement in the collieries in the north of England is, that each man, during the year for which he is engaged, shall have at least a certain number of days' employment in a fortnight. If trade is brisk an increased amount of work is given; if not, only that stipulated for by the agreement. Now, the proprietors already allow their men only the minimum number of days which the agreement requires; and, as I have stated, unless a favourable change should occur before the 5th of April, a reduction will then take place. Then, with respect to the workmen employed above ground — the carpenters, blacksmiths, and all other persons employed about the collieries—all these were reduced from Saturday the 4th of the present month, both in the rate of wages paid, and the number of days of employment, they being now employed ten days in a fortnight only, instead of the full number, making, of course, a very serious diminution in their earnings. The proprietors, not having it in their power to continue to them the same extent of work, had the alternative of turning off one-sixth of their hands, or making the reduction I have stated. It was considered most for the interest of the persons employed that the reduction should be made in the manner I have mentioned. This information I have derived from one very large establishment; but my informant tells me that the same thing has taken place in several other large establishments in the county of Durham, which ship their coals from the Wear, and that he has reason to believe that it will be very general throughout the coal districts. I now come to another great branch of trade carried on at Sunderland. I am told that in 1840 ship carpenters received from 30s. to 33s. a week. Those now employed receive only from 18s. to 21s. a week, and several have left the town for royal or other ship-building establishments, where Sunderland shipbuilders are generally preferred, owing to their character for ability. 454 Many have gone to sea at sailors' wages, whereas three years ago they could with difficulty be procured at 20s. a month more than common sailors' pay. The wages of other classes in the town have declined in much the same proportion. Two years ago there were ninety chain-makers in full work, now only thirty-one are employed and these only two days a week, or one-third of their time. It may fairly be said that one-half to two-thirds less is paid in wages than two years ago. It is impossible that the working classes can suffer to such an extent without their employers suffering also in a corresponding degree. The statement furnished to me says that in the year 1839, there were eighty shipbuilders in the port of Sunderland, of whom thirty-six have failed to the aggregate amount of 320,000l.; five have declined business, leaving only thirty-nine out of the eighty who now continue that branch of trade. Twenty merchants and chain and anchor smiths have failed to the aggregate amount of 100,000l. A great number of grocers, publicans, and others have failed to a large amount of which, no account can be obtained. There are in the High Street alone from forty to fifty shops unoccupied, in consequence of the greatest part of the previous tenants having become insolvent. To this statement is added a fact, which is very remarkable, as showing the manner in which this distress existing in large towns, seriously affects the agricultural community. The quantity of meat sold, as stated by the butchers, was not more than one-half in 1842 to what it was in 1841. Now, let me confirm this representation of the distress of the town by stating what is the present condition of Sunderland with respect to the poor-rates. This subject was mentioned a few days ago by my hon. Friend, the Member for North Durham, and I believe what he then said was pretty nearly accurate. The borough of Sunderland consists of three parishes; the parish of Sunderland, the parish of Bishop Wear mouth, and the parish of Monk Wear mouth. The first parish is inhabited chiefly by the working classes, and the rates during the last six months have been at the rate of 18s. in the pound per annum on two-thirds of the rack rent, the actual amount for the whole year has been 17s. 3½d. In Bishop Wearmouth, the inhabitants of which comprise a larger I proportion of the wealthier classes, the 455 poor-rate has been only 4s. Ad. in the pound per annum on two-thirds of the rack rent, while in Monk Wearmouth the rate was 12s. in the pound per annum on two-thirds rack rent. This large amount of rating is in itself a very frightful state of things. But I think a more correct view may be obtained of the destitution and misery existing in the town of Sunderland, by a statement of the sum actually expended for the relief of the poor in different years. I have such a statement before me of the amount given for relief only (exclusive of all other charges) in each of the years from 1837 to the present time. I will not trouble the House with this detailed account; I will only state that the amount so expended in the whole union in 1837 was 7,035l. that from that time it progressively increased until it amounted, in 1842, to 14,232l. being somewhat more than double the sum which only six years previously had been expended for the relief of the poor. But this is not all. Even this large sum expended for relief has been found inadequate to meet the pressure of distress in that town. In consequence of which the more wealthy inhabitants, although not well able to afford it, suffering as they have themselves been from the state of trade, have been compelled to subscribe a sum amounting to 2,192l., besides giving away from 800 to 1000 tons of coals, to relieve the existing distress. Such is the state of things in Sunderland, and yet I believe that Sunderland affords by no means one of the worst examples of the suffering which now prevails in many of our large towns. Instances of greater suffering and still more severe distress might, I believe, be produced from other places. Because, although undoubtedly Sunderland has to complain of having been peculiarly affected by that very impolitic tax which was last Session imposed upon the export of coal (the consequences of which have already be suench as to afford ground for believing that its mischievous effects will exceed all that were anticipated from it), although that measure has been to Sunderland a special aggravation of the general distress existing there; yet on the other hand, it is true that the branch of industry in which the inhabitants are mainly engaged being the coal trade, and coal being almost a necessary of life, the demand for that article is not, certainly, affected nearly so 456 soon as the demand for many other commodities; the distress, therefore, in the north of England did not commence so early as in some other parts of the country. At this moment the consumption of coals in London has not materially fallen off; and Sunderland producing the best coal, a large part of which is destined for the London market, of course that town is to some extent less severely affected by the general depression of trade than several other places. But think, even in Sunderland, I have made out a case of distress which is well worth the most serious consideration of this House. Now having taken one large town engaged in, and mainly dependent upon, our shipping and mining industry, I wish next to refer to the state of a great agricultural county. I have written to several gentlemen in the county of Northumberland, to ascertain what the real state of things is in that county; and I am happy to have it in my power to say that, upon the whole, from the statements I have received, things seem to be in a much less unfavourable state there than I have seen them in country papers described to be in other parts of England. The statements I have received are to the effect that the farmers are beginning to be very seriously distressed; that the low price of meat affects them very seriously. They carry on farming upon an improved modern system, upon which great reliance is placed upon live stock. The falling-off in the value of stock has affected them seriously. In spite of every circumstance which ought to have made at this time dear meat, it is known that there has been a very great falling-off indeed in the value of stock. [Hear, from Mr. Liddell.] Yes, there is every circumstance which ought to have made meat dear. [Hear, hear, from the same hon. Member.] The lion. Member seems to deny that statement; but in the north of England, at all events, I can say, without fear of contradiction, that since the year 1826, there never has been known a time when so little grass was grown in that part of the country. [Hear, hear, from the same hon. Member.] The hon. Member does not see that the necessary effect of a deficiency of food for cattle ought to be to make fat cattle very expensive. Is it not obvious that this would have been the natural result of the want of hay and straw, and of 457 the circumstance, that, in many parts of the country, the turnip crop has also been very seriously affected? [_Hear, hear, from the same quarter.] I perfectly understand the cheer of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham. He means that a deficiency of hay, straw, turnips, and other food for the winter, must have had the effect of depressing instead of raising the price of stock. Why no doubt, Sir, in the autumn it would do so, but the more the price of cattle was affected by a scarcity of food in autumn, which made the farmers bring their cattle prematurely to market, the more reason should we have to expect that the price of fat stock would be high now. The scarcity of the means of fattening cattle in the winter ought to have insured to those farmers who had the means of feeding their stock, a high price for it at this season, but such is not the fact. I have information upon which I can place the utmost reliance, to this effect, that even cattle that were bought extremely cheap, in consequence of the state of things in September and October last, are now, after being fattened on turnips, selling in the markets at prices giving little remuneration to the farmers. That is the state of things, and it seems to me clearly proved, that it is owing to a diminished consumption of meat. When you are told that in such a town as Sunderland, the consumption of butchers' meat has fallen off more than one-half in the course of one year— can any one be surprised at this state of things? The right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) need not defend himself from the charge of having given us too great a boon in the reduction of the price of meat, by allowing the introduction of foreign cattle. I shall never for a moment countenance the absurdity of supposing that the introduction of some three or four thousand head of cattle into this country, can have had any effect upon prices here. But I beg pardon of the House for having been led into details (which I was anxious to avoid) by the cheer of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham. I was attempting to give an account of the actual state of the county of Northumberland. Hitherto, I believe, notwithstanding the difficulties of the farmers, the pressure of distress has not fallen much upon their labourers. Work is somewhat scarcer now than it usually is, but there has not been any very perceptible reduction in wages 458 except in a few instances. In one or two places, I have heard that there has been some reduction in the wages of agricultural labour, but it has not been so generally. This may be accounted for from the fact, that large capitals have been vested in farming in the county of Northumberland; the cultivation of the land there has been carried on upon a great scale, and farmers having had some favourable years, they are better able than elsewhere to bear the first pressure without suspending employment, and thereby immediately bringing the consequences of change of circumstances to bear heavily upon the working classes. But symptoms are already apparent that the working classes amongst the agriculturists cannot long escape from their share of the distresses of the times. The farmers are beginning to find difficulty in finding the means of paying their spring rents, and it is impossible that the labourers should not now suffer. Already the wholesale houses complain that they cannot obtain payment as formerly from the small shopkeepers, and the drapers and others in country towns, who have experienced a very perceptible reduction of their business. I am also told that although the farm labourers have not yet generally suffered, in a great measure no doubt, owing to the admirable system of hiring the principal farm servants by the year, and paying them partly in kind, yet that all the artizans and handicraftsmen connected with agriculture have severely felt the depression— blacksmiths, carpenters, wheelrights, masons, plasterers, and others, have found greater scarcity of employment than hitherto. This painful state of things has been much aggravated in various localities by the number of workmen who have returned to rural districts, having been no longer able to find occupation in the towns. I beg to read, from a gentleman upon whom every reliance may be placed, a short statement upon this point, and also as to the rapid increase of the casual poor, which is mainly owing to the failure of employment in the manufacturing districts. After stating some circumstances to which I have just adverted, he proceeds as follows:—A want of employment seems to be more felt hereabouts, amongst that class of artizans —masons, joiners, and plasterers—than among agricultural labourers. Many of such who found employment in the large towns are thrown back upon the country, and the demand 459 for those in the country being also reduced, many of them are idle, and suffering, I fear, considerable privations. Though not living happily, in a manufacturing district, the distress and destitution which prevail in the manufacturing parts of the country are painfully manifested by the shoals of beggars who are found on our roads and infesting our houses. Not the old class of mendicants at all; but whole families, or groups of families, hardly covered by their miserable rags, and suffering from cold and hunger. Wandering from place to place, with hardly a hope of finding work, and many of them begging their way back to the place from whence they came, more broken down in health and hope, and more destitute of clothing than when they left it. However determined one may be not to encourage begging, it is impossible to look on the wretchedness which in this way presents itself many times a day without contributing to its relief from the purse, the larder, or the wardrobe. The land seems filled with miserable beings, for whom it has no use, and whose support only serves to impoverish those a little above them.This increase in the number of casual poor seems a remarkable symptom of prevalent distress. I have described Northumberland as in a better condition than some other counties, and it ought consequently to feel the evil of casual poor proportionably less than it is felt elsewhere; but such does not appear to be the case. In the Alnwick union there has been a large increase of the casual poor, who have been relieved, and I wish especially to call the attention of the House to this startling fact—that without looking back further than the year 1841 (itself a year of great pressure) this charge has increased in a most remarkable degree; in 1841 the number of casual poor relieved was 1,826, while in the year just closed the number amounted to no fewer than 3,653, or double what it had been in 1841. I am sorry to add, that the evil, instead of diminishing, seems at this moment to be on the increase; in the current quarter, the number of cases of casual poor relieved exceeds that of any former quarter, even of the year which, as I have said, presented double the number of cases of the year 1841. When only half the quarter had expired, 730 casual poor had been relieved, while the heaviest quarter of the year 1841 was only 941: if the second half of the quarter should be in proportion to the first, the increase, as the House will perceive, will be enormous. Having thus taken one great town, and one agricultural county as an example, and upon the whole 460 I believe by no means an unfavourable example, of the state of the country, I think I am justified in saying that the distress (which is referred to in her Majesty's Speech in terms which almost seem to imply that the right hon. Gentlemen opposite conceive it to be confined to the manufacturing portion of the kingdom,) is wide spread and almost universal. I say that I am justified in assuming this fact, and the more so when I look at the falling-off in the revenue, to which the Government has thought it right, in the exercise of what I think a sound discretion, to direct the attention of Parliament. I do not feel equal to engage in any minute examination of the state of the revenue, but I may notice one branch which has always been considered to afford the best indication of the condition of the great body of the people. Of course I allude to the excise; and I find that in the year ending the 5th of January last, as compared with the year ending the 5th of January, 1842, there was a falling-off of not less than 1,173,000l. In the last quarter, as compared with the corresponding quarter of the former year, the deficiency was 717,000l. I know that an attempt has been made to explain this state of things in two ways. It has been said that a considerable effort was made at the close of 1841 to diminish the balances in the hands of the collectors of the excise, and that the revenue of that year was therefore apparently swelled: it was hence argued that it was not fair to make a comparison between the excise revenue of a year or of a quarter in which there had been such extraordinary receipts, and that of a year or quarter of only ordinary receipt. I am unable to say how far this explanation may or may not be just; I have, therefore, thought that the best test of the truth might be obtained by going back a year farther, and by ascertaining what was the amount of revenue in the quarter ending the 5th of January, 1841. The sum then received was 4,016,000l., while the amount in the quarter ending 5th January, 1843, was only 3,022,000l., showing a deficiency of 994,000/.; a sum equal very nearly to one-fourth of the whole revenue derived from the excise in the corresponding quarter only two years before. The other circumstance adduced to account for the deficiency is that which was mentioned by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) on a former night. He said, 461 that the barley crop in 1841 was deficient, particularly in quality, and that this had occasioned a considerable defalcation in the malt duty. But make whatever allowance you will on this account, still I think the House will agree with me in saying, that the fact that in two years, in spite of an increasing population, there should have been a falling-off to this extent in the excise in Great Britain (for the return I have quoted does not include Ireland, and therefore no allowance is to be made for the effect produced either by the new taxes or by the temperance movement in that country), I say the fact that in Great Britain, in two years, there has been a falling-off of nearly one quarter of the whole amount of a branch of revenue depending on the consumption by the great body of the people, of articles which long habit has rendered to them rather the necessaries than the comforts of life, is a fearful proof of the extent to which misery and destitution must have prevailed. Let me ask the House to reflect on the degree of suffering which must have been endured before such an effect was produced by a forced economy. Daily observation may teach us that to submit to a forced economy is painful in every rank of life; even the wealthier classes feel acutely the sacrifices imposed upon them by a diminution of their means: it is not without some degree of suffering that under the pressure of a straitened income they forego what are avowedly luxuries and indulgences which may well be spared, but to which they had long been accustomed. But if even sacrifices like these are painful, what must be felt by the working man under the hard necessity of reducing his humble expenditure? Think what it must be to such a man to be forced gradually to surrender the few luxuries and the comforts to which he has been used, to be compelled to give up his beer and tobacco, to find that tea, coffee, sugar, butter, can no longer form part of the daily meals of himself and his family, nay, that bread itself is becoming a luxury he can no longer afford, and that its place must to a greater and greater extent be taken by some inferior description of food, to see his wife and children falling into rags and daily pining under the privations to which they are forced to submit; worst of all, to have to endure the corroding anxiety, the withering of hope in his heart which he must feel, as week after week, 462 and day after day, his situation becomes worse, till the time of utter destitution approaches, and absolute starvation stares him in the face. It is of sufferings such as these felt by thousands of families of those of our working population who, not long since, were well fed, and well clothed, and well paid; it is of sufferings still more acute now endured by those who, even in prosperous times, earned little more than a mere subsistence, that we are told by the figures which inform us of the falling-off in the excise, it is the existence of such a mass of misery as this which is meant by the diminished consumption to which reference is made in her Majesty's speech. I may, perhaps, be told, that great as the distress is admitted to be on both sides of the House, we may now hope that we have passed the worst; that some symptoms of improvement may now be detected, some signs of the revival of trade and of the dawning of more prosperous days if I am not mistaken, since the commencement of the Session, such an opinion has been expressed by the right hon. Baronet. Sir, I earnestly hope that this opinion may prove correct, I most fervently pray for the fulfilment of this anticipation of improvement; but at the same time it is impossible for me to forget that towards the close of last Session, when the subject of the distress of the country was, as I think, most properly brought before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. Wallace), the right hon. Baronet used almost precisely the same language. I cannot forget that his words then were almost the very same as those he has now employed, and that his anticipations of improvement then were founded upon signs of its approach not, I fear, more uncertain than those on which he now relies. I cannot forget that since the right hon. Baronet used that language, in spite of the almost unexampled mildness of the season, which in the present situation of the country, must be looked upon as a mercy for which we cannot be too thankful, since, had the winter been severe, the misery of our distressed population must have been incalculably aggravated— in spite, I say, of that mildness of the season, for which we ought to be so grateful to Providence, the winter has been one of the deepest and most general distress. The anticipations of the right hon. Baronet of coming improvement may again fail to be realized— certainly the improve- 463 ment has not yet extended to the working classes, on the contrary, the statement I have already read to the House shows that only ten days ago, in the neighbourhood of Sunderland, there took place an additional reduction of the wages of the working classes. The distress, therefore, continues with unabated severity among the labouring classes, and I cannot avoid expressing my conviction that we have no right to expect that there will be any permanent improvement in their condition, unless Parliament will, at length, consent to interfere and endeavour to remove some of the causes of their distress. Let me add, that it has already been of far too long continuance, and that it cannot be longer endured without extreme danger to the institutions and to the peace of the country. I wish to touch lightly on this delicate subject, but I cannot help reminding the House that it has already had a warning upon this subject in the disturbances of last summer. [Cheers from the Ministerial benches]. I know the meaning of that cheer, but I will not be provoked to enter into an argument as to the causes of those disturbances. For my part, I believe in the justice of an observation made by a distinguished historian, whose recent loss we have to deplore, that the great mass of mankind is so constituted, that they are rarely led to feel serious political discontent unless they are suffering under the pressure of physical want; and that, on the other hand, times in which physical want is long and severely felt, are almost invariably marked by political excitement, and by signs of the prevalence in men's minds of discontent with the institutions under which they live, and of a restless desire of change. I believe this remark to be no less true than it is important in the present state of this country; and the eminent historian has also, I think, correctly traced the fact which he brings to our notice, to an instinctive feeling of mankind which teaches them that poverty and privation cannot be general and severe without being in some manner owing to the faults of the governing powers. No doubt this instinct has been planted in men's hearts as a check on the faults and follies of their rulers; for it is impossible to look upon the world around us—to observe in what rich abundance the goodness of our Creator has placed within our reach the means of supplying all our wants—without being 464 convinced that it was not His intention that the condition of any of His creatures should be one of suffering and privation, and that if we find it to be so, it must be because they do not know how wisely to use His gifts. I do not mean to contend that occasional visitations of national distress can be averted by human prudence; it may enter into the wise designs of Providence, that no people should be entirely exempt from such visitations, though even these, I believe, may generally be traced to men's own follies or wickedness; be this, however, as it may, I can entertain no doubt whatever that the permanent condition of our race was not meant by our Creator to be otherwise than one of comfort and abundance. Whenever we find it the reverse we may rest assured that it is because men do not avail themselves as they ought of the goodness and bounty of Providence, whose gracious designs for their welfare are thwarted by their own perversity. Such being my firm conviction, I think that the mere fact of the long continuance of distress in the country of itself affords a strong presumption that there must be something wrong in its social organization. When I see that industry, frugality, and prudence cannot secure to men blessed with health and strength a competent share of the necessaries and comforts of life, and that this has now been the case for a considerable length of time— I cannot resist the inference that such a condition of things can only be accounted for by the fact, that there is some fault in our laws or social arrangements which Parliament is called upon by its interposition to remedy. This is a conclusion at which I think it would not be unreasonable to arrive, from the mere fact of the long continuance of distress, but it is supported also by other considerations. If there be not something amiss in the condition of society— something that jars and is out of order in the working of the political machine—why is such distress experienced? Do we not possess all the advantages necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous nation? Has our soil lost its fertility? Have we not had a season, fine almost beyond example, a harvest which her Majesty's Government, at all events, consider to have been one of more than ordinary abundance? Have we lost that immense accumulation of fixed capital in public and private works of utility by 465 which this country has been long so remarkably distinguished? Has the persevering and intelligent industry of our population failed us, or the energy and enterprise of our capitalists? Why, then, with all the elements of wealth—with everything that should make a country prosperous—is every branch of industry labouring under difficulties, and every class of society suffering from distress? Surely there must be some reason for this unhealthy state of affairs, and that reason it ought not to be beyond our reach to ascertain. It is universally felt that some explanation of our unhappy condition is required, and many different ones have accordingly been offered; with the permission of the House, to some of these I will now very shortly advert. In the first place, I cannot help observing, that some years ago, when the distress of the country was a frequent subject of discussion, our debates used chiefly to turn on the expepediency of a change in the currency, which a considerable number of Gentlemen very ardently advocated, contending that a more liberal issue of paper would be a certain remedy for all the difficulties under which we laboured. Happily we have lived to see this opinion fall to a great discount, and I need the less attempt to answer it, because the subject cannot be left in better hands than those of the right hon. Baronet, as a remarkable correspondence, recently published, has, I apprehend, fully demonstrated. I believe I may say that there are very few Members now in the House who are not firmly persuaded, that instead of improving our situation, we should only aggravate all its evils, if we should now be so unwise as to give up that first and most indispensable requisite of prosperity to our commerce, a certain measure of value and a secure medium of exchange. If we want to see the effects of such a mistaken policy, we have only to look to the other side of the Atlantic. I may, therefore, reject the notion that the state of the currency is the cause of distress. The next opinion to which I would refer is one which was formerly more advocated than at present, viz., that the pressure of taxation is the cause of the prevailing suffering. It seems to me that the answer to this position is as simple as it is conclusive. I am not aware that the commencement of distress was at all marked by an increase of taxation; I believe that the national burthens 466 had not then been augmented; but when I speak of taxes, let me guard myself by saying, that I include only those taxes which are bond fide imposed for the purposes of revenue, and not those heavy burthens imposed upon us in the form of duties, not for the sake of raising revenue, but for other objects, and with other views of policy or expediency. Looking only to revenue taxes, I will fairly avow my own opinion, that in proportion to its means this country is more lightly taxed than any kingdom in Europe. The load of taxation is no more than the nation is perfectly able to carry; and I may add, that with the exception of the impolitic taxes of the last Session, and of one or two others to which objection may be taken, the revenue of the country may, upon the whole, be considered to be derived from unexceptionable sources. I cannot, therefore, look for any permanent or material relief from diminished taxation. There is another opinion which has several advocates out of doors, although, until I observed a notice which has been given by an hon. Member, I own I did not expect to see it brought forward in this House. I allude to the notion that all our distress proceeds from what is called over-speculation, over-production, aad over-extension of the use of machinery. Although this doctrine has found one Gentleman at least to advocate it within these walls, I am satisfied that it will receive little countenance here; certainly none from the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel), who, last Session, on introducing his measure for the alteration of the Corn-law, appears to me to have taken a perfectly correct view of the subject. When speaking of overproduction, over speculation, and of the sudden extension of machinery, he said, that—Coincident with general prosperity, there might exist in particular districts the severest partial distress.I believe in that sentence the right hon. Baronet stated the truth upon this subject most accurately. I see no reason to doubt that partial and temporary distress may result from over-speculation, and the sudden introduction of new machinery; but I confess for my own part, that I can only understand the words over-speculation and over-production when they are applied to a disproportionate and unwise production of some particular commodity or class of commodities. I am at a loss 467 to understand how any nation can suffer from too great abundance of everything which it requires to consume. Can we have at once too much food, too many clothes, and too much of all the different articles of comfort; or how can an abundance of all that is required to supply their various wants be an injury to the working class of the community? In like manner the introduction of new machinery may for a time affect injuriously particular bodies of workmen; but if you look at the effects of new machinery on the country as a whole, if you look to its general and permanent results, it is inconceivable how an extension of the use of machinery can have any other tendency than that of increasing the power of industry, of making a given amount of labour produce a larger quantity of articles useful or necessary to the community, and thus increasing the share of these articles which each individual in return for his labour may hope to obtain. For this reason I cannot understand how over-speculation and over-production can be the occasion of more than very partial and temporary distress. When distress becomes general — when you can no longer detect any symptoms of its arising from the disproportionate increase in the production of particular articles—this explanation ceases to apply, or to throw any light upon the condition of the country; nay, more— looking to what the condition of this country actually is, it seems to me a palpable absurdity, not to say a heartless mockery, to tell the working classes who are suffering so severely from the want of food, of clothing, and of all the comforts and luxuries they used to enjoy, that it is to the too great abundance, to the needless profusion in which all these things are produced for their use that their difficulties are really to be attributed. Others have said, that the existing distress is occasioned by the new Poor-law, and the hon. Member who has given notice of his intention to move the amendment, referring to over-production, is a supporter of this dogma also. The present is not the fit opportunity for discussing the policy of the new Poor-law; but I may say, that the argument which seeks to establish any connexion between that measure and the present distress, seems to me entirely to fail, for the simple reason, that the evils of which we complain are felt as strongly in Scotland as in England. The com- 468 mittee appointed to inquire into the distress in Paisley, will, I fear, afford convincing proof that Scotland bears her full share of the existing suffering; but there has been no change of Poor-laws in Scotland; they there remain what they were a few years ago, when that country presented a striking example of an industrious, prosperous, contented, and orderly population. If, therefore, the evils are common to both countries, and the change in the Poor-law only applicable to one, we see clearly that the charge that this new measure is the cause of distress cannot be well founded. Another delusion of much the same kind is that of attributing the sufferings of the working classes to the niggardliness of their employers. I have observed (in common, I have no doubt, with many other Gentlemen) with feelings of indignation, the attempt which has been made in certain quarters to excite or forster in the minds of the working classes the dangerous delusion that it is in the power of the masters to give better wages if they thought proper, and that it is to their selfishness and inhumanity that the sufferings of those beneath them are to be mainly attributed. A complete answer to this notion is furnished by the undoubted fact that the masters, the whole class of capitalists, are suffering their full share of the present distress. The Gazettes of the last two years, and the melancholy list of failures they contain, together with the unnaturally high price of the funds, showing the low rate of profit and the difficulty of safely employing capital even at this low rate, sufficiently establish the fact, that the masters are not less sufferers than the workmen. I think this circumstance deserves the most serious attention, as it is at once the most unfavourable and formidable symptom in the present state of the country, and as it throws the strongest light on the cause of the existing distress. What I allude to is that you have at one and the same time an extremely low rate of profits, and an extremely low rate of wages: that is, that the whole produce of industry is too small to afford sufficient remuneration to those among whom it is divided; that the whole return obtained from the employment of capital and labour is so small, that the shares both of the working men on the one side, and of the capitalist on the other, are reduced to so low a point, as to be scarcely compatible with the long continuance of the 469 process of production. This, Sir, is a most dangerous symptom; and I think it is, also a most instructive one. If the low rate of profit and of wages is admitted (and I think it can hardly fail to be so) to be the cause of the distress which we suffer, it will lead us into the right track to trace its causes. If I ask any gentleman no matter of what opinions, why wages are so low, and why profits are so small, the ready and universal answer will be, that it arises from the intense competition which takes place; this is the reason why the class both of labourers and of capitalists are in distress, why the wages of the one are depressed, and why the profits of the other are at a ruinously low rate. We all know that in every branch of industry, in every walk of life, there are symptoms of this intense competition. Is there a piece of work to be done? There are generally two men who offer when there is only sufficient employment for one. If a gentleman engaged in one of the liberal professions is about to retire from business, there are half-a-dozen competitors to supply his place. If there is a safe opportunity for the advantageous investment of money, either in trade or by way of mortgage, there is ten times more money offered than the sum required. Whenever an opening is offered for the employment, either of capital, or of labour skilled or unskilled, a host of competitors appear to contend for it. The existence of this intense competition is universally admitted. If, then, this is the fact, to what are we to attribute it, except to the circumstance that there is not sufficient field for the employment of the rapidly increasing capital and population of this country. If it be admitted that competition is the direct and immediate cause of the low rate of wages, and of profits, and of all the evils thence arising, it seems to me equally clear, that this intensity of competition is itself the result, or rather the symptom and conclusive proof of a deficiency in the field for the employment of capital and of labour. It is this, therefore, which, I contend, is at the bottom of the difficulties under which we are suffering, and in order to relieve them what is really required, is to extend the field of such employment; it is to the making of new openings for the employment of capital and of labour, that all our attention ought to be directed. If, Sir, I have thus far established the case— if our great object 470 ought to be to find out how the field for employing capital and labour can be extended, the question at once forces itself upon the mind, is not this field unfortunately narrowed, and confined, and cramped by artificial barriers and restrictions?. Are there no such barriers and restrictions, the simple removal of which will produce the effect we desire? I maintain, Sir, that there are, and upon this point I am perfectly willing to rest the whole of the case which I am submitting to the House. I say that my main object is, to show that the natural field for the employment of capital and labour is narrowed, cramped, and confined by artificial restrictions and barriers, which it is in your power to remove. And how do I make out my case? I say, in the first place, that there are laws on your statute book, placed there for the especial purpose of restraining importations from foreign countries; they do not do so incidentally, this is not an unwished for but inevitable result of measures having some other scope and object, such as that of raising revenue. No; those laws were passed, and are still maintained for the express purpose and with the intention and design of restricting and narrowing the importation of many different articles from foreign countries, and they are successful in the object they propose. It is notorious, that if these laws were repealed or modified to-morrow, there would be a large increase in the importatation from foreign countries of various commodities, and especially of that article which forms the staple food of the people. Nay, the Gentlemen who oppose any relaxation of these restrictions, rest their whole case upon the flood of imported articles, which, they say, would rush in and overwhelm us, if these barriers were removed. I have a right, then, to assume, that if these restrictions were taken away, we should largely increase our importations from foreign countries. The next and most material step in my argument is, that such an increase would, at once, set in motion to the same extent the industry of the country. [Dissent from the Ministerial benches."] I perceive, by the marks of dissent, that this assertion is disputed by hon. Gentlemen on the other side. Allow me, therefore, to call in a witness, who ought, with them at least, to have very high authority. During the discussions on the tariff last year, in the course of the debate on the [introduction 471 of foreign cattle, the right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, while showing, with great ability and with triumphant superiority of argument, against his friends—if, indeed, they are still his friends who sit behind him— the futility of the objections to the measure he proposed, expressed himself in the following terms:—Suppose that 50,000 head of cattle were to be annually imported, such importation would produce but a small effect upon the prices of meat, but it would create an import trade to the amount of half a million of money—a trade which, in its nature, would tend by a smooth, and, under ordinary circumstances, a certain, though a gradual course of operation, to produce an export trade, in return of an equal amount; which would contribute—he did not say in a moment—but in the course of years— to an increased demand for employment and labour.I now appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, and I beg leave to ask him whether, if this argument holds good with respect to foreign cattle, it must not equally hold good with respect to foreign coffee, to foreign sugar, and to foreign corn? If the importation of cattle to the value of half a million from foreign countries would create an export trade to that amount, and give additional employment to the industry of this country, I ask if five times, or if ten times that amount of importation of the articles I have mentioned would not also create a corresponding amount of export trade, and would not have a similar effect in increasing the employment of industry and of capital. This is a plain question, to which I am particularly anxious to hear the right hon. Gentleman's answer. I contend, that if his argument is good as applied to the introduction of cattle, it is equally so with respect to all other commodities; and I am convinced, that the right hon. Gentleman is right: his argument is unanswerable; and I have no doubt that our export trade is measured and limited by our import trade. This appears capable of being made out by the ordinary principles of common sense and of reason. I ask how an individual merchant could prosper if he were to export commodities, and were to have no return? It would not be the way to get rich, but a speedy and certain road to ruin and the Gazette. And here I may remark, to prevent any cavil which may be raised, that it is perfectly immaterial whether the return be in gold, silver, or in 472 other commodities, because, for all purposes of trade gold or silver are mere commodities like any other; they have no superiority over any other; on the contrary, perhaps, beyond what is sufficient as currency to afford a medium of exchange, gold and silver are more exclusively articles of luxury than almost any others we import. I then say, that if an individual merchant cannot afford to send his goods to other countries without obtaining a return, what is true of each merchant individually is true of all our merchants collectively, and of the country as a whole,—that a trading country cannot afford to export commodities to foreign countries if in some shape or other it does not receive from those countries imports in return. And what holds good with respect to us holds good with respect to other countries also. If we cannot afford to export to them without a return, they cannot afford so to export to us. France cannot send us her brandies or her wines; Poland cannot send us her corn, without in some shape or another, receiving a return. It is very true that the return may often be indirect; it is perfectly possible that Germany or France may be unwise enough to exclude our manufactures, and, as a consequence, must receive payment, not by direct exports from hence, but by British manufactures, sent from Brazil or China to pay for the tea, the sugar, or it may be the bullion, by which our debt to them is to be adjusted. By some indirect means, if we did not interfere with what was no concern to us, our merchants would not be slow to find out means of payment. I say, then, that it is consistent with common sense to suppose that our export trade must be measured by our import trade; and I say further, that the fact that it is so is confirmed by experience. I ask you whether the Brazilian merchants could not receive more of your goods if they had the means of payment? I ask whether the United States could not take a far larger share of our productions if they had larger means of making us returns? Allow me to support this statement by the evidence of a gentleman whose authority ought to stand very high in the House, of a gentleman who unites a thorough knowledge of the principles and theory of commerce, with their practical application—I allude to my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, and I am sure that the House will agree 473 with me, that it is impossible to name a person more competent to give an opinion or evidence as to a fact relating to trade more completely to be relied on. On the motion of the Member for Greenock, last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, after having shewn in detail that we could afford to export most of our manufactures at a cheaper rate than other countries, summed up his statement by saying, thatHe thought he had shewn by these examples that the present distress in this country was not caused by the successful competition of other nations. This was an important point to establish. We were distressed, not because our prices were too high, but because other nations could not purchase more of our goods in consequence of our laws excluding the importation of the produce which they could give us in return.This statement is founded on the actual experience of so high an authority as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness. Let me go on to say, that in no part of the world can we find any deficiency of a desire to obtain our productions. Do hon. Gentlemen think that the barbarous and savage nations inhabiting Africa have no desire for the productions of the industry of civilised life? So far from this being the case, Sir Fowell Buxton has truly stated that all the horrors of the slave-trade may be traced to the intense desire existing in that country for the productions of civilised industry. The Africans have been unable to pay for these productions except by selling into slavery their fellow men; and even at this price they have been anxious to gratify their desire for them; we trust that as the slave-trade shall be more effectually suppressed, this same desire will drive these barbarous and savage tribes to industry—the legitimate means by which it can be gratified; and this already begins to be the case. If your trade with these nations is still small— if it is still insignificant when compared with the extent and population of this great but degraded continent, to what is it owing except that a poor and barbarous people has nothing with which to pay for your commodities: it is only because they are poor and barbarous that they are such bad customers. Is it not perfectly clear that the only difference in the value as customers between a rich and civilised country on the one side, and a poor and barbarous country on the other, 474 is that the rich and civilised country has the power, which the other wants, of making a return for your commodities? This is the only real difference in the value of a trade with the greatest and most civilised nation, or with the rudest and most barbarous. But do you not see that by the restriction which you place upon the importation of agricultural produce you do your best to place the United States on a level, in their value to you as customers, with the barbarous inhabitants of the coast of Guinea? By your restrictions on the productions of France, upon her wines and spirits, and upon various articles which she can send you, you place her, with respect to trade as far as you can in the same situation as the savages of New Zealand, or of any other of the islands in the Pacific. As far as in you lies, you reduce these great and civilised nations to the level of the rudest and most barbarous of mankind. Hence, I think that I am perfectly warranted in saying that I have made out the two propositions; firstly, that we might have a large increase in our importations, except for the restrictions of our laws; and secondly, that a large increase in your imports would be attended by a great increase in your exports, and in your manufacturing industry. Be assured that unless you consent to afford new facilities to the importation of commodities from other countries, it will be in vain for you to negociate commercial treaties, for which you now take credit. It will be in vain you flatter yourselves that by the force of your arms you have obtained a new opening for your trade into the great empire of China; unless you will receive a greater portion of the produce of other countries, all your hopes will be fallacious — all your expectations of benefit from your commercial treaties, or from your success in China, will be deceived, unless you consent to alter the system on which you are at present acting. The obstacles to the extension of your trade are not in foreign countries,—they are in the regulations of your own Custom-house. I know, Sir, that I shall be met by the stale and cuckoo note, that "Your views are only theoretical." It is an objection which I have often heard within this House. My answer, certainly, is—I do not think that opinions are less entitled to be received as just because they rest upon general reasoning, provided that reasoning is accu- 475 rate and is founded on a sufficient basis of well-ascertained facts. But, further, the opinions which I have advanced as to the impolicy of restrictions upon commerce do not rest merely upon general reasoning— they are founded upon the largest, and widest, and the most universal experience. No, Sir, I will boldly challenge any hon. Gentlemen to produce one instance in which they have been fairly tried and have not produced the greatest benefits in practice. Suppose, Sir, we were to act upon a smaller scale, upon the principles of restriction and jealousy, which we are so apt to make our practice in the intercourse between nations. Suppose the different counties in this country had the same jealousy of each other as England has of France, or France of the United States, or of Germany. Suppose the county of Northumberland, envious of the wealth which the woollen manufacture brings to Yorkshire, had determined upon having manufactures of her own, and had said, "We produce the finest wool, we must not allow it to be worked up in Leeds, we must not let strangers make such a profit at our expense; and therefore the wool which we grow we must manufacture ourselves, and we will lay protecting duties upon the woollen goods which you send us from Yorkshire." And then, suppose that Yorkshire had said, "The rent of land in our county is so high, owing to the number of manufacturing towns, we cannot compete with Northumberland, we cannot grow corn in Yorkshire as cheap as they can in Northumberland, and we will, therefore, impose a protecting duty upon corn brought from that county. Let me ask whether the adoption of such a restrictive system would have added to the wealth, the happiness, and prosperity of either of those counties? Let me ask whether the superiority which this country enjoys in wealth and civilisation, and in manufacturing industry, is not to be attributed to the circumstance that, however unwise our legislation may have been with respect to external commerce, in practice our trade, internally, has, in spite of some bad laws, been almost unfettered? Our internal commerce has been, to a great extent, free; and the result of that freedom has been to give us a superiority in wealth and in manufacturing industry: whilst in foreign countries, in France, in Germany, and in Spain, the intercourse between 476 different provinces of the same kingdom was, to a late period, and in some cases still is, greatly impeded; with us it has not been so, and to this difference our superior progress is in no slight degree attributable. Let me go on: before the time of the union between this country and Scotland, there existed in this division of the country the meanest and lowest jealousy of Scotland. We were anxious to deprive the Scotch of any participation in our colonial trade, we were afraid of their competition with us, there was a feeling of the greatest commercial jealousy. Fortunately these selfish and short-sighted views— for in all cases, then as now, it is intense selfishness which is at the bottom of this system of restriction; fortunately, I say, these selfish views did not prevail. By our union with Scotland the freedom of intercourse was secured, and the result has been most beneficial to both countries. Again; within the memory of men still alive, the United States of America have been separated from this country, and those restrictions upon trade, which were in force when they were as our colonies, came to an end. Was this change followed by any falling-off, of trade? No. The experiment of greater freedom of trade was for many years followed by a more rapid and wonderful progress than it had ever made under those restrictions, the voluntary abolition of which might, perhaps, have preserved the connexion between the two countries to this day, About the same time we were beginning a system of commercial freedom between England and Ireland. It is well known that when the restrictions on the commerce between this country and Ireland began to be removed, great was the outcry among those who were called practical men at that time. The merchants of Bristol dismissed from serving them, as their representative, that philosophical statesman, Mr. Burke, his chief offence in their eyes being that he would not lend himself to their narrow commercial policy and oppose the measures of commercial liberality towards Ireland which were then in progress. The ground on which that change was resisted is precisely the same as we hear from some persons at the present day. The merchants of Bristol said (what, thank heaven, few merchants now say, although others still hold such language) that this country could not compete with Ireland, because Ireland 477 was more lightly taxed than we were. Here again, most fortunately, the narrow view did not prevail. To Ireland was given, by degrees, commercial equality with England. Let any man now attempt to deny that the result of this equality has been beneficial to both countries. We know that the improvement in the intercourse between England and Ireland has added essentially to the wealth, the prosperity, and the happiness of both. Let me ask, further, of those who object to the emancipation of trade from artificial and vexatious restrictions, because they say such views are theoretical, let me ask of them upon what their opinions rest? It may be wise to say, to the starving artisan of Sheffield, that he shall not exchange the produce of his labour for the corn of the United States, which they are anxious to offer to him in return; it may be true that the policy by which nations are most likely to get rich is by protecting duties as they are called, to make people consume dear articles, when they might have cheap ones; it may be conducive to some great national interest to do this; but at least allow me to observe that, however satisfied you may be that this is good and wise policy, that it is so is a proposition which must be made out; it requires proof; it is not obvious at first sight to common sense. This opinion is a theory, if ever any opinion deserved the name. But further, it is a matter of history that this system of restriction was built not merely on a theory, but upon a theory now universally exploded and obsolete. How, let me ask, did it arise?—Why, in the notion that gold and silver constituted the wealth of a nation; that all a nation gained by trade was an increase in the amount of gold and silver, and that the increase in the exports, and a reduction of the imports go as to have what was called a favourable balance of trade—was the course which ought to be pursued by all countries. It is notorious that the whole system of restriction was built upon this theory. It is equally notorious that no one at this day will be bold enough to get up and defend it, that it is now only mentioned amongst men of the most ordinary education as a curious and singular illustration of the extravagances of folly to which men may be led by their own selfishness. The object of the motion which I shall now propose to the House is to induce you not to cling with obstinate per- 478 severance to this absurd and vicious system of restriction, based on an exploded theory and of which the practical fruits are before you in a destitute and suffering people, an empty Exchequer, increasing taxation, and a falling revenue; to induce you to give up a system productive of such results is the object of my present motion. I do not venture to point out the extent to which you should now go in removing restrictions upon trade. I do not presume at this moment to go into details. [Murmurs from the ministerial benches.] If the House will consent to this committee, I shall be happy to meet the arguments of hon. Gentlemen in details; but this is not the time for doing so. I will not now express an opinion whether you should substitute a perfectly free-trade or a fixed duty for your system of Corn-laws; I will not express an opinion as to the extent to which you ought to reduce your protecting duties upon foreign sugar, on foreign coffee, on foreign spirits, and on many other foreign articles that might be enumerated. All I ask of the House, in adopting my motion, is to declare this — that, in consideration of the extremity of the present distress, in consideration for the suffering population, you will review your commercial policy, with the purpose of removing or of making a progress towards removing those restrictions by which the industry of the country is cramped and confined. And, Sir, I cannot help appealing to the right hon. Gentleman opposite to know how he can, in consistency, refuse to take the course) I now propose. The principles which I have this night advocated have been laid down by the right hon. Gentleman in argument on former occasions as broadly, as strongly as they now have by me, and with far more ability than I can pretend to. He has told us that the interests of a country would be best served by selling in the dearest market and buying in the cheapest. He has practically, to a certain extent, applied these principles in the measures he has carried. He must therefore, believe them to be true; he must believe them to be sound; and if they are true and sound, they lead irresistibly to the conclusion that a further application of the same principles must tend to the relief of the country. In the words of the right hon. Gentleman which I have already read, the further removal of restrictions upon importation must "lead 479 by a smooth, certain course of operation to an export trade of an equal amount, which will contribute—not in a moment, but in the course of years—to an increased demand for employment and labour." If he believes these principles to be sound, and I again say I must suppose that he so believes them, since I am grateful to him for having, by partially adopting them, greatly reduced the weight of the fetters by which our commerce was before oppressed, he must be convinced that, they are capable of a further application to the relief of the country. If, on the other hand, he does not believe them to be sound, why did he unsettle everything by his measures of last Session? Why did he throw out arguments, and lay down principles, leading by necessary inference, so far beyond his practical conclusions? If restriction and what is called protection is the best policy, why by his acts, and still more by his words, has he shaken it to its foundation, and inflicted, in the opinion of its adherents, much injury on the country? He ought not to halt between two opinions; the one must be right the other must be wrong. If it be right to favour the freedom of trade, and to remove the restrictions upon the industry of the country, let him proceed in that course. Do not perpetrate the injustice of refusing to the population, at a time of intense suffering and distress, what on that supposition will tend to their relief. If, on the other hand, these principles are erroneous—if we took the wrong course last year—let us return to the old one; let her Majesty's Government boldly avow that this is the choice; let us retrace our steps; and let restriction be the order of the day. The question I now leave in the hands of the House, with many apologies for having detained them so long. I ask, will you, in the present fearful state of destitution in the country, allow things to remain as they are? If you do, the responsibility will not rest with us, who this night support an opposite course; it must rest exclusively with her Majesty's Government and those by whom they are surrounded. I beg leave, Sir, to move thatThis House do resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, to consider so much of her Majesty's speech as refers to that depression of the manufacturing interest of the country which has so long prevailed, and which her Majesty has so deeply lamented.
§ Mr. W. E. Gladstone
said, Sir, I feel the 480 weight and the solemnity of the appeal which the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat, has made to the Government upon the circumstances in which the trade and industry of the country are at present placed. I feel the force of those descriptions which the noble Lord has drawn with reference to the distress which prevails in the country, and I must say that, with respect to a large portion of the noble Lord's speech— to the whole of that portion in which the noble Lord confined himself to a delineation of those features of distress — I have little to object. I think, undoubtedly, that there are particulars in which the noble Lord's description may be qualified: but I acquit him altogether of all desire to exaggerate the unfortunate symptoms of the case. I acquit him of all intention, by any unfair statements, by any declamatory appeals, to bewilder the judgment of the people of this country. Let me however, proceed to notice those particulars to which I have alluded. The noble Lord, in speaking of this subject, referred to the distress which, as I understood him to say, had been occasioned to the upper, the upper middle, and the middle classes of society by the Income-tax; by its pressure upon the means of giving employment to labour, and by the privations which from that cause accrued to the industrious classes. In the opinion which the noble Lord expressed upon this point I cannot agree. It has been admitted by my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government during the discussions of last year, that there are many objections fairly applicable to the imposition of an Income-tax; but surely it must be allowed on all hands that at least such a tax has one great and signal merit, that it does reach what no other tax can be guaranteed to reach, that enormous accumulation of wealth which is constantly amounting upwards in this country. It is one of the most melancholy features in the social state of this country, that we see, beyond the possibility of denial, that while there is at this moment a decrease in the consuming powers of the people, an increase of the pressure of privations and distress —there is at the same time a constant accumulation of wealth in the upper classes, an increase of the luxuriousness of their habits, and of their means of enjoyment, which, however satisfactory it may be as affording evidence of the existence 481 and abundance of one among the elements of national prosperity, yet adds bitterness to the reflections which are forced upon us by the distresses of the rest of our fellow countrymen; and, in this point of view, I cannot help thinking that the argument which the noble Lord has advanced upon the question of the Income-tax, are satisfactorily met by the fact that it is upon these accumulating riches that the weight of the impost chiefly rests. Next, with respect to the distresses of the shipping interest, to which the noble Lord has also referred. In general, the noble Lord has wisely confined himself to the county with which he is connected, and to the borough which he represents; but with respect to the state of the shipping interest, the noble Lord will not dispute that very peculiar circumstances have affected that interest. During the last year there was an almost total cessation of emigration to our Australian colonies, which provide no small amount of employment to the shipping of this country; during the last year there was likewise a great falling off in the importation of timber from North America, owing, as I am prepared to contend, by no means to the change which has been effected in the law with respect to the timber duties, but to the ruinous state of the market in the year 1841, when the prices became such, that the timber which was imported could not be sold but at a heavy loss. And I must also say, that in reference to the question of the shipping interest, the doctrine of overproduction is by no means inapplicable. The noble Lord justly admits that at particular times and in particular places there may be such over production. In the case of the shipping interest, from 1838 to 1840 there was a very great, and I must say an unnatural increase of shipping. In 1838 there were 157,000 tons added by building to the general tonnage of the country. In 1839 the addition rose to 181,000 tons, in 1841 it rose to 211,000 tons—an increase of more than 25 per cent.; this augmentation took place in ship building in two years, which besides were not years of general prosperity. The rate of construction would have doubled it self in less than eight years, if the increase had continued in this ratio; but, further, though I have not the figures indicating the operations in particular ports, yet if I am not inaccurately informed a great 482 portion of this speculation was connected in particular with the borough of Sunderland, which the noble Lord represents in this House, and of which he has to-night described the extreme depression. Now I will only give one word to the subject of the coal tax. The noble Lord has said a few words upon this subject, but they were of a highly emphatic nature. He says that the coal duties have already fulfilled the worst anticipations which any man had ventured to pronounce with respect to their operation. They were voted by a very large majority of this House, and I should be sorry to think that the character which the noble Lord has given to them could be justified. The argument, however, which the Gentlemen opposite raised against these duties was that they must, to a great, extent, cripple the export trade of this country in this particular article. But what are the facts? In the year 1841 the amount of exports was 1,842,000 tons; in 1842 it was, 852,000 tons; by a very small amount, therefore, increasing the exports of the previous year. [Viscount Howick: That amount of exports includes the colonies.] It does, undoubtedly; but no Gentleman opposite doubted that taxation would have the effect of checking the rapid increase of our aggregate exports; and it was admitted that there would be some contraction of the exports to foreign countries. No man said otherwise. It was a choice of disadvantages. On the one hand, there was a revenue to be raised; on the other, there was an inconvenience to be suffered. The allegation was, that there would probably be such a great diminution in the exportation of coal as to frustrate the expectation of a revenue from that source; but, so far from a diminution taking place, there has been an actual increase which has raised the revenue to within a very few thousand pounds of the amount which my right hon. Friend expected to realise. Then the noble Lord went into another subject— I mean the prices of stock. It appeared to me, I confess, that the argument of the noble Lord at this part of his subject was both involved and dubious in its nature; and I am informed, in contradiction to his statements, and in conformity with the arguments which he used in a different sense, that the prices of stock are rising at this moment. With regard, next, to the arguments of the noble Lord, in reference to 483 the state of the labouring classes at large, I differ but little from the noble Lord; at the same I venture to express the opinion in reference to the county of Lancashire— whether from temporary or permanent causes I dare not venture to pronounce— that employment in that county is not at the present time more, but rather less scanty than it has been for several years last past. Now 1will refer to the subject of Savings-banks. I venture to say, if we find that at a particular time when there is great manufacturing distress, there is also a great pressure on the Savings-banks simultaneously with that distress, and if at another time, that pressure ceases, the conclusion may fairly be drawn that there is an improvement in the state of manufacturing industry and employment at the latter of these periods. Now, what are the facts with respect to the Savings-banks? In the autumn, during the strike there was a great withdrawal of funds; but in the winter they have been to a considerable extent replaced. I will take the time of three months commencing from the first of November, in the years 1840, 1841, and 1842; and I find that in those three months for the year 1840,the Savings-banks received 14,250l., and paid out 2,750?; in 1841 the amount received was 7,950l., the amount paid was 10,300l.; in 1842, the sum received was "22,100l., and there was paid out 3,200l. I am very far from saying that this affords an argument which is demonstrative in its character; but I say that it is an argument not wholly without weight as showing the present position of the southern part of the county of Lancaster. But the noble Lord, in one part of his speech, made a statement which is calculated, if it go forth to the world unanswered, to produce the most injurious effects. It was this—that the decrease in that branch of the revenue which goes under the name of the Excise, and which indicates most accurately the state of the people, with respect to their command of comforts, has fallen off by no less than one-fourth part in two years. The noble Lord took one of the quarters of 1840, and a corresponding quarter of 1842 in proof of this allegation. Now, I am very far from saying that the state of the revenue arising from exciseable articles is satisfactory; indeed, I must admit that the contrary is the fact. But the noble Lord is aware how much the Excise revenue 484 depends upon the malt-tax, and that the malt-tax varies more according to the barley harvest than according to the prosperity or distress of the people: yet he took a quarter of 1840, in which the amount of malt-tax received was very large, and compared it with one of 1842, in which the amount of malt-tax received was very small. lam sure the noble Lord has no desire to exaggerate those evils with which we have to contend; and that he will be very glad if I am able to point out to him any instance in which his representation has been more unfavourable than the reality.
I admit, as the noble Lord has argued, that when great distress prevails in the country, the Parliament and her Majesty's Government are bound to devote themselves with most earnest and faithful attention to the consideration of any measures by which it shall appear that that distress may be relieved. But, before I go to the means which the noble Lord's argument would seem to point out, with a view to this object being attained, I must offer some observations on the nature of the proposal itself. What does that proposal amount to? Is the country in a state of appalling distress, and is the House simply to go into committee with no definite object in view—to embark on the vast sea of this almost boundless inquiry without a rudder and without a pilot? Can it be possible for the wit of man to adopt any proposition more calculated to defeat its own object—to defeat every useful purpose which this House could entertain? A committee of the whole House? A body so large and diversified to undertake such a function? For what? To consider the Corn-laws — the sugar duties— to undo all that was done last year? No such thing; but to consider at large the distress of the country. Who would believe that if this motion should succeed, it would do any good? Indeed, I am persuaded, when I come to consider what the motion is, that the noble Lord must have included, as a material element in the calculations with which he brought it forward, the certainty of its being rejected. But the mere inconvenience of giving effect to this proceeding is not my only objection to the motion. I object to its immediate, certain, practical consequences. Can anything be conceived more likely to operate with most pernicious effects, effects most of all pernicious in the 485 present feverish and yet languid state of the commercial world, than our approaching the subject of commercial distress with the declared intention of seeking relief by changes in the law, and yet with no definition or limitation however general of those changes? This motion, and the argument of the Mover, is directed wholly upon one particular point. The noble Lord has stated a number of the causes of the distress. He has shown that it does not proceed from the currency, from the poor-laws, from the operation of the improvements in machinery, or from the selfishness of capitalists. In all these things I agree. But it proceeds from the commercial legislation of this House; and the noble Lord proposes, without making any declaration as to his object, either whether there is to be any given limitation of existing restriction, or whether any particular amount or rule of restriction shall be substituted for that which now exists, that the House shall resolve itself into a committee to consider all the interests which exist in this country, and in a manner which cannot fail to alarm all the hopes, all the fears, of the people engaged in industry and trade. Does not the noble Lord recollect the very marked expressions of his opinion of last year? Does he not recollect that he then among the foremost complained that all the existing relations of society were disturbed by the proceedings of this House? It is admitted that great stagnation of trade was produced by the discussions on the subject of the Tariff Act, and by the length of time which they of necessity occupied; and the people, so far from being encouraged by the movements of my right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel) in favour of the principle of free-trade, found that employment was no longer to be had, even in the same degree as before and that capital became more and more redundant. That was the effect which was produced at the time by the definite proposition of my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend did not go into the question generally what changes could be made; he laid a schedule on the Table of the House containing all his propositions in exact detail, and even this was found to be sufficient to disturb all the transactions, to alarm all the apprehensions of the country. But the noble Lord now proposes to renew this agitation; and with tenfold violence, because he does not think fit even to tell the House, in the most general form, for what propositions 486 we are to look. I say then that on the ground of inconvenience and impracticability this motion must fail: I say that on the ground of the alarm which it would excite— of the mischief which it would create—on the ground that it is not only objectionable in itself, but that it would produce a consequence directly opposed to that which is desired by the noble Lord, it must be rejected by this House. The noble Lord proposes to take us into a committee for the purpose of increasing the demand for labour—for the purpose of extending the commerce of the country. I object to his motion, because I say the effect of the committee granted in the terms of this motion, and after the speech of the noble Lord, so far from producing the effect which he desires, would paralyse trade, would diminish the employment of the people, would aggravate the distresses which the noble Lord so deeply feels, and has so powerfully described. I must confess that it does appear to me, that—1 do not say the Parliamentary course for the noble Lord to have taken, because his motion is strictly Parliamentary—but the natural course for him to have adopted, if he really had any practical object in view, would have been, if he believes there is a legislative remedy for the distresses of the people, to have proposed that remedy. Why, I ask, does he not make a specific and distinct proposition? We all know that the attention of the country, and more especially of that portion of the country which thinks that there should be an immediate change of our commercial laws, is most of all concentrated upon the Corn-laws. [" Hear, hear."] I have the cheers of the hon. Members for Stockport and Manchester; they and many other hon. Members as we well know consider that the question of the Corn-laws is, the main question; that in augmenting the distress of the people, whatever may proceed from other causes, the Corn-law is the chief offender. Why did not the noble Lord, who at this moment acknowledges the truth of this proposition by his cheer, bring forward a motion on this subject ? At least, we should then have understood what we were debating about, but I profess that I do not now understand the subject of discussion in such a manner as to be able duly to address myself to it. The noble Lord says that the object of the Legislature should be to open new fields for the 487 employment of capital and labour. I agree with the noble Lord. He says that, there are artificial barriers and distinctions which prevent such employment; and when the noble Lord spoke of the simple means by which they might be removed, I confess that I believed for the time that the noble Lord had made up his mind to bring forward some corresponding proposition for effecting that removal Then says the noble Lord, we have laws passed for the express purpose of limiting our importations from abroad. We have; and one of the most important of those laws was passed last year, and was supported by the noble Lord. The Tariff Act involved and established a principle of protection. There is not an interest which is not protected by that act; and on behalf of some of them which were small, and of a particular character, considerable deviations in favour of additional protection were made from the general rules on which the measure was framed. But the noble Lord speaks of these barriers as if he had defined views in reference to them. He says, to my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, "Do not halt between two opinions." Why, he himself does the very thing he denounces. He says "You have announced sound principles; go further, and do not halt between two opinions—go the whole way in that direction." The noble Lord himself halts between two opinions. The noble Lord instead of going the whole way, supporting entire freedom of trade, tells the House at least that he does not venture to say in what degree restrictions should be maintained or what amount of change should be made. Why, what then becomes of the whole speech of the noble Lord? It was a most able speech; far be it from me to speak of it in terms other than those of the greatest respect. It was a speech in its general terms aimed at the whole of the distress and calamity of which the noble Lord complains; but a more inconsistent speech never heard here or elsewhere, because after alluding to the whole mass of our commercial restrictions as chargeable exclusively with the distress of the people, the noble Lord not only shrunk from proposing to remove what he had described as the cause of the evil, but intimated that he was prepared to continue some, and he did not say how many, of those restrictions which now exist. But while I am unable to 488 discover any advantage which would be gained to the country by this motion, I must say that there are reasons—I do not, know whether they operated on the mind of the noble Lord, which might possibly render this a convenient motion to come from the opposite side of the House. Of course I have no power to speak with authority, and I am certain of this, that the noble Lord, in bringing forward this motion, would on no account have surrendered what he believes to be the interests of truth and justice to any party, or any personal purpose. But I say, that this motion has an effect not inconvenient to noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and one which could be produced by none other at this period. It is now a matter of history, that last year when the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell) was determined to lead the attack on the Corn-laws, he arranged with those Gentlemen who sat on the benches behind him— I know not (to use the expression of the noble Lord who made this motion) whether they still call themselves his friends—that he should commence the movements of the Session with a proposition in favour of a fixed duty. That was the intention of the motion though the term was not introduced in it, and that was the tenor, and purport, and tendency of the debate. The debate on the fixed duty went off with considerable eclat, and the noble Lord mustered his whole strength; and all circumstances considered, a very respectable body it was, and he had a fair division. But what became of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton? The bloom was fairly taken off his motion. After he and all his friends had passed muster to swell the division in favour of the fixed duty, the debate on the total repeal of the Corn-laws took place, lagging in the rear of that on the fixed duty; the whole freshness of the subject was gone, the hon. Gentleman had little but mere dregs to present, and when the division came the minority was lamentably reduced, the noble Lord himself helping to increase the majority against them. It may have occurred to these Gentlemen, ardent as they are, (I trust I am not too bold in my speculations,) that this was a very disadvantageous position in which to place the great question of the total and immediate repeal of the Corn-laws, and they may, I think possibly, determine no longer to match in the rear of the noble Lord while 489 he is waging his particular battles in which they have but secondary concern. Then, they might ask themselves, how could the voices of the whole party be united? It was clear that the movement in favour of a fixed duty could not be repeated; but here was a happy thought, a motion in approval of which all voices must be united. It was a motion for a general inquiry; there is something so satisfactory and so plausible in asking for an inquiry; it does not pledge any one to anything, and yet at the same time it testifies your interest in the condition of the people. Such are its recommendations, but I must say, they are dangerous recommendations; most dangerous recommendations if the House is to testify its interest in the condition of the people, and to manifest its compassion for their distresses, by means which, like the committee of the noble Lord would tend to increase those distresses and to aggravate the very evils that are complained of. Now, Sir, I have stated such views as occur to me, with reference to the proposition of going into a committee, for the purpose of entering upon a general consideration of the distress of the country, and which is a proposition unaccompanied by any intelligible suggestion of a remedy; and I must say that the objections to such a proceeding appear to me incapable of being answered, and amply sufficient to show that this inquiry could lead to no good and valuable result. So much for the actual motion; but I cannot overlook the speech by which it was introduced; and I confess I feel some difficulty in proceeding to consider the general arguments adduced by the noble Lord. The speech of the noble Lord, I think, was one which might as well have been made in the support of the Customs Bill of last year as of this motion, or which might with equal propriety have been spoken in support of any measure for the relaxation of commercial restrictions which has at any time been introduced. Am I then, to weary the House by discussing, in answer to that speech, the abstract opinions of the noble Lord, or am I to content myself with showing that the motion itself is objectionable, and so get rid of the question? The noble Lord would have no right to complain in such a case; but I think that the country and Parliament have a right to look, on such a question as this, for more, from those who hold office, than a mere objection to the form of proceeding 490 of any hon. Member that it is not enough under the existing circumstances, even to establish valid objections to the substance of the proceeding—that the nation has a right to expect a positive declaration by the Members of the Government of the reasons which prove not only that the measure proposed is not such as the circumstances of the country require, but also that their own measures are those which the state of the country justifies and requires. Now, Sir, the question between the noble Lord and my right hon. Friend, it is manifest, is not whether restriction should be altogether removed, for upon that point they are agreed in the negative; it is not whether restriction should be relaxed with judgment from time to time, for there again they are agreed in the affirmative; and though much has been said with regard to my right hon. Friend broaching the doctrines of free-trade, I confess that I was not much struck by the novelty of those doctrines as falling from my right hon. Friend. Those doctrines, as the noble Lord says, are indisputable; the policy of the country has been founded for twenty-five years, upon the recognition of their validity. The whole question is what are judicious relaxations: but it is a question of time and circumstance in what degree the actual circumstances of the country will bear the application of these principles. I had thought the noble Lord was prepared to administer them undiluted, and I confess that I was disappointed when at last I found that the magnificent prelude with which he favoured the House was to close in so poor and meagre a proposition as this, that he was not prepared to say in what degree our existing restrictions should be relaxed. The question at issue then, is, what relaxation would be judicious, and how can the just principles of trade— the natural principles of exchange between man and man—be best applied to the circumstances of a country the legislation of which, for a course of ages in some cases, and for a considerable period of time in all cases, has been founded upon the very serious restriction and limitation of the application of those principles? My right hon. Friend at the head of the Government had last year proposed a measure with reference to the Customs' duties, with the same object in view which the noble Lord has now declared it to be 491 his object to attain, namely, to effect an increase in the trade and commerce of the country. Merely to cheapen the price of provisions by foreign importation, will I apprehend be generally allowed to be in itself an object of secondary importance as compared to increasing the trade of the country, and the demand for the labour of the people. The noble Lord and hon. Gentlemen opposite surely do not wish to displace labour at home by the employment of labour abroad, but so to frame the legislative measures of this country as to obtain a great augmentation to the demand for British productions, and thereby not only to maintain labour at home, but at the same time to increase our commerce abroad. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury intended and designed to pursue precisely the same object, and to attain it by increasing employment, by cheapening the prices of the articles of consumption, as also the raw materials of industry, by enlarging the means of our exchanges with foreign nations, and thereby causing an extension of the export trade; but, besides all this, if I have rightly understood the measure of the Government last year, it was proposed that the relaxations if possible in every case, should, practically be so limited as to cause no violent shock to existing industrial interests, as not to have the tendency of displacing that labour which is now beneficially employed, and which if displaced would be unable to find another field. As far as present experience has gone, I do not think any person will maintain in this House, that the proposition of last year has produced a great shock to any branch of our commercial industry, or has displaced English labour. As to the very depressed state of the prices of agricultural products I cannot for a moment think of ascribing that in any considerable degree to the direct operation of the measures of last Session. I cannot, indeed, whether here or elsewhere maintain, that they have produced more than a slight and scarcely perceptible effect on the prices of corn and of other agricultural commodities. But with regard to the Customs' Act, I do contend that it has, without any violent shock to British industry and trade, encouraged the import trade, by providing new means for our receiving in exchange the produce of foreign countries. The act, however, has been so short a time in operation, and under circumstances so unfa- 492 vourable, that it would be very unjust either to condemn it for the smallness of its results, or to entertain exaggerated anticipations of its ultimate effects, or to speak in sanguine terms of those consequences which have already accrued. At the same time I think that to illustrate the effects of the tariff on various branches of trade facts might be stated, which would, under all the circumstances, be satisfactory to the House, and would show that its tendency has been, even in the short time of its operation, to give encouragement to the trade and employment to the labour of the country. I will not allude to this part of the subject at any length, but I must refer to some articles in the class of raw materials, of great though with one exception, secondary importance. With respect, for instance, to the change which was made in the law affecting timber, the result has been up to the present time, altogether satisfactory, though, undoubtedly, as the noble Lord stated, great mischief has arisen from the postponement of the date at which the alteration of the timber duties came into operation. I repeat, that the present state of the timber market demonstrates the satisfactory effects of the legislation of last Session. It is well known that the importarion of colonial timber for some time previous to 1842, had been so excessive, that twelve months ago that trade was subject to a state of the most serious depression; this depression was aggravated during the summer, and before the alteration took place the prices were such that, independent of duty, there was a large absolute loss to the importer. The object—one of the great objects of the change made last year—was, to give a stimulus to the trade in that commodity, and, although only four months has elapsed since that stimulus was given, the purpose has been as far as time would admit attained; for the prices of timber are at the present moment not only less depressed than they were before the change in the law, but have almost reached the point at which they stood twelve months ago; and I need not add that the increased return to the importer, or I should, perhaps, rather say his diminished loss, gives evidence of an augmented demand, and thereby of an encouragement of trade. In the month of February, 1842, the price of Quebec yellow pine averaged 15½d per foot, on which the duty of 11s. 6d per load, 493 levied on a variety of cargoes, was equivalent to 3fd., leaving about 12½d per foot to the importer. In February, 1843, the price of Quebec yellow pine averaged 14½d. per foot, deducting from which the duty of 1s. per load and 5 per cent., left about 14¼d. per foot to the importer. Thus a very considerable change has been produced by the increased demand for the commodity, and within the last four months of 1842, during only two months and a half of which the new law has been in operation, the increase in the consumption has been calculated to amount to 15 per cent., as compared with the preceding eight months. I find also that there has been in like manner a considerable increase during the last six months of 1842, when the new law had come into operation in several articles of raw materials delivered for consumption. As compared with 1841, there has been an increase in the quantity of oak bark delivered for consumption to the extent of 133,000 cwt.; in hides, of 33,000 cwt.; in indigo, of 3,000 cwt.; in olive oil, of 4,200 tuns; in furniture woods, of 1,750 tons; in turpentine, of 114,000 cwt.; and in pearl and potashes, of 26,000 cwt. All this increase has occurred at a time of extreme depression, and it serves to raise the presumption that the diminution of duties made last year upon all these articles has had the effect of stimulating labour and the application of capital to trade in the commodities to which the diminution applied; and it therefore proves that the Government so far has not been inattentive to devising and carrying measures calculated to effect the purposes which the noble Lord proposes that we should now consider the means of effecting.
With respect to the law of last Session affecting corn, the noble Lord has not given any great prominence to that subject in the course of his speech, and I am unwilling, therefore, to enter upon a full discussion of that topic. Yet I am far, very far, from shrinking from the discussion of that question,—nay. I am anxious to invite the attention of the House to the operation of the act of last year; but I am unwilling to introduce into this debate a subject upon which the noble Lord who raised it has hardly touched. But at the same time he must observe, that the argument of the noble Lord was a general argument, and I scarcely knew how to deal fairly with the noble Lord, 494 without illustrating my views by reference to the subject of our importation of corn generally. Though the motion of the noble Lord is vague, and may mean anything or nothing, still the real question at issue between us, which I cannot forget, is the continuance or the abrogation of the Corn-law; and at this point I must be justified in asking the noble Lord—supposing the noble Lord obtain the committee—supposing the House ready to abandon the Corn-law—by what arrangements would the Gentlemen opposite supersede it. Let the House remember what a variety of opinions exist on this subject among hon. Members on the other side. The noble Lord, the Member for the city of London and the leader of the Opposition has proposed to abolish the present Corn-law, and to substitute a fixed duty, which he has never called a small fixed duty, but a moderate fixed duty, such a fixed duty as would yield an efficient protection to agriculture, and this fixed duty of the noble Lord's invention is distinguished from all other fixed duties in this peculiarity—that it is continued without variation to a certain price, and then is abolished, it is a dead level up to a certain point, and then it suddenly vanishes altogether—it is in short, a table-land terminating in a precipice. It is hardly fair for me to criticise the plan of the noble Lord in his absence, because it has never to my knowledge found any defender in this House or elsewhere except the noble Lord himself; and indeed I must say, that the plan met with very sorry treatment at the hands of the noble Lord's political allies, some of whom told the noble Lord most unceremoniously that he had, by his proposition, got into a scrape, and that he must get out of it. The noble Lord again, who spoke to-night, has declared, on a former occasion, that he is in favour of a small fixed duty, while the noble Lord, the Member for Tiverton has repeatedly announced, that he is in favour of a fixed duty, not, however, for the purpose of protection, only for the purpose of revenue: but the noble Lord has never attempted to explain how a fixed duty levied upon an article from abroad which comes into competition with the same commodity of home growth, so long as the latter is untaxed, can possibly be any thing else than a protective duty. I cannot help thinking, however, that the noble Lord, in making such a pro- 495 posal, would have great difficulty in meeting the objection which was put in answer to it by the hon. Member for Stockport, who remarked, that if the principle was good of laying a tax on foreign corn for the purpose of revenue, why not also tax the home corn, and cause a duty, or general excise, to be levied on it as it came from the mill? And it would be not a little curious to know how the noble Lord can reconcile his unlimited adoption of the principles of free-trade, and his utter denunciation of protection as an unqualified wrong, with his plan for levying a duty on foreign corn, although it is masked under the alluring name of a duty for revenue. But, generally speaking, the opponents of the Corn-law of last year were decidedly and irreconcileably at variance amongst themselves as to what they would substitute in its place, supposing that they should succeed in getting rid of the present law. Some were in favour of protection to the producer of corn, others were for the gradual relaxation of the law, and the progressive adoption of a low fixed duty, whilst others were for the entire and immediate removal of the Corn-laws.
Now, Sir, with respect to the last-named proposition, I cannot imagine on what principle you propose to refuse to the article of corn that which you have allowed to every other article of production. When I recollect the time and attention that was devoted to the subject of import duties last year, and after the House has acknowledged and re-affirmed by a new arrangement the general principle of protection as applicable both to landed produce, and to all other articles, it would be a most extraordinary proceeding if the House in the present Session should proceed to abrogate that principle as applied to corn. The British producer of corn possesses no peculiar advantages over the producers of other articles at home, or over the producers of corn abroad, and he has at least as great a right as any other class of persons to claim the protection of the Legislature. It is asked by the opponents of the Corn-law why, in dealing with corn, do you adopt a different principle from that which you act upon in the mode of levying a protective duty on all other commodities, and strangely enough it is proposed not to remove, but to reverse the anomaly by adopting a different principle for corn in a contrary sense, and 496 refusing to corn what is allowed to every thing else? But with respect to the observation itself. Why, it is asked, do we not apply a fixed and certain duty to corn, instead of having a scale of duties varying according to the rise or fall of prices? Now, there is one particular answer to this observation, which appears to me to be of itself conclusive, although I admit it is conclusive only as a temporary answer. [Cheers.] If the noble Lord thinks, that he has any cause of triumph at the use of the epithet, he is welcome to it; but let him hear me out, and the noble Lord will find, that I have employed the word only with reference to one particular argument, not to the whole merits of the case, and that the scope of my proposition is much more narrow than he appears to suppose. The answer that I mean, to the argument that I have just mentioned is, the simple fact that the corn trade in this country has been dealt with, not merely for a series of years, but for a series of centuries, in a different manner from the trade in any other article. Hon., Gentlemen may quarrel with my allegation, and I admit that I do not think that the mere circumstance of existence of a law or a practice for a length of time, is a sufficient reason for its being perpetuated; but if objections be made, and even if their validity were acknowledged, even that would not, in my mind, justify immediate and violent changes. The article of corn, I repeat, has always been treated in this country by the Legislature differently from any other commodity. If we go back to the early period of the history of the corn trade in this country, it will be found that the law prohibited the exportation of corn when it rose beyond a certain price, and it on the other hand prohibited the importation of corn when the price fell below a certain point. From the Restoration, and still more from the Revolution to the year 1765, very stringent Corn-laws were enacted, and were in force, of the nature which I have just described. At the latter period, I admit, there was a practical relaxation of the law; but still the principle of protection was maintained in the form that it now exists. I apprehend that the general principle of Customs' duties was this, that a poundage was granted from time to time, but it was fixed and had no connection with changes of price, but the principle which has been acted upon for centuries with reference to 497 the article of corn, has been to make the provisions of the law vary in some relation or other to the price in the market. In no other article, I believe, is this principle generally applied. For this reason alone, were there no other, especially when we consider the vast amount of capital applied to the cultivation of the land, and the great mass of labour engaged in it, if the immediate application of the general principle of Customs' duties be likely to cause a sudden and violent shock, we ought to hesitate and carefully examine and provide for consequences before we applied it, even if, for the sake of argument, it were generally admitted that the principle on which we have recently acted is not the wisest, and that it is one which would not now be applied, if we had only to deal with the matter for the first time. The argument on which the noble Lord seems prepared to stake everything is this, that we should remove restrictions on foreign commerce, and this will lead to the removal of restrictions in foreign countries, and will lead to an immediate increase and beneficial exchange of your exports to the extent of your additional imports. On this part of the subject, the noble Lord was pleased to quote a passage from a speech of mine last year, in which I made a reference to the possible importation of 50,000 head of cattle. I am willing to make every concession to the noble Lord, and to allow to him without grudging all the advantage which he may be able to extract from that observation of mine. On the occasion adverted to by the noble Lord, I ventured to say— and I do not know whether the words quoted by the noble Lord were altogether accurate, but I have no desire to apply to them any material qualification; but I believe I said that the increase of our imports by the admission of foreign cattle, would produce either by direct, or by indirect means, and not at once, but in the course of time, a corresponding extension of our exports. I do not shrink from the avowal of this proposition; but still I think that according to the particular circumstances of each case, the adoption of the principle must be watched and guarded, and carefully adjusted by a careful consideration of those circumstances. The principle may be, and I think very safe with reference to the importation of 50,000 head of cattle, for there was no reason to apprehend that such an importation would produce the 498 displacement of British labour; in such a case it might be well to trust to the operation, however slow and impeded it may be, of the natural laws of exchange between man and man, but it does not follow that the law on which the greatest masses of the labour of the country are probably, to a considerable degree, dependent, should be abandoned, and that upon a speculation of remote advantage, we should agree to the adoption of the unqualified propositions advanced by the noble Lord. The noble Lord said, that if the argument was good in the case of cattle, it was equally the case in regard to corn. I admit that it is so in the abstract. I freely admit that if you could afford to wait until an indefinite period, for the revolution of ages and circumstances, until you should realize the ultimate benefits which your trade might derive from more free and steady exchange with other countries, it might be wise to make the venture; but what is to occur in the interval of increased suffering and increased depression which must first occur? I do not shrink from the avowal of the principles that I have expressed; I do not ' evade the difficulties of the country in the existence of great distress at this moment, nor do I deny that an extension of employment is urgently required; but I contend, that we have no right to assume that a mitigation of that distress, an increase of that employment, would be procured by a repeal of the Corn-laws. On the contrary, the question is, whether the repeal of the Corn-laws would not displace a vast mass of capital and still greater mass of labour now employed in the cultivation of the land. As to the permanency of the law, if you go back so far as the year 1764, you will find that since that period there have not been less than twenty-five Corn-laws, and I do not know why you should wish, having always had mutable laws on this subject, heretofore, that you should all at once wish to contend for an absolute permanency in its form. The form of the Corn-laws has been changed from time to time, but substantially they have been intended and calculated under every form to afford protection to agriculture, regulated, or, at least intended to be regulated, according to the circumstances of the country and the cost of production of the article, and equally applied to the protection of the labour and capital employed in 499 it. The principle of protection has hitherto been permanent, and I will not consent to abandon it while the principle is applied by our laws to the production of other articles. I do not say that I look for any abstract perfection in the present or in any other Corn-laws; but neither have we in dealing with other commodities last year aimed at abstract perfection irrespective of former proceedings. I do not make any peculiar claim on behalf of the land, when I contend that some regard should be had to the course of legislation heretofore and to the state of things which has arisen under it. For example, there is the case of timber. I recollect last year that nothing was thought more violent than the mode in which Government dealt with the timber duties, and my right hon. Friend was told that he had in a ruthless maimer run the risk of sacrificing a large revenue, and had utterly ruined the North American interest. I refer to the timber duties as a case in which the duty was supposed to have been reduced to a very moderate amount. The duty is now 30s. a load, and is a fixed duty which does not rise or fall, and the amount is not less than 70 per cent, on the value of the article. If you, take the maximum of the duty leviable on foreign corn when imported into this country, it will be found that it is never equal, or nearly equal, to the fixed duties at all times charged on timber. This is a duty which I apprehend upon abstract principles it would be quite as difficult to uphold as the corn duty; and not as regards the agricultural interest alone, but in every case before it is dealt with all the peculiar circumstances of the case must be regarded. The noble Lord quoted the opinion of Mr. Burke, with respect to the abstract question of protection; and I recollect that that eminent statesman, in another speech, gave quite as strong an opinion, to the effect that every statesman must endeavour to combine his regard to general principles with a "careful estimate of the actual circum stances by which they are limited in their application. Mr. Burke said, that the statesman who refused to take circumstances into his view and consideration is not merely in error, he is mad—stark mad —metaphysically mad. Now, Sir, I spoke of the shock that would be inflicted on the agricultural interest of this country if any sudden and inconsiderate change of principle was adopted in legislating on the 500 Corn-laws. I know that there are those who have tried to persuade the farmer, that, if by a change of the Corn-laws the price of corn should be lowered, yet the reduction would not affect him, as it would only cause a corresponding reduction in his rent. Now, I believe, that of the three classes interested in agricultural pursuits —namely, the owner of the land, the occupier, and the labourer, I believe that the first of these classes would be the least affected by a change in the Corn-laws, and is, therefore, now the least dependent on them. Such is the redundance of population in this country, that I am persuaded that whatever difficulties might occur at first in the payment of rent— that whatever might be the immediate effect of such a change as I have alluded to, it would in the long run be least felt by the landowner, and less by the occupier than by the labouring class. But would it be necessarily beneficial to our trade? Let us suppose that the proposition of the noble Lord should be adopted, and that you substitute for the present Corn-laws a law granting a low and scarcely sensible fixed duty. This would of course be done, with the view to an increase of our foreign trade. Now I will make an admission to the noble Lord— that if a change in the Corn-law were to take place, and if that change were to lead to an increased importation of foreign corn, and if that importation of foreign corn were to be paid for in British goods, it would be taking a most short sighted and narrow view of the interests of British agriculture to view that importation of foreign corn as so much displacement of British agricultural labour. Of course the first effect would be that it might reduce prices, but undoubtedly that reduction would contain within itself the causes of reaction: it would give a demand for the labour of those now unemployed, and thereby create a new class of independent consumers of agricultural produce; and further it would, by increasing the general demand for labour, raise the wages of those who now had low wages, and thereby enable them to consume more largely. More wheat, I cannot hesitate to admit, would be consumed in a state of comfort than in a state of poverty; and if such increase in the consumption of wheat were not sufficient to absorb the whole quantity added by the change in the law to the foreign importation, no doubt there would be a further increase of the demand for other 501 articles of agricultural produce, especially such as are of a more perishable nature. I have not the least hesitation in admitting thus much, and I rejoice if the admission shall save the time of the House; it is a proposition which, as far as appears to me, cannot be disputed, and will not be disputed, as I think, by any person on this side of the House. But the question is this—are we without knowledge, upon a simple speculation, to assume that increase of trade which the noble Lord assumed, but which he had not endeavoured to demonstrate? That increase of trade may be indefinitely distant. Are we without increasing the aggregate of the means of employing the population, so to encourage the import of foreign corn as to displace the British labour now employed in agriculture? Are we to pursue such a course without either having taken measures to secure, or without having a rational and sure prospect of those results by which alone such a change in the law can be rendered either harmless or advisable? How are we at this moment circumstanced with regard to foreign countries? The three countries from which we chiefly derive corn are Russia, including Russian Poland, Germany, and America. What are the circumstances, our relations with those countries, with regard to the exportation of our goods? What tariff's have been imposed in those countries? and what effect have those tariffs had on the exportation of British goods? The complaint of the manufacturer of this country against the Corn-law is this,—that he gets from the British farmer a smaller return for his manufactured goods than he would obtain from the foreign farmer. Suppose that corn is one-fifth dearer in England than America, the manufacturer then says, "I give 100, and only get back 80." And he estimates, I assume, at 20 per cent, the tax which he considers that he pays for protection to the British agriculturist. He does not always take into consideration the manner in which the standard of prices at home for most articles was affected by the protective duties pervading our whole tariff; but he contends that he. pays that amount as a tax to the British landlord. Suppose that to be true— grant, for argument's sake, the allegation, and suppose he sent his 100l. worth of goods to America, upon which in England he only got 80l., when he got there he found he must pay 40l. as a tax to the American Govern- 502 ment. The present tariff of America levies a tax which I fear I may very safely estimate as being upon the average above rather than under 40 per cent, ad valorem. What better is the British manufacturer, if he escapes paying 20 per cent, to British agriculture, and has to pay 40 per cent, to the American treasury? I know that there are arguments in the storehouses of political economy about the distribution of the precious metals and a course of circumstances tending to neutralize this derangement of the terms of exchange— remote causes, as I have said before, which would take a time such as I am not able to define to come into operation; but surely it would be a violation of a most sacred duty to watch over the interests of our countrymen if we were for such inducements as these—if upon speculations so vague and indeterminate we were to consent to sacrifice a certain source of employment for the population which, even if on abstract principles of economy not the most thrifty, yet is an employment which maintains millions of the population, and an employment which cannot be replaced by any sufficient substitute if a sudden change of the description proposed were to be made. Sir, I admit the difficulty of arguments in a subject-matter so complex; but I apprehend that under the circumstances, and in the case I have supposed, I am strictly correct in saying there would be no new labour set in motion by the manufactures of this country if foreign corn were admitted free, but what would be more than counterbalanced by the displacement of the labour of the British peasantry; there would be no extension given to trade; there would be no increase in the exportation of our goods to foreign parts beyond what was countervailed by the corresponding diminution at home; and that derangement of the home market is what I cannot reconcile it to myself to aid in bringing about when I consider how much of the comfort of the population, for whom the noble Lord feels so much, is dependent on the steady maintenance of the existing demand for industry. But perhaps the noble Lord will say that we ought to teach foreign countries what are the true principles of trade—we ought to trust that they will follow in our wake, and to give them indications of what we think right. My answer is that, in the most intelligible form, indications of that description were 503 given in our tariff of last year. The greatest disposition has been manifested by this country and by Parliament to encourage and extend our commercial transactions with other nations. Having given these indications, are we to give more and more? Are we, without limit, without the consideration of the state of property and population in this country to proceed to all lengths in a career of that kind, utterly regardless of the policy of foreign nations? Are we to overlook, or to treat lightly the important fact that it is in the power of foreign countries to oppress the labourer of this country by restrictive and hostile tariffs? I am of opinion that the industry and energy of British labour and the enterprise of our capitalists and merchants will never fail in a fair and equal competition with other countries, and even that they may ultimately be able to break down the barriers of restriction that are now so commonly erected elsewhere; but when I look at the foreign tariffs of last year, I cannot shut my eyes nor refuse to acknowledge the detrimental effects which they have produced, and are still producing on British trade. Take, for instance, the case of France, and her recent ordinance with respect to linen yarns, and the case of Germany, and her restrictions imposed last year on the importation of mixed fabrics of woollen and cotton, when the duties in the Zollverein on certain descriptions was raised from thirty to fifty thalers the centner. With regard to the French ordinance, we congratulate ourselves, and in some respects with reason, that it has not produced the effects anticipated from it; but let us look seriously and impartially at the real results of that ordinance. It imposed an additional duty on the importation of linen yarns; that additional duty must be paid by somebody; it is in part paid by the French consumer, it is in part paid, perhaps, in premium to the smuggler, but it is also paid in great part by the manufacturer of the yarns in this country. By its effect his profits are diminished, and his power to pay wages was diminished. It is true that yarns continue to be made, but why? because people must live, because the operatives, from the abundance of the supply of labour as compared with the demand for it, must work for what their employers can afford to give. The French ordinance, therefore, with respect to linen yarns, has 504 produced and must produce in the degree and sphere of its operation a detrimental effect to the population of this country. I will not go into any detail with respect to the operation of the tariff of Germany; but I apprehend that it is much the same. I understand that the increase of duties by the German tariff, which before the change were excessively high, and which are now enormously high, has not had the effect of stopping the exportations from this country; but still it has necessarily had the effect of diminishing profits and wages in this country, and has injured thereby our operative population. Then came the case of America, and the American tariff has undeniably produced a most unfavourable effect on the trade of this country. The noble Lord spoke of the present depression of trade in the great manufacturing districts, but he did not allude to the cause of the stoppage of the demand from America, in consequence of the American tariff. No one can deny the great importance of that demand. When such are the commercial laws of America, are we prepared for the conclusion that we ought to abolish our own system, to open without limit our own markets, to displace our own labour in expectation of what America may hereafter be induced to do for us in the way of exchange? Are we to trust to the speculation that the inhabitants of our western states, the great corn-growing districts of America are divided in opinion from their fellow countrymen as to the present tariff, and will demand that it be altered? It may be so or not. The eastern states are for a high system of protective duties; the southern states are opposed to the tariff; the western states are divided in opinion with respect to it; some of the agricultural population wish to exchange their products with this country, but other portions of them are opposed to the democratic party, which is also the party friendly to free-trade, I believe on account of the course which that party has taken with respect to the question of the currency, and are friendly to the recent restrictions. We cannot calculate on all these matters, and the effect that our proceedings have on the minds of other nations; we cannot trust, if we judge from present indications, that they will do what we would have them do. But perhaps Gentlemen will say that the restrictive systems of other countries are to be traced to 505 the restrictive system of this country. Have we then given to American produce no amelioration in our tariff? I believe that there is no one country on the face of the globe to which the changes of the last I year in our tariff has been so extensively valuable as to the commerce of America, The great change made in our colonial system of duties is necessarily of peculiar, indeed, I might almost say of exclusive importance to America from its proximity to our colonies, and from the adaptation of its commodities to meet their wants. Again, America had a complaint against us which up to last year had been urged very strongly, and which had excited much ill feeling. The policy of our laws before the last year was to draw large portions of foreign produce from the producing country into our colonies by granting a bonus, in the shape of a diminution of the duty payable in this country when the article was imported from a colonial port instead of being brought direct. The effect of that policy was, that the carrying of the produce to this country became a part of our colonial trade, and foreign ships were prevented from taking part in it. Thus for example, large quantities of American timber were drawn to our North American ports, which could only be brought to this country in British ships, and the Americans said, and not I think altogether without justice, that this was a virtual counteraction of the reciprocity treaties, by which there ought to be free competition between the ships of the two countries, in the whole commerce carried on between them. That complaint was made the subject of a long argument in a committee of Congress last year, and the foundation for that complaint has been altogether removed. Then, there were other articles which I will mention very briefly, in which America is much interested, and on which the duties have been lowered. America has, generally speaking, as it is well known, exported large quantities of agricultural produce. Now, one of the most important of the classes of produce which she thus exports is that of salt provisions. With regard to this article, we had a market for it in two ways—a small market for our own internal consumption, and a considerable market for the supply of our shipping. With regard to our internal market, the duty upon this article has been much diminished, and with respect 506 to the supply for the shipping in our ports the duty has been altogether taken away. That trade has been laid open to the Americans without any duty whatever, and it is; a trade in one of their most important productions. The duties on many other articles also have been lowered which the Americans export; for instance, the duties on hides, rice, ashes, turpentine, and others; on all these articles the change of duty has been highly favourable to the American trade, and enlarged the power of that country to exchange its productions for ours. The duty on the importation of sperm oil has also been lowered, a measure which most beneficially affected the whale fisheries of the United States. It was considered one of the most decided among the measures taken by my right hon. Friend, and it was opposed by some hon. Members opposite, and amongst others by the noble Lord the Member for London. It is one which has opened a commerce from which foreigners were under the former law almost wholly excluded, and which will be exclusively to the benefit of America, among foreign countries, inasmuch as she carries on the whale fishery to a great extent, and with much success, and whatever surplusmay be hereafter required over our own production we shall receive from the American traders by American vessels. It cannot, therefore, be said, that indications had not been given by this country to America of a disposition to extend the means of exchange between the two countries; and how have those indications been met? In the month of July the tariff became law in this country; and it was on the last day of the same month I believe, that America passed its tariff, increasing the duties on the importation of all articles of British produce, in such a degree as to render them in many important cases prohibitory duties. Sir, I very much regret to have detained the House so long; but when I considered the argument of the noble Lord I felt that I could not refrain from making this statement. The argument of the noble Lord, be it observed, is this: —" Do you give indications of a desire to enlarge commercial intercourse, and other countries will follow in your train." The answer I must make is that indications have been given of that desire. The return of foreign countries up to the present moment, so far from being in the line of relaxations, has been in the line of additional restriction. I 507 trust and believe that we have yet too limited an experience to warrant us in forming a judgment of the course they will hereafter pursue. I trust and believe that the fallacies by which the American people have been deceived will be dispelled. But we surely must proceed with a due regard to our industry and interests both at home and abroad; and it would be absurd indeed if we were so to regulate our trade as to leave ourselves altogether at the mercy of the policy or of the impolicy of the countries with which we trade. I have therefore, dealt with the arguments of the noble Lord, not with reference to the present Corn Bill so much as with respect to the general question; and I have endeavoured to show that the noble Lord might have spared himself the trouble of advancing abstract principles, because the real question is one of time, circumstance, and degree. That view has been recognized in this country for the last twenty-five years by every Government which has successively held office; and there is no Minister who has held office during that period who has not introduced measures in the nature of relaxations of our commercial code. Indeed I must say, that the Government to which right hon. Gentlemen and noble Lords opposite belonged was, of all others, most slack in introducing such measures from the year 1835 until the memorable Session of 1841. Perhaps I have not upon the present occasion sufficiently explained my own views; and I only wish that the noble Lord had made a specific proposition, upon which a specific opinion might have been given. Dealing in generalities, the noble Lord has compelled me to be less specific and likewise from the imperfect nature of my own statements more liable to misapprehension than I should otherwise have been; but I may say, at least with respect to this general proposition for a committee of the whole House, that I have shown, or at least I have attempted with full conviction on my own part to show, that it is a proposition which would disturb all the existing relations of the country; and one than which—supposing it were agreed upon and adopted—-nothing could be more difficult and inconvenient and practically useless. I cannot believe that the noble Lord sets any value upon the immediate motion; but if it be his intention to proceed to a repeal of the Corn-laws, or to 508 the substitution for the present law of such a plan as he has himself recommended, I must contend that the noble Lord has made out no ground for the change, that the House must be governed in that, as in other commercial questions, by a fair estimate of conflicting claims and considerations, and that the change is one of which the benefits would be altogether remote and indefinite, while it would be attended with the most important and serious disasters, not less to the trading than to our agricultural interests, and the general industry of the country.
§ Mr. Labouchere:
I can assure the House that I am well aware how difficult it will be for me to arrest its attention at this late period of the evening, and when it is exhausted by the length to which the debate has already run; but the question brought forward by my noble Friend is one of such infinite moment and importance in the existing state of the country, that I cannot justify myself by giving a silent vote on it. I have always entertained, in common with the entire body of the House, a very high opinion of the abilities of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down; I have always acknowledged that on any side of a question which he embraces and supports, he can argue with great ingenuity and force; but his speech to-night has convinced me further, that in one and the same speech, he has powers of arguing, with singular dexterity, on two totally opposite views of the same subject; for one part of his speech, which I listened to with the utmost satisfaction, appeared to me the best argument that could be advanced in support of the principles and motion of my noble Friend, which he rose to oppose. I am happy to see that the field of discussion between us is exceedingly narrowed by the admissions which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman. In the first place, we find that the appalling distress which my noble Friend has stated to exist in large and important portions of the country, is in no degree denied by the right hon. Gentleman; that he makes no attempt whatever to palliate or weaken the fact and effect of the statement. If then, this be so, indeed; if these painful and heartrending facts be facts universally admitted by the House, as well as by those out of the House, it becomes a serious, an all-important, an unavoidable question, what course it behoves the representatives of the people to pursue under 509 such circumstances; and I was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman, after having deliberately stated to the House that he not only admitted the fact of the distress, but that it was right that Parliament should consider any means that might be suggested for alleviating that distress. I was astonished, I say, to hear him go on to state, that he objected to the motion of my noble Friend as opening a wide, vague, and useless field of dissension; and, as he expressed it, of embarking this House on a sea of discussion and agitation, without a pilot to guide them. I am quite ready to admit, that the pilot to whom the country have a right to look, when there is tempest and danger around and about it, is the chief Minister of the Crown, but let it be remembered, that my noble Friend did not invite the House to embark on this sea, without pilot, chart, or compass, as the right hon. Gentleman says, until after the chief Minister of the Crown, while admitting the alarming state of the country, stated that he had no measures to propose for the relief or alleviation of that distress. If that right hon. Baronet could justify it to his own sense of duty, in the station which he occupies, to make that declaration in the face of the House and of the country, it becomes those representatives of the people who feel that they have a duty to discharge, to step in and attempt to resue their country from peril, whatever be the consequences of such a declaration. When the regular pilot declares that he knows not which way the wind blows, nor how to steer the endangered ship, it is not improper even for a chance passenger to step in and attempt, as best he may, to guide the deserted helm. The objection made by the right hon. Gentleman to my noble Friend is, that he has not attempted to suggest what special measures ought to be proposed as a remedy for that of which he complains: that he merely indicates the general course of policy which he should pursue without laying before the House any specific measures. This is a very strange objection to proceed from the Gentlemen op-posit We all remember that two years ago, when we sat on their side of the House and they on ours, how scornfully they rejected the idea of their suggesting any remedy for the evils of which they complained? Said they not? "What is a government for? What do you hold your offices for? What do you receive your salaries for? It is to you, in possession of official information, that we must look in the time of diffi- 510 culty and danger for the measures which are to rescue us. Ours is the short, the easy, the simple task of opposing what you bring forward; and upon this principle, you then pertinaciously resisted measures which we had anxiously prepared, and we earnestly impressed upon you, as necessary to the public welfare, which every month since has convinced me would, if they had been allowed by you to be carried, have placed this country in a very different position from that which it now occupies. When the right hon. Baronet took office, he told the country that his mere advent to the Government would, of itself, be found sufficient to tranquillise men's minds, and settle trade and commerce upon a thoroughly solid and satisfactory basis; but I apprehend that by this time that pleasing delusion must have been dispelled. He added, however, that he should take time to consider what measures might be necessary. The right hon. Gentleman then brought forward his commercial measures of last Session. If I found that commercial prosperity was restored—if I found that manufacturing industry was relieved, and the condition of the country improved, I could understand the argument—" Wait a little longer—give the Ministers time, and by-and-by the Government will go further." But I must say, that the predictions which were then made on this side of the House, have been signally verified. We then stated that the measures were not large enough; that though they were good in principle, they were inadequate to the circumstances of the country. We said that they were tainted with partiality and injustice; that they dealt with a great variety of small interests, and did not deal with the great question of the Corn-laws effectually, and left the great sugar monopoly untouched. We never anticipated any very good results, and those which we anticipated we believed the Income-tax would render of little use. We never anticipated that the reduction made by the tariff would compensate for the Income-tax. The right hon. Gentleman, by-the-bye, in his speech made a curious admission, which I may notice. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, said, when he brought forward the tariff, that it would enable the consumers generally to save the Income-tax, in the price of consumable commodities. But the right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, said to-night that the tariff has not lowered the price of commodities any assignable degree. The right 511 hon. Gentleman might try, but he would find it rather difficult to reconcile the expectations formerly excited by the reduction of duties, with what, I have no doubt, with perfect fairness he has this night said. The right hon. Gentleman not having been very successful in pointing out any mistakes made by my noble Friend, or in finding arguments to oppose his motion, has endeavoured to excite disunion and dissension, among the Gentlemen on this side of the House. I cast my eyes on the opposite benches as the right hon. Gentlemen was speaking, and no great skill in physiognomy is required to be convinced that the faces of the Gentlemen opposite expressed anything rather than unanimity and satisfaction while they listened to the right hon. Gentleman's statements. Hon. Gentlemen must believe, from the right hon. Gentleman's statements, that an alteration in the present Corn-law was not impossible. Without saying anything of the law, I may say, that it is of the highest importance, whatever system of Corn-law we have, that it should be considered to have in it some degree of stability and permanence. But the language of the right hon. Gentleman is calculated to excite great alarm and dissatisfaction in his Friends, and in the country generally. They are alarmed lest the measure of last year may not be continued, and it is of great importance to the trading and farming interest that no doubt should exist on the subject. If I know anything of the feeling of the agriculturists, I should say that there is nothing of more importance than that they should be convinced that the laws which affect them can be depended on. The first Minister of the Crown has stated that the Corn-law is not to be altered this year, but he did not say that it might not be altered next year. And what said the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade to-night— what was the language he held? The right hon. Gentleman said— or, if he did not say, allowed the House distinctly to understand—that his mind was made up on the impolicy of the sliding-scale. I heard these opinions without surprise, because I could not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman could be placed in a department in which he has to watch over the trade and manufactures of the country—indeed, I felt sure that the right hon. Gentleman could not fill his present situation, with his enlarged mind, and come to any other conclusion. The manner in which the right 512 hon. Gentleman spoke of the sliding-scale convinced me that he is well aware of its injurious effects on the commerce of the country. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say, that the landed interest was not alone to consider the effects of the Corn-laws on themselves, but those laws must be looked at, like other laws affecting trade, in relation to the whole trade of the country. The only reason given by the right hon. Gentleman, however, for his advocacy of a departure from the general principle of which he approves was, that his answer was a "temporary answer." So it appears that the safety of British agriculture rests on a sliding-scale which is supported by a temporary argument? The right hon. Gentleman said, that the Corn-laws would not be altered this Session, but he would not say that they might not be altered in the revolution of circumstances and ages; but I should not be surprised if, not in the revolution of ages, but in the revolution of a very few Sessions, the right hon. Gentleman's opinions were carried into effect and became the law of the land. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned with a taunt a comparison between the former Government and the present. When we are discussing such a serious matter as the one now before the House, I am averse from referring to party differences, or to direct accusations against my opponents, and I only refer to what the right hon. Gentleman said, to repeat an answer I have before given to similar accusations when they were before urged. It is again said, that the late Government had not brought forward any free-trade measures, and that, in office, they had not shown themselves favourable to a free-trade policy. But I must remind the House, that my noble Friend, Lord Palmerston, when he was at the head of the Foreign-office, not only espoused free-trade principles, but he had the good fortune to conclude with foreign Governments several treaties which were favourable to our commerce and promoted our industry and manufactures. With regard to legislative measures, I think the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. At least, I must remind him, and I must remind the House that, soon after the formation of Lord Grey's Government he brought forward a measure for altering the timber duties. I must remind the House, also, of the circumstance that the alteration then proposed resembled, I believe, a measure which had been 513 entertained by the previous Government. Instead, however, of supporting Earl Grey's measure, the Gentlemen opposite, headed by the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Tamworth, united all the persons opposed to the measure, and successfully resisted the measure of the Government. If we, the last Session, had followed the same course on the subject of cattle, and had united with no inconsiderable number of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters, I have no doubt the same success would have attended our exertions, and we should have defeated the right hon. Baronet on a point which he declared was the pivot and the hinge of all his commercial reforms. I have gone, perhaps, too far, in entering into these party differences, when so important a question is under discussion, compared to which all our disputes sink into utter insignificance. The distress of the country at the same time, and particularly the effect of that distress on consumption, has been so feelingly brought before the House, that I shall not be tempted to say much on this part of the subject; but there is one fact to which I must briefly ask the attention of the House—I allude to the consumption of sugar in the last year. That article affords one of the best tests I know of the power of consumption in the people. Last year, the price of sugar was lower than the year before, which makes the test more complete. The average price of sugar in 1841 was 38s while the average price in 1842 was 34s.; sugar, therefore, should have increased in consumption as the price was lower. Notwithstanding this reduction in price, the consumption fell off from 270,000 hogsheads in 1841 to 261,000 hogsheads in 1842. There is no doubt that the diminution of consumption can be traced to our want of trade, for it had been greatest in our manufacturing districts. This was proved by the fact that the imports into London and other ports had increased, while the imports into Liverpool and Glasgow had diminished; the imports into Liverpool had fallen off very considerably, and at Glasgow the diminution of imports was 3,500 casks. That is a strong proof that the consumption of the country is decreasing, and that a great diminution has taken place in the consuming power of the people. Under these circumstances, I entreat the House to take the case into its serious consideration. I should be gratified if the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would state the 514 measures which in his judgment will relieve the distress of the country; but as he had not on the first night of the Session made any such declaration, and said, that under the circumstances he was not prepared to make any change, I hope and trust the House will declare its opinion that this Session shall not pass away without the Parliament devising some measure for the relief of the people. It is clear from what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, that he cannot deny that measures founded on the same principles as the tariff of last year, but of a larger and more comprehensive character, would have a powerful and beneficial effect on the commerce and interests of the country. I have no doubt the Ministers have good reasons—secret reasons—for not bringing forward any further measures; and I can find them, I think, in one sentence of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He said that all must depend on the degree in which the country will be brought to bear the application of further alterations. I agree with him. But the right hon. Gentleman omitted one word—and he should have said, the country gentlemen. I have read a little of what the country gentlemen have said, in various places, on the policy of the Government for some time past; and I think it was said, in an influential quarter, "We have already swallowed a great deal from the Government, but we are now determined that it shall not go any further." After reading this I can understand the reason for the Government not at present broaching further measures of commercial reform; and we shall have no further reforms till country gentlemen have made up their minds to permit them. Time in this question is everything. When markets are once lost they cannot be restored— when manufactures are once gone to decay they cannot be revived—good habits once broken down are not again to be renewed, and no question which can occupy the attention of Government and Parliament is so pressing and important as how to arrest the growth of these great and giant evils which are now threatening our commerce, and, perhaps, our very social existence. They are making awful strides through the country, and require the most serious attention. For my part, I think there is no question that so completely deserved the attention of the House as this; and inasmuch as the declaration of the Government has led me to the 'painful conclusion, that from them it 515 is hopeless to expect those remedies which I believe might be devised, and the justice of the principles of which they themselves had admitted last Session, and again to night through the Vice-president of the Board of Trade—seeing no hope from the declaration of the Government that those measures will be introduced by them, I shall best discharge my duty as a humble Member of the House, by voting for the motion of my hon. Friend, which will at least serve to register my protest against the inaction of a Government content to sit with folded arms while the great interests of the country are falling into ruin and confusion.
§ Mr. Ferrand moved that the debate be adjourned, in obedience to cries of "Go on, go on," he proceeded. He had moved the adjournment of the debate, because in discharging the duty which he owed, not only to himself, but to those who had sent him there, be would find it necessary to trouble them at some considerable length. After the speeches of the noble Member for Sunderland, and the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, he was sure the country would be firmly convinced that it was high time that the principles of free-trade were laid aside, and that they should return to the good old principles of their forefathers. Neither of them had at-
|Price of Wheat per Quarter||5||13||7||5||6||2||3||7||11||3||4||3||3||6||4||2||5||0|
|Hand-loom Weavers' Wages per week for weaving same amount of work:||Age|
|John Wilson John||75||0||15||0||0||16||0||0||16||0||0||16||0||0||8||0||0||6||0|
|Coombers' Wages per week for combing same work:|
|Number of prisoners in Wakefield House of Correction, York, (west riding), as returned by the Governor||670||499||2,169||2,620||3,563||4,430|
tempted to grapple with the great question of what conduced to the prosperity of the agricultural, the commercial, and the labouring classes of the country. They had been given to understand that the measures of last Session were intended for the welfare of the working classes; but it was now admitted on all hands, that in no degree had they added to or in any way revived the commercial prosperity; it was high time for them to consider whether the time had not arrived when they should decide, not only on not going on further in the same course, but whether it would not be better for them to recede. The conclusion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman proved that they were in a wrong course. He said that all the attempts to induce other countries to adopt the doctrines of free-trade had been failures;—nay, more, he told the House that America, instead of relaxing her laws, had imposed additional restrictions upon our trade. During the recess he had thought it his duty to inquire how far the measures of Government passed during the last Session had tended to increase the distress amongst the people, and from calculations which he had made at decennial periods from 1800 he found as follows. The hon. Member read the substance of the following paper:
In 1820 the price of wheat had fallen to 3l "7s 11d, but to show that this had no effect on wages, he was prepared to prove that they were at that period higher than before: the woolcomber was then receiving 19ss.; but in 1830, when the Whigs first seized the reins of Government, when they came in professing the principles of peace, retrenchment, and reform, though they had involved the country in most unjust and disgraceful wars, and extended a system of the utmost extravagance throughout the land, and filled it with scandalous abuses at the time they entered office, while the country was in a state of prosperity—he repeated it, they found the country prosperous, contented, and happy; they found an overflowing treasury, with a safe and steady revenue, and they left both a bankrupt revenue and an empty exchequer; they thrust themselves upon the country, and by their misrule, when they were turned out of office, the wages of the weaver were reduced from 16s to 8s., and the woolcomber suffered equally from their incapacity. Was the country prepared to take their measure after they were themselves driven from office by an indignant constituency? What was the conduct of the right hon. Baronet previous to that period? How was he spoken of by those connected with all the most valuable interests in the country? Why, at that time all of them joyfully hailed him as their leader. The present Premier had been lauded and toasted through England as the conservator of all its best interests, and during that period the right hon. Baronet had made a speech which had been published, corrected by himself, and in which he said,
The principle of total repeal of the Corn Laws I fully understand. It is a magnificent scheme for introducing into our intercourse with foreign nations the principle which ought to regulate the commerce of a great country certainly within its own boundaries, but which I doubt the possibility of applying beneficially to its external commerce, in a state of society so complicated, involving interests so enormous, and which have grown up" (the right hon. Baronet went on to say) "under a system of protection. I cannot relinquish that principle, which however theoretically defective has in practice allowed such an establishment of our power.
After this came the general election; and the great contest between the two parties had been between the rival
principles of free trade and of restriction. This had been the question expressly brought before the electors of Yorkshire by Lord Morpeth; the handwriting was said to be on the wall, and it was for the electors of England to read it for or against protection. Thus it was that Sir R. Peel obtained office—pledged to protect the best interests of the country; but what had the right hon. Baronet done? He had attacked those interests by undermining them through the principles of free trade. The measures of the right hon. Baronet had given a great shock to the great interests of the country; and it was the duty of those who had pledged themselves id the most solemn manner to their constituents to stand firm to their promises. For himself he had avowed his resolution to regard no interests but those of his country, no motive but the general weal; and he would not—to support any party or any Government—adhere to those who did not stand by the principles which had placed them in power. Yet they had been told recently by the Premier, that "no one had made such extensive changes in the commercial policy of the country as he had done, and that he was convinced of the soundness of the principles on which he had acted." If that were so, how was it that the Vice-President of the Board of Trade had admitted that, so far as the measures of the Ministry had hitherto worked, at all events, their effect had been unfavourable to the various interests involved? Now, he wished just to advert to some opinions of Mr. Huskisson, which had been discovered by that statesman to be founded on errors of a similar nature to those which misled the present Government. The chairman of Lloyd's, Mr. Robinson, had lately published a pamphlet, in which was a passage ascribed to Mr. Huskisson to the affect that, if foreign countries saw us relieving public burthens, and exhibiting a prosperous exchequer, they might become sincere in their assertion and practice of free trade principles; the fact, however, was, that having acted on those principles we had instead of an overflowing exchequer an income-tax in time of peace. What, too, was the state of foreign countries at this moment? In a prominent paper, one of the ablest organs of free trade, appeared lately an account of not less than six hostile tariffs in ten months. Again, from the report of a most important committee on this sub-
ject appeared statements of a very momentous character as to the progress made by foreign countries in manufactures. The hon. Member proceeded to read extracts from the report of the import duties committee, to the effect that European manufacturers were successfully underselling ours in the markets of the world. The hon. Member having established to the House, by satisfactory evidence that foreign countries are not only manufacturing more goods than ourselves, but underselling us, it was his duty to call upon the Government to make a stand; but if the slightest movement be made it ought to be made again to those principles which had placed this country on so high a pinnacle of greatness as to justify the designation it once received of being the workshop of the whole world. It was not his intention, as he had previously stated, to enter then upon the consideration of the question of free trade; but there existed a party in this country which had a right to call upon this House to take up the question. The party he referred to was the masses— that class which had no voice in the representation—that class which did not possess the power of sending Members to that House. That class was now in a starving condition, and it became the duty of that House to take their present condition into its serious consideration. The working classes had been in a gradual state of decline for the last few years. The Anti-Corn Law League had mainly reduced the working classes to their present condition. He would call the attention of the House to the pamphlet of Mr. R. Greg, entitled
An Inquiry into the State of the Manufacturing Population.
When speaking of, the power-loom worker he observes,
He has no time to be wise, no leisure to be good; he is sunken, debilitated, depressed, emasculated, unnerved for effort, incapable of virtue, unfit for everything but the regular, hopeless, desponding, degrading variety of laborious vegetation, or shameless intemperance.
Again, when alluding to the hand-loom weavers and combers, he (Mr. Greg) says,
From constitution and from principle, averse from feeling or acting as alarmists, we are certain, in as far as reasoning from the past can make us certain of the future, that unless
some cordial, faithful, vigorous, and united effort is made on the part of the influential classes to stem that torrent of suffering and corruption which is fast sweeping away the comfort and morals of so large a portion of our poorer countrymen, and which, if not checked, will soon send them forth upon the world desperate, reckless, ruined men—ruined both in their feelings and their fortunes,—unless some such effort is made, and that speedily, there are silent but mighty instruments at work, like an evil that walketh in darkness, which e'er long will undermine the system of social union, and burst asunder the silken bonds of amity which unite men to their kind.
In 1834 a select committee appointed
To examine the petitions presented to the House from the hand-loom weavers, and to report their observations thereon,
sat for the first time on the 16th of June. July 15, Mr. Thomas Myerscough, manufacturer of Bolton, was examined. He said,—
I admit generally there is a good deal of distress in the country, and that the weaving body do look for some measure which will better their condition, by raising their wages, or at least prevent their being still more depressed than they are now, which depression is said to be to such a point that these men are in the greatest state of poverty, unhappiness, and discontent.
July 16, Mr. John Makin, manufacturer of Bolton, examined. He declared,—
That the condition of the hand-loom weavers has deteriorated so much that it is in great danger of either extinguishing the trade altogether or of producing a rupture in society.
July 17, he declared, their food is chiefly oatmeal porridge and potatoes, with occasionally a small quantity of butcher's meat, which they obtain once a week.
I have made a calculation, by which I estimate that if a man has to support himself, his wife, and five children, with the assistance of two children and his wife labouring with him, they will not be able to earn for food and clothing more than 2¾d. per day. I cannot recollect an instance, but one, where any weaver of mine has bought a new jacket for many years.
Then they are literally clothed in rags? I am only sorry I did not bring one or two jackets, to let the committee see the average state in which they are clothed.
I have seen many houses with only two or three legged stools, and some I have seen without a stool or chair, with only a tea chest to keep their clothes in, and to sit upon.
June 9th, 1834,—Mr. Edmund Ash-
worth, brother and partner of Mr. Henry Ash worth, who occupied the chair at the meeting of the League in Manchester, on the 1st of this month, thus addressed Mr. Chadwick, his letter being dated from Turton, near Bolton:—
Full employment in every department was never more easily to be found than now, consequently wages have advanced in most operative employments, particularly so in the least skilful. Handloom weavers have been much wanted, and their wages advanced on an average 10 per cent. This bespeaks a scarcity of labourers here; at the same time great complaints are made of the surplus population of the agricultural counties. lam most anxious that every facility be given to the removal of labourers (by the New Poor-law Bill) from one county to another, according to the demand for labour; this would have a tendency to equalize wages, as well as prevent in a degree some of the turn-outs which have been of late so prevalent.
Sept. 17th, 1834.—R. H. Greg said,-
It must be looked upon as a happy coincidence, that at the period of depriving or curtailing perhaps the facilities of gaining a livelihood to the people of one half of England, and causing a fall in their present low wages, and a scramble amongst them for employment, there should exist a difficulty in obtaining labourers at extravagant wages in these northern counties. This fortunate occurrence should be taken advantage of. Next year will unless some unforeseen accident occurs, be naturally a year of increase in our manufactures, buildings, &c, and should this prove the case, any further demand for labour would still further increase the unions, drunkenness, and high wages.
June 27th, 1834.—H. T. E. Ashworth said,—
Nearly 20,000 persons would be required in the neighbourhood of one of our seats of manufactures alone—that of Staley-bridge.
He had drawn a melancholy picture of their coudition. His opinion was, that unless some measures were speedily adopted by the influential classes some mighty evil would result. He also found that the manufacturers had, to a great extent, introduced the system of apprenticeship. At the Wilmslow Mills, in the city of Lancaster, the property of Mr. Gregg and partners, in 1837, that system was carried on with all its barbarities.
The children were fetched from all parts of the country, and compelled to live in a house built for their accommodation; they were delivered up to the tender mercies of a governor and a matron, whose hearts were steeled against
them, and they worked them as long and as severely as nature could endure and paid them no wages. Those children were collected from all the ' foundling hospitals' in the country: they knew nothing of their parentage, and had no protection from the tyranny practised on them. Two of them, both girls, of thirteen and fourteen years of age, heard of their parents; they applied for leave of absence to go and see their long lost earthly protectors; their request was refused. Their application was renewed at every pastime, such as the holydays of Christmas, &c, but every time rejected for upwards of two years, until at length they determined to run away, which they did at the Wilmslow ' wakes,' on which occasion it was the custom to stop the mills for two days: they found their parents, the one in Liverpool and the other in Manchester. They were poor, but still loved their children, and kept them a day longer than the wakes. On their return they were thrown into a cell by the orders of Mr. Gregg, and kept in solitary confinement for six days upon short allowance of food without a bed to lie on. During the time of their confinement the matron of the apprentice house died very suddenly and was laid out in the next room to these two children, who were almost driven frantic with fright.
He was prepared to prove all he asserted. They denied what he asserted last Session, but he called for a Committee of the House, obtained it, and proved every word he had said. He called upon the hon. Member for Manchester, who threw out a hint the other evening that he (Mr. Ferrand) had stated to the House what he could not prove, to say what that was; and he would again assert that he was prepared to substantiate, not by one witness only, but by many, what he had now stated. He would also produce evidence to show that the hours of labour in some of the cotton mills were excessive; and he now held in his hand the names of four persons who within the last three weeks had been compelled to work thirty-two hours with only thirteen and three quarter hours' rest. The excuse of the mill-owner was, that he had got an order which he was obliged to send out to China, and if he had not worked his labourers to that extent he would have lost several thousands of pounds. The hon. Gentleman also complained of the evils of machinery, and read some returns to show that since its introduction wages had diminished and the poor rates had increased. Those who were employed in the power-looms were chiefly women and children. The fathers were living in idleness, unable to obtain employment—living, he might say, on the
murder of their own offspring, for it had been decided by the highest medical authorities that those young women and children could not continue to work at those power-looms without the sacrifice of their own lives. Women frequently worked at them up to the very time of their being delivered, and after having been away for a short time only, were compelled by their husbands who had become hardened by drunkenness, to return to their work for the purpose of earning them bread. The consequence was, that most of them came to a premature death, and were sacrificed to this baneful system. He would ask the House and the country to decide whether the time had not now arrived when this awful evil should be grappled with? He had the authority of several of those who called themselves free traders, for saying that it should. There was the hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Dr. Bowring), "and by the way that hon. and learned Member had lately turned poet. He assured the House that it was true. He had written some lines for circulation or sale at the Anti-Corn Law Bazaar as it was called, though he feared their more immediate object was to excite the working classes into rebellion. He would not take up the time of the House by reading the lines in question. [" Read, read,"] Read! oh, certainly if the House wished it. The lines were headed—" Died of Starvation. — Coroner's Inquest." And certainly they were not inappropriate to the subject he had brought under notice. The hon. Member then read as follows:
I met Famine on my way
Prowling for her human prey,
Clogg'd with filth and clad in rags,
Ugliest of all ugly hags.
Lo! a sceptre wreath'd of snakes
In her withered hand she shakes,
And I heard the hag proclaim,
'Bread Tax is my sceptre's name.'
[Bread Tax! said the hon. Member, I would say—
Power-loom is my sceptre's name.]
On remorseless mission bent,
Maiming, murdering as she went,
Spreading death from street to street,
Oh! I hear the hag repeat,
(Shuddering while I heard and saw)
Mine is RIGHT and MIGHT and LAW!
Then to solitude I flew,
Gracious Heav'n! can this be true?
On my trembling knees I fell,
God! thou God of mercy! tell,—
Can the very fiends of hell
In Thy name their pandects draw,
And declare their licence law?
Dare they, in Thy Holy sight,
To proclaim their robb'ry right?
Rouse Thee, raise Thine awful rod,
Lord,—how long? How long,—O' God?
These were the hon. Member for Bolton's versicles, and let him ask was he wrong in saying that they were most applicable to the condition of the people as caused by the power-loom—that instrument with regard to which the writer of the lines had himself declared that "the power-loom must cause the people to die of hunger." He thought he had now stated enough to justify inquiry. If the right hon. Baronet was not prepared to inquire into the effect of machinery upon the working classes, had he any remedy to propose for the evils they suffered from it? He would put the question to the vote, and so test the sincerity of those promises that were made by Members on both sides of the House at the hustings, when they assured the working classes that although they were denied a voice in the election of representatives Parliament would care for their interests. The late outbreaks had, he was prepared to affirm, originated with the Anti-Corn Law League. If an inquiry were gone into, he would be prepared with evidence to prove that those outbreaks originated with the League. The League themselves ought to court an inquiry, and the Government, in justice to all classes, should institute it. If such an inquiry were ordered, and the working classes came before Parliament in all their misery and wretchedness he hoped the House would be able to afford them redress. The hon. Member concluded by moving as an amendment:—
That this House do resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, to consider so much of her Majesty's Speech as refers to 'that depression of the manufacturing industry of the country which has so long prevailed, and which her Majesty has so deeply lamented;' and also to inquire into the effects of machinery upon the moral and physical condition of the industrious classes:—And also, to inquire into the origin of the late outbreaks, which are thus alluded to in her Majesty's Speech: ' Her Majesty regrets that in the course of last year the public peace in some of the manufacturing districts was seriously disturbed and the lives and property of her Majesty's subjects were endangered by tumultuous assemblages and acts of open violence'
§ The amendment having been seconded, the debate was adjourned.
§ House adjourned at 1 o'clock.