§ The Order of the Day for the adjourned debate having been read,
§ Mr. Borthwick
said, because on the one hand he would not refuse his support to any party in this House who moved so much as one step towards the amelioration of the condition of the people, and because on the other he would be equally cautious to avoid any mere appearance which, however, it might secure popularity", must leave the evil worse than unhealed—he had ventured even at that late stage of the debate to ask permission to explain the vote he would feel it his duty to give. He had listened with unmixed attention to every sentence uttered on both sides of the House on this important question, and he observed that whatever might he the opinions of successive speakers—and they were as various as their complexions, as to the causes of the distress, as to the distress it self, their reigned the most melancholy unanimity. The admission of the Ministers increased the pain. The noble Lord who commenced the debate, had divided his speech into two propositions—first, that great distress existed, and secondly, that the Legislature might find a remedy for that distress. If the noble Lord had intended to propose any measure for the relief of the distress, and moved for a committee of the whole House, in order to enable him to propose it, surely he ought to have given the House some hint as to the nature of the measure he intended to propose. If, however, he had no measure to propose, then the motion of the noble Lord was tantamount to asking that House to transfer their confidence from those who now conducted the Government to the noble Lord and his friends, and looking back to the events of the last ten years during which the noble Lord's friends had held the reins of power, he certainly was not prepared to give them such confidence. If they went on making change 707 after change, alteration after alteration, they would lose one of the first elements of prosperity,—namely, stability, and the evil that might result would react on the promoters of the change themselves. The noble Lord and his Colleagues had been eleven years in office. During the latter part of that term, the seeds of distress were beginning to develop themselves, and still the late Government left office without having proposed any remedy or any prevention. The noble Lord who had introduced the motion had made a speech, one part of which contradicted the other. He began by indicating his entire approval of the principles of free-trade, and by stating that the time was come when those principles could be no longer denied. Now, one would conclude from that statement that the noble Lord was about to propose the removal of all restrictions on commerce;. but, when he came to that portion which might be denominated the real and practical part of his speech, it appeared that his object was to apply in a restricted sense the principles of free-trade. Nor were the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who supported the noble Lord, by any means unanimous as to the extent to which they desired the application of those principles; for, whilst some would go a certain length, others were anxious to go further; and some who were most desirous for the application of the principles of free-trade to agricultural interests were not so anxious for their application to commerce. He, for one, emphatically and distinctly refused to give his confidence to the noble Lord and the Gentlemen at the opposite side of the House who supported him by voting for the motion, and he did so for the same reasons which induced him to support her Majesty's Government last year. He then supported the Administration in the measures which it introduced, not because he thought they were the best measures which could be proposed, but because he thought they were the best measures, indeed the only measures which had been suggested. He voted for the change in the Corn-laws, not because he thought that no better measure could be introduced, but because it was the only practical measure submitted to the House,—because it was the best measure which was proposed. With regard to the distress of the country, he did not believe that either the agricultural or commercial interest owed its present position to causes connected with legislation, but to other 708 causes, which it would be necessary to remove, in order permanently to ameliorate the condition of the people. Amongst all the complaints which they had heard of distress during the debate, very little had been said of the distress of the agricultural interest, but that distress was deserving of the most earnest attention. And as a proof of the condition in which the agriculturists of the country were, he would mention the case of a farmer who with the rare advantages of abundant capital, joined to the most consummate skill held 800 acres in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, and whose farm produced, every year, an average of 400 quarters of wheat. This gentleman, on account of his large means, can sell when the market is at its best. Now looking at the prices of wheat for this year in the market at Reading, which was the town at which he sold his produce, as compared with the last year, previous to the operation of the change in the Corn-laws, that farmer would experience a loss of no less than four hundred guineas on his 400 quarters of wheat, if he sold them now, though the wheat was of the same quality, in fact was identically the same growth (for he had held it back) as that of last year. He was also an extensive cultivator of barley, and such was the depreciation of the price of that article, that if he sold his barley at the present prices, his loss on the years produce would be 300l., making a loss in one year, as compared with the last year, of 700l on wheat and barley alone. His stock was depreciated in proportion, so that if he were to sell it now, he would lose 1,500l. upon it. He employed 1,000l. upon every 100 acres. That he admitted was high farming; but he had chosen it on that very account, and upon his industry and capital together, he declared it impossible to make 1½ per cent. That was one instance of the depression which the agricultural interest suffered in common with the other interests of the country; but the agricultural interest did not make such complaints as others, although it suffered so much. The agricultural interest had always been characterised by a desire to support Government. That interest had supported the Government last year in the measures which were brought forward, although it did so at a very great sacrifice; but they were willing to bear, in common with others, any burthen that was necessary for the maintenance of the general prosperity. 709 What he would ask in reference to this subject was the conclusion to which one would come from reading the proceedings of the Anti-Corn-law League? Not that the League spoke the language of the people; but that it was the language of agitators who stimulated the people by false representations. The hon. Member for Bolton said in his poetry, that it was in consequence of what he called the bread-tax that famine walked from but to hut; but he (Mr. Borthwick) would say, that such was not the fact; it was not true, that what was called the bread-tax was the cause of the distress which prevailed. If, however, the case were otherwise, and that a repeal of the Corn-laws could produce an effect on that distress, then the question would remain for them to consider what would be the duration, not to speak of the extent, of the distress which would follow to the agricultural interest. He did not speak of farmers and labourers, and landlords alone, in alluding to the distress which might be produced by listening to the doctrines of Gentlemen who were pleased to dream that they had recently discovered what were the principles of free-trade; but he alluded to the distress that would be likely to affect every interest in the country. The principle of buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market was put forward as if it had been a new or a recent discovery; why it was just as important a discovery as that two and two make four; a proposition which had been so gravely announced to the House by the hon. and learned Member for Bolton; that was another discovery. But those principles of exchange were not of new invention, for they had regulated exchanges since the most ancient time; they had regulated exchanges from the first exchange, if ever such took place, of a rose for a lily between Adam and Eve, down to the last exchange of Sheffield cutlery for American corn. In fact, buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market was like two and two make four—a mere truism. The principle was not disputed, and there was no danger that the Government would ever think that two and two make three—the danger was lest at the other side a mistake might be made, not with respect to the number, but to the things numbered, that they should mistake two and two illogical arguments for four sound reasons, or two and two fools for four statesmen. Every one would admit that if one could get cloth of one descrip- 710 tion for a guinea, and cloth of apparently the same description for a shilling, the cloth for the shilling would be nominally the cheapest, but if it were made of what the hon. Member for Knaresborough had described to the House as devil's dust, and was useless, it would not be the cheapest article. In buying in the cheapest market they ought always to consider the locality, for, supposing that the tariff in the country which seemed to afford the cheapest market was such as made it impossible to pay for our purchases in any export but gold, and such a thing might be, then we should buy in nominally the cheapest market, but in reality at, a disadvantage, and in the dearest market. The proximate cause of the distress of our manufacturers was their want of markets, and that was the result of our own diplomatic system, which had closed several important markets against our manufactures. It was our own industrious impolicy which shut them against us, and measures ought to be taken to reopen those markets. And what remedy was proposed? Would the repeal of the Corn-laws, as suggested by hon. Gentlemen opposite, afford a remedy? It would not; and even if it would, even if they were right, it would be more dangerous to grant it than to refuse it. He said so, because it was demanded by an almost illegal body. It was sought to be obtained by threats, and they were told that next winter would not pass off like the last, but that men who had now arms in their mouths would then have them in their hands. Even if this demand were founded in justice, the most dangerous and fatal thing a government could do would be to grant it without first putting down the association which used such threats. He had no faith in the philosophy of hon. Gentlemen opposite, philosophy which, much has they boasted of it, never foresaw the evil. It was loud in its boasts of enlightenment and the march of intellect—but the march of the people's distresses ever overtook its tardy pace. They had partially brought their philosophy to bear, and yet after ten years of reform legislation, this country, with all the mighty elements of prosperity which were slumbering within her, her unbounded wealth—her indomitable enterprise, her matchless skill, was in a state of unexampled depression and severe distress. Wise and patriotic men—of whom one section conducted Administration, and another held the constitutional and scarcely less important functions of unfactious Opposition both—aye, 711 both alike stood at pause to contemplate the fearful, the unnatural picture. Under these circumstances, what could he, and those who like him, owed allegiance to neither party—nor to any section or subdivision within either of them—do? Why what but urge upon them—both to consiner well by what practical measures they could command his vote, and not by idle theory and vague speculation, to trifle with so grave—so awful a question? The noble Viscount who brought forward this motion, said he supposed he should be met with the cuckoo cry of "theory." Well, for his own part, he liked the note of the cuckoo, which at least promised summer, far better than he did the strange chirping of the rare birds on the opposite benches, from the noble Lord's contralto piping against restriction to the lowest tones of those muttered of forthcoming evil and revolution. There was nothing certain, nothing practical, to be extracted from the strange discordant song of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Their theories were at variance with all experience, and really, when great countries like this were suffering under a depression of industry, the most absurd remedy in the world was to ask for a committee merely for the purpose of getting up field days and making long speeches. A remedy might be found if we could open the markets of the world for our produce, but not by the introduction of the produce of other countries to supersede that of our own. It was not by the destruction of the agriculture of this country—it was not by the destruction of its noble peasantry that they would relieve our distresses. But for agriculture this country would not have risen to its present eminence; and but for protection its agriculture would not have flourished. So long as this country had to raise 50,000,000l. of taxes a year, so long an English acre of land would not, so far as national competition went, be equal to an acre of land in France or Poland, protection to agriculture was essential to the pre-eminence of England and to the preservation of its glory, whether that glory resided in agriculture, in commerce, or in that extended empire by means of which we had for so many successive generations exercised the most unbounded influence over the welfare and destinies of mankind.
§ Sir Charles Napier
feared, that after a debate of four nights it would not be in his power to add much to what had been already said, or to offer anything that 712 could have the effect of throwing a stronger or better light upon the subject. It was acknowledged on all hands that the distress of the country at the present time was greater than had ever been known at any former period. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department acknowledged, on the previous evening, that the condition of the people at this moment was worse than it was in the year 1837, when the exports of the country were diminished by not less than 15,000,000l. The causes of the distress, he believed, were not very clear; and he fancied that very few Gentlemen would be able to agree as to what those causes were. The remedies he believed to be still more obscure than the causes; and if they were to continue to speak for a fortnight or a month, he believed it would not be possible for them to come to a satisfactory conclusion. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had puzzled him, on the previous evening, a great deal more than he had ever before been puzzled in his life. The right hon. Baronet said, that looking over the mortality of the autumn of 1842, he found that the mortality during that period had not been so great as the average mortality at the same season in the years 1838–39–40 and 41. Now, he (Sir C. Napier) wished that the right hon. Baronet, instead of confining his review to the autumn, had extended it to the whole year. The House would then have been much better able to understand whether what he stated was correct or not. One fact, at any rate, the right hon. Baronet proved—that if the mortality in 1842 were less, whilst the distress was greater, the necessary conclusion must be, that the more a people were starved the longer they lived. The right hon. Baronet stated that many mills that had not previously been working, were set to work in the year 1842. But, even if that were correct, the right hon. Baronet had discovered another extraordinary fact, that the more the people were employed, the more distress existed in the country. The only glimmering of hope that he could produce was a letter from the sheriff of Paisley, which stated that there was a prospect of amelioration in the condition of the people; and the report of Mr. Horner. But it was a pity that the right hon. Baronet did not refer to the reports from other districts of the country.
§ [Sir J. Graham:
I was speaking of the cotton 713 districts.] Does Mr. Homer represent the whole of them?—[Sir J. Graham; Yes.] Oh, then, I am wrong. Well, the right hon. Baronet went on to say, that all prohibitory duties had been repealed. Now, this was not the case. It was well known that we were at the present moment endeavouring to make a commercial treaty with Portugal. He, when in that country, took a great deal of trouble to inquire what was the state of our relations with Portugal and he found that the general impression of the Portuguese was, that England did not treat them kindly, or even fairly; but that she was trying to drive a hard bargain with them. In 1837, the Septemberists, or revolutionary government, came into power, and they put forward a new tariff, extremely inimical to this country. They admitted that the customs had not gained by it, and that their trade had diminished. It was really painful to see the reduced state of the commerce of that country. The high duties in Portugal bad driven away almost the whole of the Spanish trade to Gibraltar, converting it into a contraband trade, to the great injury of Portugal. The position of the landed interest of Portugal was as bad, if not worse, than that of this country. And what was the cause? They complained of the high duties imposed by England upon the wines of Portugal. Upon some of their most excellent wines a duty of no less than 700 per cent, was imposed on its importation into this country. The duty on port wine was 35l. per pipe—a wine which in Portugal was drunk at the table as familiarly as we, in England, drank small beer—being no less (as he had already said) than 700 per cent.; while, on other wines, the duty was equal to 350 per cent. With these duties existing, was it fair or just to blame the Portuguese government for not making a treaty with us? We complained that they imposed a duty of 100 and 150 per cent, upon our manufactures, while they, on their side, complained that we put a duty of 700 per cent, upon their wine. This was a subject well deserving the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It appeared to him extremely hard that the British public—persons having small properties of 200l. or 300l. a year—should not be able to put upon their table a glass of wine to entertain their friends with. It was perfectly abominable. At present a person of limited 714 income was obliged to drench his stomach and that of his friends with currant and gooseberry wine, which added nothing to the Treasury, instead of drinking whole some port, which he might easily do if the trade with Portugal were thrown open. If England would meet Portugal half-way, he was sure that that country would be but too happy to enter into a treaty with us, and effect a free exchange of good wine for English manufactures. Another article of commerce with Portugal which required attention was fish, and the next was oranges. There was no less a duty than 75 per cent, upon oranges. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. D'Israeli), had thrown the blame of our not having effected a treaty with Portugal upon the negotiators. He (Sir C. Napier) rather suspected the hon. Member was fishing for an ambassadorship. But surely the fault did not altogether lie with Lord Howard de Walden. The Duke of Palmella, it was said, had some interest in Portuguese manufactures. If so, he was afraid that would in some degree retard the concluding of a treaty between the two countries. With respect to the shipping interest, it should be borne in mind that there had been an extensive introduction of steam vessels; it was, therefore, not to be wondered at that a great part of our ships were laid up. Still he hoped, that the shipping interest was not in so bad a state as had been represented; but he felt satisfied, that if the Government would lower the duties on foreign productions, it would benefit the country, and give increased employment to our shipping. The next three articles which engaged attention were sugar, coffee, and corn. With respect to sugar, he believed there was a general disposition, on the part of the Government, to lower the duty on that article. He hoped there did exist a feeling of that kind. He was perfectly aware, that the lowering of the duty upon Brazil sugar would do great injury to the West Indies; but he should wish to know why a whole community was to be sacrificed, in order to promote any particular interest? Let the West-India proprietors, if they were not able to live in London, go out to their different estates, where they might live as gentlemen, and then this country would not be obliged to maintain them at the expense of the community. With respect to corn—the article of the greatest importance—he was happy to believe that it was a question on 715 which both sides of the House were to a considerable degree approaching each other. With regard to the sliding-scale, the mention of it reminded him of a circumstance that came to his knowledge many years ago. When he was in the West Indies, during the war, a great deal of sickness prevailed, and the deaths were very numerous. A coffin-maker, at that time, carried on a very thriving trade; but when the war was over, he, like many others, suffered a reverse of fortune, and coffins were not so much in demand. To compensate himself, he ingeniously invented a sliding-scale—or rather a sliding bottom to his coffins, by which he contrived to let the body slip out of the coffin into the grave, and thus one coffin served for many bodies. A great agitation was got up on the subject, very similar to the Anti-Corn-law agitation of the present day; till at length the matter reached the ears of the governor. The result was, that the governor ordered the coffin maker to put a fixed bottom to his coffins, and the man was obliged to abolish his sliding-scale. He remembered, on another occasion, a man inventing a sort of sliding-scale mast to his ship—called a "Gunter-mast"—which rose up and down according as the wind blew. When the wind went down, the mast got up; and when the wind went up, the mast went down. The crew set their wits to work to invent a nickname for the ingenious contriver of this piece of naval architecture, and they called him "Sliding-Gunter Bob." He hoped his right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel) would take advantage of the present disposition that seemed to prevail upon this great question., and would come forward fairly and honestly, and make a compromise with the Corn-law league. Let there be a permanent duty of some amount or other: be would not use the terms, a moderate fixed duty, a reasonable fixed duty, or a low fixed duty; but he would say, let there be a compromise, and let the law for regulating the importation of corn be established upon a duty of 8s., or 6s., or 5s. a quarter. If the right hon. Baronet would do that, he would accomplish more good to the country at large, than if they were to sit in the House debating the question for a couple of months.
§ Mr. Cochrane
said, that although it was not in his power to support the motion of the noble Lord the Member for Sunder- 716 land, still he could not agree with many Gentlemen, and among others with the hon. Member for Winchester, in thinking that the noble Viscount in bringing this question before the House had acted injudiciously. He could not consider, when such distress was admitted by all to be prevalent throughout the country, that it was at all unbecoming the representatives of the people to take that distress into consideration, even though it might be impossible to form any practicable plan by which it could be ameliorated. It would be indeed unwise to shrink from the admission of the existence of great distress, for no wound could ever be cured unless it was sufficiently probed. Neither were the signs of the present crisis confined to the distress of the lower orders; they must look to the middling classes, among whom (in despite of what the hon. Member for Winchester had said) he considered that at the present moment there prevailed great doubt and uncertainty, and great fears as to the future, which fears produced consequences scarcely to be exceeded by the realizations of the evils themselves. Among the higher orders there did, he was grieved to say, appear a strange supineness, a slumbering over a volcano, a seeming confidence that all things must turn out well, because Providence had hitherto protected us from harm. If such were truly the state of the nation, it could not be unattended with danger. He knew that many persons turned to the dark pages of our history, during the years 1816 and 1817, and not seeing such outward manifestations of discontent, could not imagine there was cause for fear at present; but it must be remembered that twenty-five years since the distress was occasioned by the transition from a state of war to that of peace; and, as the Prince Regent said in opening Parliament in 1817, the country only required repose and time to restore its energies. But now, what hope of improvement could they have from time? and he feared much if the signs of discontent were less apparent, it was not because the distress was less than it was in seventeen but that happily twenty-five years of peace had improved the moral and religious character of the people. The resolution which was framed by the Common Council of London some months since, he believed, too truly described the evils under which this country was suffering, and which were daily increasing. He knew that hon. 717 Gentlemen opposite ascribed all our misfortunes to one cause, namely, the Corn-laws. For every disease, like Dr. Sangrado, they had but one cure. He looked beyond this question, and would mention some other causes which, in his opinion, led to the present state of distress. And first, could they too highly estimate the spirit of over-speculation, the emulous love of wealth, which had spread amongst all classes, the highest as well as the lowest, and entered into all, even the least, concerns of our present life? No sooner did one company start into existence than a second immediately followed in the race of competition, and this rivalry had of course increased of late years, from the difficulty of finding investment for the great mass of unemployed capital; then followed reduction of prices, until those who had the smallest capital were invariably driven from the field; was not this caused by the increased importance attached to wealth, and the excessive luxury of the age? It was more important to a man to have a good establishment than skill in his profession, so money must be obtained at all hazards, and this it was which made men embark in the wildest schemes, lured on by the love of gold, which prevented them fairly estimating all the risks to which they were exposed. Another cause he would mention was, the pernicious influence exercised by the leagues, societies, associations, or by whatever name they might be known, which had of late years destroyed the natural independence of honest-minded, single-hearted men, and made their voices the mere echoes of their designing leaders. Individuals, it had been said, would listen to reason, but parties never. He had great faith in the natural good dispositions of the. lower orders, but that was wholly lost when they were incorporated in such societies, and swayed by such men. And what, after all, was their great panacea for all the evils attending over-production?—Why fresh markets and increased production. Now it was perfectly true that increased production would postpone the evil day—but mole ruit suá would not a fresh population arise, and consequently would not the elements of still greater evil exist after the lapse of a few years, if in such moments of distress men of rash and bad passions, whose only prospect of success in life was a convulsion which might bring the dregs of the nation to the surface, appeared with their specious doc- 718 trines? The seeds of sedition and treason took ready root in the human mind. Let the House look to the proceedings of a recent meeting held at Manchester, if they required proofs of sedition and treason. He would pass by the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork, violent as it was; but did not the hon. Member for Bolton compare the agitation upon the Corn-law question to the march of the French populace upon the Bastile? He would ask whether such language were not calculated to inflame the minds of the lower orders, who could not observe the ridicule which attached to such agitators like that Anacharsis Clootz, who came from America to proffer to us, in the violent days of the French revolution, universal fraternization? But they would tell him that they spoke daggers, but used none. Yes, he readily believed that all this inflated bombastic language was far removed from the still energy of action. He was not blind to the weaknesses of such characters; but still as the pioneers of sedition they might prepare the way for men more brave, more active, and by so much more virtuous than those who were willing to wound and yet afraid to strike. They hesitated not to prophesy a total change. They scrupled not to declare that the time was come when all classes, all orders, would be merged in one overwhelming ruin. He admired their foresight; it was not difficult to foretel the destruction of a house when they themselves carried the torch which was to set it on fire. "Repeal the Corn-laws," say the Leaguers, "and the farmer will be benefited by the increased accumulation of capital; by the steadiness of prices; by the certainty that no further injury could be inflicted on him." He would admit that these were advantages; and did they imagine the farmer blind to the fact, that this country owed much to its manufacturing industry? And if he were duly impressed with this conviction, could they suppose that any feeling, save the instinct of self-preservation, and his anxiety for the real interest of his country, would induce him to oppose measures which, according to them, must open out to him fresh sources of wealth? But no, the men of whom the League was composed could not imagine any one extending his views beyond his own selfish interests; they could not contemplate the existence of a generosity, the sentiment of which they had never experienced. It was self-evident 719 that with the present prices we could not compete with other countries where the labour and articles of consumption were much cheaper, so if wheat was admitted duty free, either the rent or the wages must be lowered: if the latter, where would the poor benefit? He would appeal to any man, whether the average rents could bear any further reduction consistent with the existence of an aristocracy? The real question at issue was, that of the continuation of our present form of government. He knew it was said, "Why should labour be dearer here than in other countries?" but surely this was to raise the whole question of our social position. Why were we burthened with a debt, the interest of which swallowed up half our revenue? Why had our population been for so long a period accustomed to comforts, which had had so beneficial an effect on the morality of the country? Why was our population on every square mile double that of any other country? "Oh!" (but they continue) "necessity is the mother of invention; fresh improvements in husbandry will lead to increased cultivation;" but surely this was a poor hope to counterbalance the certainty of evil, when invention had once reached its limit. Look how the burthens had been thrown upon the land within the last twenty-five years. In 1815 the remunerating price was stated to be 80s.; this was diminished in 1822 to 70s.; in 1826, when Mr. Canning brought forward his resolutions, the Duke of Wellington declared that he would support no measure which did not prohibit importation until the price had reached 66s. Notwithstanding this, Lord Glenelg's measure was carried in 1828; and last year the remunerating price was declared to be 54s. and 56s. But was even this price attained under the present system? Very lately, when he was in the southern counties of England, the price of wheat was 47s. He understood the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government to explain this by the large quantity of foreign grain which had been thrown into the market. Yes, but what did the right hon. Baronet say last year? "In the first place there is no such an amount of foreign corn available to the supply of this country as need excite the alarm of those who dread an excess." So he believed that this great reduction in price was chiefly owing to the want of confidence in the continuance of the present system; for nothing had so great an effect on the circulation of capital, 720 and the consumption of exciseable commodities, as a state of uncertainty, when no man knew what a day might bring forth. He was much astonished to hear the noble Viscount who had introduced this motion, for whose talents he had so great respect, compare the relations with other countries, to that of different counties in England. The noble Viscount said, "suppose one manufacturing county refuse to exchange its commodities with the corn of a neighbouring agricultural county—would not each be absurdly ruining the other." Now he would freely admit that if all countries were in the same relative position to each other as the counties of England—if there were some mighty superintending power which might say, "Here exists too little—there too much,"—and so balance all our interests—if there were no wars or rumours of wars, such universal fraternization might be practicable. But to question the validity of a system of checks and balances was to question the whole divine system. Why should not all nations have equal heat and cold? Why were not the gates of the Temple of Janus always closed? Why was one man rich and another poor? Why was the strongest in the days of the feudal Kings selected from the people, and, enthroned upon uplifted buckler, declared the ruler of the land? He would now refer to the question which he considered of the greatest moment—namely, the want of confidence in the present Corn-law. He believed that even a total repeal would be preferable to the present state of insecurity and the total want of confidence which prevailed throughout the country. In the case of tenants-at-will, it might be sufficient to tell them that the present system would last for twelve months; but in Scotland, where the land was let on leases of twenty-one years, and where, even there, in some counties, it scarcely paid the expense of cultivation, and the class of tenants who held such farms had no capital to throw away, how was it possible to carry on their plan of drainage and ploughing, by which process alone the land could be improved, unless they had confidence in the continuance of the present system for a long period of years? For his part, he regretted that any alteration was ever made; but since it had been made, there was little hope of their retracting their steps; and indeed the impossibility of so doing should serve to warn them, and make them the more careful how they approached any further change. What was the great com- 721 plaint during the existence of the late Government? The uncertainty of the future which resulted from its instability. Did not the nation cry aloud for a strong Government, in the hope that it would bring back confidence? and now that we possessed a great majority, was the general hope fulfilled? Alas! there was little difference between a tottering Government with firm principles of action, and a firm Government with tottering measures—Ista quidem sententia quœ neque amicos parat neque inimicos, tollit. He had not the presumption to say that the right hon. Gentleman contemplated further alterations; but the House would agree with him that the right hon. Gentleman having expressed himself as he had upon the subject, he could not be surprised if there were men who believed that next year the protection might be still further reduced, or entirely withdrawn. What, therefore, the nation demanded from her Majesty's Government was, that they would distinctly state that, under all the circumstances, the present protection should be secured to the farmer. Of course he did not mean to say that the scale must not be subject to alteration from time to time as the value of money varied; but he would again repeat that the principle of the actual protection which kept the remunerating price between 54s. and 56s., should always be supported by the Government. If this declaration was fairly made, he believed it would go far to restore confidence; and with returning confidence they should have returning contentment. The power of the League, which existed upon uncertain and vague declarations, would be weakened, and the friends of good order would rally; and if, in conjunction with this, the House strenuously endeavoured to promote religion and morality through the country, by upholding the authority of the church and destroying that principle of centralization which had so seriously affected the national independence of character, he believed that the cloud on the horizon would not overshadow us; and sure he was, that His voice which could alone stay the tempest would not be raised in vain.
§ Dr. Bowring
explained, that what he had said was, that the Corn-law League, by its moral influence, would do more than those who overthrew, the Bastille had been able to accomplish with physical force.
§ Mr. Villiers
said, that the speech which they had just heard from the hon. Member for Bridport convinced him, as other 722 speeches had done, of the propriety of a motion that committed this House gravely and deliberately to consider the true causes of the condition of the nation; for while they all implied considerable apprehension as to the prospects of this country, great doubt and difference of opinion was expressed as to the cause and the cure of the evil admitted to exist. He approved, then, of a motion that invited this House so to engage itself. If the House gravely undertook this task he did not think so ill of its intelligence as to doubt that it would succeed; and he knew nobody who would not admit the importance of the information they would obtain. He thought it, indeed, the more necessary to enter upon this inquiry, from the doubt and indecision that seemed to pervade both the action and opinion of the Government. He did not question their capacity or their desire for the greatness and safety of the country; but, as yet, it had not been possible to elicit from them one clear idea as to their view of what had brought the country into its present state, or what their views were as to the course which this country was now taking, whether they thought its commerce was in a state of decline, or whether we were on the eve of great prosperity. One day a sort of tacit sanction is given to fallacies admitted to be the most ignorant and absurd by every cultivated mind; the next a doubt is expressed with regard to what the best intellects have pronounced to be so. Connected with this confusion, as to the cause of our condition, seems to be the want of faith in any remedy, whether springing from themselves or their opponents. One day a great principle is ad-admitted, having an important bearing upon all the interests of the country, the next day its application is refused. Abundant cleverness had been shown in fencing with opponents, and changing the issue in question; but any manly, open, or complete grappling with the question of the cause of the present state of our commerce, revenue, and condition of the people, no grave or intelligible view, had yet been given. He said, then, as reasoning and responsible men, they should enter upon this inquiry, with the view to guide them in their future legislation. He did himself remain of the opinion he had frequently expressed in that House, which was countenanced by abler men, and which was expounded by the noble Viscount in bringing this subject forward, that the 723 signs of deterioration which they then witnessed, did chiefly spring from the productive power, comprising the capital, machinery, population, and all the arrangements for production in this country having reached an extent as, under the existing regulations affecting their trade and the existing relations with foreign states, rendered our products disproportionate to their demand, and thus rendered it difficult to obtain a profitable investment for capital, or an adequate reward for labour. He believed that if the House would regard the present state of the country with that proposition in view, it would help them to solve the difficulty of their present state. It would apply to every business and every department of industry. There is but one story told of them all. Whether it regards our fabrics in cotton, linen, silk, or woollen, the one complaint is sinking profits and less wages for the same labour. It is the same, if not worse, in the iron trade, the hardware trade, or the potteries; it equally applies to all the businesses engaged in the conveyance or distribution of our wealth, whether among ship-owners or shopkeepers, and the depression in all is indicated by that which depends upon them all, namely, the revenue of the country. Without profit to capital, without due remuneration for labour, the vitality of the machine is stopped. It was this which occasioned that fearful competition in this country, which caused so many capitals to press into the same business, and so much labour to seek employment from the same capital, and which resulted in so much uneasiness, anxiety, and depression of spirit, and now what was a fearful sign was to be observed, that capital was being daily sacrificed while population was increasing. This was alarming, also, on other accounts, for if it continued it must soon create some apprehension for the manner in which this country is to meet those great fixed charges for which it is liable. He alluded to the great charge of the national debt, the public service, and the public provision for the unemployed. From what sources were those liabilities now met, but from the results of the active and extensive employment of our capitals and our labour. Let those resources sink—let alarm once arise on account of our means of our meeting these charges, and it is the short precursor of confusion. And though the hon. Member for Durham plumed himself upon the in- 724 stitutions under which he lived, as contrasted with those of the United States, and seemed to think that the class to which he belonged, offered a guarantee for the national faith, yet if he mistook not what he had already heard, if, when there became another question of fresh taxation to meet a further decline of the revenue, whether they would hear more still of what was in the minds of some already, of adjusting the account with the public creditor. He had heard that people were already talking more than they had done before of it, and in spite of the Member for Durham's assurances, the class which he said he represented, if distress reached that body, the question was not unlikely to originate with them. If, then, these dangers would of necessity result from the continuance of their present depression, was it wise, on a point of form, to forego the moment of rigidly examining into the causes of our commercial decline, and to learn, as the noble Lord said, whether the evil may not be traced to their own legislation? If that was in doubt, there should be inquiry; if there was no doubt, and it was so, surely they ought to legislate at once. He owned that he thought there was little difference between the Government and those on his side; and he thought the position of the Government, as collected from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, important to consider. They admit the greatest distress to exist; they admit that the remedies proposed by many individuals are wholly unsuited to the present circumstances. They say, that to tax machinery, to debase the standard, to issue inconvertible paper money, to favour particular classes, is all folly and error; they admit, to use the right hon. Gentleman's expression, that the enlargement of the field of commerce, and to extend the demand for industry, is the real remedy for their present state; and thus the Government and the opposite side were agreed. Why, then, do they not act upon their opinions? Could any body collect from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which he was bound to say he thought a somewhat melancholy display of trimming with truth, and trifling with his own convictions. He told them that he had commenced last year, and that something had been done. Why, what did that commencement mean? It admitted the whole 725 truth of a principle in dispute before, and showed how reprehensible it was in this House not to have commenced to apply it long before, and how inexcusable it was not to go much further. Look, for instance in that item in the tariff which he thought was the one in which the principle had been applied with the most boldness and most effect—the timber duties; how long had those duties continued after the time they had been denounced as a serious loss to the country? It had been put at the very lowest estimate that those duties had been a loss to the country of 1,500,000l., and yet they were only removed last year, and with no more reason than they ought to have been removed years before. Again, what was the principle on which the tariff was reduced, on the showing of the right hon. Baronet himself. He said it would reduce the cost of living, and that two important consequences would follow from it—one was, that the burthen of taxation would be less felt by the community; and the other was that, activity being given to the exchange with foreign countries, many would get employment that were poor then. Now this was true, and a most important principle it was to admit; but what possible excuse was there for not carrying it further. Are the people's burthens less than they were? Are the people so well employed that they need no more? The contrary is notorious. Why, the burthen that was intended to be relieved was a new one; it was the income-tax, imposed when the revenue was sinking, in consequence of the condition of the people being bad. How doubly necessary was it, then, to improve the condition of the people, and enable them to earn their own subsistence; and yet what has been done to effect this? Would it not have been expected that the reductions would have been made when food could have been procured at the lowest rate, and when trade would be likely to be rendered most active, which would have been done by liberating trade with the United States and Brazil, and yet those were the quarters where no change was made and no relief was given. They had no better trade in food than they had had before, and the same obstructions to the trade with Brazil were unremoved. Was it then wonderful that the condition of the people was not improved, and that in consequence of the 726 new tax, they were less able to expend upon those articles which afforded other resources to the revenue; and was it unreasonable, with the revenue in the state it was, with the condition of the people as it was, with no prospect of improvement in either, to ask the House seriously to consider if it was not within the power of legislation to award some, relief. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to difficulties which they had to contend with in dealing with protected interests, does he believe that the difficulties will ever be less. Will they not always be the same, or greater? Will they not always have a Member for Durham offering his support to a minister, on the terms on which they were proposed the other night, which was, in plain English, as long as he maintained their Corn-law. He talked of the readiness of himself, and the gentlemen of England (as he called them) to rally round him, and protect him against the violence of agitators, but always subject, he expected, to the condition of maintaining the law that maintained high rents; no people less to be depended upon, if he acted otherwise, he had little doubt. But the Vice-President of the Board of Trade talked of circumstances under which it might be possible to proceed in the course of liberating trade, and said that a man must be, as Burke said he would be, stark staring mad who would disregard circumstances. Why, really, he thought the right hon. Gentleman deserved the imputation, if he thought, with the views which his Government entertained of the effects of free-trade, that those circumstances had not arisen. What would he have? Where could he look for a sign of distress, and not find it? Would he see the grass growing in the streets, and the people in open rebellion. When will circumstances arise to require relief if they had not arisen. But the right hon. Gentleman excuses himself from meddling with the Corn-laws, and distinguishes it from other laws, because, he says, it always has been a rule to legislate for corn in a peculiar way. A rule!—why, of course it has—not only with respect to corn, but with respect to everything affecting the interests of men who have complete and irresponsible power: it is a rule of human nature to serve own interests at the expense of other people's. Ever since the landowners have been the dominant class in this country they have been 727 making laws about agricultural produce. The hon. Gentleman says there have been twenty-five Corn-laws. Why, I can tell him there have been forty, or about one in every twelve years for 500 years past; and it has been the rule ever since the Conquest with the landowners to help themselves: and what a lesson ought it to teach them as to such legislation as that about corn, that they change the law every ten or twelve years. It ought to show them bow impossible such laws are to last in a free country. Let it only be considered what ludicrous legislation there has been on this subject. That they opposed the produce of Scotland coming into England is known. Then they resisted all trade with Ireland to protect themselves. It is only about a century since that a petition was presented and discussed in this House from one county to protect it against another. One county (I forget which it was) prayed to be protected against the beans of the neighbouring county coming into its markets, and pleaded its native industry according to the approved fashion of the present day. Then the landed interest in the metropolitan counties interfered to prevent good roads, for fear it should bring the produce from distant counties to London, for fear they should not have the exclusive supply of the town; and they were right, if you are right. It is one and the same principle throughout—it is protection of some against the good of all. It is the same argument exactly now against the trade with different countries as it was before with different counties; and all the Conservative phrases that we hear about not doing what is wise and just on account of vested interests, capital laid out, settlements made, as against the common good, applied just as much to extend trade to Ireland or Scotland as it does now to foreign states. Nor will the public fail to see that, notwithstanding the attempts that are made here to evade or confuse the real question. Observe the things which are said by speakers in this debate. One is, that our productive power is so great that it has caused general distress. Granted; but what is their remedy? why to keep up every obstruction to trade. If they asserted the other thing we might understand their logic. But, no, says the hon. Member for Durham, we might produce enough to supply two or three other planets, therefore he will have no free- 728 trade, though you are crowded and overstocked beyond description here: that is not the remedy. But, says the hon. Member for the West Riding, the distress is occasioned by the monetary affairs of America: she has got no money, therefore, what? Take what she can give you instead? No, but keep on your Corn-laws to prevent what she can pay you coming into this country. His argument is that trade is stopped with America, which injures England; that is a great evil; but don't do the only thing that would revive the trade between the countries. He quotes a passage from the President's last speech to show that they are badly off for money, but omits to quote the passage in which he says, that they are also suffering, because they cannot find a vent for the surplus produce of their soil, which is our food; so that here we are both suffering; we for want of food and trade, they for want of a market, within twelve days sail of each other, and yet we are sitting over the matter here, and saying the time is not come to legislate. Then, says the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, do not always talk about Corn-laws, it is trade you want and that you can get, elsewhere than in the corn countries. Why don't you look to the East, why don't you treat with Reschid Pacha? why don't you have commerce with France? In short, give the hungry people food enough, by giving them trade with those who have too much food. Why don't you go to get wine, and oil, and silk—in fact, any thing but food, where you can get it cheapest and best. This was the real character of the arguments against free-trade. There was nothing like it but that story of the Member for Cork's, who described one of his countrymen as having a horse that got so exceedingly thin that he called in a neighbour to consult about it, and whom he assured that he had done everything in his power for him—that he had bled him, and blistered, doctored, and fired him, but he only got worse. Upon which his neighbour asked if he had ever tried corn. No, that had not occurred to him, or if it had, there was some reason why he objected to the experiment. This was the case here; all admit the patient is suffering; all are solicitous of giving him relief, but all object to the only relief that would benefit him. Really, however, this was a very serious matter. The fact 729 was, that they were trifling with the feelings, and sufferings, and passions of the people, and nothing that had been said or done hitherto could be deemed in the least satisfactory to them; and Gentlemen were mistaken if they thought—however much they might object to them—that they could suppress the active associations that were now forming in every direction to obtain this measure of justice. Severe allusions had been made to the Anti-Corn-law League, which he should not condescend to reply to. It was a natural and proper association, and incident to a free country, as a means of people expressing their wants or complaints: the League was doing great good, and if they were not afraid of the truth, they would not, object to it. It was diffusing valuable information throughout the country, and doing much to remove error and ignorance on a most important subject. It was doing for free-trade what religious societies sometimes did for religion, what scientific societies did for art and science, and what agricultural societies did for improvement in agriculture, and he trusted that it would never dissolve till the great measure of right and justice which it sought was obtained. If the people had justice they would be satisfied, and they ought not to be without.
§ Viscount Sandon
said, that it appeared to him that the whole question was, in what way should they give the greatest amount of employment to every class of labour? The hon. Member who had just sat down seemed to imagine that, by adopting the principles of free-trade, they could gain a great amount of foreign trade without any sacrifice of any trade which we at present possessed. To decrease the price of production was obviously to diminish the remuneration of labour, and the Vice-president of the Board of Trade had truly stated, that it well deserved the consideration of the House whether they should not sacrifice a great deal of the employment, that was given to labour at home by exposing our agriculturists, without any protection, to a competition with countries differently circumstanced. They should consider whether, in endeavouring to gain those advantages, they did not sacrifice more than an equivalent by sacrificing one trade to another. The home trade was a certain trade, and though the foreign trade was one which it was important to encourage, yet it should be 730 recollected that it was exposed to more contingencies. There could be no doubt that the prosperity of the home trade depended, in a great degree, on the prosperity of the foreign trade. The hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to think that the word "trade" was convertible with "foreign trade," and that there was no other trade but that which was carried on with foreign countries. All economists had agreed that the home trade was most considerable and most important, and that it was their duty to encurage it. The hon. Member who had just sat down seemed to consider that agriculture was not a trade at all. But it was, after all, the greatest trade in the country; but it seemed to be considered by hon. Members opposite that it was not to be thought of; but it was, after all, the greatest trade in the country. He would ask, why should that trade alone be left without protection? He would ask any hon. Gentleman who recollected the debates of the last Session, whether there was any trade, unless the cotton trade of Manchester, which had shown a disposition to be left without protection from the competition of foreign countries. Protection was expected by the ribbon weavers of Coventry, by the shoemakers of Northampton, and by every other branch of our manufactures. Surely, then, if every trade in the country was to be protected the great fundamental trade of all should not be the only one left without protection. They had been attacked for wishing to maintain a law that had not been more than eight months in existence, and surely a great commercial law like this was not to be tested by the experience of a few months. He confessed that he did not see how, in eight months, they could have had sufficient experience of the working of this law. In the adoption of the sliding-scale, it was considered that they ought to adopt that amount of duty which would enable the agriculture of this heavily-taxed country to compete with the corn of other countries which were not so taxed, and to combine with this protection to the farmer an adequate protection to the consumer against excessive price. The sliding-scale had been considerably improved by the law of last Session. It was said, why exclude the corn of America? But if they admitted the corn of one country they could not exclude that from other countries. If they had a free trade in corn, it was well known to the Americans themselves, that the 731 principal supply would be from Odessa and other parts nearer to us than America. It was said why not let the Americans pay us in corn, but this was stated as if they were to consider America in the light of an individual. It should be remembered that the American merchant and the American farmer were two different persons, and the merchant who owed money to this country might not have the means to procure American corn to send to this country. He believed that the difficulties under which the country was suffering were too difficult to be dealt with by any legislation. Great Britain was contracted within a narrow space, our population had rapidly multiplied, our power of production had increased even in a greater proportion, and there was a superabundance of capital which made no return, and he was afraid that we had no reason to expect an increase of markets at all commensurate with our enormous power of production. If there was a remedy to be applied, it would be by diminishing unripe speculation which he believed would be of great benefit to the country. After opening the foreign markets by treaty, of which he trusted care would be taken by Ministers, they should in the next place limit the great facility of credit, which has always produced great evils to the country in which it was pursued. He believed that the facilities of obtaining credit was one great means of exasperating the difficulties that existed, by giving so great a stimulus to production. He hoped means would be taken to give a sounder basis to the manufacturing activity of the country, and that they should leave capital to its natural power of increase, which was sufficient for all purposes, without being stimulated to that unhealthy state which had produced such tremendous evils in all the great seats of manufacture. Independent of the evils arising from the too great facilities of credit, he had not heard any of the hon. Members opposite dispute any of the causes that had been assigned for the present distress. It could not be doubted that the state of America had inflicted the greatest commercial injury on this country. He had heard the statement ridiculed, but he had not heard a single argument to show that such a state of things could have had any other than an injurious effect on the industry of this country. This debate appeared to have been carried on without a purpose, or an object, unless to let escape some of that fixed air which had 732 been so long confined. If the motion had been for a committee up stairs he could have understood it; but let them not, under the form of such a motion, have a Corn-law debate daily shadowed forth. It appeared to him to be offering the most miserable mockery of a boon to the distressed people of this country that a party had ever offered: and let them not be wasting the time of the House and of the country by a mere motion beating the air. It was admitted that the distress of the country was not owing to the price of food, but to the want of employment for the people. He did not believe, that they would increase the employment by the measures proposed; in his opinion, they would sacrifice the permanent interests of the country, whilst they would render any good contingent on the acts of other countries: and they were running the risk of super adding to the distress of the manufacturing and commercial interests, a distress equally great over the agricultural interests. Did not every manufacturer feel that from the panic occasioned by the late changes, they had a worse market in the country towns than they had before? Then let them consider what would be the effect if these changes were further extended. He did not wish to say that the only motive for these proposed changes was a desire on the part of the manufacturers to see how much more cotton they could dispose of; but if motives were attributed, let hon. Gentlemen opposite recollect that much might be said by others. They thought that they would obtain more industry by the course they recommended, whilst he maintained honestly and fairly that they could not expect such advantages; and agreed with the most eminent statesmen in all parts of the globe, that agriculture ought to be protected.
§ Mr. Muntz
did not approve of the present motion, it was not straightforward and English enough for him. Whilst it bore upon the face of it an inquiry into the distresses of the country, the details changed that face, for the noble Lord who moved it, repudiated all distress except that caused by the Corn-laws. But as it bore upon the face of it an inquiry into the distress of the country, and as he knew how much that distress had increased, he felt that he would not be doing his duty to his constituents and to the country if he did not take some part in the debate, and eventually vote for the motion. 733 He had lived too long in the world to fear being laughed at. His reasons he thought sufficient; and if others did not think so, he could only regret it. Hon. Members would recollect, that during the discussions in the last Session, he had anticipated the present state of affairs, and when the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury had then told them not to take too gloomy a view of their prospects, he had differed from him, and had told him that twelve months from that time the state of commercial affairs would be worse instead of better. He believed that it was now felt by the House that the state of the country at this time was worse than last year. The privations were more severe, and not only were the working classes suffering more, but the misery extended itself to the middle class; trade was profitless, and many would soon have no other resource than the workhouse. He spoke without any desire of exaggeration; he detested exaggeration; nothing was so bad for a cause. He spoke from a personal and extensive knowledge, not only of his own, but of a considerable number of businesses; and he had no hesitation in saying that there was not one trade, unfavoured by adventitious circumstances, in which there had been a reasonable profit, or an interest on the capital employed. Nay, from his knowledge of foreign trade, he could say that notwithstanding the exceedingly low prices, which were affording no remuneration, there was not one trade which would bear an advance of 2½ per cent. without destroying the demand. During the course of the debate, there had been but one line of argument on both sides of the House, that it was the quantity of business done which was important; the quantity was undoubtedly important under certain circumstances; he contended, however, that it was not quantity, but quality, which was to be looked to. It did not matter to the artizan that we imported two millions bags of cotton, and exported as much, if he could not live. He did not mean to say it invidiously and offensively, but the right hon. Baronet had dubbed himself "the doctor" on a recent occasion, and had told them that when he was regularly called in and had received his fee, he would precribe. And here he must observe, that the right hon. Baronet had deceived no one; he had told them, before he was called in, no legislative enactment could remedy the evils of the country, and if 734 after that declaration the House thought fit to take him, the right hon. Baronet was not to blame. He would not take any factious part; he saw in the right hon. Baronet much to respect and admire, but he did not legislate upon natural principles; he believed that he became more natural last year, he had reduced the price of articles imported nearer to an average amount; yet he (Mr. Muntz) asked whether he had benefitted the country? Whilst many interests had been sensibly injured, most had not been benefitted. The right hon. Baronet had been duly called in, he had received his fee, he had been practising for two years. How far the state of the patient was improved under the treatment it was for the public to say; but, as far as he (Mr. Muntz) had gone among the people, he had heard universal complaints. They had expected, when a firm Government had been established, something would be done. They found that instead of improvement, they were proceeding from bad to worse. It was a question of price; what was the cost of production, and what was the price of the sale. What was the reason why the manufacturers of this country were not remunerated like any others? We had by our Corn-laws fixed the average rate of food materially higher than the rest of Europe. One would have thought that the labourers might have raised their wages to the same average rate; not only were they not enabled so to do, they were prevented from doing it. He acknowledged that the agriculturists ought to have protection; but he said they were wrong in their mode of taking it. He said it was not right to give protection for one great article of life, unless they also raised the wages of the labourers. He said that our Corn-laws raised the price of food here 50 per cent, higher than in the rest of Europe, whilst our money law depressed the wages just as much per cent. They fixed the value of the ounce of silver by law: having fixed that value, they fixed the rate of exchange by that value; having fixed the rate of exchange, they fixed the selling price of every article of export; and by fixing the selling price of every article of export, they fixed the rate of wages. They gave an artizan 5s., and expected him with that 5s to buy 7s 6d worth of bread. He asked the House how 5s. would make an artizan comfortable and happy if he had to spend 7s. 6d. for food. They must repeal our 735 Corn-laws and reduce the price of food to the same rate as in other parts of Europe, or we must lose this export trade. If they did not do this, they must alter the value of silver. Time would show which would be done first—but the one or the other must be done. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade lamented that the riches of the country increased whilst the majority of the people were becoming poorer. Could he be surprised at this? He said that this was an unnatural state. Every one looked through spectacles of the wrong material—some looked through Tory spectacles, others through Whig spectacles, and others through Radical spectacles, but none looked through natural spectacles. If time would alter the opinion of the right hon. Baronet—if the right hon. Baronet would become what he called natural—if the right hon. Baronet would see that the price of food and the price of silver should bear some proportion in England to its price in the rest of Europe, England would once again be merry England and happy England; Englishmen would no longer be reduced to the state of paupers in workhouses, but would be able to exclaim with Richard—Now is the winter of our discontentMade glorious summer by this Tamworth sun,And all the clouds that lowered upon our houseIn the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
§ Sir John Hanmer
objected to the motion, on account of its entire want of practical character; because in terms it proposed a vote of censure on the Government, which intention in his speech the noble Lord was most anxious to disclaim; and it was evident that neither he nor any of his friends were prepared with a course of action, in the event (which it was, however, impossible to anticipate) of his motion being carried. Still he did not wish to give his vole against the motion, under the present circumstances of the country, without expressing his opinion that much good might proceed from legislative as well as from administrative measures. He was aware of the difficulty which had been found in the adjustment of foreign treaties, and of the reserve which it was proper for the Government to maintain up to a certain point regarding them. Yet it was too much that this country should be baffled year after year in those affairs, and that the policy of a 736 country like Portugal should actually produce as it had done, a great defalcation in the English revenue. He would not press upon the Government improperly, in matters which were delicate to handle; but still he would urge the great necessity of the completion of those outstanding negotiations, especially the treaty with Brazil. Sugar and silk were two articles on which it had been admitted that reduction of duty was in itself desirable; independently of the farther use which might be made of them in the adjustment of foreign treaties. He trusted that the great article of sugar would be soon dealt with, that the Government would find it consistent with their duty to take measures for putting it on a better basis in the course of this year. As to silk, use might be made of that in adjusting the French treaty, which he urged upon the Government to press on; and he hoped that if Portugal continued in her present impracticable temper and condition, such arrangements would be made as to the admission of French wines, and generally as to a French treaty, as would settle the pretensions of Portugal to supply us exclusively for the future. But the noble Lord opposite ought not to object too much to the want of completion of these things; for his Colleague, the noble Lord, the Member for Tiverton, knew well their difficulty; and though he thanked the noble Lord for the great attention which it was well known he had paid for ten years to the subject of commercial treaties yet he had left a large legacy of them unsettled to his successor. With regard to the Corn-law, he differed from some on that side of the House; and he repeated what he had said last year, that it would be most beneficial to the country that we should come to a settlement of that question on the principle of a moderate fixed duty. He dealt in assertion as to this, in the present debate, which it would be improper to prolong by extended argument on so many things; he would be ready to argue it at a more desirable time. But he desired to impress upon the House and upon the Government, that time was passing by, that there was a great vague abstract idea spreading through the country, which, like all abstract ideas, was passionately grasped by the people in their misery, that all taxes upon food should be abolished. If that were the case, what was to become of the revenue? 737 The longer they delayed the settlement of the question upon a principle harmonious with that on which they had acted successfully in so many cases, the greater the difficulty would be found of levying any duty at all on articles of consumption. They had a proof of this last night, in the letter which the late President of the Board of Trade had found cause to write, and which had been read by the Member for Winchester: he entirely agreed in the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) upon that subject, But forseeing what would arise if this feeling against levying any duty on articles of consumption was not allayed by the institution of moderate fixed rates, favourable to consumption, and favourable to commerce and employment, he urged the necessity of such an arrangement, and it mattered not in what capacity he did so; for he would do it equally, as a Member of Parliament, bound to consider all the various and complicated interests of the country, as the representative of a great commercial constituency, or as a landowner, interested to the whole extent of his fortune in land. They talked of "complicated interests," which it was difficult to reconcile; but he implored them not to make doubly complex the interests of the country by introducing into their arrangement eccentric forces, which would do nothing but disturb. The inexpedient character of the motion of the noble Lord had been illustrated early in the de bate. What would be the result of an open committee of the whole House, in which I questions were mooted, such as that which had been annexed by way of amendment by the right hon. Member for Knaresborough? It was lamentable, considering; that any words spoken there were looked to throughout the country, and that there went a certain degree of authority with them, that any one should be found, as there had been in either House of Parliament, seriously to advance the opinion that machinery, looked at as a man of common sense should look at it, was an evil, and ought to be taxed. It was impossible to regard the multiplied and manifold contrivances of mechanical skill, which were the characteristic of the pre sent day, without being impressed with the belief, that their development was the especial work of Providence; and if they would only act. Up to the height of that great argument, they would find machi- 738 nery to be a blessing and no curse. But in order to do that, they must enlarge their boundaries—they must resolve to continue a great commercial people—they must regard all the nations of the earth as their customers—and by their policy they must make them so. They must use every effort to cause consumption to be unrestrained, and they must believe that the prosperity of the home and foreign market, was identical, that the home was linked with the foreign trade. He was opposed to organic changes; but looking at the present condition of the country, he foresaw that if it were not remedied, if the matters which he advocated were not touched upon, and a beneficial alteration made in those respects, that other changes would be pressed forward with a force which it might be difficult to withstand. It would be withstood no doubt; but how would the country, weak from such exertions, find itself then better able to deal with hostile tariffs and the jealousy of other nations? He would, therefore combine the vote he would give against the motion of the noble Lord, with the expression of his decided opinion, that if they wished to avoid future and remedy present evils, they must look to the extension of the commerce of the country—they must get rid of that old fallacy of protection which was at the bottom of so many disasters; and he trusted that on the fair stream of commerce the sails of England would long be set and her star prevail.
§ Mr. P. M. Stewart
thought it had been admitted that there was at the presen moment an unprecedented degree of distress: there was but one exception, which was in the speech of the right hon. Baronet, the Home Secretary, last night, when he attempted to explain away some of the statements of that distress. He had eminently failed in doing so, and remembering a similar attempt made eighteen months ago, when petitions of distress were presented, he (Mr. Stewart) was surprised that the right hon. Secretary should again have ventured on such a course. The national interests were in a state of the most complete prostration, our ships were decaying in our harbours, our manufactures were deteriorating in our warehouses, and our people, though willing to work, were stalking about in idleness and poverty, in the midst of the bounties of nature. With such a state of things 739 in existence, how could the House refuse its sanction to this motion; how could hon. Members, the representatives of this deeply distressed people content themselves with sitting in their seats, awaiting the arrival of any aid which Povidence might send them. He said this because, notwithstanding the admission of the existing distresses of the people, the Government had come forward with no specific measure for their relief. The right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade had all but seconded the motion of the noble Lord; for what was the amount of the variegated speech which he had delivered? He said,I agree in the existence of that general distress which the noble Lord had so fully and feelingly described, and which is the basis of this motion; I agree also in the remedy pointed out by the noble Lord—namely, the extension of the means for the employment of labour; but my objection is, that the noble Lord has not stated any specific remedy for the evils which undoubtedly exist, and on this ground I oppose the motion as being indefinite and useless.But was that a valid objection? They had had motions for committees on agricultural distress, on the distresses of the commercial and the shipping interests, but were those motions ever rejected because the mover did not specify the precise remedy which he wished to apply? The only questions were these: did that distress really exist which was said to prevail? and was there a remedy in preparation for the relief of that distress? And, if there was not, he maintained that the noble Lord was entitled, in accordance with the duty of this House, to the inquiry which he sought to obtain. The motion, in its form, embodied both the cause and the effect. The distresses which existed, were the result of the difficulties which were felt in procuring the necessaries of life. If the distress which was alleged did not exist, any inquiry into its nature or its causes was unnecessary; but if the country was in a prosperous state, what was the cause of that depression in the revenue which was so deeply deplored? He thought, that among many others, there were three proximate causes for the difficulties which now existed throughout the country—causes which were within the power and reach of that House, and which it was their duty to consider and dispose of. The first was the artificial 740 price given to articles which were consumed by the poor; the second was the high taxation upon those articles of consumption. The noble Lord, the Member for Sunderland, in moving for the committee, had barred taxation as a cause of the distress; but he must have intended to refer to taxation in the aggregate, while he (Mr. Stewart) alluded to taxation on articles of consumption by the poor. The third cause was the frequent interruption of the industry of the people, and the fluctuations of trade, caused very much by the strife of tariffs, and the caprice of the sliding-scale. But they were told that, in spite of the tariff and the Corn-laws, the country had enjoyed a season of prosperity, and on the swas grounded the justification of our commercial policy. But to what, in fact, did this amount? Owing sometimes to an abundant harvest, which could not, be prevented, there had been a season of prosperity; and, in consequence, an increased demand for labour. He would go no further back than to two years of noted prosperity which this country had enjoyed, perhaps the only two such during the last thirty years, to show the fallacy of all conclusions drawn from such premises. The years 1825 and 1836 were admitted to be years of prosperity. The characteristics of those years were these: they were preceded by seasons of abundance, and each of them was followed by foreign loans; in 1825, to South America; in 1836, to North America; and the melancholy result of these loans was too well known to be now stated. A great portion of these loans being invested in our own manufactures, caused a temporary demand on the industry of the people of this country, and a prosperity for the moment, but too hollow to endure; and so he maintained it would be again if too much reliance was placed upon the temporary prosperity which had lately taken place. But he thought, that we were in a fair way of altering our commercial system for the better. The right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, had said, with respect to the Corn-laws, that if he were asked who were most interested in their being upheld, he should say the agricultural labourers; because he thought, that, in any further alteration which might be made, the agricultural interests would be the most cast down. That, however, was the proposition which on his (Mr. Stewart's) side of the House was 741 denied; and it was denied also by most of the practical Scottish farmers of the present day, to whom none, he believed, were superior. They said, that the agriculturists had no interests which were separable from the manufacturing interests of the country; and it had been admitted by the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department, as well as the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, that the best security which the agricultural interests could find, was in the commercial prosperity of the country. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the temporary nature of the measures.
begged to set the hon. Member right. He had argued, that it was perfectly possible that measures might rest on arguments, all of which might be good for the time, although some of them might be permanent, and some of them temporary.
§ Mr. P. M. Stewart:
In a war of words that explanation might serve, but whether the measure were temporary, or the argument were temporary, he maintained that the vice of the present Corn-laws was as great as that which had preceded it. This was made manifest by the heavy importation of nearly 2,000,000 quarters of wheat just as our farmers were securing the late abundant harvest, and the explanations attempted by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, on this point, were, in the minds of all practical men, utterly unsound and untenable. With regard to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman upon the subject of the shipping interests, the right hon. Gentleman had said, that the distresses of those interests proceeded from the cessation of emigration to Australia. He begged the right hon. Gentleman to hold to this view of the question, and to consider whether, in the present state of the population of this country, and of the acknowledged want of population in our colonies, there was not a vast field presented wherein, by a good and sound system of emigration, much might be done towards relieving the distresses of our people at home, and towards contributing to the strength and power of our colonial possessions. The right hon. Gentleman had also spoken of the hostility of tariffs as an argument against further legislation in the direction of free-trade. Whether the right hon. Gentleman had seen an article which had appeared in the Foreign and Colonial Re- 742 view on the commercial policy of this country he knew not, but it was, in many respects, so like the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the other evening, that he could not help recommending him to peruse it. It contained a paragraph relating to hostile tariffs, which he would read to the House. It was as follows:—Without anticipating experience, but while awaiting its instructions, we rest for the present in the confident belief that England, with courage and consistency, will succeed, and that ere long, in imparting to other nations much of the tone of her own commercial legislation; and that, in despite of her burthens and disadvantages, she will maintain her commercial position among the nations of the world, provided only she can also maintain, or rather also elevate, the moral and spiritual life of her own children, within her borders. It is in the creature man, such as God has made him in this island, that the moving cause of our commercial pre-eminence is to be found,There was no apprehension of hostile tariffs in the mind of the writer, he thought, when he wrote this, and by the closest possible analogy, there ought to be no fears in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. There was one other point in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to which he would refer. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken with good Christian feeling of the vast accumulations of wealth which were made by individuals in certain classes of society as contrasted with the melancholy increase of poverty throughout other more numerous classes, and he thought that the subject was well worthy the further attention of the Government. It was no new question; it had been often discussed by some of our ablest politicians and moralists, and was well deserving our most serious attention. When he had heard that part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he remembered at once the expression of similar sentiments, by a favourite writer of his country, he meant Dugald Stewart, who said—How ineffectual are all our efforts to preserve the morals of a people, if the laws which regulate the political order, doom the one-half of mankind to indigence, and the other half to be the slaves of all the follies and vices which result from the insolence of rank and the selfishness of opulence. Suppose for a moment that the inordinate accumulation of wealth in the hands of individuals, which we everywhere meet with in modern Europe, were gradually diminished by abolishing the law of entails, and by establishing a perfect freedom of in- 743 dustry, it is almost self-evident that this simple alteration in the order of society, an alteration which has often been demonstrated to be the most effectual, and the most infallible means for promoting the wealth and population of a country, would contribute more than all the labours of moralists to secure the virtues and the happiness of all classes of mankind. It is worthy, too, of remark, that such a plan of reformation does not requite for its accomplishment any new or complicated institutions, and therefore does not proceed upon any exaggerated conceptions of the efficacy of human policy; on the contrary, it requires only the gradual abolition of those arbitrary and unjust arrangements by which the order of nature is disturbed.These were the words of Dugald Stewart, He congratulated the House that such sentiments had been adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, and he hoped that they would be pursued to some practical result, for the prevention of the increase of the evil. A great authority opposite had tated that our capital and the powers of our industrious classes were too great for our competitors. If that were so, he said, let them give those powers and that capital full scope, and then he believed that we should arrive at that point at which we all aimed—the delivery of our population from distress. It had been written by a moralist, "that it was our nature to want and our privilege to ask." This, however, was said, he believed, in reference to higher interests even than those which they were now discussing; but he maintained, and he believed the House would agree with him, that it was not natural that a people such as this nation should be suffering in the midst of plenty; it was not natural—it was not wise—it was not right that the beneficence of the Creator should be obstructed and frustrated by any law of his creatures. What he now asked the Government was, that they should enable the representatives of a distressed people to do away with these hindrances and obstructions to their occupations and comforts; and if they did not by the adoption of this motion or by some measures of their own pursue some course for the deliverance and protection of the people they would incur a heavy and awful responsibility. The hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, on the invocation of the right hon. Baronet the Secretery for the Home Department, were to constitute the great majority by which the motion of the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland was to be negatived, would, be hoped, 744 be able to reconcile the votes they might give to their own consciences when the strife of the debate was over; but they must not be surprised when they returned to their constituents, whose hearts were sick, because their hopes were blighted, if they heard from them the unwelcome truth, "That party is, sometimes, the madness of many, for the gain, only, of the few."
§ Mr. Colquhoun
said that the hon. Member who had just sat down had favoured the House with an impressive warning against the heats of party, and the strife of debate; and he thought that, in the latter respect, at least, the hon. Gentleman was, at least, free from blame, for, although the debate had now reached the fourth night of its continuance, the hon. Gentle man had seen or heard little of what had been said, and had, as it appeared to him, much misconceived many of the arguments which had been adduced. The hon. Member could not have heard the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. C. Wood) per form the duty of commentator upon the text of his noble relative the Member for Sunderland; for the hon. Member who had just sat down urged that an inquiry was necessary in order to derive a remedy from the concentrated and accumulated wisdom of the House. The hon. Gentle man, as well as all the other hon. Members who addressed the House from the opposite side, dwelt on the state of distress, but none of them seemed to agree as to the best mode of removing that distress. A great many suggestions had been made, but hardly two Members recommended the same remedy. The hon. Member for Dumfries has proposed to get rid of the excise and customs, with the view of alleviating the distress. [Mr. Ewart had not said anything of the kind.] He of course bowed at once to the denial of the hon. Member, but he found that the observations of the hon. Member had not only been misapprehended by him, but also by the hon. Member for Halifax; and he well remembered the countenance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth and his action—tendens adsidera palmas protesting against such monstrous opinions being broached in that House, where they were compelled to raise annually fifty millions in taxes for the purpose of paying the interest of the debt and the maintenance of the national establishments. But there was one point which had been dilated upon by the hon. 745 Member for Wolverhampton, and glanced at by the hon. Member who had just sat down. They said, that "this is a great producing and manufacturing country, and that the difficulty under which we labour is, that we cannot sell our goods to an adequate extent abroad, because we refuse to take from foreign countries a sufficient quantity of their produce." "Open," said hon. Gentlemen opposite, "our portals—remove restrictions—let their pro duce flow in, and you will then be enabled to return a corresponding amount of your manufactures." Now, he did not mean to enter into a theoretical discussion whether this principle were correct or not, because the body he now addressed—the House of Commons, were, or ought to be, engaged in practical business, devising, if they could, a remedy for the distress which now lay upon the country; and what had been stated to be the origin of the distress? The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) had tonight ascribed it to the fact, that the English manufacturer could not send his goods abroad to sell them to a profit. Take the iron and cotton trades, for instance, and what was the fact? He would quote the opinions of men engaged in those three trades—men of great practical experience; and what said Mr. Wilson—a gentleman who perhaps did more business in the iron trade than any other man in the kingdom? What did he say as to the practical difficulty of sending iron goods abroad? He stated that it was because if they were sent to the French market they would be liable to a duty of 100 percent., and if to America to a duty of 2 per cent. He stated that it was not½. because he had not returns, but because he could not sell his goods to a profit, in con-sequence of the tremendous duties levied upon them. Again, Mr. James Thomson, a gentleman well known in the cotton trade, as a most extensive calico printer, remarked, "I cannot send my calicoes abroad, not because I have not returns, but because the duties upon them in France, Germany, and America are so heavy that I cannot sell them to a profit." Now, these were the opinions of practical men dealing with this question. Mr. Thomson went on to add, that he was greatly apprehensive that in consequence of the system of hostile tariffs (which had been so lightly treated by some hon. Members), this country would be completely beaten out of the German and other con- 746 tinental markets by the high duties. Again, Mr. M'Gregor, of the Board of Trade, who might be regarded as a reluctant witness on a matter of this kind, was obliged to admit that our manufactured cottons could not compete in Germany with the manufactures of that country in consequence of the duties, but he added, that we ought to set that country the example of lowering the duty. This country ought not to shut its eyes to the fact, that following whatever course of policy you might, as had been shown by Colonel Torrens in his recent pamphlet, which was quoted last night by his right hon. Friend, (Sir J. Graham) that we met with every impediment to exclude us from foreign markets—that lines of circum vallation had been drawn round Switzerland, (the pattern country of free-trade), France, Germany, and the United States, with the view of establishing, not the principle of protection, but he was sorry to say that of prohibition. Meeting in that House as practical men, for the purpose of carrying out a great scheme of policy, hon. Members must know that they could not expect, by the mere expression of their opinions, to change the rooted conviction of the inhabitants of those countries, who said that they were only following the example set by this country, in affording protection to their own manufactures. On this ground he did not think that we could, with any very sanguine expectations, look to any great extension of our markets on the continent. But what were the causes of the existing distress, which he acknowledged and deplored? Would the House bear with him while he stated one or two facts which developed the real causes? In 1833 a committee was appointed to inquire into the then existing manufacturing distress, and what were the statements made before that committee by the two most intelligent gentlemen,—Mr. Kirkman Finlay, of Glasgow, and Mr. Greg, of Manchester? Those gentlemen distinctly stated that the manufacturers were suffering from competition with the foreigners. The cause of the present distress was overproduction. In 1820 there were only 1,400 power-looms, in 1830 there were 60,000. In 1835, 100,000. In 1835–6 there was an amount of production quite unprecedented, and a vast amount of fictitious capital was afloat. The depressed state of the agricultural interest at that period would be re- 747 membered. A vast amount of capital was taken from agricultural purposes and thrown into manufactures, and the effect was to produce in those years an amount of manufactures totally unprecedented. According to Mr. James Wilson's statement, there were 18,000 bags of cotton imported in 1835, and in 1838, after all this production, 24,000 bags. In 1835, 326,000,000lb. were used; in 1838, 460,000,000lb. The noble Lord opposite had alluded to the condition of the town of Sunderland. In that town, to show the vast increase of production in the years 1835, 1836, and 1837, there were built 330 ships; in 1838, 1839, and 1840, there were built nearly double that number,—namely, 648. With such an amount of production, how was it possible to suppose that any market in the world should not be glutted? Numerous speculations and overproduction would always produce the same effect of a great glut and great depression in manufactures. The foreign policy of the noble Lord the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs might have been perfect; he would assume that it was but through his instrumentality our trade with Buenos Ayres with Mexico, with China, with Java, and the coast of Africa had been interrupted. Assume, as he contended, that he had on all occasions vindicated the honour of the British name, yet it was the fact that British trade had been interrupted in all these channels, while, at the same time, our over production was enormous. Instead then of having our channels of foreign trade flowing unimpeded, we had had several of the principal arteries of that trade stopped, and the produce which ought to have passed through them thrown back on this country. He would oppose such a shock to industry as would be produced by a violent change of the Corn-laws, not for the sake of the agriculturists alone, but for the sake of the manufacturers; yes, on their account chiefly, for what was the fact of their dependence upon agricultural prosperity? The value of the produce of manufactures in this country was 180,000,000l. per annum, of which 47,000,000l. worth went to the foreign market, which was not able or willing to receive more; but 133,000,000l. worth of manufacture per annum was taken by the home market, and that market they were about to ruin. What did the Stockport manufacturers say? That the home market was of the 748 at most consequence to them; that from the state of the home market they had been manufacturing for the foreign market, which they found to be already glutted and oppressed. And now they wanted to force their manufactures on that market already glutted and overlaid. According to Mr. Greg's pamphlet, the effect of the tariff of the right hon. Baronet had been to lower prices 40 per cent. Though he did not agree with him to that extent, no one after that could say that the tariff had done nothing. The prices of agricultural produce had fallen steadily every decade of years since the war; this might force the farmers to the exercise of more skill in husbandry, and in that they would find their account; but, as population increased, prices would again rise, and it might again be necessary to depress the scale of agricultural prices. If it were done as it had been last year by his right hon. Friend, with the same caution, practical wisdom, and attention to the circumstances of the times, it would be done, as it had been, in a way not to shake agricultural interest, and that would be a course the best for the farmer, but, above all, the best for the manufacturer. On the question which peculiar burthen were borne by agriculture, he would not refer to the authority of Adam Smith, but to that of Mr. M'Culloch, of whom the hon. Member for Wolverhampton declared himself the disciple some years ago. Mr. M'Culloch, in the pamphlet which he lately wrote on the Corn-laws, said that it had been stated that land was more heavily taxed than any other species of property in this country; if so, the owners of land were justified in demanding a protecting duty on their produce sufficient to counter-balance these burthens, and this could not be refused to them without sacrificing every principle of justice. Were hon. Gentlemen opposite prepared to declare that land was not more heavily taxed than other descriptions of property? He thought that this could not be done, if it were recollected that the Poor-rates, the Land-tax, and other burthens fell much more heavily on the agricultural than on the manufacturing districts. In conclusion, he could not see any possible advantage that could result from the adoption of the motion of the noble Lord, and it must be productive of the evil of exciting expectations which must end in disappointment.
§ Mr. Ewart
(in explanation) said, that he had been accused by the hon. Member (Mr. Colquhoun) of using treasonable language against those venerable institutions, the Boards of Customs and Excise. What he really said was this—that the extension of the principles of Free-trade, combined with the increase of foreign competition, would ultimately have the effect of turning taxation, from articles now paying Customs' and Excise duties, towards accumulated capital; or, in other words of commuting indirect, for more direct, taxation; and he had shown that this opinion had passed through the mind of Mr. Huskisson in the last year of his life, and been expressed by him in the last speech which he had delivered.
§ Mr. F. Baring
said, that a good deal of the discussion hitherto had turned, more than he should have thought it possible, on the form of the motion; and he would, therefore, say a few words on that point, before he proceeded to comment upon the substance of that motion, and the arguments which had been brought forward respecting it. As he understood the motion, it arose from this circumstance, that her Majesty having been advised by her Ministers, in her Speech from the Throne, to refer in distinct terms to the great distress prevalent throughout the country, the Government had declared that it was not prepared to propose any measure in consequence of that distress. His noble Friend, being of opinion that there were measures which the Government might and ought to propose, which might meet and mitigate that distress, with the view of calling on the House for its opinion on that subject, had taken the regular and constitutional course of proposing to refer the declaration made by her Majesty to a committee of the House. His noble Friend had not shrunk from stating the opinion he held. He had stated, too, the remedy which he proposed; he declared over and over again his firm conviction that it was a mitigation of the restrictions in our commercial code to which we had to look for a remedy for the distress; and it was this view and this opinion that his noble Friend had in the fairest and frankest manner put before the country, and he was, therefore, much surprised at the mode in which it had been met; no, he was not surprised at it—not by any means, for a long experience of the proceedings of hon. Gentle- 750 men opposite had taught him that they found it more easy to meet the form of a motion like this, than to meet the question itself in a frank, and manly, and open manner. And what was the objection which had been taken to the motion? The right hon. the Vice-President of the Board of Trade had made one speech against it, but this had proved by no means satisfactory to the heads of the Government, and accordingly last night the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department was put up to make what was technically called a stout speech; and a stout speech it was, containing some very extraordinary statements and declarations. In the first place, the right hon. Baronet declared that this motion was nothing but a bit of parliamentary tactics; every body perfectly understood, said the right hon. Baronet, "what the motion means, every body knew it was a motion of want of confidence;" and when the hon. Member for Halifax referred to the motion made by the Paymaster-general in 1830, the right hon. Gentleman said, that was no precedent at all in favour of the view which the noble Member for Sunderland wished to have taken of his present proceeding, for the motion of 1830, said he, was essentially a party motion—a motion of want of confidence, for the purpose of turning out the right hon. Gentlemen who were then in office, and who were now again in office, aided by the right hon. Gentleman himself, which party motion, for which party purposes solely, the right hon. Gentleman declared he had supported; a declaration he (Mr. Baring) would submit not very creditable to the right hon. Gentleman; admitting, as it did, that under cover of a motion as to the distress of the country, he had in reality voted for the purpose of ousting the existing ministry; The right hon. Gentleman had referred to Lord Althorp; but he begged to state that Lord Althorp voted for that motion, because he thought it a fair and right one; stating, in the most distinct terms, that he would not vote for it if it had expressed want of confidence, and so said Mr. Brougham. There was another precedent which he (Mr. Baring) might refer to. In 1834, Lord Chandos brought forward a motion on the distress of the agricultural interest, on the motion that the House should resolve itself into a committee of supply,That, in any reduction of the burthens of 751 the country, which it may be practicable to effect by a remission of taxes, due regard should be had to the necessity of relieving at the present period the distressed condition of the agricultural interest adverted to in her Majesty's Speech.That was a motion in reference to the distress of the agricultural interest, and what did Lord Chandos say when he brought it forward?He protested that he was in no way animated by a desire to oppose the Government.Upon that occasion, a large number of the usual supporters of the Government voted in favour of Lord Chandos and the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) he saw, expected to be reminded that he voted for it. Every objection which could be taken against the motion of his right hon. Friend was, of course, applicable to that motion, for it was equally indistinct; it was accompanied with no detail, and parties voted for it who held very different opinions on other topics; one strong proof of which was, that both Mr. O'Connell and Mr. Cobbett voted in the minority with the right hon. Baronet. Need he say more upon this mode of meeting the proposition of his right hon. Friend? Every dexterous debater know what kind of arguments might be used upon such occasions like the present; but they were common-place arguments, and he must say that the opponents of the motion had involved the matter in those arguments, because they found it more easy to shirk the question than to meet it. This line of proceeding, had been entered upon by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, but had been very soon abandoned by him, and left to the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department, who worked it up in the effective manner in which he always did these things. This was a matter, be it observed, of no small importance to the House; the argument was, that a Member must not bring forward any question of this kind; must not bring forward principles unless he accompanied them with details—unless he proposed specific plans; but the House knew very well, that if the opposition were driven to this—if no independent Member of the House were to bring forward a measure without specifying the details of it—was to be precluded from coming before the House with a principle and asking for its vote, unless he 752 was prepared with full details and plans; why if that were the case, the thing was all over. All discussion might as well be abandoned at once, except of those propositions which Government chose to introduce. The right hon. Gentleman now at the head of affairs, told them when he was out of office, that it was utterly impossible for him to prescribe to the then Government what to do; that it was the business of the Government to suggest remedies. The right hon. Gentleman herein laid down a principle in which he (Mr. Baring) could by no means follow him to the full extent. He conceived that a public man, if he had any remedy to propose—any principle which he could apply, and which he thought calculated to remove the distress of the country, was not to wait till he was called in and had received his fee, but bring his suggestions before the public at once; and this his noble Friend the Member for Sunderland had done, who stated distinctly that he believed a relaxation of our commercial system would relieve and diminish the distress of the country. Having laid down that principle—a principle in which he believed the great body of Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House concurred—no man in his senses could require it of him that he should also come forward with details; details in which it was out of the question to suppose that all his Friends, however united as to the principle, could be agreed, any more than the various Members of a party were agreed upon the details of other principles. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) had referred to the timber duties; but he (Mr. Baring) had no intention of following him into any of his details on that subject, or to go into any answer to his attack—no reference having been made to the subject by the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland. The right hon. Gentleman had thought proper to open up that question, but it needed no reply. There was this feature in the debate of that night—a feature not common to such discussions—that the facts were admitted on both sides; the facts, that there was very great distress, and that it had continued for a very long time; and the unhappy details of this distress had not, he thought, been more strongly stated on the opposition side of the House than it had been, in all essential points, on the Ministerial benches. The distress was an ad- 753 mitted fact. In speaking of this admitted distress last night, and in answer to the opinion which had been stated, that it had occasioned increased mortality, the right hon. Baronet for the Home Department brought forward some figures to show that the mortality last autumn quarter was less than it had been in previous years. In reference to this deeply interesting point, it was to be borne in mind, that the beneficence of the Great Lord of all, which had been so graciously manifested in an abundant harvest of the last year, was, in reality, the cause which, amid our fearful distress, the mortality of the period in question, had been numerically less than in former similar periods. The House could not but call to mind, that the three preceding years which had been cited by the right hon. Gentleman, were years of high prices; while in the autumn of last year, the price of corn, by God's mercy, was considerably lowered. This was a most important point for consideration, as it showed that, even where there was great distress, where there was admitted want of employment; broken down, as we had been, during the last year, yet the cheapness of provisions had contributed mainly to save the lives of the people. There was another point admitted, the remedy for our difficulties was to be found in opening out new markets for our industry, and that this must be done by a relaxation of our commercial system. It was admitted, by the right hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, by all the Gentlemen opposite, that the principles of commercial freedom were correct. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) called them the principles of common sense, and they had heard that night from the hon. Member for Evesham, that they were as old as Adam and Eve. This principle being so old, and being so unhesitatingly admitted to be "the first principle of common sense," were the principles which at this time of general distress, they were calling upon the Government to put into effect. Those principles, however, the Government replied, that they were not ready at present to carry out. All the principles for which he contended had been admitted one after the other, and he was entitled to ask, in consequence of this admission and the distress of the country not being lessened, what reason there was why they should not be acted on? In common with the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, the right hon. Baronet (Sir 754 James Graham), and the Vise-President of the Board of Trade had assigned as a reason for not going further, that they had made a large alteration last year, they must pause, and must not interfere with the settlement then made. He would admit that there was some reason in that argument. He would admit that all kinds of changes created difficulties even when they were advantageous. No change could be made in any duties which would not be accompanied by difficulties in some quarters. He admitted these facts; and if he found things were all settled, if he found a calm pervaded the country, he would admit that the right hon. Gentleman ought not again to unsettle things. But were things settled? Was the commercial world settled? If he were not misinformed, there was a total want of confidence in the settlement of the right hon. Gentleman. The prophecy of last year had been completely realised. The right hon. Gentleman had unsettled everything, and had settled nothing. He asked what articles of the tariff were settled? Was there to be no further alteration in our commercial code—was there not a change in preparation in the duty on sugar? He knew no change more likely to be beneficial: none which would be more advantageous to the working classes than a reduction of this duty. Has the House, then, settled the sugar duties? Why, when they passed the tariff last year, they were told not to touch sugar, because the Minister hoped to make the reduction of the sugar duties the means of procuring a more advantageous commercial treaty. [Sir R. Peel: Not so]. He was sorry to have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. He would not dispute about words; but he believed that the right hon. Gentleman had delayed the reduction of the sugar duties on account of a foreign country. This, however, was not all. Was there not a despatch of some importance sent to Jamaica, in which the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) desired the Legislature of Jamaica to look at the principles acted upon at home, and be prepared to adopt the same principles of Government [Lord Stanley dissented.] He understood that despatch to warn the Legislature to set their House in order, for the present prohibition could not be long continued [Lord Stanley again dissented]. What? another expression of dissent? It certainly was very difficult to 755 understand what the official Gentlemen of the present Administration were driving at Was he to understand that the announcement to the Jamaica Legislature was that no alteration in the sugar duties was contemplated? That nothing was to be done—that no changes whatever were intended? If that were the case, what was the use of the letter at all? If it was not, what was the use of fencing with words and quibbling about sentences when they very well knew that in some sort of way an alteration was to be made? But if the question was to be adjusted in this way—if all difficulties were to be got over as the noble Lord seemed by his despatch to propose, then he would tell the noble Lord and the Government that the commercial world would not consider the sugar question altered. But were there no other articles respecting which all was uncertainty and confusion? Let him just remind them what was the course of the Government when the tariff was discussed last year. When they came to any important article, there was, perhaps, some discussion on it, and the Gentleman was, perhaps, asked to make an alteration with respect to it. What was the unvarying reply? "Oh! do not press the Government, we cannot touch that article on account of the revenue, or we cannot touch it because treaties are in contemplation which may effect it." There were the articles of butter and cheese, for example; surely, it was said, the duties on these were not defensible, and that as soon as possible a change would be proposed. Well, then, when was this "as soon as possible" to arrive? When was there to be a settlement respecting these unsettled articles? When were commercial men to be placed in such a position that they might calculate to be secure from more change? Might they calculate that something would be done—not in that terribly protracted period, the "revolution of ages"—but in the revolution of one year? Don't let them talk of settling—at present they were unsettling all things; and when they dilated on relaxations of the commercial code, and on establishing new markets, let them consider whether they were not rather unsettling and unhinging than doing any good or acting up to "the principle of common sense." But he had not done with the Government yet. There was a remarkable document—an article 756 attributed to the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, which might have done him some credit if he had not been a Vice-President; but while being a Vice-President he had much better have kept in his own office. In that article, explanatory as it was supposed to be of the Government alterations in the commercial code, and of all the changes which were to take place "as soon as possible," the necessity of more change was admitted. That right hon. Gentleman said, writing of the tariff, that all the articles of our commercial code should undergo revision. That was laid down by the right hon. Gentleman in the broadest manner, and he spoke of the postponement of the sugar duties as one of the omitted articles. Were they then to consider this the principle of action pursued by the Government, that in the House of Commons they did not move a step, but insisted on permanency and inviolability, whilst out of the House, in argument, in debate, or in literature (he supposed he might use the word), there was no objection to state that changes were intended, that there were to be alterations in a great many of the duties "as soon as possible?" But there was another case, and one of deep importance. Had they settled the Corn-laws? He should have no objection to put to any twelve men on the other side, as a jury, on their oath, was the Corn-law settled? It was not settled, nor was it likely to be settled this year, but, perhaps, the next, and certainly before the revolution of ages. Some hon. Gentleman, like the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, took a considerable licence on the subject of the Corn-laws, but there was not, he believed, a single human being who considered the Corn-law settled, or who did not say it must be altered. Go amongst the farmers; they would no longer find any confidence among them in the right hon. Gentleman; and none of them, he would venture to say, believed that the Corn-laws would not be altered. If they asked the farmer, "Are you satisfied with the Corn-laws—they would get various opinions. Some of them are for the sliding-scale, and some for a fixed duty, though the opinions in favour of a fixed duty have much increased, but if they were asked their opinion, they would say that the present Corn-law could not stand, on a second question, whether the present Corn-law was a settlement, that the question was not settled. He believed that 757 that was the universal feeling of the tenants of England. It was totally different with the fanners when they exerted themselves to place the present Government in power. The farmers might be an unfortunate race; not quick to understand little niceties in expressions; but when they, two years ago, to place this Government in office, ejected the Whigs—they did it because the Whigs had meddled with the Corn-laws; and they placed the right hon. Gentleman in office, under the belief that they were to have a permanence of the old Corn-laws. Right or wrong, whether they were justified or not, the fact was, that there was a universal opinion amongst the farmers that they had not been handsomely dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues. Could they be surprised then that the most explicit declaration, or what hon. Gentlemen regarded as a most explicit declaration, had failed to produce conviction on the farmers. But were these declarations explicit? It was now found that they were meant to apply to only two or three years, and a change might be made before the revolution of ages. Then came explanations and declarations at the agricultural dinners. The language then was entirely changed, one Member after another had greatly to his astonishment, a thing he had never heard of before, told the farmers that such meetings were not the proper places to introduce politics. What happened next? Hon. Members began to tell the farmers no longer to rely on protection; they were to look to the progress of agricultural improvement, and expect their reward from that. If such was the language of those Gentlemen who were usually called the farmers' friends, and who held very different language before the change, neither the Government nor hon. Gentlemen must be surprised that the farmer remarked the difference in their language, nor surprised that the language used by these speakers had given the impression that further alterations in the Corn-laws would take place. They the farmers had nothing to assure them that the question was settled. Yes, there was one matter which gave consolation, and a hope that the Government would remain firm. Last autumn a very remarkable correspondence appeared,—the velveteen correspondence. He must admit that the present Government had out written their predecessors, the velveteen correspondence 758 and the Somnauth proclamation had been the richest address of official literature within his memory. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), who had shown such great literary talent, would take care that this correspondence should be carefully preserved to show posterity how talent could give immortality to a trifle; but as to all the commercial affairs of the country, would any reasonable man say—not to use the word finality, to which the right hon. Baronet had an objection—but could any reasonable man say that there was even a temporary settlement of the Corn-bill, the more one looked into affairs the more one saw that all hinged on the Corn-laws, and there could be nothing but doubt and difficulties in our commerce till it was settled? He would not quote the words of the right hon. Gentleman: for he admitted the possibility of conveying by a word one meaning while another was intended. But he would ask, after what they heard from the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), on the first night of the Session, and after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), and after the stout speech of the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, who was the great Anti-Corn-law repealer—the very person whose rigid virtue would be the last to give way—after what all these Gentlemen had said, after at tending to the language of their supporters, he was perfectly satisfied—and the hon. Gentlemen opposite, too, were perfectly satisfied whether they took a license on the subject like the hon. Member for Shrewsbury—whether they were partial to the sliding-scale or the fixed duty, they were all satisfied though the Minister would not allow any further alteration in the Corn-law this year—that an alteration must be made in the present law. The opinion therefore which he had expressed last year was now confirmed and strengthened by the language of the Government and of their supporters, and he and they were satisfied that the present Corn-law could not be a final settlement. This concerned the most important, the largest, the vital interests of the agricultural classes; and to them it was stated that, not this year, but perhaps the next (not in the revolution of ages), a change must be made. From this time till then would be a constant struggle. He repeated again, that he agreed with the right hon. Gen- 759 tleman, that if commerce had improved, if the commercial agricultural question were settled, if the measures of last year had restored prosperity, he should say that it was wise to wait some time longer before proposing further alteration; but when the distress was increasing to overflowing he could not admit that having adopted the measures of last year were a sufficient reason for not now proposing further commercial reforms, when it was admitted on all hands that further relaxations in our restrictive commercial system was the proper remedy for our distress. He was not, however, one of those who expected that any one measure—any one remedy—would at once put an end to all our evils. But he thought that what was admitted to be proper should not be postponed. Neither was he one of those who thought that it was possible to find a remedy for every evil, and, by some legislative means, to get rid of distress altogether. They must consider what is best under existing circumstances, and having considered, action that opinion. He knew that the motion of his noble Friend would not be carried, but he would at all events relieve his conscience, in protesting against the conduct of the Government in the present state of distress, in taking no measures to relieve it; and in supporting to the best of his ability that proposition which he thought would most contribute to mitigate the evils that all deplored.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that he had listened with great attention to the speeches which had been delivered during the progress of this lengthy debate, and he had found great difficulty in discovering either for what special object the motion of the noble Lord had been made, or what course hon. Members opposite intended to pursue in the event of the House agreeing to the formation of a committee to inquire into the present state of the country. He had paid great attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. Baring) who had contributed so much that evening to their amusement, but he was still at a loss to conceive what useful object was contemplated by the motion of the noble Lord. The right hon. Gentleman commenced his Speech by alluding to the form of the motion. He expressed his wish not to speak in terms of disparagement of the forms of the House, for those best conversant with Parliamentary proceedings knew that forms 760 were substantial things, he disclaimed the idea of practising a delusion upon the House. He told them that the motion of the noble Lord was not intended to convey an expression of want of confidence in her Majesty's Ministers, but he did not know by what terms to describe it. It called upon the Government to take into its consideration the distress of the country. Did the right hon. Gentleman consider that the motion could bear any other construction than that which had been put upon it, a motion condemnatory of her Majesty's Ministers? But as the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman denied that such could be the effect of the motion, and, at the same time asked them to consider its form, he hoped that the House would accede to the request. What, then, was the resolution? What were its objects? and what were the consequences likely to result from it? Did the noble Lord intend in that committee to propose a resolution on the subject of the Corn-laws? Did the right hon. Member who had last addressed the House intend to propose for the settlement of that question a fixed duty? What section of the House, he would ask, would agree to such a proposition, and what chance had he of carrying such a scheme into effect? Was it the intention of the hon. Member for Halifax to bring forward a motion of his own in relation to the Corn-laws, for the adoption of the committee, not a fixed duty, but a "moderate, reasonable, and small" duty; or did another section of the House contemplate proposing, not an 8s. duty, but a total repeal of all duty? What would be the effect of their conflicting opinions? Would it not lead to interminable discussion, at least to aggravated discrepancy of opinion? It certainly could not afford any relief to the distress so forcibly depicted by the hon. Member opposite. The right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Baring) objection to the Government was not having settled the Corn-law question. He said, that the measure of last Session had only produced uncertainty. He would ask hon. Members on the other side of the House, whether they would consider an 8s. duty as a satisfactory settlement of the question, or whether any other proposition which they could bring forward in the proposed committee would have that effect? The right hon. Member said, that by objecting to the form of the noble Lord's motion it was the wish of the Government to shirk the 761 question. Why—the motion before the House was shirking the question—it could lead to nothing—it was perfectly indefinite in its character—it was full of conflicting elements. If the question was shirked, it was shirked by the hon. Gentlemen who brought forward and supported such a motion. The motion of the noble Lord was different from the motion of Lord Chandos, which had been referred to that noble Lord proposed by his motion that the duties affecting agriculture should be first considered. He did not call upon the House to go into a vague inquiry, but the motion was intelligible in its character. He defied hon. Members, however, after listening to the speeches that had been addressed to the House on this motion, to point out the first resolution submitted for the consideration of the committee, should the motion be carried. In proportion as he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) felt for the existence of the distress which prevailed in the country, so was he adverse to the adoption of any proceedings which would have the appearance of insulting that distress by holding out a vain prospect of relief. What was likely to produce more dissatisfaction than a motion of this kind which could not give rise to any satisfactory result? The right hon. Member had said it was at length admitted, that an extension of our manufacturing relationship with foreign markets was most desirable. He had no knowledge of the time when that principle had been denied on that side of the House. He could not call to mind any moment when he and other hon. Members who generally acted with the Government, refused to admit that an extension of our markets for articles of British manufacture, was not likely to be productive of advantages. Certainly, there were many articles to which the late tariff had not applied, but it should be borne in mind, that easy as it was to apply hastily vague notions of "commercial liberality," it was necessary to pay some attention to revenue, and not rashly to remove duties, which while they operated as restrictions on trade, were retained not as restrictions, but as sources of revenue. It would not be prudent to speak inconsiderately of the probability or possibility of particular alterations in commercial regulations; far better would it be for a Ministry to reserve its opinions on such subjects, until they were sufficiently ma- 762 tured to admit of practical developmen and useful application, a different course could only lead to unsettling and uncertainty, of all things the most pernicious to commerce. Nothing, he was persuaded, would tend more to involve this country in additional embarrassments than ill-considered declarations of intentions, or intimations of projected changes. With respect to sugar, the subject on which the right hon. Gentleman had been very energetic, he would reserve his opinions till it came properly before the House; but he could not help congratulating the country on the fact that the price of this necessary article had fallen below that at which even the right hon. Gentleman calculated upon as the result of his proposed budget, and this object had been obtained without the reproach of encouraging the revival of that hateful traffic which it had been for so long the object of the nation, and at such great sacrifices, to suppress. No one could value more than did he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) the extension of trade; but to that he thought it would be unwise to sacrifice too much; and in our eagerness to promote universal freedom of trade, it would be well to remember financial considerations—so essential to the commerce because so important to the credit, of all trading communities. To the motion of the noble Lord, then, he strongly objected, as tending to nothing definite, and as likely to lead to nothing but injury; as causing uncertainty in every subject at a moment when it was most important not uselessly to disturb and unsettle the country least of all with regard to that new Corn-law, of which (however ungratefully hon. Gentlemen might speak) he felt persuaded, that it had been a great impovement; and as tending to derange the operation, and obstruct the benefit of our new commercial code. On all these grounds, he was convinced the House, acting on its ordinary common-sense views, would reject the motion of the noble Lord.
§ Debate again adjourned.
§ House also adjourned.