§ The Order of the Day having been read for resuming the adjourned debate,
§ Dr. Bowring
said, that before he referred to the general subject of the debate, he felt himself called upon shortly to refer to another personal attack directed against him by the hon. Member for Knares-borough, who had indulged in a series of personalities, attacks more remarkable for jactancy than good sense, and rather exhibited the wish than the power to wound. The hon. Member appeared to have elected himself to the office of a kind of general inquisitor or common accuser, and he (Dr. Bowring) should therefore have thought himself at liberty not to refer to the attack to which he had been himself exposed, were it not for his anxiety to set himself right with the House. The hon. Member for Knaresborough, who certainly wanted no industry in hunting out with the busiest assiduity whatever was likely to give piquancy to his diatribes, had paid him the compliment of alluding to a speech delivered by him (Dr. Bowring) many years ago on the subject of the handloom weavers. His object was then to show that it was in the mysterious destinies of man to have misery treading closely upon the march of civilization—and that some evil invariably marked the progress of good. It was in the stern necessity of our mortal lot that no great advance could be made in knowledge or in virtue but at the cost of suffering. Did not the establishment of Christianity overthrow hosts of heathen priests and temples and those who depended upon them? Did not the Reformation throw thousands and thousands who lived on the bounty of monks and convents upon the public charity? Did not the invention of printing embarrass and distress multitudes of scribes who lost their employment? Who could follow the consequences of the application of the steam engine, without tracing crowds of impoverished labourers in its immediate neighbourhood. Have not railways directly and for a time alarmingly interfered with other means of communication? Nay! justice itself—an active and a wholesome police attacks many interests, and will be regarded with distrust and alarm by those whom it disquiets. The speech probably dwelt no longer in the memory of the House; but in that speech he had stated that the 637 handloom weavers were among the most unfortunate of his countrymen, because they had been peculiarly the victims of the conquests of the power-loom; that they had suffered much, and must suffer still more, in consequence of the mechanical improvements that had taken place. He had referred at the same time to the Dacca district in India, where thousands and tens of thousands had been subjected to great distress by the extension of the superior manufactures of Great Britain. He had not, however, by this intended to infer that it was possible to stop the career of improvement. Quite the contrary; in those improvements he rejoiced, though he had distinctly stated it as his opinion that it was the duty of Legislators to make mechanical improvements more and more subservient to the happiness of the community. The hon. Gentleman had quoted in strong condemnation some verses of his which savoured strongly of indignation against the Corn-laws. The hon. Gentleman did not object to the indignation, he only wanted it transferred from the bread-tax to the power-loom. But in the presence of misery, such as he had witnessed, there might be some indulgence for the vehement expression of these big and bursting thoughts which forced their way to utterance. He would refer to the borough with which it was his painful privilege to be connected, for evidence of the existence of distress in its most appalling shapes. It was of little effect to generalize. He must cite a few examples. He was in possession of the details of thirty-nine individual cases, which had been selected from the mass; and if any doubt were thrown upon them, he had irrefragable proofs of the truth of the statements made respecting them, and would willingly give the names both of the inquirers and the sufferers. He would refer to two or three, if the House would permit him, with a view of showing the pernicious effect of those laws which did good to none, and raised the price of food to all. One was that of a man who was an iron-moulder, and had worked twelve years for one firm; he had formerly earned 30s. a week, but had done no work since the 1st of March, 1842; he had a wife and four children. When he found that his former employers had no more work for him, he had tried everywhere to obtain it. He had taken the tramp, as it was called; after having been unsuccessful in 638 Bolton and its neighbourhood, and travelled through Wales, Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland, and been obliged to come here again without having got any, he had rested awhile, then taking the tramp again, and visited many of the manufacturing towns, traversing the midland counties, and coming to London with the same object, but without success. On one occasion, when lying down to rest by the road side, he was relieved by some field labourers, and when in London he had great difficulty in keeping out of the hands of the police. Another case was that of a man who was living in a cellar; he had been an engineer, but had remained out of work nine months, and had travelled 1,100 miles in search of employment, without success; he had been much out of doors, and suffered from exposure to the weather and other hardships until he became rheumatic and stiff in the joints, like an old man, although only twenty-five years of age, and his nails dropped off from his fingers and toes; he was not uninformed or uninstructed, for the person who visited him and inquired into his case, found him drawing a landscape, and there was some manuscript poetry on the table before him; at that time he was dependent for support on his sister, who worked in a cotton-mill. A third case of a worker in the foundry, a very powerful man, but greatly reduced in bulk, his clothes were become a great deal too large for him, he thought he had lost about forty pounds in weight, looked sullen and heavy, and, to use the words of my informant, when I entered his house, he was sitting upon his door threshold and would scarcely look up or notice me as I passed him; he had a wife and four children and had received 3s. 6d per week from the parish for three weeks. His wife told me that they had nothing whatever to eat, and it was then nearly dinner time; that they had neither clothing nor furniture upon which they could raise anything to buy food. That she had that morning, for the first time, turned out to crave charity, and that upon calling at the nearest gentleman's house, the servants told her they would advise her to return home, for they scarcely dared to go near their mistress to ask an alms for any one, seeing that she was teazed so often every day; and upon this she had returned home weeping and in despair. They had once possessed a fair stock of furniture, and had pawned and 639 sold their beds, chairs, tables, drawers and clock, and that they had also sold the tickets of the articles they had pawned. The children looked healthy lively children, and I inquired if they attended school. The mother replied that they had usually attended school on Sundays when they had had suitable clothing, but that latterly they had had only one suit of clothes that was fit to be seen, and they had sent one child to school in them in the morning, had stripped them off at midday, and sent another child to school in the same clothing in the afternoon. She showed me the little childrens' shirts; they were so ragged and torn, that it seemed hardly possible the little creatures could find their way into them. He would mention one more case—that of a man who had been visited a short time ago by a most excellent and benevolent friend of his, and who had been driven mad by his misery,—his madness was perhaps preferable to the sufferings that preceded it—that friend told him that he had found this person with his wife and children at dinner, and all they had was a jug of buttermilk and a loaf of bread which he was dividing amongst them. They had only a small allowance from the parish, and had to make out a livelihood in the best way they could, he had just pawned his checked shirt to buy the bread and butter-milk they were then partaking. The man observed in a manner which was something betwixt a sneer and a threat, "have they not done their worst at us now, can they bring us to anything worse than this?" He was a remarkably fine formed powerful, muscular, and hardworking man, about thirty-five years of age, almost of Herculean strength, represented as one who could "turn his hand to any kind of work," and it was very painful to hear his impatient expressions, his wife shewed me how ragged and worn out were all the children's clothing, she was washing some of them and it was as much as she could do to prevent them from being torn to pieces by handling in the waters. Is it to be wondered at that the intellect sinks under such a weight of suffering? He had heard of other cases in which persons had sunk under the weight of the miseries they had endured from want of employment, and become lunatics; these were isolated instances, but they were the parts which together made up the masses of misery—they were 640 fragments of the great accumulations of suffering—they were samples of a huge bit of human affliction. He knew how much he needed the indulgence of the House when he troubled them with statistics and figures; but they were of a character so emphatic and irresistible, that he was sure that, if he did not obtain the attention of many hon. Members, whom other subjects seemed to interest much more, he should get that of her Majesty's Government, when he showed them that the state of Bolton and the manufacturing district of Lancashire was far worse now than when he called the attention of the House to it last year. He held in his hand returns made up with great care to the commencement of the present month, showing to what a frightful extent the wages paid in that town to different trades had diminished. In 1838 there were 150 carpenters and joiners employed, earning 25s a week each. There were now only twenty-five in full work, earning that sum, and there were fifteen only half-employed, making a difference of 146l. per week less at the present time received by this trade than in 1838. In 1837 there were 140 stonemasons employed, at 34s. per week; at present there were only fifty, who earned no more than 10s. 6d; this trade, therefore, received 153l. 15s. a week less than they did five years ago. The bed-quilt weavers earned in all 383l a week in 1838; at present, only 182l., being a difference of 200l. per week. The earnings of the counterpane weavers were 500l per week in 1839; they were now 210l., being a difference of 290l. a week. In 1839, there were 2,800 handloom weavers employed earning on an average 6s. a week, and this too at the time of their prosperity; now there were only 2,300, who earned on an average not more than 3s. 7½d. The same facts pervaded all the trades of Bolton, showing 3,651l. 16s. 7d less per week paid in wages, or a difference per annum of 189,871l. in the wages distributed among twelve trades alone. Was it any wonder that there should be an enormous and intolerable amount of suffering? Who could be surprised if there was a great quantity of discontent connected with this amount of suffering? If he could not appeal to the humanity or wisdom of the House, he would appeal to their own interests. He was bound to tell them that the state of the country was one of extreme peril. No person could answer 641 for the continuance of peace when human nature was driven to the extreme point of endurance. They might rest assured that the feelings of the people would speedily assume a very formidable aspect, if some change for the better were not made. He did not speak this in the spirit of menace, but in the spirit of prophecy. The party opposite were informed of the remedy, but if they did not choose to accept that, why did they not attempt a remedy of their own? The danger was not removed, but was becoming greater. What was the present state of Bolton? There were no less than fifty-eight benefit societies in that borough which were either wholly broken up, or in a state of bankruptcy, reducing the payment to the sick members to one half. Twenty-seven benefit societies were only giving half-pay. Let any one pass through the deserted streets of Bolton, and see the miserable objects he would meet there—despairing mothers and starving children, abandoned dwellings, people living in cellars without furniture or clothing; no table, no seat, no fuel. Let him consider that this state of things was not confined to one town only; and then say whether it would be sufficient for the House to tell the sufferers that they could hold out to them no hope of an improvement in their condition. [" hear, hear."] It might be well for those hon. Gentlemen who revelled in every enjoyment to excess —who never knew what it was to have a desire ungratified—who had vast resources to supply them with every luxury from every quarter of the world—to turn a deaf ear to the prayers of the suffering millions; but he would entreat them, if not from regard to their own duty as legislators, or to the peremptory claims of humanity and the voice of Christianity, to lend a willing attention, and seriously to enter on an inquiry whether some means of alleviating the distress could not be found. The applications for relief made to the society for the protection of the poor in the town of Bolton showed how frightfully distress had of late increased. In 1840 the number of applicants for relief, most of them heads of families, was 770; in 1841, it was 2,564; in 1842, it was 3,940. The number of individuals belonging to the families of those who were relieved in 1840 was 2,656; in 1841, 9,523; in 1842, 15,296. The average earnings of those who applied for relief from this so- 642 ciety were, in 1840, 1s. 2¾d. per week; in 1841, 10x00BD;d.; and in 1842, 10¼dbut of those who received relief the average weekly earnings was in 1840, 10½d.; in 1841, 9½.d and in 1842, 9¾d. Was this a state of things which ought to exist in this country, which was the greatest, the richest, and professed to be the wisest and happiest in the world. Was it to be conceived that this should exist amongst, the most meritorious, the most intelligent, the most provident, and the most industrious race on whom the sun shines. The agitation existing in the country was complained of; it had been attributed to the Anti-Corn-law League—["No! no!"] it has a deeper source and a wider range. The agitation was in the thoughtful, the Christian mind of the country; who could be otherwise than agitated amidst the heart-spectacles that surrounded them? The facts he had stated showed that the distress was increasing from day to day; it was likely to continue, and every day the application of a remedy would be more and more embarrassing and difficult. It was said, that the Anti-Corn-law League was the cause of the prevailing discontent. He admitted, indeed, that the Anti-Corn-law League had done something to move the minds of men on this great question. They had done what the Government had failed to do They had endeavoured to find out the cause of the distress, and to indicate the remedy. To what was their influence to be attributed? They had announced—they had circulated the incontrovertible fact, that the world's granaries ought to be accessible to famished multitudes of laborious Englishmen. They had shown that there were millions in this country who wanted bread, whilst they had the productions which other countries wanted, and would give bread in exchange for. They had shown, what was well known to all and undeniable, that there was a superfluity of food in the world; and was it to be said the Anti-Corn-law League was agitating the country and producing discontent, because they endeavoured to promote that interchange of productions which all nations desired, and which would give a portion of that superfluity to our own starving people? The Government admitted the extent and intensity of the distress. If the right hon. Baronet would carry out his own principles; if he would allow his mind to dwell upon the scenes around him; if he would 643 look at the intolerable misery of those laborious beings from whom his ancestors had collected their wealth; if he would do this, he (Dr. Bowring) did not doubt that he would endeavour to devise means for removing the misery, which was a disgrace and opprobium to a Christian nation. An hon. Gentleman had stated that the distress was only local, and had mentioned, as a matter of consolation, that it pervaded only certain districts. It was perfectly true, said he, the distress existed at Sunderland; but then prosperity prevailed at Hartlepool. In this way it was attempted to deal out some consolation to the sufferings of the people. He believed that nothing would satisfy the country but a measure of relief which should extend to all classes. He was sorry to hear from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) some of those old fallacies which had been so pernicious to legislation. Certain words from time to time had been bandied about on commercial subjects, which had, he believed, been more pernicious in their result than thousands of misdeeds. One of the most prominent of these was the ward "protection." He had heard that word again and again from the right hon. Gentleman, yet he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman knew that protection meant nothing more than putting your hand into a man's pocket and extracting from it more than the just value of that which you offered in exchange. Again, what was meant by "reciprocity," another of the instruments of sophistry and fallacy. Why should you refuse to take the productions of other nations unless they consented to take yours? It was saying that you would not be wise unless other nations were wise also; that you would persist in your folly, unless other nations consented to abandon their own foolish courses. The right hon. Baronet opposite confessed himself of opinion that this Government would not' be justified in delaying much longer to change their policy—he acknowledged the principle was a wise and a true one, that they should legislate for themselves, taking care of their own interests, and leaving foreign nations to take care of theirs. He (Dr. Bowring) thought that their ancestors, who held out great encouragement to importation, and left exports to take care of themselves were far wiser than us who were perpetually seeking the means of sending goods out 644 of the country, and little anxious to get into it the articles most wanted —namely, the food of the people. Our forefathers regarded everything that was imported as so much gain to the country. He believed that if they made that the great foundation of their commercial code, they would escape a great many of those mistakes into which they were constantly falling. It was expected by many hon. Gentlemen that before we gave an example of free-trade to other nations, those nations should set us the example. Why, in reply to that he had to observe, that the demand for free-trade was not so great among them as with us. They were suffering less than us the consequences of a protective and prohibitory system. It had not yet brought upon them all its mischievous results. Many of them, actuated by our example, had entered upon a very fallacious career of protection. Fancying that our wealth was derived from the theory of protection, they adopted a similar legislation. But they would be taught as we had been taught— and the severe lessons of adversity would bring them to their senses. They were already awakening to the dangers of their course. At present there was a delegation in Paris from the wine-producing districts of France, and he trusted that the efforts of that delegation would tend to facilitate the negotiations now pending between this country and France on the subject of a commercial treaty. He could not conceive how it was that sixty millions of the most enlightened people in the— the inhabitants of France and England—with so many means of communication, and productions so suited to the wants of each other, were debarred of the benefit of intercourse on advantageous terms by the perversity of bad legislation. The Chamber of Commerce of Lyons had always been foremost in advocating sound principles of commerce, and they had recently forwarded to the French government a remonstrance, complaining that the French manufacturers, and the trade of Lyons, which formed more than 30 per cent, of the whole manufacturing export trade of France, should be sacrificed to some petty and worthless interests, which had gained the ear of the Chamber of Deputies. He could not doubt the ultimate result would be, as certainly as the sun rose—as certainly as wave followed wave—that those principles, bound up with the great in- 645 terests of mankind, must ultimately prevail. He held in his hand a recent number of a paper, printed at Hong Kong, from which he would take the liberty of reading an extract, and he hoped no one would object to being taught wisdom, even from the other side of the globe:—The larger our ability to take the products of China, the larger will be the capability of the Chinese to buy our manufactures. If it be an object to give employment to our starving population at home no better plan could be devised than to equalize the tea duties and admit the sugars of China as those of India, at the low duty. Were not China sugars in effect prohibited in England, we are assured they would be largely sent as returns for cotton manufactures. In several of the northern ports they could be cheaply and abundantly supplied as returns, but our merchants are debarred from taking them, and hence the Chinese there cannot become purchasers; and what would be an important outlet for our manufactures is effectually closed by our suicidal policy. We understand that the beautifully refined and highly saccharine sugars of Chinchew could be regularly deliverable in London at or under id. per lb. The article is, we are told, fully equal, for domestic purposes, to lump sugar which is retailed in England at 10d. to 1s. per lb. The duty on it, which, as before said, is in effect prohibitory, amounts to more than 1s. 3d. per lb. The raw sugars of China which would be importable into England at about2d. per lb., would have to pay a duty of 6d.per lb. As it is quite certain that there will be an early revision of the sugar duties (from the avowed dissatisfaction of Brazil, and other foreign and domestic causes we have not time to specify), we would urge on our merchants to take early measures to secure justice to China as respects this very important article, which should become one of our staples, for we see no reason why the crude and refined sugars of China and neighbouring countries should not be brought to Hong Kong and thence reshipped to England and other countries.He had been delighted with the termination of hostilities. The nation was now at peace; the right hon. Baronet had enjoyed the noble privilege of having brought the war to a conclusion. This was the time to consider the internal condition of the country, and it was impossible for Parliament to refuse to decide this important question. He saw evils increasing everywhere, yet still he nourished hope that a day-star was arising; and that day-star was free-trade. Let our markets be extended, our ports opened, and we should find many willing to deal with us. But if it was determined to 646 pursue the selfish and sinister policy which had already created so much suffering, and would create more, then he could only look into futurity with a despairing spirit, and anticipate for this great country a downfal as rapid as its rise had been.
Mr. S. Wortley
said, that he should have abstained from taking any share in the debate, feeling how completely every topic and statement that could bear on the question had been exhausted, but he should not have wished to have his silence construed into any doubt of the existence of the distress which had been so often described. He should be sorry, representing as he did a large portion of the population who were suffering from the existence of that distress, to allow any inference to be drawn that he did not concur in the statements that had been made. At the same time, he would not have it thought that he was in any degree afraid of meeting the question raised as to the cause of that distress. But if he had had no other reason for presenting himself to the House, he should have done so to remark on the speech of the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down. Till that speech was made, he must say, in justice to hon. Gentlemen opposite, the debate had maintained a tone at once creditable to the speakers, and worthy of the great and important subject they were now called on to discuss. But the hon. and learned Gentleman had thought fit. to adopt a different tone; he had imitated the inflammatory language so common out of doors; he had pointed to Gentlemen on that side of the House as being actuated by selfish motives, and had told them they were revelling in luxury at the expense of people who were pining in distress. He took upon himself, in the name of the Gentlemen by whom he was surrounded, to reject and deny those imputations. The hon. and learned Member might talk of the diatribes of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, but he should be glad to know whether the hon. and learned Member had not been more inflammatory in his language. The hon. Gentleman had recited to them a most melancholy series of cases of distress and suffering; and he did not mean to dispute the extent and intensity of the national distress; but when the hon. Gentleman went so far as to tell them that he believed the Corn-laws were daily causing the deaths of hundreds of our fellow-creatures, he should say to the hon. 647 Gentleman in reply, that if that were the case, he knew not on what possible ground he could refrain from censuring the course taken by many hon. Gentlemen on his own side. There were many Members on the other side of the House who merely sought to effect a change in the constitution of the Corn-laws, and to dispense with the sliding-scale, but who had no thought whatever of abandoning a fixed duty upon foreign corn. If the restrictions upon the importation of food were daily causing the deaths of hundreds, he should be glad to know what possible justification there existed for any other course than that of a repeal of the Corn-laws, immediate and total. He would only ask the hon. Gentleman to turn to the hon. Member for Belfast, who had stated last night with a candour which did him credit, that although he believed the Corn-laws had a part in the distress of the country they were not the only cause of that distress, and that in his opinion the wiser course would be not to abolish them at once, but by a gradual process. But whatever might be the wisedom of such a course, he would take upon himself to say, that it would be wholly indefensible if the hon. Member for Bolton were right in asserting that the continuance of the Corn-laws was the cause of death and starvation. But the truth was, that that assertion was founded upon the assumption that the Corn-laws were the sole cause of the national distress. Now he was prepared altogether to dispute that position. He believed no such thing, nor did he believe that if the Corn-laws were repealed to-morrow, that repeal would have the effect in removing the distress of the country, which the hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine. Hon, Members opposite had told the House that the importation of corn should be free, and a small portion of them appeared to advocate the abolition of all protection to the British agriculturist. Now, there could be no doubt that if the importation of foreign corn took place in large quantities, the price of corn in this country would be reduced. Upon that point, there could be no difference of opinion, and the only question was whether, if prices were thus to be reduced, the change might not give rise to evils as great as those which it was intended to remedy. It appeared to him that, in arguing the subject, hon. Gentlemen opposite had confined exclusively their sympathies to that portion of our population which had no share in the cultivation of land. They 648 seemed, when contemplating the masses at present in distress, to forget that about two-thirds of the population of this country were dependent for support, not upon manufactures, but upon agriculture. He believed, he was not over-stating the proportion when he alleged such to be the fact. The hon. Member for Sheffield seemed to think but indifferently of the home market; but a great authority, namely, a well-known circular from an association of some of the first firms in Liverpool, which he held in his hand, declared that "the value and extent of national exports afford but faint indications, and are no certain test of national prosperity, but that a healthy state of the home trade contributes in a far greater degree to invigorate commerce, imparting more confidence and stability to the manufacturing interest." In deciding questions of this kind, they were not to be guided by abstract rules, but by the actual circumstances of the country. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite had affected not to understand what had been said by his right hon. Friend, the First Lord of the Treasury, in answer to the question whether he would touch the existing Corn-law. His right hon. Friend had said, that he had passed that Corn-law in the belief that it was best calculated to the state of the question in this country, and that he should oppose any alteration until he should be convinced that the law was not applicable to the state of the commerce of the country, but at the same time he would not bind himself against any alteration of that law at all times, and under all circumstances. That was what his right hon. Friend had said in distinct terms, and no man who had heard could fail to understand the words. Admitting, as he he did, the distress which existed, why should he oppose the motion of the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland? He did so, because he did not see that the proposal of the noble Lord answered the proposed end. Committees of this kind were often moved for, but with little hope of the motion being carried, and he believed if the noble Lord were to obtain his motion, he would actually be embarrassed by his own success, and be at a loss how to carry out his own proposition. The hon. Member for Sheffield had attributed the distress that prevailed in the town he represented to the refusal of this country to take corn from America. But what were the facts? The total value of cutlery and 649 hardware exported from this country, in 1835 and 1836—years of remarkable American prosperity—was 4,104,356l. The portion of that exported to the United States was no less than 2,296, 903l. declared value. In 1839 and 1840, the total value exported was 3,177,658l., and the proportion of that sent to the United States was 1,183,705l. So that in the first of these periods, the exports to the United States amounted to considerably more, and in the second to not much less than one-half of this whole branch of trade. Now, the hon. Member for Sheffield would have the House believe that the depression of this trade was owing to the Corn-laws. But facts proved that the deficiency arose from causes which were palpable and notorious on the other side of the Atlantic, as shown in the account of the state of the country given by its own chief magistrate. He believed that the losses of individuals, in consequence of the stale of affairs in the United States might be estimated at hundreds of thousands of pounds, and it would be far more reasonable to attribute the depression to such causes than to indulge in mere speculative assertions that the Sheffield trade was depressed, because we did not take American corn. It had lately been the fashion to question the reality of over-trading. But looking to the returns of the prosperous years of 1835 and 1836, it was impossible to contend that the enormous fluctuations were not to be attributed to the undue stimulation of over-trading. The hon. Member for Stockport had not latterly chosen to attribute any of the distress to the conduct of the local banks, although no longer since than in the year 1840, he had given evidence before the committee on banks of issue, that joint-stock banks were the proximate causes of much of the evil; and having given that evidence, how could that hon. Member stand up in his place and ascribe all the evils that existed to the operation of the Corn-laws. This would show that the depression and distress under which the country was suffering had at former periods been attributed by the opponents of the Corn-laws themselves to causes very different from that to which those laws could possibly give rise. For his own part he believed that the distress was, in a great measure to be attributed to the very extraordinary falling off which had of late years taken place in the consumption of our manufactured articles in the United States of America, and to the in 650 terruption of our trade with China and Portugal. In discussing the cause of the national distress, or rather in discussing that which, although not ostensibly, was virtually the real question at issue in the debate—the Corn-laws — the House ought not to discuss it as a mere party question—ought not to discuss it in the light of what was called "class-legislation." It was a question that ought to be considered and discussed, not with reference to one class or another class, but with reference to the prosperity and happiness of the great mass of the people. When he said this, if he had the misfortune to differ from the hon. Member for Bolton, he yet took upon himself to demand that he should have credit for honest intentions. He did not admit the imputations which the hon. Member for Bolton cast upon him and those who thought with him. He acted in this case from an honest conviction, whether right or wrong, that if the Corn-laws were repealed to-morrow, distress would be created in other quarters not less severe than that which all were now compelled to deplore. He could not but think that her Majesty's Government had taken the proper course. They had addressed themselves to those points upon which they thought the external trade of the country might be improved by the removal of restrictions, and by the extension of our commercial relations with other countries—they had effected what relaxations they thought could safely be adopted in the Corn-laws, and he remained firmly convinced, in spite of all he had heard from the hon. Gentleman opposite, that if her Majesty's Government continued to pursue that course they would do far more to remove the distress under which our fellow countrymen were labouring than that House could possibly do, if it were to adopt the motion of the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland.
§ Mr. Wallace
conceived that the real question before the House was the deep unmitigated distress, not of one class only, but of all the trading and manufacturing classes of the community. He would not be led away from the consideration of that question by embarking in any discussion of the Corn-laws. Since the 1st of July last, when he brought forward a motion similar to that now under the consideration of the House, the distress of the country had considerably increased, and was still increasing. Nearly the whole mass of the community, in the great manufacturing 651 and trading towns were unemployed; and although it was true that a momentary impulse had been given to trade and commerce, by the cessation of hostilities in China, the depression, within the last month, had returned with increased weight, and assumed a character of greater hopelessness. The distress was not limited to the manufacturing districts, but had spread to towns in which manufacturers were hardly known. In the town which he represented the deepest distress pervaded all classes. Yet in that town, with a population of 40,000 persons, a power-loom had not yet been introduced; except, indeed, a very few of inferior power, exclusively applied to the linen manufacture. In Edinburgh, also, the capital of Scotland, the residence of the nobility and gentry, and the seat of the municipal law courts, the distress was so great that the woods and forests had been recommended to advance money to employ the unemployed artizans in various kinds of labour, to which they were wholly unaccustomed. He abstained from saying anything about the unfortunate town of Paisley, because her Majesty's Government had already directed an inquiry to be made into the causes of the deep distress which prevailed in that town. He believed that good would result from a general inquiry into the distress, which he said to be almost universal. In that part of the kingdom with which he was connected, a new trade of a very distressing character had of late made its appearance— the trade of begging; a trade which, if not directly authorised by the magistrates, was at any rate winked at by them. Going through the streets of the town which he represented—a town once famous for the prosperity and independence of its artizans—the passenger would now see numerous groups of active, able-bodied young men, from the ages of eighteen to forty-five, standing at the corners of the streets and lanes, ready to ask charity. Such was the change which pinching want had produced in the character and feelings of men who never could stop to ask charity before; and in a country where it was thought exceedingly discreditable to be in any way dependent for subsistence upon alms or parochial aid. The number of unemployed persons in Greenock was very great. From the report of the relief committee, it appeared that the number of families now upon their list amounted to 1,119, and consisted of 4,654 individuals. From another docu- 652 ment it appeared that the number of able-bodied workmen out of employ on the 14th of January last, was 5,639, being nearly 1,000 more than the number of persons deriving aid from the relief fund. Another proof of the destitution that prevailed in Greenock might be found in the increase of the parochial poor. Last year the number of parochial poor amounted to 2,061, and the assessment for their relief was not less than 5,844l. But at the general meeting for determining upon the assessment for the relief of the ordinary parochial poor for the ensuing year, it was thought necessary to vote 1,200l. in addition to the 5,844l. Greenock was a town that traded with the whole world. No stronger proof, therefore, could be afforded of the distress under which it was suffering, than in the decline of its shipping interest. It appeared that, out of eight shipping establishments, which, two years ago, were in full operation, and afforded employment to 2,000 persons, five had become insolvent, and the remaining three were only able to give employment to 600 or 700 hands. In the shipping yards the decline was equally conspicuous. Most of the vessels were for sale, and no new ones were in the course of building. In 1840 the shipping in the course of building, at Greenock, amounted to 1,500 tons. At the present moment there was only one steam-vessel building. All the other branches of industry and trade were in a corresponding state of depression, and without the slightest symptom of improvement. Among the many subjects which he had been solicited to consider, the one which had engaged particularly his attention was that of the state of Glasgow. With respect to that city, he had received the following statement:—Wages generally have declined: male cotton spinners, who in 1840 were receiving on an average 1l 7s 9d. per week, have been reduced, in 1840, to 16s. 7d per week; power-loom weavers, who in 1840 were receiving 8s. 1½d per week, are now reduced to 6s 10¼d Masons' wages, which in 1840 were 22s. 6d are now down to 17s. and 18s. per week. A similar fall has taken place with nearly every description of tradesmen. A considerable number of vessels are lying unemployed at Glasgow, and the other ports on the Clyde. The shipping trade generally has been most unprofitable during the last year or two. Seamen's wages have been reduced from 3l. to 2l. per month within the last twelve months. The revenue of the port of Glasgow, which, in the financial year ending in 1841, was in round numbers 48,000l., was, in the year 1842, reduced to 40,000l.—a falling off that is mainly 653 to be attributed to the depressed state of trade. There are about 3,400 unemployed, but capable of working, in Glasgow. There are twelve spinning and weaving factories not now working. In Glasgow and the suburban districts the amount assessed for poor-rates for the year 1840-1, was 23,077l.; ditto, 1841-2, 28,505l.; ditto, 1842-3, 31,521l. It appears by the last report of the inspector of prisons, dated June, 1842, that the number of prisoners confined within the gaol of Glasgow was at that period 560, and the inspector remarks, ' The number is considerably greater than it was last year, and yet greater than the year before, which the governor attributes chiefly to the continued bad state of trade.'In a subsequent part of the same report, the inspector says,—I have on several occasions had to speak of people who are in this prison, not as offenders undergoing imprisonment, but either as persons whose periods of confinement having expired, had applied for permission to remain until they had earned money enough to buy clothing, or till they could procure employment, or who, being in a state of destitution, had applied for admission. Except those engaged in washing and cooking, and a few others, these prisoners are placed in separate cells, like ordinary prisoners, and all of them receive the same plain food—are expected to perform the same quantity of work, and to rise at the same early hour as the other prisoners, and, in short, are subjected to the same discipline, including, of course, the total loss of personal freedom. Nevertheless, owing to the present state of distress, there are at present no fewer than fifty such prisoners, consisting almost entirely of females, and there would probably be more if there were room for more.Still further on, the inspector alludes to the circumstance of individuals committing crimes merely that they might obtain the shelter of the prison, and he remarks,—The fact that a considerable number of persons are found willing to place themselves under the severe discipline of a prison, argues a state of want and privation in a portion of the community, calling loudly for inquiry.The amount of disease has been less this year than for several years. The applications to the benevolent societies are very greatly on the increase. The number of students attending mechanics' institutions are much the same for several years, but latterly the subscriptions for their support have been falling off. Upwards of thirty emigration societies have been formed in Glasgow within the last year, twenty-eight of which are now united together, numbering 3,354 souls; but there is no expectation of raising sufficient funds, un- 654 less aid is afforded by Government. Public begging has increased to an alarming degree within the last year. Captain Johnstone, harbour-master, is of opinion that the present state of the shipping at the Bromielaw is not worse than last year. The shipping trade was then unprecedentedly dull, and it continues so. At present, he states the number of vessels waiting freights at the Bromielaw to be about 24, averaging from 80 to 150 tons burthen. The trade between Liverpool and Glasgow also appears to be in a backward condition. Last year there were five, and occasionally six steamers plying between the two ports, this year there are only three, and the freight of goods has been raised 1d. per foot by the different companies. Mr. Muir, of the tonnage-office, has kindly supplied the annexed information of the imports and exports of Glasgow—
COALS. 1841. Exports 193,619 tons. 1842. Exports 163,777 Decrease 29,842 PIG IRON. 1841. Exports 89,489 tons, 1842. Exports 78,314 Decrease 11,175 CORN AND FLOUR. 1841. Imports 92,684 1842. Imports 66,298 Decrease 26,386 COTTON. 1841. Imports 19,150 bales. 1842. Imports 11,188 Decrease 7,962
manager of the Clyde Shipping Company, states that such is the depression with them, that only about the one-half of their vessels are at present employed.Glasgow Distress— Jan. 21, 1843. The parish officers are busy in the suburban districts, examining and transferring vagrants to their respective parishes. Glancing at a long list of cases lying before us, in which every necessary particular is stated, we find a goodly number from Ireland, but the majority belongs to this country, their ages varying from nine years to ninety-two; again, in hovels situated in closes and winds, the distress reached such an alarming height that, in the absence of all other public aid to prevent death from starvation, the directors of the Night Asylum, with a generosity worthy of imitation, have come forward and supplied four hundred daily rations of bread and soup to the most necessitous 655 cases, placing the tickets in the hands of the city missionaries, as those best acquainted with the extremity of distress. Benevolent ladies and gentlemen have supplied about another hundred tickets, and thus five hundred rations are now daily issued The City and Gorbals Police have been collecting clothes and money this week; and though this collection is not attended with the success of former years, still, of clothes there is a fair supply accumulating for distribution. But by far the most interesting class of sufferers, and those most calculated to make an impression on the thoughtful, is that of our unemployed and consequently distressed operatives, At a recent meeting, it was calculated that they amounted to nearly 3,000 individuals, for whom no relief whatever has been provided. Nor is there a relief fund or committee at the present time in existence in Glasgow? To show that this does not arise from imported distress, or is confined to the manufacturing trade, we may mention that the number of unemployed is thus subdivided; engineers, smiths, moulders, and boiler-makers, 500; labourers, 000; plasterers, 40; masons and joiners, 900; carpenters, 200; power-loom dressers, 90; dyers, 200; slaters and plumbers, 50; cotton carders, 50; calico printers, 50; quarriers, 300; bakers, 100; painters, 150; calenderers, 50; weavers, 500; tailors, 350. Need we add more to shame the public of Glasgow into systematic exertion, and the Legislature, on its first sitting, into serious consideration?He understood that nothing speculative was now undertaken; and that which many denounced as an evil, he considered an important benefit. He saw great advantage in speculation, provided it were not carried on with other people's money; and it was a bad feature in the present times, that no spirit of enterprise of that kind was apparent in any part of the kingdom. Another point to which he had not adverted last Session was, that there existed no rising generation in trade. Those who had no money had no prospect of advancing in the world, and those who had money took special care to keep it, and, having mounted to the top of the ladder, made no scruple to kick down all who endeavoured to follow them. There were, therefore, no young traders coming forward to take the place of those who were retiring. It was observable, also, that the most fashionable shops in the most fashionable streets of London were now full of ticketed goods, and the aristocratic part of the town resembled in this respect the remoter quarters and by-ways of the metropolis. Shopkeepers as well as bankers were in dismay, and nobody knew how 656 to apply capital to the smallest profit. He wished to direct the attention of the House to the state of the shipping interest of Liverpool. The number of vessels on which dock dues were paid in
Thus it appeared that there was a great increase of vessels lying in the docks of Liverpool without employment. With regard to the construction of ships in the same port, it appeared that
1839 15,445 vessels 2,158,691 tons. 1840 15,998 vessels 2,445,708 tons 1841 16,108 vessels 2,425,461 tons 1842 16,450 vessels 2,423,519 tonsIn 1839,1840,1841, the building in Liverpool was considerable; in 1842, few vessels were built; and at present there are not more than three upon the stocks. North American vessels, which were sold in 1840 10l. 10s. per ton, were sold in 1842 at 6l. per ton; and those which sold at 8.l. 10s in 1840, were sold in 1842 at 3l. 10s. 4l per ton.Another correspondent, under the recent date of February 1, gave the subsequent statement: —On the 16th of December, 1842, 22,868 tons of shipping were on sale in the docks at Liverpool. The statement made is undoubtedly underrated, as it only contains the ships actually on the market for sale at that time. Could owners get anything like cost prices, the number of ships offered for sale would be greatly increased. The number was fifty-three ships, which gave the above number of tons.Another correspondent says,The whole of the past year has been one of severe loss and disappointment to the shipowner. Freights, both in the East Indies and America, have been depressed below all previous experience, and the utmost difficulty has been found in procuring employment for vessels on even saving terms, while seeking ships have, in most cases, sunk money. That under such circumstances, the sales of ships have been few, and at rates far below their cost; and that many not actually broomed for sale have lain idle in dock for months together, is only what might naturally be expected. The news from China gave slight impulse to the demand for vessels, and a few sales were effected, and higher prices asked, but I believe not obtained, and this slight relief appears to be passing away.He could assure the House that there existed a feeling abroad in the country, such as he had never known before: he had mixed much with the people, more perhaps than any other hon. Member, for during the two years and a half that the Reform Bill was in progress, he had often put himself in the midst of immense masses of people, 657 and had been the first Scotch Member of the Birmingham Political Union. He was, therefore, well acquainted with the wishes and dispositions of the people, although since he had been a Member of Parliament his intercourse had not been carried to the same extent. He could, therefore, bear witness that there prevailed a general distrust of the Legislature—or a want of confidence arising not merely from distress, but from the reluctance of the House to inquire into the causes. It was possible that Ministers, having the power to institute an inquiry, had availed themselves of it, and had obtained information on the subject; but, certainly, if such were the fact, the people knew nothing of it, and they naturally doubted it, and they considered that there interests were neglected. The refusal of the present motion would much tend to confirm the low estimate entertained of the Legislature out of doors. The last document to which he was anxious to call the attention of the House was a letter which appeared in the Morning Chronicle, a few days ago, addressed to the President of the Board of Trade, respecting the, commissioner's report on the sanatory condition of certain towns in the country, and the disease and immorality prevailing in them. He was not prepared to believe that they existed to such a frightful extent, until he read the report. The statement had, been printed in that influential and widely-circulated paper the Morning Chronicle, and after reading it, he felt that other parts of the kingdom besides London had a right to expect that something should be done for them. Immense sums of money had been expended upon drainage and ventilation in the metropolis, and the benefit ought not to be confined to one place only. [" An hon. Member: The money laid out in Loudon is to be repaid.''] Such might be the case, but it seemed to him doubtful, when the money was once laid out, whether it would ever be got back again. Let this be as it might, the same advantage ought to be given to other places in which destitution, disease, and demoralization were equally prevalent. The facts were of such a nature that he should be ashamed to read the details to the House, though he gave great praise to the editor for inserting them in the newspaper. Hon. Gentlemen opposite being Conservatives, perhaps, did not read the Morning Chronicle, but be had brought it with him to the House that he might not be deficient in evidence should it be re- 658 quired. He thanked the House for having listended to him so patiently, and assured it that it had not been his wish to say anything needlessly painful or injurious to any party. He had merely done what he considered his duty, and he trusted that the facts he had adduced would have due influence upon those who heard them.
§ Mr. Escott
said, that the hon. Member who had just sat down had truly stated that the question for the House to consider was, how, as the Representatives of the people of England, they were to find work, employment and remunerative labour for the distressed portion of the population. But had any hon. Member stated how by adopting the motion of the noble Lord, they were to find remunerative labour for the people or one particle of relief for their distress? If he thought that such would be the effect of the motion he would scorn party on such a question, and support it. The existence of some distress was admitted on both sides of the House. He agreed with the noble Lord that the distress ought to be remedied; but he had listened in vain to the noble Lord and those who followed him, for the proposal of any practical remedy for that distress. The noble Lord disclaimed party motives in bringing forward this motion, but when he saw that one possessed of the great ability of the noble Lord, brought forward a motion of this kind, without offering any practical remedy, one was compelled to look about him not for the motives but for the reasons of the noble Lord in making his motion. They were told that, if they refused this motion, it would be a refusal to inquire into the distress of the country. He would tell the noble Lord before he sat down why they refused this inquiry, and he wished the country to know what was the real question before them. The real question before them was, whether they would consent to go into a discussion of the question of the Corn-laws, with the Speaker in the Chair, or with the Chairman of the committees of Ways and Means. That was this mighty question propounded to the House by the noble Lord for the relief of the people. It was not for a select committee to inquire into particular distress. The noble Lord very plausibly staled, that the object of his motion was inquiry, and that it would be time enough to propose a remedy when they entered on the inquiry. But if the noble Lord had not a party object in bringing forward his motion, it was 659 very remarkable that the noble Lord had abstained from alluding to two particular points, either of which would have lessened the minority whom he expected to support him on this question. Now, how stood the facts? If the noble Lord had avowed himself as the advocate of a fixed duty on corn, he would not receive the support of those hon. and consistent men who sat behind him, and who considered a fixed duty to be a fixed injustice, and if, on the other hand, he avowed himself the advocate of a total abolition of all protection whatsoever, he would lose the support of the noble Lord the Member for London, who was the avowed advocate of a fixed duty; and he would also lose the support of that section of the Whig party who were favourable to a fixed duty. So that in either case, had the noble Lord made such an avowal, he would find himself in a minority, miserable in point of numbers, however honourable in point of character it might be. But that which the noble Lord had wisely omitted had been supplied by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton. An hon. Gentleman whom he saw in his place had lately gone on a tour to enlighten the country on the subject of the Corn-laws, and in a town which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchere) represented, that individual delivered a lecture on the Corn-laws. In consequence of this a number of the in habitants of the town of Taunton, which the right hon. Gentleman opposite represented, sent to their Members a memorial, stating their desire that they would support what, a fixed duty? No, but a repeal of the Corn-laws, and of the taxes on all articles which formed part of the subsistence of the people. The right hon. Gentleman returned them an answer to this effect. That, however desirous he was to support a modification of those taxes, be was not prepared to vote for the total abolition of those duties—that the immense amount of revenue at least 10,000,000l., which would thereby be sacrificed, would alone deter him from pledging himself to support any such total repeal, besides which, he feared the effect it would have on the money and landed interests both at home and in our colonies. The right hon. Gentleman further stated that he was opposed to the sliding-scale, because it was condemned both by reason and experience; and he believed that, in the existing circumstances of the country, a moderate 660 fixed duty would be the best solution of this momentous question." Thus spoke the right hon. Gentleman, a good specimen of a moderate Whig. But, before this question could be solved, it would be necessary for the noble Lord and his friends to solve another, and the object of the present motion was to gain time, until they could agree on what that moderate fixed duty should be, that would be most likely to meet the general support of their party. He knew that the opinion in favour of a fixed duty was a strong one; but what was the fact? In the last Session of Parliament that House had entered into a patient examination of the question of the Corn-laws; and after much consideration they had decided upon a new system. The measure which they had carried had received the deliberate sanction of the other House of Parliament. It had become the law, and now in breathless haste a party came under the flimsy guise of the noble Lord's motion, and asked them to repeal the bill of last Session. He asked that House, having last year decided that question, did it become the Legislature of a great commercial country, and least of all of a country in a state of distress, to turn about and say to all the great interests of the country that all that had been settled would be unsettled, and that all those interests would be thrown into confusion— in the lottery of Legislation—not because what they had done in the last Session was bad, but that something that might be done now might posssibly be better. Was that a course which Parliament should be called upon to take? The present debate, so far as it involved a contemplated change in the Corn-laws, had been carried on in a remarkable manner. The noble Lord who introduced this motion seemed chary of even pronouncing the words "Corn-laws;" he was, at least, certain that he had never spoken of the Corn-law of last Session as the cause of the distress of the country; he thought he had never even mentioned a Corn-law. The noble Lord talked of the restrictions of importation, and of the expediency of abolishing those restrictions; and every hon. Member who followed him acted in part, though with less of discretion, on the noble Lord's example. It was a pity that those who thought a repeal of the Corn-laws a remedy for the distress of the country omitted to point out how it was to operate as a remedy. If there was anything which an alteration in the Corn-law 661 could effect they must suppose that its great benefit would be in cheapening the necessaries of life. Unless this was the effect expected from its alteration, he did not see why the hon. Members for Bolton, Greenock, and even the noble Lord himself", had put forward such detailed statements of distress from want of food. Well then, if cheapening the food of the people by an alteration of the Corn-law was to relieve the distress, how did it happen that whilst the price of provisions had decreased one-third since last year, the amount of distress has increased one third. But the hon. Member for Sheffield had told the House that now, with cheapened commodities, distress was increased; and yet, if the motion of the noble Lord meant anything, it was an attack on the measures of the last Session. He granted to the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that there was some slight foundation for the triumphant cry which they were raising that many of the friends of her Majesty's Government were dissatisfied with those measures. But he would tell those friends of the Government who were so dissatisfied, that they had better repress that dissatisfaction until better arguments were shewn for its existence than those which had been used by the hon. Member for Knaresborough. He could not help telling that hon. Member, when he spoke of the reduced price of agricultural produce, and the consequences of the Ministerial measures, that he had not forgotten the voice which was raised in the House last Session in praise of those measures, fraught with a message from the working-classes of the North of England, which message ran, if he mistook not, in some such words as these, "God bless Sir Robert Peel for cheapening oatmeal." If it was right last Session to invoke a blessing on the Minister for cheapening oatmeal, it surely was not right now to find fault with the Minister for the intended effect of those same measures. There were circumstances in the state of the country last year which would have made it a breach of duty on the part of the Government not to take some steps to relieve the trade and commerce of the country, and to cheapen the necessaries of life. Believing in that necessity, he had voted for the measures of last year, and he believed any dissatisfaction that was felt existed more out of the House than in the House. This was what the hon. Gentlemen opposite calculated upon. They 662 thought that before another general election the dissatisfaction of the agricultural interest, the objections that might be felt to the Income-tax, and other circumstances fostering discontent, would enable them once more to obtain a majority in that House. He could not see, however, at the present moment that there was the least chance of that expectation being fulfilled, certainly the prospect was anything but flattering for them. If the necessity existed, and the trade of the country required that something should be done to stimulate it, and to cheapen the necessaries of life, the agriculturists were not so foolish and shortsighted as to believe that their interest could be permanently injured by any measures which operated as a benefit to the whole community. These were truisms in politics. He believed they had been acted upon. He had stated that opinion in places where it was not likely to be so well received as in that House, and it had met the concurrence of men of all parties—for it was felt by honourable men that the interests of all parties should be consulted on such a question, and the agriculturists knew they could not prosper unless trade was thriving, and trade could not thrive unless the interests of agriculture were maintained. There was no probability that extreme opinions would prevail on this question. He had believed, that the arrangements of last Session had been a practical application of these principles to the state of the country; as such he had supported it. He admitted, that some were dissatisfied—. when would that not be so? Much as he respected his hon. Friend, the Member for Wallingford, and all who maintained the uniformity of their opinions in difficult times, the object nearest his heart, and which should be the guide of his public life, would be to vote for that which he believed to be for the benefit of the country. It might be called courage to stand by existing systems, but there was another courage which a man anxious for the benefit of the country must exercise, and that was not to be afraid of any imputations which might be cast upon him, to be afraid of nothing but doing wrong. He had a word to say to some hon. Members opposite. Those who opposed a change in the Corn-law were described as standing between the people and their daily bread, and as preventing the working classes from reaping the fruits of their honest labours. He did not concur with 663 those who accused hon. Members with the worst designs and intentions in using that language, but he begged those who did use it to consider the consequences of pursuing such a course. He remembered an observation which had been made by a noble Lord, once a Prime Minister of this country, in a debate on the Roman Catholic Association. It was stated, in reference to some language that had been made use of, that however strong those opinions or expressions might be, in point of fact they were the safety valves of the constitution. The noble Lord (Lord Melbourne) replied, that instead of the safety valve he considered them to be the boilers which generated the steam. He did not accuse those hon. Gentlemen of wishing to excite men to violence and crime, but let him caution them of the effect that the use of strong and violent language was calculated to produce, and let him add, that men must be held answerable for the natural consequences of their own words and actions. In that House, where their excellent education and character was known, such language was comparatively harmless; but it was not so when in large assemblies of the people, those who resisted the repeal of the Corn-laws were described as standing between the people and their daily bread. Would they tell the people of this country that nothing had been done, when it was an admitted fact that relief had been afforded to the extent of a third in the prices of provisions of all sorts? Was it nothing to the working man to get three loaves instead of two? It was untrue to say, that nothing had been done for the country. It had been complained on the other side of the House, and in some parts of the country, that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had not stated whether or not he meant to go any further in removing restrictions, or abide by the present law. All he (Mr. Escott) could say was, if he could conceive it possible for any person in the position of Prime Minister of this country to utter anything so foolish as a pledge to abide by all the provisions of a particular measure— and above all, of a Corn-law — he was one whom he would never consent to trust as the leader of the great constitutional party of England. But he was also of opinion, that it would be quite as great a folly, on the other hand, to unsettle in one Session of Parliament a law that had been solemnly settled in the preceding Session; 664 and he could not conceive how it could enter into the mind of any reasonable man to believe such an intention was ever entertained by the right hon. Baronet for a single moment, or that he could be caught in so clumsy a snare. He admitted, that the country was in a state of considerable difficulty, but he believed also that the measures of the last Session had a strong tendency to relieve the distress that was acknowledged to exist, and, therefore, he should oppose the motion of the noble Lord. He should oppose it for the sake of the people who were less attached to party than to common sense, and who, whether agricultural or commercial, disliked extreme opinions and violent councils, and who never would follow men who, while they aggravated all that was evil, had no intelligible remedy for its cure.
§ Mr. C. Wood
expressed his surprise that, after the admissions and statements which had been made by several hon. Member in proof of the general nature of the distress, two hon. Gentlemen, the Members for the county of Durham, and Shrewsbury, should have ventured to assert that it was but local. If the motion of his noble Friend rested merely upon local distress, he (Mr. C Wood) would agree at once that there were no sufficient grounds for it; but the admission on both sides of the House, offered a convincing proof that the distress was general as well as most severe. It had been already admitted to exist in Sheffield, in Nottingham, in Ireland, in Scotland, and in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and all doubt on the subject was dissipated by the statements which had been made on the subject. In fact, the distress was more general and more severe than had ever been remembered by the oldest inhabitants of the country. In Leeds, for instance, the capital of the domestic woollen cloth manufacture, it appeared that the distress of the people had more than trebled in the short space of two years. This was shown by the number of paupers relieved in that township on each of these periods. There were relieved in 1840, 3,400 persons; 1841, 7,300; 1842, 14,800. In the adjoining township of Holbeck, the poor-rates were doubled within the same period of three years. For instance, they were in 1840, 1,900l.; 1842, 3,800l. In another township adjacent to Leeds, a similar increase had taken place, the poor-rate being in 1839, 900l.; 1840, 1,400l.; 665 1841, 1,700l.; 1842, 2,100l. While in a township at a distance from it, the number of paupers had kept pace with the increase in the poor-rates, there being relieved in 1840, 1,000 persons; 1842, 2,000. He (Mr. C. Wood) could furnish the House with many other statements to the same effect, referring to other places in the same district; but they would, no doubt, be brought forward by other hon. Members for the same division of the county. Whence did this increase of pauperism in Leeds arise? From the loss of capital, the want of employment, and the diminished means of paying wages. In the last four years no less than ninety-four firms had become insolvent in Leeds, and their liabilities amounted to 1,500,000l., and what dividend did the House suppose had been paid upon that sum? The dividend did not exceed 5s. in the pound. In one trade alone the sum paid for wages was less than that paid when the people were in full employment by no less an amount than 430,000l. Thus it was manifest that the means of employing the people were diminished; and the consequence was, distress and misery among the labouring population, starvation and death. The accounts from the superintendent registrar of that district showed that there had been an increase of mortality to no less an amount than 3 per cent. in two years. The number of marriages had decreased. The number of births had decreased; but he grieved to say, that the illegitimate births had increased. This was the state of the largest town in the West Riding of Yorkshire; and the distress in Lancashire was even greater. They had the authority of the noble Lord behind him (Lord Worsley) that it had extended to the agricultural population of Lincolnshire. He believed it was as great in parts of Devonshire. He felt he was warranted in asserting the suffering of the people was general and severe, such as had never before existed from one end of the kingdom to the other; and in the midst of such a state of things the Government stated that they were prepared to do nothing. The right hon. the Vice-President of the Board of Trade had quarrelled with the form of the present motion; but he (Mr. C. Wood) contended that the motion was perfectly in conformity with Parliamentary precedent. The hon. Member for North Durham, and the hon. Member who had just sat down, had en- 666 deavoured to treat the present motion as a vote of want of confidence—as a party motion. His noble Friend had not brought forward the motion with such views; and had he entertained them, a more legitimate mode of giving expression to them would have been by proposing a committee on the state of the nation. If the Vice-President of the Board of Trade wanted authority for such a course, he would refer him to his Colleague, the Paymaster of the Forces. A state of circumstances similar to the present state of the country, but not near so severe, existed in 1830, when allusion was made in the Speech from the Throne, to the distress under which part of the country was suffering. The right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster of the Forces (Sir E. Knatch-bull) then thought it incumbent upon him to bring the subject distinctly before the House, by an amendment to the Address, expressing the opinion of the House that the distress was general, and that the House would take it into consideration. He (Mr. C. Wood) voted for that motion, and the right hon. Gentleman was not prevented from making it by objections to the manner of bringing it forward. The present motion was not open to the same objections. It was neither ungracious to the Sovereign, nor unfair to the Government. It was not until the right hon. Baronet had told them that he could give no hopes whatever of relief, that his noble Friend made this motion; and if the right hon. Baronet had given a contrary assurance, he (Mr. C. Wood) would undertake to say, that the motion would not have been made by his noble Friend. But though the objections in form were removed, the substance which justified the course adopted in 1830 remained the same; and he called upon the House by assenting to the motion of his noble Friend, to assure the country, as the right hon. Baronet opposite would have done in 1830, that "their earnest endeavours should be directed to relieve the country from its present difficulties." It was objected that his noble Friend made no specific propositions. It was not the duly of his noble Friend to do so. It was to the Government, with the means of getting full information at their disposal, that the House and the country had a right to look for a specific proposition. It was enough for an independent Member, or for the House, to indicate a 667 general course of policy, and urge that upon the Government. That was done in the present case. They did not ask for a committee of inquiry, to hear evidence of distress, as some hon. Gentlemen seemed to suppose. The object of the motion was to express the opinion of the House, that the course adopted by the Government of doing nothing was wrong, and this ought to be done in general terms. If ever there was an occasion on which such a course was justifiable, it was the present. No difference existed on the subject of the existence of the distress, nor did any exist on the remedies to be applied to it. He (Mr. C. Wood) only-called on the hon. Gentlemen opposite to carry their own principles into practice, and to execute their own explicitly avowed intentions without any further delay. The Member for the West Riding talked of the home demand, but it was not to the want of a home demand as far as the agricultural population were concerned, that the distress of the manufacturing districts was traceable; for that demand had been as great as ever it was for the last four years, inasmuch as during that time the prices of agricultural produce had been higher than there was reason to expect they would be again. It was, therefore, to the failure of the foreign demand for our manufactures that this distress was clearly attributable. The only measure of relief which it was in the power of the Legislature to apply was to remove the restrictions and the fetters which shackled our foreign trade, and which prevented the importation of foreign produce, restrictions which had been imposed by the ignorance and prejudice of former ages, but which might now be allowed to give place to more enlightened views of policy. It was upon the principle which involved this course of proceeding that the Government had acted during the last Session, and the same principle had been now again avowed by the right hon. Baronet and by the Vice-President of the Board of Trade who had spoken on a former evening. The latter right hon. Gentleman had distinctly said, that the object of the Government was to increase the means of employment for the poor, by cheapening the prices of the articles of consumption, and by encouraging our foreign trade, by affording new means of exchange, and so augmenting the export trade of this country. He agreed in the 668 importance of these objects; but he complained that the principles which had been last year avowed by the Government had not been adequately carried out. The advantages of the tariff had been adverted to by some hon. Members, but he thought that that could not be said to be an adequate measure of relief. It was quite right as far as it went, but did not do enough. The customs produced about 20,000,000l. of revenue per annum; and, by referring to the provisions of the Tariff Act, it would be seen that there were twelve great articles producing no less than 17,000,000l. of this which had been left untouched. But the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the question of timber: no doubt that was an important article of trade; but he must say that, in his view, one great advantage which was to be gained from dealing with this article was an increase of revenue, which might have been gained, and not that loss of revenue to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. That loss of revenue was one which he thought the Government would have cause to repent. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that the effect of the measure which had been adopted was to increase the price of timber. He would not now inquire how far that was true; he believed that it would be found to be incorrect: but the assertion had gone forth to the country that a loss of revenue had been incurred, that the consumer had not been benefited, and that the whole amount of revenue which this country had lost had been put into the pockets of the producers. There were various other articles on which a reduction of the duty would have been far better than on those selected. Wool, for instance, the staple of the Leeds manufacturer. Last year, the importation of foreign wool, the principal material wrought in that town, fell off very considerably. In 1841, the number of bags of wool imported being 62,000, while, in 1842, there were no more than 47,000. He would not enter into a discussion of the old question of the sugar duties; but he thought that no one could doubt that if two years ago the duty on sugar had been reduced, and the importation of that article increased, the country would now have been reaping the benefit of an enlarged demand for our productions in the improved condition, and the greater 669 comfort of the people. He believed there was no article of which the consumption might be so much extended, and with so much advantage, not only to the material comfort, but to the moral condition of the people, as sugar. It was not, however, his intention to detain the House with specific proposals; his object was to urge the Government to carry out its own principles, to which he had heard no objection till towards the latter part of the speech of the Vice-President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman there called on his noble Friend (Lord Howick) for a demonstrative proof of the principle that removal of restrictions on trade caused it to increase. He asked, if they were "without knowledge, upon speculation, to assume that increase of trade which the noble Lord presumed, but which he had not attempted to demonstrate," what proof did the right hon. Gentleman require? The most conclusive answer to that demand would be found in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself. Her Majesty's Government reduced the duties on certain articles of trade last year. Did they do it as an experiment, or was it done from a conviction that it would increase trade, and, thereby, benefit the country? If the latter, as they must admit, why object to the further application of the principle? What ground then had they for opposing the motion of his noble Friend, and the objects he had in view in making it? The Government asserted the success of their experiment of last year, in reducing the duties on imported articles. The Vice-President of the Board of Trade had enumerated several articles of which an increase of import had taken place, oak-bark, olive-oil, turpentine, indigo, &c.; and he distinctly attributed this increase to the effect of the tariff, for he said that "the dimunition of duties made last year had had the effect of stimulating labour, and the application of capital to the trade in the articles to which the diminution applied." He (Mr. Wood) took the right hon. Gentleman's own statement, and he asked if demonstration could go further than this; and what justification the Government had when they now turned round and repudiated not alone their own doctrines but their own statements. The hon. Member for Winchester, and the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, had by their speeches turned the principal part of 670 the discussion to the question of the Corn-laws. This certainly was the most important question of all, for none could more materially affect the welfare of the larger class of the nation, for whose benefit he held the House were bound especially to legislate. The import of other articles might affect their comforts, but corn and bread were the commodities upon which their lives depended. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were but little aware of the extent to which the consumption of com was affected by its price. Towards the end of the last Session of Parliament he had moved for a return of the quantity of wheat sold in six large market towns for the eight months preceding the middle of June last, and he (Mr. C. Wood) thought the House would be surprised at the extraordinary difference in the quantity sold at different periods in those towns. He had moved for the return to be made at the intervals of three years, viz. for 1836, for 1839, and fur 1842. The towns from which the returns were made were Leeds, Wakefield, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and Nottingham. From the returns he found that in 1836 the average price of wheat was 49s. 7d per quarter, and the quantity sold was 16,000 quarters. In 1839 the average price had risen to 70s. 7d per quarter, and the quantity sold in that year fell to 7,600 quarters. In 1842 the average price was 61s. 11d per quarter, and the quantity sold was 12,500 quarters. Now, if this was any test of the consumption by the people in those neighbourhoods, or of the quantity of bread consumed by them, he asked hon. Gentlemen opposite to reflect upon, and to consider what must have been the state of misery inflicted upon that population when not less than one half their daily bread was taken from them—for between the years 1836 and 1839 the diminution in the quantity of wheat consumed was more than one-half, as the return to which he referred most clearly showed. When they reflected upon the amount of suffering and misery inflicted upon the population by the increase of the price of corn, the first necessary of life, no feeling of self-interest ought to impede hon. Gentlemen in giving full weight to the arguments de rived from these considerations. He believed, however, that in affecting an alteration in the law in this respect, the interests of the agricultural interests would not suffer; for he was sure that their 671 interests were mixed up with the prosperity or suffering of the manufacturing classes. To what but to the distress of the manufacturing population could the present low prices of agricultural produce be attributed? No doubt, the fall in the price of wheat was owing to the concurrence of an early harvest and the operation of the sliding-scale; but the continued low price both of wheat and of meat must be attributed to the prevalence of distress. The price of meat was indeed a better test than that of corn: and it was impossible to attribute to the insignificant importation of cattle which had taken place the low price of butchers' meat. He believed that the Tariff Act had had no effect on the price of corn or meat, and he should like to hear from the right hon. Baronet opposite a solution of the proposition which he had laid down last year, and which he had now repeated, that the amount which was taken away by the Income-tax from the pockets of the people would be more than returned by the effects of the altered system of Customs' duties. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade did not agree in this proposition, for he had said that he could not attribute to the tariff' more than slight effects upon the price of corn and other commodities. If that were so—if, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, no more than a slight effect had been produced upon the prices of those commodities, he (Mr. C. Wood) should be happy at least to know whether the right hon. the Vice-President of the Board of Trade and the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury disagreed upon this subject? or bow it was that the right hon. Baronet could contend that what he took out of one pocket in the shape of direct taxation, he put into the other by a diminution in the prices of commodities of general consumption. But there was another effect which the distress amongst manufacturers had produced upon the agricultural districts, an effect of which gentlemen of the north of England were more sensible than those of the south, and it arose from the amount of labour thrown back upon the rural districts in consequence of the impossibility of employing it in the manufacturing districts, though there these labourers had been in the habit of obtaining their livelihood for years. This evil went to an extent of which he was sure many hon. Members were not aware. Now, he found that in 672 Leeds alone the number of families put under orders of removal in 1840 amounted to 100; in 1841, to 137; and in 1842, to 313; and thus, taking the ordinary calculations of five persons to each family, it appeared that in the last year no less than 1,500 paupers had been put under orders of removal, and thrown back upon the rural parishes where they had settlements, though probably they had been employed in Leeds for a long series of years. He would just make another statement on the point, from Settle, in Yorkshire. The Settle Union consisted of thirty parishes, twenty-one of which were agricultural. In that union in the year 1841 there were 832 paupers altogether. In 1842 that number had increased to 1,637, being an increase of 805, and out of that 805 no less than 299 persons had been sent back to the rural parishes from the manufacturing districts. Now, he (Mr. C. Wood) must say, that these removals formed a considerable addition to the burthens of the rural parishes, which already had a large surplus of labour. He believed there was no single thing by which agriculture was so much benefited as by the prosperity of the manufacturing industry of the country, for, after all, the manufacturers were the customers who bought that which the agriculturists produced, and upon their means to purchase depended the price which agriculture obtained for its produce. He believed that it was essential for the improvement of trade that the Corn-laws should be altered, and the increased prosperity which that alteration would give to manufactures would confer more benefit to the agricultural interests than any injury they could possibly suffer from the change in the law. At the same time, he felt bound to say that he did not attribute that exclusive importance to an alteration of the Corn-laws which was attributed to it by some persons. Looking at the imports of corn for the last four or five years, he must say that he did not know, under any probable alteration of the Corn-law, that the exports could be considerably increased. During the last five years there had been imported on the average 2,000,000 quarters of wheat. It was hardly possible to suppose that with such an amount of import the country must not have exported manufactured goods in return to the value of 4,000,000l. per annum. But what would be the effect of any check being given to so large an 673 importation of corn, and consequent exportation of our manufactures? It could not but be most disastrous in the present state of trade, and he thought it an object of the greatest importance to render the importation of corn regular, to make the trade certain, and the prices steady. Nor was this of less importance to the farmer than to the consumer. He believed the country suffered most from the fluctuations in price which were inseparable from the sliding-scale. Under the amended bill of the right hon. Baronet, the price of wheat had varied from 64s 7d at the end of July, to 46s. 10d. before the middle of December. But the House and the country had been told to expect a steady price at about 56s.—certainly never below 54s., nor above 58s. This was the result of the sliding-scale. The effect of that scale was, that all the corn came in contemporaneously with the harvest. It had been so for the last five years. In 1838,the whole quantity of wheat imported was 1,728,000 quarters, of which 1,480,000 came in during the months of August and September; in 1839, a year of great scarcity, 779,000 out of 2,500,000 for the whole year; in 1840, 1,390,000 out of 2,000,000; in 1841, 1,970,000 out of 2,450,000 were entered in those two months. In 1842, this usual course was not altered by the act of last Session. From the passing of the act to the end of August, 2,450,000 quarters were entered, of which nearly 2,000,000 came in during four consecutive weeks in August. The price of wheat was thus unduly enhanced in spring and as unnaturally depressed in autumn. These considerations were effecting a change in the opinions of the agriculturists. He had hardly conversed with a single intelligent farmer in his own neighbourhood who was not of opinion that a fixed duty would be better than the present law; and he believed that not only in the north of England but in Scotland the opinion was extending in favour of a reasonable moderate, and even a small fixed duty, as being best calculated to benefit agriculture no less than manufactures. He was not now going to argue further the question of fixed duty or sliding-scale; but if there were any one point on which an opinion was growing amongst all classes of the people, and on which a compromise might be effected, and a settlement made between opposing parties, it was on the principle of a fixed duty. He knew that ex- 674 treme parties on both sides might be opposed to it, but amongst moderate men on both sides opinion was in its favour. He might refer to the declaration of the hon. Member for Nottingham who at one time had represented an agricultural county, and who now represented a commercial community, and who had stated, as the result of his experience and information— opportunities of obtaining which, perhaps, he had, which others did not possess—that the public opinion of this country was fast coming to such a compromise as that for the benefit of all parties. He believed that a fixed duty would be for the interest of both parties— that a steady price to one, and a certain trade to the other, were advantages which both sides were not induced to underrate. He had heard, therefore, with the deepest regret the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, the only steady opinion he seemed to entertain on the Corn-laws, that he was opposed, as before, to a fixed duty; because he (Mr. Wood) believed on that principle the only possible compromise could be effected, and that the effect of his statement was to postpone anything like a settlement. The Government had completely shaken the ground on which the old Corn-law rested, and had left the corn trade in the slate of uncertainty in which it was at present. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that the Corn-law of last year was the best that he could devise, but he made a similar declaration three years ago, with respect to the former law. He said he would not change it this year, but would pledge himself to no part of it; the Vice-President of the Board of Trade said, it was unsound in principle if now to be adopted for the first time; that its defence rested on its having existed so long, that this was a good temporary answer; and as to the time of change, he referred us to "the revolution of ages and circumstances," could anything be more vague or uncertain, and he (Mr. Wood) believed, that this state of things was calculated to prevent an outlay of capital on land, and interfered with any arrangements that might be entered into between landlords and tenants for the improvement of cultivation. He feared that the same evil effects of turning capital from the land would tend to turn labour out of employ, and the same misery would be produced as was exibited in the manufacturing districts. Nor was this uncertainty 675 confined to the corn trade. In an article which was attributed to the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, and not denied by him, it was stated, that the same principles which were adopted in the tariff of last year must be applied to cheese, to butter, to sugar, and other articles as soon as the revenue would enable the Government to deal with them. The result of the delay in dealing with them as well as the corn question, was the present stagnation of trade, a strong proof of which was the state of the money market, when no one could find profitable means of embarking his capital, and when money could be procured almost for asking for it. Could it be for a moment doubted that this was a state of things most detrimental to the interests of the country? It was impossible that the country could be allowed to remain in its present state without incuring the greatest evils. He considered that it was the bounden duty of the Government to bring forward the only measures which even in their own opinion could tend to relieve the present distress. The object of his noble Friend's motion, then, being such as he had described, he trusted that the House, by the decision that it would come to on it, would compel the Government to proceed in that course which he believed was not only essentially necessary for the existence of our trade and manufactures, but even for the agricultural interest itself. They did too much last year to allow them now to stand still, and far too little to produce any extensive benefit to the country.
§ Sir James Graham
Sir, I listened with great pleasure and attention to the admirable speech addressed to the House by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Winchester, and I was more particularly struck with the latter portion of it, in which my hon. and learned Friend appealed with earnestness to the opposite side of the House for a clear and distinct statement of what is the real object of the motion we are now discussing. When, therefore, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax rose to address the House, I thought that if there was any Member in it, next to the noble Lord himself who introduced the motion, who was most certain to give a full and satisfactory explanation of its object, it was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax. But though I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's 676 speech with great attention, I remain still doubtful and perfectly unsatisfied with respect to the object which is really desired. I thought, when the noble Lord gave notice of his motion, considering that he has been long versed in public affairs, that he possesses an hereditary knowledge of the proceedings and usage of Parliament, more perhaps than any Gentleman whom I am now addressing,— when I recollected the noble Lord's experience and practice, and observed him with all the authority of his name and station, I thought I say, that the noble Lord intended, and it would have been a perfectly legitimate intention on his part, to make a direct attack on the existence of the Administration, and that it would be viewed as a great party motion. I still remain in some doubt, after the speech of the hon. Member for Halifax, whether my original conception was not accurate. I thought that the proposition of the noble Lord was equivalent to a motion on the state of the nation. But the hon. Member for Halifax says that the motion has no such object. Now what said the hon. Member for Greenock? He said he thought inquiry necessary; all idea of a party movement he disclaimed, and stated that if the motion was not to lead to an inquiry into the distress of the country, he would vote with my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government. I ask the hon. Member for Greenock, after having heard from the hon. Member for Halifax that this is not intended as a motion of enquiry, and that it would be an absurdity if it were—I ask the hon. Member for Greenock, always true to his word, whether he can hesitate as to the vote he should give. I see sitting next the hon. Member for Greenock, the hon. Member for Belfast, who addressed the House last night with so much ability and self possession, and whom I congratulate sincerely on the talent he displayed in addressing the House for the first time—that hon. Member, unacquainted as he is with the atmosphere of this House, might believe by a stretch of credulity, that the noble Lord, one among the leaders of a great party, in bringing forward a motion for the purpose of inquiry, really did intend to inquire into something. The hon. Member has now heard it stated that no such intention is entertained; he probably was somewhat surprised by the frankness of that declaration; but still having as- 677 certained that this is not a motion for inquiry, and all party objects being at the same time disclaimed, I hope the hon. Member will, together with the hon. Member for Greenock, give his support to the Government on the present occasion. I think the hon. Member for Belfast expressed great anxiety that the Government should proceed in the course which they entered upon last Session. I hope the hon. Member will allow me to ask him whether he does not think there is some little prudence in pausing? What would the hon. Member say if the Government, advancing in the course which they took last Session, in diminishing the duty on the importation of corn, should propose to allow the free importation of foreign oats into Ireland, and to extend either the Income-tax or the assessed taxes to that country? The hon. Member for Halifax, having stated that this is neither a motion for inquiry into distress, nor a motion on the state of the nation, hesitatingly described it as a motion intended to indicate something which the opposite side of the House wishes to be done. To prove that this motion has no party object, and that it only refers to the general distress, he likened it to a motion made by my right hon. Friend, the Paymaster of the Forces in 1830. Why, if ever there was a party motion made in this House, it was the motion brought forward by my right hon. Friend in 1830. I well remember it, and I rather think that I had the pleasure of voting on that occasion, with the noble Lord, the Member for Tiverton, in support of the motion. The avowed purpose of the motion was to upset the administration, which at the time ruled the destinies of the country. Mr. Brougham and Lord Althorp, and a portion of the opposition, clearly perceiving the nature of the motion, and that it involved the fate of the administration, and not being at that time disposed to overthrow the Government, voted against the motion, and I think the noble Lord, the Member for Sunderland, also voted against it. [Lord Howich: I voted for the motion.] I thought the noble Lord either voted against the motion, or abstained from voting at all; but, however, I am sure that I voted for it, and I am equally sure that the noble Lord, the Member for Tiverton, voted for it also in the spirit of opposition which I have stated. We did not then conceal our purpose, we stated frankly, and distinctly, 678 what was our object; and, I say, with all possible respect, that a party so powerful as that I see opposite ought not, in the present state of the country,—in a moment of great excitement and distress—to bring forward a motion of this important description in such a manner—and with so much hesitation, that on the third night of its discussion, it is hardly clear what is the object of the dull debate, whichDrags its slow length along,The doubt and uncertainty which prevails on this subject, ceases to be a matter of surprise, when we consider the different motives which influence hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, who from the various opinions they express, seem unable to make intelligible to the House and to the country, what, in this great juncture of affairs they really have in view. The hon. Member for Sheffield, in addressing the House, regretted the indefinite nature of the motion, and said, "I have mental reservations of my own, and it is only in that way that I can support the motion," I will now pass to some other observations which have fallen from the hon. Member for Halifax. I feel deeply the responsibility under which I address the House, and I should be much grieved, if inadvertently one word should fall from me that could exasperate the bitterness of feeling that not unnaturally exists among large classes of my fellow subjects, who have suffered deep distress for a great length of time. The hon. Member for Halifax has asserted in the first place that the distress is general. I conclude, that the hon. Member means to apply that observation to the manufacturing districts of the country. But, the hon. Member went on to say, that the distress was not only general but unexampled. Far be it from me, by any thing I may say, to lead the House or the country to believe that I have the least doubt that distress, severe, unmitigated, and of long duration, has afflicted a large portion of the manufacturing districts; but, at the same time, as was truly observed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, in a case of this description when we are deliberating on the substantial interests of a great community, exaggeration ought to be particularly avoided, and I do not think it desirable, that in the presence of the civilized world we, the representatives of Great Britain, should hold the language of despondency. I 679 admit that a large falling off in the declared value of exports is a symptom, in a commercial country, that ought to command the anxious attention of Government; but, let us consider what is the falling off in the declared value of exports to which the hon. Member adverted in support of his statement, that the distress was unexampled. The right hon. Gentleman, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, must bear in mind that, in the period of 1837-8, there was a great falling off in the declared value of exports; they fell from 46,000,000l. to 36,000,000l., being a decrease of 10,000,000l. in one year, a larger defalcation than was ever known before or since in so short a period. But in the year immediately following, 1833-9, there was a rise of 7,000,000l. in the value of exports, almost equivalent to the previous falling off. In the present year the deficiency in the value of exports, compared with last year, amounts only to 4,000,000l. Not content with asserting that the existing distress is unexampled, the hon. Member for Halifax proceeded to state that, it has been marked by famine and by death in the most alarming and appalling degree. I will try the question of mortality. I happen to have before me an authentic document, namely, the quarterly table of mortality made up to the end of 1842, which affords me the means of instituting a comparison between the autumn quarter of the last year, and that of the average of the corresponding period in the four preceding years. It being admitted on all hands, that exaggeration on this subject ought to be avoided, I trust that, after the statement made by the hon. Member for Halifax, the House will allow me to read the comparison I have made of the mortality, at the different periods I have mentioned, in certain manufacturing towns. It appears that the number of deaths in Wolverhampton in the autumn of 1842 was 414, while the average number for the corresponding quarters of the four previous years was 515. The difference on a like comparison in the case of Blackburn was 359 to 474; Wigan 334 to 459; Ashton 1,066 to 1,124; Sheffield, which has been so much dwelt upon, 456 to 674; Huddersfield 444 to 516; in Leeds, another place spoken of as presenting an appalling picture of misery, the number of deaths was 982 last autumn, while the average of 680 the four preceding autumns was 1,159. The contrast with regard to Hull was 257 to 326; Sunderland 293 to 381; Newcastle 392 to 516; Liverpool 1,724 to 2,022. But I will not trouble the House by going through all the other towns which I have on my list; I will state generally that there was as considerable a diminution in the mortality of other manufacturing places—Dudley, Birmingham, Stockport, Macclesfield, Preston, Sheffield, Rochdale, Bury, Salford, Bradford, York, Gateshead, Carlisle, and Kendall. In the metropolis the mortality of the autumn of 1842 was 11,631; and the average of the four previous autumns, 11,861; not, certainly, a very great difference. But what is more striking and more completely demonstrative that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his statements is, that the aggregate number of deaths in 114 districts was 39,368 last autumn, while the average mortality of the four antecedent autumns was 42,003. [An hon. Member: You forget that the population goes on increasing.] Of course it does; but that circumstance tells in favour of my argument; for I show that with an increase of population there has been an actual decrease of mortality. The hon. Member for Halifax informed the House that certain persons in the West Riding of Yorkshire had paid only 5s. in the pound on debts contracted within a short period. I do not dispute the fact; but my belief is, that among the many concurrent causes of our present difficulties, none has operated more fatally than the prevalence of an unsound system of credit combined with the stimulus given to the increase of the use of machinery,— not machinery created by capital, the product of industry, or the accumulation of past success in trade, but machinery springing up from advances on false credit imprudently and improvidently given to persons not entitled to it, who now are in the condition, stated by the hon. Member, of being unable, when they wind up their concerns, to pay more than 5s. in the pound. I have a statement here which perhaps the House will permit me to use for the purpose of illustrating this point. I know well that there is no part of the United Kingdom in which the derangement of the monetary affairs of America has produced such fatal effects as in Sheffield, and the other commercial towns connected with the hardware trade. Not 681 only has the demand for the manufactured article been suddenly withdrawn; but the debts due on the account current have been repudiated, and dependence on the United States either for demand or for payment is now demonstrated at Sheffield to be a losing game. The House, perhaps, may do me the honour to remember that I laid before it, at an early period of last Session, the report of Mr. Horner, the inspector of factories in the cotton districts; I am about to present that gentleman's annual report, and I will read from it Mr. Horner's comparative view of the mills out of employ in 1841, contrasted with those out of employ in 1842, and also of the mills working short time in 1841,contrasted with those working short time at the close of 1842. In the year 1841 there were out of employ 138 mills in Mr. Horner's district, which comprehends the greater portion of Lancashire, and a portion of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Those 138 mills comprised a horse-power of 3,397, and were calculated to give employment to 16,774 persons. In the corresponding period of 1842 there were out of employ only 96 mills with a horse-power of 2,691, and requiring 12,064 person. Therefore in the year 1842, as compared with 1841, of those mills in employ there had been an increase of 42 mills, of nearly 1,000 horse-power, and giving employment to not fewer than 4,710 persons. The facts with regard to short time work were still more extraordinary. Towards the end of the year 1842 there were in that district only 61 mills on short time, having 2,609 horse-power, and employing but partially 11,469 persons. That was to say there were 78 mills, with horse power of 3,192, and giving employment to 16,295 persons, working full time in 1842, as contrasted with the 139 mills of the corresponding period of 1841. But this comparative view is not the whole of the case to which I wish to call the attention of the House. I said that the effect of fictitious credit has not yet died away. It is asserted on the other side that there is a decline in the demand for our staple manufacturing productions, and yet in the face of that decline there has been a decrease in the number of mills out of employment, and 682 mills working short time. I will now state a still more remarkable fact, namely, that in the course of the last twelve months, in the district to which I am referring, 47 new mills have come into operation, with a horse-power of 1,398, and giving employment to 3,524 persons. The general result of these various operations is, that in the year 1842, as compared with 1841, there has been a large increase of the power of machinery in the cotton district, a considerable addition to the number of hands employed; and no less than 47 "new concerns" with fresh capital applied to manufacture have been brought into active operation. The hon. Member for Greenock abstained from mentioning the case of Paisley, I have frequently admitted that there has been no exaggeration in the statements made by the hon. Member with respect to the distress existing at Paisley. That distress has been appalling and of long duration, and never until now have I ventured to express a hope that any abatement of the distress had begun to be felt. I think that on the present occasion, I am justified in the reading to the House part of a letter which I have this day received from the Sheriffs of the county of Renfrew, containing some information which is furnished by Mr. Campbell, the Sheriff depute in Paisley, who, I am sure, the hon. Member for Greenock will acknowledge to be a competent authority,Employment continues to increase here, but very gradually, and the tranquillity of the town continues undisturbed. For each of the three weeks ending the 7th current the numbers upon our relief list stood at 9,678, 8,88.5, and 8,031, showing a decrease in each of 558, 793, and 854 persons.This is satisfactory, as showing that in Paisley itself there is a more active demand for labour; but I derive additional gratification from perceiving the quarter from which the demand proceeds. The hon. Member for Greenock talked of Glasgow; now the latter goes on to say,Our measures for procuring employment from Glasgow have done good; and I understand that all our first class weavers, or nearly all, are now engaged.I have said on more occasions than one hat the case of Paisley appeared to me almost desperate; but to-night, for the first time, upon grounds on which I can rely, I have the satisfaction of stating that 683 I see the glimmering of hope of improvement, even in that district. The hon. Member for Halifax, commenting on a declaration said to have been made on this side of the House, and using the customary language of Gentlemen on the opposite benches, said the time has arrived when it is necessary to do "something." The vagueness of that "something" is most perplexing. We are assured that this debate is not intended to be a struggle with respect to the Corn-laws; that is reserved for the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, who, to give effect to the consistent opinion which he has always frankly avowed, means to propose the total and immediate abolition of the protecting duly. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton has, however, been warned from the benches immediately below him, that to his motion he must not look for support from that quarter. A fixed duly has again been talked of, but the hon. Member for Halifax appears, I think, to have united the principle of the sliding-scale in a mysterious manner with the fixed duty, for he began with a moderate fixed duty, and then went on to a small fixed duty. [' No, no, reasonable."] I find I was about to destroy the climax. The hon. Member began with a "moderate" fixed duty; he went on to a "reasonable" fixed duty, and slided down at last to a "small" fixed duty. [Mr. C. Wood: You have not correctly stated what I said.] I should be sorry to enter into a dispute with the hon. Member if he disclaims the words I attributed to him; but really I never felt more certain of any thing in my life than that the hon. Member declared, that for a moderate, reasonable, and small fixed duty, he was prepared to vote. [Mr. C. Wood: "No, no."] Well, I will not dispute the point. It is clear, however, that even with respect to a moderate, reasonable, or small fixed duty, the hon. Gentleman has not made up his mind. Even to that extent the leaders of the party opposite are not prepared to pledge themselves. The hon. Member for Halifax said, that the tariff passed last Session is a most inadequate measure. That has been the language of several Members on the opposite side of the House, and, indeed, I think the hon. Member for Sheffield spoke of it as a miserable pittance of commercial reform. I am bound to say, however, that other Members on the op- 684 posite benches have formed a more fair estimate of the real merits of that measure, and have done my right hon. Friend greater justice with respect to it. They have said that it is not only a step in the right direction, but a larger and important one, and necessarily leading to great results. I may be wrong, but I very much doubt whether any example can be found in the commercial history of this or any other country of so great a change being made in an entire tariff in so short a time. By the measure which some hon. Members attempt to depreciate prohibitory duties, with hardly a single exception, were abolished and swept away. Then with respect to raw produce; the duties upon articles of raw produce, speaking generally, were reduced to 5 per cent. The duty on half manufactured articles was reduced to a maximum of 10 per cent., and that on manufactured articles to a maximum varying from 15 to 20 per cent. The colonial system also, underwent a material alteration, and foreign products can now be imported from the colonies at a duty varying from 4 to 7 per cent, and, in addition, the export duties were abolished upon all articles; even machinery is now allowed to be exported duty free. [Lord Howick: Not upon coal.] I see that the coal duty is still rankling in the mind of the noble Lord. The duty on coal was retained for purely fiscal reasons, and my right hon. Friend, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, has demonstrated that the measure has been attended with complete success, as a measure of finance, without at all injuriously affecting the export of coal. The debate in the hands of hon. Gentlemen opposite naturally glides into the favourite budget of 1841, and the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Halifax referred to the timber duties, and took up the argument urged by the right hon. Member for Taunton on a former night. The right hon. Member for Taunton attempted to establish something like inconsistency on our part, with respect to the timber duties, and, in the distress of his case, being somewhat pressed by the observations of the hon. Member for Dumfries, he said, "Let the late Government be tried both by its language and conduct during the time it held office." As to language, I know not to what the right hon. Gentleman particularly referred, except he wished those hon. Members opposite who call for the total repeal of the 685 Corn-laws to remember the declaration of Lord Melbourne, that of all the conceptions that could enter into the mind of man, in his opinion the most mad was that of the total repeal of the Corn-laws. Or did the right hon. Gentleman refer to the amicable explanation which we are to expect between the noble Lord, the Member for London, and the hon. Member for Stockport, who charged the noble Lord with being a monopolist because he refused to assent to the repeal of the Corn-laws? Upon this point, by-the-bye, we may infer, that both the noble Member for London and Lord Melbourne steadily adhere to the opinions they have expressed, that a repeal of the Corn-laws is a proposition which is inadmissible, inasmuch as they have within the last six weeks expressed in writing their disapprobation of the object of the Anti-Corn-law League. So much with respect to language, but now as regards acts. The right hon. Gentleman was a Member of an administration which held power for nearly eleven years, and instead of referring to any acts which could prove their readiness to give effect to the principles of free-trade, he had recourse to the threadbare topic of the timber duties. He attempted to establish the proposition, that the failure of a former Government's measure relative to the timber duties, was the result of a combination of Gentlemen who now sit on this side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman must allow me to recall to his recollection what was the proposal of Lord Althorpe relative to the timber duties. Lord Althorpe's first proposition with respect to the timber duties in 1831 was not in favour of the consumer, but for the purpose of raising a larger revenue; his Lordship proposed to augment the duty on colonial timber from, I think, 10s. to 20s. a load, and to make a small reduction—namely, from 55s. to 50s. on Baltic timber. That proposition underwent discussion; no division whatever took place on it, but the Government of Earl Grey felt the proposition to be so utterly untenable, that they voluntarily abandoned it, and a proposition was subsequently brought forward, of a character more resembling that which the present Government has introduced. This second proposition included no increase of duty on colonial timber, but it proposed no reduction of this duty, and in other respects it did not go the length of 686 the measure which it has been the good fortune of the present Government to carry through the House. With reference to this point, I may, perhaps, be allowed to offer some explanation of what fell from my right hon. Friend, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, which has been misunderstood by the hon. Member for Halifax. The hon. Member said, that my right hon. Friend had declared, that the effect of the measure adopted by Parliament last Session, with respect to the timber duties, had been to increase the price of the article to the consumer. No misapprehension could be more gross. At the time we introduced the measure, the importation of timber was ruinous to the importer; the trade was in a declining condition and must have fallen. The effect of the measure passed last Session has been to restore a profit to the British shipowner who is the importer of timber, and so far from the measure having been of no advantage to the consumer, the price of timber has fallen somewhere between 1d and ½d a foot. Thus there has been a restoration of trade, and the benefit has been shared between the importer and the consumer. The hon. Member for Halifax glanced at the sugar duties. It is not my wish to go over ground which has been so often trodden and to so little purpose, but I put it to the House—considering all that has occurred with respect to Portugal relative to the slave-trade—the strong measures adopted by the noble Lord, the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs, hostile measures in time of peace, and the present state of our negotiations with France—if we had opened our trade with Brazil without making some stipulations on the subject of slavery, what would have been the opinion of the whole civilised world with respect to the sincerity of our motives. Would it not be said that whilst we professed a desire to put down the slave-trade we were really actuated by a desire to promote our own interests, and no one would have given us credit for sincere zeal in support of those principles which we had adopted in theory but violated in practice. But even as regards the interest of the consumer it is a fact that at the present moment, contrasted with the time when the budget of the late Government was brought forward, the retail price of sugar has fallen ½d per lb., whilst the stock on hand is increasing, and equals or 687 more than equals the demand. I am very unwilling to trespass unnecessarily on the time of the House, but, although several Gentlemen on the opposite Benches have disclaimed any desire to enter on the subject of the present Corn-law on this occasion, I think I should not discharge my duty if I did not allude to that topic. I heard with great satisfaction the speech of the hon. Member for the county of Durham. We are accustomed to hear all sorts of crimination and recrimination on the subject of free-trade principles—we vainly dispute who are the authors of them, who sustain them, and who desert them. I must say, after all, that these principles themselves are not much contested in this House. They are the principles of common sense and I do not think that in a deliberative assembly the great outline of those principles can be disputed. The time has long gone by when this country can exist as a purely agricultural country. We are a commercial people and while this country remains as she is, the mistress of the seas, she must be the emporium of the commerce of the world. I am quite satisfied that in England agricultural prosperity independent of commercial prosperity cannot long exist. I go further, and I agree with the hon. Member opposite, that with a population increasing so rapidly as does the population of this country—somewhere about 220,000 souls a-year—it is indispensably necessary that extension should be given to the field of commerce, and it appears to me that no party is more deeply interested in this than the landed interest. The tendency of population is always to press on the means of subsistence. The increased population must be fed. To be fed, it must be employed. It can only be employed by the payment of wages. Wages can only be paid out of profits, and profits depend on an effective demand for the products of labour. [An hon. Member on the opposition Benches: Those are my principles.] The hon. Member says they are his principles; they are the principles of every man of common sense. I was not sorry to hear the speech of the noble Lord, the Member for Lincolnshire, who addressed the House last night with the sincerity and frankness which are characteristic of perfect integrity and high honour, and who stated distinctly that whether, owing to the diminished protection accorded to the 688 agricultural interest last year, accompanied by the panic which the measures then adopted created, or whether, owing to the diminished export of the products of manufacturing industry, and the consequent distress and diminished demand for farm produce in the manufacturing districts, distress was not confined merely to Lancashire and Yorkshire, but was approaching the purlieus of agriculture itself. The noble Lord stated, that wages are beginning to fall in the county of Lincoln,— that there is an abatement of the desire to improve land by draining, and that in fact, permanent improvements are suspended. These are the facts which were frankly stated by a competent authority, and the practical lesson to be drawn from them is, that we ought to exercise the utmost caution in our further progress in the course on which we have entered. Some hon. Members opposite, I perceive, scorn and despise the word caution, and those who look only to first principles are very apt to recommend hasty and sudden proceedings, totally regardless of the consequences which may flow from them. Those persons may be perfectly honest and upright in their views, but nevertheless I think we ought to take the utmost care in dealing with an interest which has been so long protected, and to so great an extent as the landed interest, lest by any sudden change we involve the immense population, connected with agriculture, in ruin, an event more fatal and disastrous than the temporary evils which now prevail in the manufacturing districts. Believe me, that in tampering with the landed interest, should you make a false step by introducing any sudden change, and thereby spread distress amongst the labouring classes connected with the cultivation of the soil, there would be Superadded to the distress in the manufacturing districts a general and overwhelming mass of misfortune, poverty and want, and the doom of the country would be sealed. I am anxious in a matter of this importance, that what I wish to state should be accurately and precisely conveyed to the House, and therefore with its permission I will read a short passage which embodies my opinions on this point more clearly than I could hope to express them; but first I must say, that it is contrary to my judgment to set up the home market as against the foreign; or to say, that manufacturers should be discouraged 689 from the fear that the predominance of the landed interest might be supplanted. If we are to draw nice distinctions between manufactures and agriculture, I might quote many high authorities to show that a preference should be given to the latter. Burke, for instance, maintained—" that on the prosperity of the land, the prosperity of the nation must depend, and that the improvement of the soil was the perennial source of national wealth and independence." I might quote, also, the opinion of that most profound of all philosophers of modern times — I mean Dr. Adam Smith. As the passage to which I refer is not a long one, perhaps the House will allow me to read it,—The capital employed in agriculture not only puts into motion a greater quantity of productive labour than any equal capital employed in manufactures, but that in proportion to the quantity of productive labour which it employed, it added a much greater value to the annual produce of the land and labour of the country, to the real wealth and revenue of its inhabitants. Of all the ways," he says, "in which a capital can be employed it is by far the most advantageous to society.I cannot be sure, so rapid is the advance of knowledge in these modern times, whether the opinions of Dr. Adam Smith may not already be called antiquated. [Mr. Wallace: They are antiquated.] So, then, the authority of Adam Smith is already set at nought by hon. Members on the other side, and his opinions are described as being antiquated by the hon. Member for Grenock! The authority I am now about to cite is, however, by no means antiquated; it is new, and therefore it will command the respect of the hon. Member for Greenock, to a greater degree than that of Adam Smith. The author I am about to quote is a keen advocate for the total repeal of the Corn-laws, and so far from his opinions being out of date, the pamphlet from which I am about to read an extract has been printed since the commencement of the present year—indeed within the last fortnight—and is addressed to my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government. Colonel Torrens, the author of this pamphlet, has written the following passage, which conveys my opinion most succinctly and clearly:—In years of average abundance the united kingdom produces a quantity of corn nearly sufficient for home consumption. In such years the importation of a large quantity of foreign 690 produce would displace a large quantity of do mestic produce. What would now become of the agricultural labourers, by whom the displaced domestic produce had been raised? It is self-evident, that the measure which is necessary, in order to relieve the town population from intolerable pressure would throw masses of the rural population upon the parishes for support. Many of the advocates of a total repeal of the Corn-laws argue as if the population of the manufacturing districts constituted the entire population of the kingdom. They view this important question on one side only. They state the truth, but not the whole truth But they close their understanding against the equally indisputable facts, that the immediate effect of free-trade would be to create agricultural distress; and that displacing in the home market homegrown corn by foreign corn would have, in the first instance, the same effect with regard to throwing the agricultural population out of employment, which displacing in the foreign market British goods by foreign goods would have in throwing the manufacturing population out of employment. They fail to see that the country labours under complicated disease, and that the remedy which might alleviate one set of symptoms would aggravate another.I hold this to be most accurately stated and it proves the necessity of the caution which I wish to be observed in dealing with an interest of such vast importance as agriculture. We dealt with the Corn-laws in a decisive manner last Session. Hon. Members opposite have endeavoured to show that the change we made is unimportant, but I contend that our measure has not yet been tested. This, however, we do know, that so far from the ports remaining closed until the price reached the maximum of 73s., nearly 1,500,000 quarters of wheat have been admitted when the price was 65s. on paying a duty of 8s. The hon. Member for Halifax says it is a great disadvantage of the Corn-laws that under it speculators in corn are induced to hold back the supplies until August or September, and then to flood the market. Now, I am satisfied that under no law which could be framed, would you ever be able to prevent speculators from holding back corn till the result of the native harvest should be ascertained. The circumstance complained of arises from no defect in the Corn-laws, but is the natural consequence of the variations in the climates and seasons of different countries, and of the spirit of speculation which ever awaits on a rising market. I have already said, that it appears to me needless to dispute on which 691 side of the House liberal principles of commercial policy most prevail. I repeat that the principles themselves are the principles of common-sense, and are generally admitted; but I conceive it to be the great duty of a Statesman to apply general principles to particular circumstances and the particular circumstances of this country require, in my humble opinion, that an object of great difficulty, but one capable of attainment, should be aimed at, namely, that there should be the greatest possible facilities given for the export of British commodities to foreign markets consistent with the least possible derangement of native industry. I perceive, I think, that the hon. Member for Manchester assents to what I say. [Mr. M. Gibson: No.] Then the hon. Member would proceed, reckless of consequences, to derange every thing. I tell the hon. Member that in my judgment no more fatal error could be committed as regards the real interests of the great community which he represents than a sudden derangement of the home market. I have cited the opinion of Colonel Torrens, but I have one authority more which I think hon. Members opposite will not be inclined to dispute. It is the authority of the great apostle of free-trade—the Coryphœus of modern philosophers—a gentleman who enjoys a European reputation and has lately been admitted a member of the French Institute. Will the House permit me, just to read what Mr. M'Culloch says, on the very point to which I am referring, in the last edition of his work on political economy. [Mr. M. Gibson: Take the first edition.] Antiquated notion! No, you shall have Mr. M'Culloch's new light as it shines forth in his last work, which being modern philosophy, is that you like the best.A population dependent, in so great a degree as that of Great Britain, on the wages of manufacturing labour, is especially liable to be seriously influenced, and to have its interests deeply compromised, not merely by the occurrence of scarcities and pecuniary derangements at home, but also by whatever may affect the sale of its products in those foreign countries to which they are largely exported. It is not to be denied that a large population so situated is in a very perilous position. And yet, critical as is the present condition of society from the vast increase of manufacturing labourers, it would really seem as if we had done little more than enter on this new and hazardous career. At present, notwithstanding the vicissitudes and revulsions that occasionally recur, manufuctures are ex- 692 tending themselves on all sides, and it may be estimated that an addition of above 220,000 individuals is annually made to the population of Great Britain. Perhaps it may, in the end, be found that it was unwise to allow the manufacturing system to gain so great an ascendancy as it has done in this country, and that measures should have been early adopted to check and moderate its growth.Those are Mr. M'Culloch's opinions; now in what follows I cordially concur.At present, however, nothing of this sort can be thought of. Whether for good or for evil, we are now too far advanced to think of retreating. But if we be right in the previous statements, it will appear that the beneficial influence of manufactures depends in a great degree on their being subordinate, in point of extent, to agriculture and other more stable businesses; and there is much reason to fear that their influence is of a decidedly less salutary description when they constitute the paramount interest.These opinions should induce us to observe great caution, and not to proceed in that rapid manner which hon. Gentlemen opposite recommend. I, for one, am clearly of opinion that any great and sudden change in the domestic economy of this country cannot be consistent with the permanent prosperity and happiness of the people. My ideas on the point cannot be better conveyed than in a couplet which, if I mistake not, proceeds from the pen of Dryden,The tampering world is subject to this curse, They physic their disease into a worse.The right hon. Member for Taunton told us, that when a ship was in danger, there could be no objection to a chance passenger taking the helm. But, the right hon. Gentleman forgot that it is necessary previously to dispossess the pilot of the rudder. My right hon. Friend at the head of the Government says, that he is not prepared to abandon the helm. He admits the danger—he sees the labouring clouds on every side, but he is prepared steadily to adhere to his course, and he feels confident, that by so doing, he will bring the ship into safety. The chance passenger wishes to possess himself of the helm, but let him first frankly avow his purpose. Let him tell us by what chart he will steer. Why do not the right hon. Gentlemen take a step which will render apparent whether this their own House of Commons—chosen under their own auspices, is prepared to revoke the decision to which it came fifteen months ago, and 693 to say that my right hon. Friend is no longer worthy of its confidence, and that they are the ministers to be trusted? That would be an intelligible proposition, and a perfectly Parliamentary course. But, if you will not avow that purpose, let me entreat you not to urge the adoption of a motion which, I hope I may say it without offence, is a stroke of your own policy, which was remarkable for its readiness to disturb every thing, and for its impotency to settle or establish any thing. If the House has no confidence in the Government, let it pronounce that opinion. But I believe the House and the country are disposed to take into consideration the difficulties and embarrassments which we have had to encounter since we have been in office, and they will give us credit for what we have done, in circumstances so difficult and so dangerous. It must be admitted that the distresses of the country would have been much aggravated if the price of the necessaries of life had not decreased. I do not claim for the Government credit for the full extent of the reduction: I believe that the bounty of Providence, exhibited in an abundant harvest, after four deficient ones, has done more than all the skill of man could ever have effected. I must, however, say, that the abolition of prohibitory duties on provisions and articles of the first necessity, though it may not immediately have reduced prices, yet has indirectly imposed a salutary check on the rise of prices to an extent which might have been most prejudicial to the consumer. In China we have brought a war which I thought unfortunate in its commencement and dangerous if protracted, to an honourable close. In India we have retrieved great disasters. In Canada we have confirmed the union, and have given contentment to the two provinces, and we have established a Government which enjoys the confidence of a united people. With the United States of America we have made a treaty which has far advanced the settlement of differences which had endangered the peace of two great communities in whose continued amity are involved the best interests of civilization and mankind. In France we have succeeded in soothing the acerbity of feeling which the sudden rupture of friendly relations with that country had unhappily occasioned. And upon the whole I feel perfectly confident that unless we have forfeited the opinion of 694 this House by some act of which I am not conscious, this doubtful motion whic is unworthy of the character and station of him who brought it forward, will be marked with the disapprobation of the House by a decisive and commanding majority.
§ Mr. Wallace
said, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had, doubtless, from his being misunderstood, misrepresented his words. He had distinctly stated, that if the Government would give him an assurance that they would institute an inquiry, he would vote against the motion of the noble Lord. As they had given him no such assurance he should certainly vote for it.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes to twelve o'clock