§ The Order of the Day for the resumption of the adjourned debate on the Abolition of the Corn-laws, was read.
felt himself bound to follow the tone adopted by the hon. Member for Bath, which was one of great moderation, and he trusted it would be followed to the close of the debate. Notwithstanding all the attacks which had been made on the landed interest, from different quarters, he should confine himself to the ground taken by that hon. Member. The question now under discussion was one of the greatest importance; it was not one between this or that duty—between a sliding-scale or a fixed duty; it was a question of the expediency of a total repeal of all duties on corn. He should address himself to that question, although he despaired of throwing any new light on so exhausted a subject. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton was the able and consistent advocate of the abolition of those laws. The hon. Gentleman was a Member of a society which advocated free-trade principles; and what he should have done was to move a resolution to do away with all import duties, instead of a resolution to take into consideration the expediency of the abolition of the Corn-laws. The hon. and learned Member for Bath had, on the previous evening, while voting for the hon. Member's motion, advocated total repeal, but he had been rejoiced to hear the hon. and learned Member admit at the same time that he did not think that such repeal would be a panacea for the evils under which the country laboured. The hon. Member had said, that considering the wretched state of our population, and that repeal was called a remedy, he thought the House would be justified in taking it into consideration. Having heard such a 104 statement, he had expected that the hon. and learned Member would proceed to show how the starving population would be benefited by repeal, but the hon. and learned Member had not done this, although not only the manufacturing but the agricultural population was in a state of deep distress. In considering the subject of the repeal of the Corn-laws, the question was, whether the abolition of those laws would give to the poorer classes of the community throughout the kingdom greater command of the comforts and necessaries of life. He would, in the course of his observations, endeavour to direct his arguments to that topic. He could assure the House, that dwelling, as he did, in an agricultural county, he was enabled to state, that although extreme distress had not as yet touched the farmers, it had begun seriously to affect the labourers, as the farmers, from the reduction of profits, were obliged greatly to curtail the number of persons in their employment. In the county with which he was connected there were hundreds of able, honest agricultural labourers, who would shortly have no refuge but the workhouse; and they would have had to resort to it long since, had it not been for the exertions of the resident country gentlemen. It then became a question, what prospect the manufacturing districts held out for the employment of these men, should they be left totally destitute by the removal of all protection from agriculture; as, even though such a change should not throw the land entirely out of cultivation, prices would be so deteriorated by foreign competition as to preclude the possibility of remunerating wages from the farmer. He had heard it denied, that a repeal of the Corn-laws would cause much land to be thrown out of cultivation, but it should be understood that the converting of arable into pasturage land would, although not actually throwing it out of cultivation, do so in as far as the employment of labour was concerned. The consequence would be, that great numbers would be thrown out of employment, and such it appeared to him would be the result of a repeal of the Corn-laws. The question then was, would the manufacturers be able to give them employment? Those who advocated the repeal of the Corn-laws, contended that that measure would open new markets for our produce, but if any person deliberately reflected at 105 the treaties which had been entered into, and the tariffs that had been adopted by foreign countries, must see that their obvious aim and intention was gradually to exclude all our manufactures from foreign markets. The efforts we had already made had had no effect in causing them to relax their restrictions, and at the pre sent time Russia, Portugal, and Brazil, had repudiated our advances. Even America, the great hope of the free-traders, had shown a decided inclination to restrictive measures. The fact was, that national interest was like individual interest, and every nation would do that which it thought best calculated for developing its internal resources. The hon. and learned Member for Bath had said, that the original promoters of the Corn-law were actuated by selfish motives. They had consented to a reduction of their protection to 20s., when the price was 50s. a quarter, and surely such a step was no evidence of selfish motives. It was found that even at this rate of duty it was impossible to keep the foreign wheat out. This pretty clearly showed that it was not the tariff of this or of that country, but the demand and the means of supply that fixed the price of this and other articles of essential necessity. It was hardly fair to say, that the Corn-law of 1815 was passed by those who had selfish purposes to serve. The same accusation was made at the time against the Minister of that day, and he would, in answer to the imputation, say, as Mr. Robinson (now the Earl of Ripon) had then said, that he believed that no power on earth would tempt them to support the Corn-laws, if they believed those laws were an injury to the country. Foreign nations had taken advantage of the peace; they had gradually accumulated capital, which they had employed in manufactures, and they had protected their native industry by the imposition of protective duties. A perusal of the Germanic tariff would show how hopeless would be any attempt to force an increased amount of our goods into that country, and the Custom-house lists of France showed that that country had gradually been displacing our goods in foreign markets. The principle and staple articles of our commerce were cotton, linen, and woollen. The amount of our exports in these articles generally had declined, however, in the following proportion, taken in round numbers:—In the year 1838 they were 106 32,000,000l.; in 1839 they rose to 35,000,000l.; in 1840 they fell, and were but 34,000,000l. in amount, and in 1841 and 1842 they declined, until, in the latter year, they were not more than 30,600,890l. It was the opinion of the best informed persons in business that the stagnation in our commerce and manufactures had been occasioned by over-production of manufactured articles in preceding years. Some, however, of the manufacturers themselves began to consider more calmly and shrewdly the consequences of the repeal of the Corn-laws, so often called for by petitions to that House and by resolutions at Anti-Corn-law meetings. He held in his hand a report of a speech delivered by Mr. Muntz, the Member for Birmingham, on a Corn-law debate in that House, in which that hon. Member observed—I see no use in ruining the farmer when there is no necessity for doing so. If the Legislature should agree to take off the duties altogether upon the import of foreign corn, without adopting other measures with which such a great change ought to be connected, I foresee that it will ruin one-half the farmers, half the landowners, and plunge the greater portion of those dependent upon these two classes for employment into difficulties and possibly poverty.He had not heard from any side of that House any suggestion, that faith with the public creditor should not be kept. But suppose the Corn-law protection were taken off—suppose the doctrines of free-trade in all matters were to prevail,—he should like to know how the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to meet the expenses of the country. Why, every one knew that the interest of the national debt was the reason why it was impossible for the farmer of this country to compete with the foreign corn grower. He had, however, confidence in the right hon. Baronet—and that confidence was much increased by the declaration which he had made relative to the Corn-law during the present Session. That statement, in his opinion, had been much distorted by many who entertained strong political views, but, as he understood the right hon. Baronet, the Corn-law of last Session was not an isolated measure, but was part of a development of a great financial system which the right hon. Baronet was determined to maintain, whatever clamour might be raised against it. It was quite true that markets had since failed, and 107 that a panic had prevailed throughout the agricultural districts. But he did not look merely to that law as the cause of the distress, but to the poverty and want of power of consumption that prevailed amongst the consuming classes. In conclusion, he would observe, that there was in that House a body of independent men, who, however they might differ in general politics, were determined, should any attack be made on protection to agriculture, one and all to combine, and say, " thus far shall ye go and no further." That body, whilst they did not forget their imperative duty to the country, would, at the same time, recollect the assertions they made on the hustings, and feel it to be their bounden duty firmly and fairly to represent the opinions of those constituents who had confided in them, and whose confidence had placed them there.
§ Mr. H. G. Ward
had never heard a speech so difficult to answer, as that of the hon. Gentleman, who had just sat down;—not from the strength of his arguments, but from the singular want of connexion between his conclusions and his facts. He gave that hon. Gentleman credit for all the disinterestedness asserted by Mr. Robinson in 1815. He was sure, that neither he, nor the Gentlemen, with whom he acted, were influenced by any unworthy motives. He did not doubt their sincerity, when they said, that if the Corn-law were proved to them to be disadvantageous to the great mass of the population, they would consent to alter it; and he thought, that they placed the question upon a perfectly sound basis, when they admitted, that it must be argued with reference to the interests of the whole people, and not to those of a particular class. But still, he must ask, how could he hope, or how could any body else hope, to produce the slightest impression on the mind of the hon. Gentleman and his party, when the hon. Gentleman's own arguments had failed to convince himself? The hon. Gentleman had proved the case of those who were the advocates of free-trade, although he was utterly unconscious of having done so. This was the state of mind of the hon. Gentleman:—this the state of mind, of that independent party, which the hon. Gentleman led, last year, during the tariff panic, and in whose name he had given a* From a corrected report.108 solemn warning to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government— towards whom they entertained the most friendly, and kindly, feelings, but with still more friendly, and more kindly, feelings for themselves, that he must adhere to the pledge, which he gave them at the commencement of the Session, and not presume to meddle further with the Corn-laws, if he desired a continuance of their support. The Government seemed to have accepted these terms, for they had heard from the right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, on the preceding night, that the Corn-law, which he expected to work so well for the community, had not yet had a fair trial, and that, at present, there was not the slightest chance of a change being made in it. He admitted this. He agreed in the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, that nothing practical was likely to follow from the motion now proposed. But he saw no reasons why it ought to be so; and he sought them in vain in the Member for Somerset's speech. He had asked indeed, what they were to do with the national debt, if the Corn-law were repealed? His answer to this was a simple one. He, and those, who thought with him, had not the slightest affection for the sponge, as the, hon. Member called it. They believed, that the public taxes would be paid more easily—that the public revenue would be much larger, and that men would contribute to it more willingly, if they were not compelled to pay private taxes for the benefit of a particular class. What was the state of the revenue, with the existing Corn-law? The deficiency in the Customs and Excise was admitted, with great candour, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to be 700,000/. in the Customs, and 1,200,000I. in the Excise. That was a deficiency, which, he believed, would be got rid of if the people were in the enjoyment of more comforts; but those comforts depended upon the preservation, and enlargement of their trade. The hon. Member for Somerset, indeed, has stated to them, that what they had done last Session, had been fruitless, and that all their advances towards a better system of trade would prove unavailing, from the determination of the continental states to encourage their own manufactures. Yes, and he would tell them why. They had begun at the wrong end. They were twenty years too late. There was a 109 time, when they had the trade of Europe in their hands. It was in 1815. They might have forestalled, then, the interests rising up against them on the continent. They might have avoided meeting with rival interests at all; and this was the proper conclusion to draw from the hon. Gentleman's facts. It was perfectly true that they had not only lost the whole of the trade within the limits of the Zollve rein, but he believed, if they went on as they had done hitherto, they might be beaten out of the markets of America by the cottons, and woollens, of Germany. But what was the cause of all this? Their refusal to deal with the Germans on fair terms. Their refusal to take from them that produce, which they were willing to give in exchange for British manufactures. In 1815, the preponderating influence in Germany, as in this country, was the agricultural interest. But when England excluded the produce of German agriculture from her shores, she forced Germany to manufacture for herself; and now, they had no right to complain of the high duties, which the Germans imposed upon their manufactures. After the Corn-law of last year, what right had they to criticise the tariffs of other countries? That Corn-law was just as exclusive, as the law that preceded it, in its practical rejection of German corn, which they never could admit into the English market, under the present system of duties, except in cases of absolute necessity. This was the act of the English agriculturists; and, after that, what right had they to complain that British cotton was excluded from the territories of the Zollverein? He must now, however, address himself to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, who had spoken on the preceding night, and who, he hoped, was not leaving the House, for he could not afford to lose his argument, and did not like to speak of any person behind his back. The right hon. Gentleman had told them, in terms which he little expected, that, even if it were possible to alter the Corn-law, it would not be expedient to do so; for that the Corn-law was a sort of contract between the Government, and the people of this country, and that it would be a breach of faith to touch it. Yet the right hon. Gentleman, who said this, must have pretty well recollected, that they, (on the Opposition side of the House) had protested against this law in every stage, and 110 that, out of doors, it was reprobated with an almost singular unanimity. It was reprobated alike by those, who thought that it did too little, and by those who thought that it did too much. The right hon. Gentleman, however, called this a contract, and assured them that all their efforts to repeal the law, this year, would be vain. He had no doubt of it, when he saw the tone, and temper, of those, with whom the decision, unhappily, tested; and so convinced was he of the impossibility of arriving at any immediate result, that, if he had not a duty to perform to those, who sent him there, and if he did not feel that it was neither honest, nor honourable, in a public man, who entertained strong opinions upon a great question, to refrain from expressing them, because he knew that he was in a minority, he should willingly have refrained from obtruding his sentiments on the House. But a minority had no other means of enforcing the truth, and of ultimately carrying its principles out, except by discussing them. They had many proofs of this in the history of the country; and even the bench opposite bore testimony to the victories, that might be accomplished by a minority, if they only persevered in discussing a question, and if they were in the right. Time, and to be right, were the two things essential to success. Had not the right hon. Baronet, (Sir R. Peel) for twenty years of his public life, been opposed to the repeal of the Test Act, and yet he saw it carried 1 He had even been himself the means of carrying Catholic Emancipation, to which he had been equally opposed; and he had, as soon as it became the law, adopted the Reform Bill as the settlement of a great question, with which it would be imprudent for any party to interfere. There was one more great reform still to be made—the repeal of the Corn-laws. They, who had supported other questions as a minority, and had eventually seen them triumph, now supported that. They had the same opponents,—the same conviction that they were themselves in the right;—and the result was simply a question of time. Five years hence, they would see the right hon. Gentleman opposite, carrying the question with, or without, the assistance of that independent body of Members, of whom the Member for Somerset was the spokesman; or the right hon. Gentleman himself would 111 see the measure carried, from (he benches opposite by a power in the country superior to his own. The Vice-president of the Board of Trade, indeed, had said that a repeal of the Corn-law would be either a breach of faith, or a proof of gross imbecility on the part of the Government. There was, however, he could tell the right hon. Gentleman, an imbecility of a much worse description. It was the imbecility of a Government persevering in a wrong course, when it knew itself to be in the wrong. And the right hon. Gentleman did know that he was wrong. He could prove out of the right hon. Gentleman's own writings, that he must know what he was doing to be wrong. Why, then, did the right hon. Gentleman, on the preceding night, after the opinions, which he had deliberately expressed elsewhere, seek to mistify the question, by asking whether the landlords were to lose their protection, and the manufacturers to maintain theirs? The right hon. Gentleman knew that the manufacturers did not expect any such thing. They attacked the Corn-law because it was the root of all protection in this country; for the class to which the hon. Member for Somerset belonged, would become the best free traders in the world, if they once got the principle of free trade applied to themselves. The advocates of free trade denounced the principle of protection altogether, when they asked for a repeal of the Corn-law; and it was no answer to them, to talk, as the Vice-president of the Board of Trade had done, of the cheapness of the necessaries of life at the present moment, as a reason why there should be no present change; or to prove this position, which nobody disputed, by comparing the prices of 1835 and 1843. Why did the right hon. Gentleman pass over the frightful interval, that occurred between these periods? It was the fruit of that system, in which he was resolved to persevere; for the system produced uncertainty,—and uncertainty a high price of food,—and a high price of food, commercial depression—for the more a man paid for food, the less he could pay for any thing else. The extent of these fluctuations was proved by Mr. Wilson, in a very remarkable pamphlet. He stated, that:—In 1834, 1835, and 1836, the whole cost of wheat to the community, calculating the 112 consumption at sixteen millions of quarters annually, at the average price of each year, was
1834 £36,933,333. 1835 31,400,000. 1836 38,800,000. Total £107,133,333.While in three following years, by the same calculation, the cost was—
1837 £44,666,666. 1838 51,666,666. 1839 56,533,333. Total £152,866,665.Showing a difference, in the cost of wheat alone, of upwards of forty-five millions, during the latter three years, as compared with the former, which sum must, necessarily, have been abstracted from the channels of expenditure, in which it had previously flowed, and, by diminishing the demand for all other articles to the same amount, at once embarrassed, and curtailed, Commerce, and Manufactures, and diminished the revenue derivable therefrom.The right hon. Gentleman had also said, that the condition of the people was better now, than it had been sixty years ago. In some respects it was so, but not in all. Arthur Young had given, in 1801, the amount of necessaries, which 5s. a week enabled a labourer to buy, before the war; and they were three times the amount, which the wages now paid to any labourer would command. He said, in his " Annals of Agriculture," that there was a person now living in the vicinity of Bury, Suffolk, who, when he laboured for 5s. a week, could purchase with that sum a bushel of wheat, a bushel of malt, a pound of butter, a pound of cheese, and a pennyworth of tobacco; while the same articles in 1801, would have cost him 1l. 6s. 9d. This was the real measure of the remuneration of labour;—not the money wages, which the hon. Member for Somerset had quoted, but the amount of necessaries which the money would command. The hon. Member for Somersetshire began his speech that night, by saying the distress had not touched the farmer yet, but had reached the agricultural labourer. He went further. He would maintain that it had touched the farmer, and hon. Gentlemen opposite would find what he said was true. They would feel the truth of it when they came to collect their Lady-day rents, which would be paid out of capital, in all the midland counties, if paid at all. What 113 did this prove, but that the Corn-law was as injurious to the agricultural classes as it was to every other class? And that was exactly his objection to the system, namely, that it deceived everybody, and injured everybody, in turn. It was a perfect Montagne Russe of calamities—a constant succession of ups and downs—and it was a poor consolation to those who suffered by it, to know that, by a sort of retributive justice, others were sure to suffer like themselves. The Corn-law was good neither for the farmer nor for the labourer, nor for the landlord; and it was utterly ruinous to trade. The Vice President of the Board of Trade did not allude, last night, to the subject of the revenue, yet when he (Mr. Ward) recollected that 77 per cent of our taxation was derived from consumption, and that consequently, the productiveness of the Excise and Customs was the measure of the remuneration for labour paid to the people, he thought the right hon. Gentleman might, in the course of his discursive speech, have favoured the House with some remarks on this part of the subject. But it seemed to have been the right hon. Gentleman's object to evade the discussion of those great principles, which had been so ably laid down in the masterly speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman's speech of last night reminded him of a remark, that had been made respecting Blackstone's Commentaries, when the excellent principles laid down in the book, were thought to offer a singular contrast to the conduct of Sir William Blackstone, as Attorney-general. " If you want to know what the laws are, consult Sir William's book; but, if you want to be informed as to the best way of evading them, consult Sir William himself." The position of the Vice-president of the Board of Trade was precisely similar. If you want to know what the principles are that ought to guide our commercial policy, look at the right hon. Gentleman's article in the " Foreign and Colonial Review;" but, if you wish to know how these great principles may be reduced to a question of miserable expediency, for the purpose of conciliating political friends, look at the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman last night. No one admired the talents of the Tight hon. Gentleman more than he did; and no man regretted more to see those talents abused. To return, however, to his prin 114 ciple, that the Corn-law had deceived every one, and served no one. And here, he might be allowed to say in his own vindication, that he could have no personal motive for depreciating the value of land, for all that he and his children had to look forward to, was derived from it. He might be wrong in the conclusions to which he came, but he had certainly every inducement to wish to be in the right. The Vice-president of the Board of Trade had denied that price had ever been, or ought to be, or could be, the object of a Corn-law. Nobody, he said, pretended to fix prices. It might be so with the right hon. Gentleman and a few others equally well informed; but, with the agriculturists in general the belief was, that in fixing the price below which foreign corn was excluded, the Legislature fixed the price which the home-grower was to have. The Corn-law of 1815 was founded upon the supposition that you could fix price. The report of the committee of 1814 proved it; for it distinctly stated, that the committee had considered the subject referred to it under three heads:—1st—As it related to the then recent ex tension and improvement of agriculture: 2dly —As to the then present expense of cultivation, including the rent: and, 3dly—the price necessary to remunerate tha grower.The whole evidence taken before the committee turned upon a price. According to Mr. Jacob wheat could not be grown at a profit to the farmer if the price obtained for it was less than 80s, a quarter, and he proposed a duty of 38s. per quarter, as the very lowest amount of protection with which the English agriculturist could be safe. Mr. Lake, of Kent, estimated the loss upon his own farm at 7s. 6d. per acre, with wheat at 84s., and barley at 32s. Mr. Driver fixed his price as high as 5l. a quarter. Upon such calculations as these it was that the Corn.law of 1815 was founded. That law held out expectations to the farmer that he would obtain at least 80s. a quarter for his wheat. The consequence was a great stimulus to the production of wheat, and the competition to which this gave rise, brought wheat down in the following year to 53s. 7d. Prosperity (as it was called) returned in 1817: but only to be followed by the crash of 1822, when wheat in August was at 42s. They were now running round in the same vicious circle with a certainty of the same results. The Corn-law of 1815, however, 115 Government had never dared to enforce in its full extent. Indeed the admission of foreign corn in 1825, in 1826, and in 1827, was a virtual abrogation of the law; and this led in 1828 to a law being passed, with the assent of the agriculturists themselves, that admitted, in their opinion, of being regularly enforced. The object of that law was in principle the same as the object of the law of 1815, namely, to secure the farmer against the decline of corn below a certain price. The law aimed at maintaining the price of wheat between 65s. and 72s., and at guaranteeing the consumer at the same time against a price much exceeding 72s. Neither of these objects was attained by it. The average price during the first five years after the passing of the Corn-law of 1828 was 61s. 2d.; and the imports having amounted to 5,725,221 quarters, the foreigners to this extent shared in the advantages of this high price. From 1833 to 1837 the prices ranged from 36s. to 54s., and this was a period designated as one of great agricultural distress, although the monopoly of the home market was complete. And what, he would ask, was it that thus converted the bounty of Providence into a curse but the miserable cobbling and tinkering of man? Agriculture was a trade, and it must not be supposed that it could be governed by any other principles, than those, which governed all trades. But the law threw new elements of uncertainty into it. It regulated the imports of the country by a periodical panic, not by its well ascertained, and well understood, wants. There was no steady demand—no regular supply—and corn, as a necessary consequence, when wanted, was not obtained on the most advantageous terms. If landlords were honest, they ought to apply the same rule to their tenants as to themselves. If the sliding-scale was good when applied to imports, it ought to be applied to rents likewise. Bad crops, and high prices, prevailed from 1837 to 1842. During four years, eight millions and a half of quarters of corn were imported, and two millions and a half of cwts. of flour,—stripping the farmer of his expected gain, yet always coming too late to save the manufacturing population from an amount of suffering without a parallel in the history of the world. The new Corn-law, passed last year, was open to precisely the same objections as the Corn-laws, which had preceded it. It was equally effectual as a 116 prohibition against importation under ordinary circumstances. It was liable to the same uncertainty, and the interference with the operations of trade was just the same. The 8s. duty would not have been realised last year, but for the accident that the harvest came a month sooner than usual. Who gained by this system? Nobody. It was for all classes a calamitous mistake. The labourers were losers by it. Of that he wanted no better evidence than what had fallen from the two hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Members for Lincolnshire, and Somersetshire, who agreed in stating that farming wages had been greatly reduced. To the landlord it was worthless, for it never could permanently raise his rents by maintaining war prices in time of peace; and to the tenant it was useless as a protection, for it destroyed his market, and by involving the people in distress, occasioned that fall of prices, which by some had been attributed to the tariff. It was admitted by every body now, that the importation of 4,867 head of foreign cattle, which was all that had come in, up to January last, would not have had the slightest effect upon prices, in ordinary times. He had said, in the discussions on the tariff, last year, that the cattle had yet to be bred, that could supply the English market upon a large scale. It was the state of Manchester, Sheffield, and Bolton, that was the real cause of the fall in the value of Scotch and Irish stock. But how long was this system of continual mistakes to go on? How long would it be, before the landlords opened their eyes to their real interests?—their own prosperity was linked with that of every other class. The greater the extent, the variety, the profit, of every description of enterprise, the greater their certainty of gain. No man could succeed in any branch of industry in this country, without paying tribute to the owner of the soil. Instead of Corn-laws, let them trust to the mind, the capital, the enterprise, which were struggling to enlarge the boundaries of the community, to which they belonged. But the first step to improvement of any kind, was, to secure the cheapness and abundance of the necessaries of life. If they did not do that, they struck at the root of every improvement. The law, which, at a particular time, made bread scarce and dear, produced effects of the worst kind. It produced an impression of a most mis- 117 chievous nature on the public mind. It gave rise to a belief that all, there, were influenced by selfish motives. That belief already existed to a melancholy extent amongst the people, and its prevalence was, perhaps, one of the very worst consequences, to which the Corn-laws had given rise. Indeed he was not prepared to say, that the moral effects of the Corn-laws were not the most fatal legacy, that any law could bequeath. Yet, how could they expect that the people should feel confidence or respect for their legislation, when they saw the inattention with which the humblest petitions and the strongest facts were received? He had presented, that night, a petition from Sheffield, signed by 16,500 adult males, of every class, profession, and opinion. What did it state?That the petitioners had suffered greatly from the interference of the Legislature with their food, and their work.—That their trade was upon the verge of ruin;—the health of thousands injured by insufficient food;—their homes without furniture,—their wives and children without clothing,—and great numbers reduced to the condition of paupers.Were these facts denied? Not one of them!. And how were they met? Why, the hon. Member for Somerset told them, that he was sorry for them, and would consent to some change in the Corn-laws, when he was convinced! He wished the hon. Member could go himself, and wheel a barrow twenty miles a day for a week or two, with 6s. to take home to his wife and children at the end, and he would see the inutility of his barren sympathy, and learn to look at the question from a very different point of view. The Vice-president of the Board of Trade, too, had said, last night, that be should regard it as a national calamity, if the 600,000 quarters of corn that might be bought at New Orleans for 22s. per quarter were to come in. He (Mr. Ward) held in his hand a letter, just received by one of the leading firms of Sheffield from the United States, which furnished the best comment upon such a remark. It said—I do not know what encouragement I can send you, as regards the prospects for next season's orders. This country is scarce of goods, but unfortunately the farmers have not the means to buy, having no market for their produce. Flour of the best description is selling in the West, at 9s. 6d. to 11s. 6d.per barrel of 196 lbs. I could have plenty of this for your goods, if the British Government 118 would only allow us to send it to you. If they do not very soon, I see they will manufacture all the hardware here, and do without England altogether.How many hands would not such an importation put into motion? How many mouths would it not feed? It was a circle, that was perpetually spreading, beginning with this single act;—for the man, who inducing the parents to plunge into that had food, bought clothes, and, in buying them, gave work to men, now unemployed, and starving, like himself. The national calamity was, that the law looked to the price of corn, as the sole barometer of national welfare. This it was, that led to the destruction of such towns as Sheffield and Birmingham, and to the demoralization of the great mass of the population. And here he would read a passage from Dr. Arnold, a great man prematurely lost to England. The passage was peculiarly applicable to the state of things, which he was attempting to describe. Dr. Arnold was speaking on a subject, that bore considerable analogy to our Corn-laws — the usurpation of the public lands by the patricians of Rome; and he said,—It has been well observed, that long periods of general suffering make far less impression on our minds, than the short, sharp struggle, in which a few distinguished individuals perish. Not, that we can over-estimate the horror, and guilt, of times of open blood-shedding; but we are much too patient of the greater misery, and greater sin, of periods of quiet, legalised oppression;—of that most deadly of all evils, when Law, and even Religion herself, are false to their divine origin, and their voice is no longer the voice of God, but of his enemy. No pen can record, no volume can contain, the details of the daily, and hourly, suffering of a whole people, endured, without intermission, from the cradle to the grave. The mind itself can scarcely comprehend the wide range of the mischief. How constant poverty, and insult long endured as the natural portion of a degraded caste, bear with them to the sufferers something yet worse than pain, whether of the body, or the feelings; how they dull the understanding, and poison the morals; how ignorance, and ill-treatment, are the parents of universal suspicion; how they, whose condition denies them all noble enjoyments, and to whom looking forward, is only despair, plunge themselves, with a brute's recklessness, into the grossest sensual pleasures.What a picture! yet how true, and how applicable to ourselves! Here, as in Rome, Law, and Religion, had become false to 119 their divine origin. And who could exaggerate the consequences of this " quiet, legalised, oppression," during the last four years—the sin and suffering that it had caused—the extent, to which the understanding, and morals, of the people had been affected by it—the way, in which it had pressed upon them from the cradle to the grave, inflicting upon the children that precocious toil, which the Children's Employment Commission had exposed, and gross sensuality, which Dr. Arnold truly called the worst fruit of despair? He had, himself, that evening, presented a petition from the handloom weavers of Cumber-worth. In it, they said that they would submit with perfect resignation to their sufferings, if they were inflicted by Providence; but they were the work of man; and were to be perpetuated—In order that certain Members of your honourable House, and their out-door supporters, may revel on double rents, and corrupt churchmen receive a higher value for their tithe.That feeling pervaded a great mass of the people, and he (Mr. Ward) would beg them not to disguise it from themselves. The petitioners proceeded thus:—Your petitioners ask not to be fed upon charity; they care nothing about poor-laws, or ten hours bills, when they cannot get one hour's work. They want bread — untaxed bread—and the means of earning it, without the interference of a selfish legislation.And the people did right to speak out, and say what they thought of the Corn-laws, when they saw the way in which their petitions were received. To suppose that a mere assurance of barren sympathy would satisfy men, who were grievously suffering, and grossly wronged, was to suppose that which was perfectly impossible, because contrary to human nature. What was the case of Sheffield? Rates were 7s. in the pound on the rack-rent. There were 4,000 houses uninhabited, where there was not one, six years ago. Fifty-two shops were vacant in eight of the principal streets;—ten in the High-street alone, where there has not been one vacant for the last ten years. 12,000 individuals were reduced to pauperism, and receiving parish relief. 12,000 more were just one stage above pauperism, able to keep themselves off the rates by working two or three days in the week, the trades having sacrificed 24,000/. in the last six years in the vain attempt to retain their independence 120 of parish relief. Auctions of furniture had become so frequent among the middle classes, that it was almost impossible to effect sales; and a remarkable proof of this was afforded the other day, when a quantity of furniture was carted to Halifax, because it was found impracticable to effect a sale at Sheffield. People who formerly occupied houses of 91. a-year, had gone down to houses of 41., or were huddling together, three or four families in one miserable room, of which they clubbed to pay the rent. A whole generation was growing up without the slightest tincture of education, for the parents would not send their children to school in rags. Some families had kept back one suit, which was worn, in turn—a lingering reminiscence of that decent pride which he (Mr. Ward) recollected as the most remarkable characteristic of the town. The firm of Rodgers, of Sheffield, must be known by name to most of those, whom he addressed. It was a firm of European celebrity. That firm, during the last month, had dismissed 100 men. It had been the last to feel the general distress, but it felt it now. He (Mr. Ward) had been assured by those intimately connected with the town and its manufactures, that the ablest artisans were losing that fineness of touch, and delicacy of manipulation, on which their excellence as workmen depended, in consequence of the coarser labour to which they were compelled to apply themselves for subsistence. The people were to be seen going about in wooden shoes and ragged garments; and an humble, haggard look, had become the characteristic of a population, remarkable, when first he knew it, for its intelligence and independence. Yet, amidst this intensity of unmerited suffering—all to be traced to the Corn-laws, as they believed, which stood, like a wall of brass, between Sheffield and its food, and work — the people had manifested no open violence, and as little of harshness in their complaints, as could have been expected under such fearful privations. The right hon. Baronet opposite, the Secretary for the Home Department, was probably aware of what had just occurred there. The Poor-law guardians, who had a most painful duty to fulfil, for they stood between the paupers and the rate-payers, who were fast becoming paupers themselves, had thought it necessary to impose additional labour as the condition of relief, until the task 121 had been impossible to fulfil. A number of fathers of families were, in consequence, struck off the parish books, because they could not perform the work set them. These paupers, men formerly rate-payers themselves, convened a public meeting in Paradise-square, and he had been assured that it presented the most melancholy spectacle that it was possible to imagine. 500 of these unfortunate men, who had been reduced to become applicants for parish relief, came in their rags to the meeting, to appeal against the decision of the guardians, and to obtain some modification of the rules, which they had laid down. There were many amongst them, who, three, or four, years ago, had been earning 30s., 40s., and 50s. a week, and whose talent was the admiration of Europe. The result of this meeting was creditable, in the highest degree, to the good sense of the town. In the first moment of irritation, an angry resolution against the guardians was proposed, but it was reconsidered and rescinded, and a committee of six gentlemen, and six working men, was appointed to consider the case of the unhappy persons who had applied for relief. The result was, that they were restored to the pay list, and allowed to earn their miserable pittance on more reasonable terms. He would appeal to the Secretary for the Home Department to say, whether the demeanour of these men was not such as to entitle them to the deepest sympathy? [Sir James Graham, " Hear."] Their proceedings were noticed in the following terms, by one of the Sheffield newspapers:—Never was a more pitiable sight witnessed in Sheffield, than the meeting in Paradise-square, on Wednesday last. Who ever heard before of paupers convening a meeting to state their grievances, and ask the aid of the rate-payers? From 400 to 500 men, most of them in the prime of life, and many of them husbands, and fathers of families, assembled to say, that they had reduced themselves quietly to the starvation point, beyond which they could not go.He could not conceive anything more characteristic of that sense of order which distinguished the English people, than the manner in which this meeting had passed off; but let not hon. Members expect this to last. These men had still some hope; but what would be the consequence of reducing; them to despair? If any proof were wanted of the total incompatibility of the Corn-law and Poor-law, they had 122 it here. It was impossible to work the two together. They could not continue long to keep the population of a large town in such a state of wretchedness as that which he had described, and yet expect them to submit to their workhouse diet, while they could say, and prove, that it was an Act of Parliament that stood between them, and their work. The two measures were founded on contradictory principles, and though he had given his support to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, in maintaining the Poor-law, yet no one could avoid seeing that a Government, which upheld the Corn-laws, and declared that it would be a breach of contract with their supporters to make any alteration in them, while it insisted also on keeping up the Poor-law, stood in a very different position from a Government, which professed its willingness to make a fair and equitable settlement of the Corn-law. It would be strange if all the lessons of experience were thrown away on hon. Gentlemen opposite. Could they not anticipate that what had happened in Germany and France, would happen elsewhere—that we should rear up manufactures in other states—that we should force the Americans into competition with us, and teach them to do without us? There were some articles of manufacture. in which they competed with us already, They met us in the neutral markets of Brazil, and South America, with success; and, if we persevered in the present system we should force their industry into a false channel, as we forced that of Prussia in 1815. That was his reason for supporting the present motion. He went to the full extent of the principle, which his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton had laid down. He should tell the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, if he were present, that he was just as much opposed to a fixed duty as to a sliding-scale. Other nations were rapidly learning to do without us. Nothing could arrest the disease which was destroying our commerce, but the most perfect freedom of trade, beginning with that which constituted the first necessary of life. He wished to go to the root of the evil at once. That was the wisest plan. As to the fixed duty, where was the party that supported it now? It might have been successful as a compromise three years ago. He would, himself. 123 have accepted it then;—but, as he had told the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies, last year, if a great party refused a good bargain when offered to them the people always gained by it in the end, and they would do so now. There was now no party for a fixed duty. Some of the leading Whigs might advocate it, but there was no party for it in or out of the House. Any one who went to the large towns to gather the sentiments of the people would see that all of them demanded the establishment of the principles of free-trade—the total abolition of protection, whether for their own manufactures, or those of the land. They saw no hope of restoring the prosperity of the country without it, and they never would take anything less. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were not aware of the extent to which that feeling went. The newspapers, which were the organs of their opinions, refused to take the unpleasant and thankless task of revealing to them the true state of public opinion. They talked of the representations of the friends of free-trade as if they were the ravings of people who were constituency-hunting and popularity mad; while, in fact, a deep and settled feeling was really growing up among the middle classes, in favour of those principles which he was endeavouring to assert. The friends of free-trade might be in a minority within those walls, but go where you would, they were in a majority elsewhere. Even the farmers, the last class to which the light usually penetrated, were beginning to open their eyes to the real bearing of the question on their interests. Look for a moment at the reception which his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport had met with at Hertford. He (Mr. Ward) was a Hertfordshire man, and he pledged himself to the fact that the meeting which his hon. Friend addressed was composed of most respectable persons, and, among others, of many of the largest farmers of the county, yet, the motion for a total repeal of the Corn-law was carried almost unanimously, not ten hands being held up against it. He (Mr. Ward) had his information from a friend of his who held 1,000 acres of land, and held up his hand for it. And this was no combination of party. The appeal was made to a meeting of which the composition was miscellaneous and casual; yet it was their unanimous opinion, that the best thing for the tenantry would be to abo 124 lish the Corn-laws utterly. They were perfectly right; for the farmers never could know what they were about, so long as they had a Sliding-scale, and made contracts with their landlords on a basis liable to eternal fluctuation. They could not invest their money with safety, or cultivate, the land with advantage. They were not doing this at the present moment, for never had there been less labour applied to the land than during this year, and labour would never be applied to it again, till the farmers had more security than the present system gave them. The farmers well knew that repeal mattered little to them, provided they had an adjustment of rents, and were met fairly by their landlords. On the very spot, where this Hertford meeting was held, the last time he appeared publicly in Hertfordshire, when attending his friend Mr. Alston, who was no longer a Member of the House, to the hustings, in 1841, he remembered that they were swamped by the tenantry of Hertfordshire, coming down to vote for " the farmers' friends." The farmers now knew their friends a little better. They were ready to enter upon a new system; and if the landlords would grant them leases, and meet them fairly, they had no fear whatever of the consequences of free-trade. For himself, he had been reproached with being a traitor to that interest, with which he was naturally connected, and with having modified his own opinions since he came into the House; some might think, on account of the constituency, which he represented. That his opinions had undergone modification on the subject of the Corn-laws, he was not in the least ashamed to own. He had come into Parliament a stranger to England, without the means of forming an opinion on many subjects:—but he had educated himself, and he had formed opinions, which, having once satisfied himself of their justness, he should always be prepared to maintain. He held the same opinions, latterly, when representing St. Albans, as he held now; and he should hold them when he had no constituency to conciliate, or to fear, which would, probably, soon be the case, as he did not expect, after the close of the present Session, to continue a Member of that House. But if it were the last word, that he had to utter there, he would place on record his conviction, that the Corn-laws, from first to last, had been, what he 125 began by calling them, a most calamitous mistake, which had deeply injured the community, without the slightest benefit to the land. In dealing with them now, he felt that, to tamper with the great interests of the country by a partial change, was certain to be a failure, as it had been up to that moment. By refusing to make that change, which public opinion, and public necessity, called for, they would alienate the affection, and respect, of the great bulk of the community, towards the Legislature, and fill them with sentiments of distrust, and aversion, which might endanger the very existence of the country itself;—while, by assenting to the change recommended by his hon. Friend, it was still in the power of the House to retain the confidence, and good will, of the people, which they would deservedly forfeit by turning a deaf ear to their prayers.
§ Captain Fitzmaurice,
with permission of the House, wished to offer a few observations on the subject now before it; common justice required that he should refute some of the various calumnies which had been heaped upon that portion of the community which he had the honour to represent. He was not about to retaliate for all this in kind. It was by union, and not by discord, that we could hope to see the vast resources of this great country developed with advantage to the community at large. Hen. Members opposite had endeavoured to make out that the agriculturists were not only monopolists, but that they were anxious to separate their interests from those of the commercial world. Now, he did not believe that any agriculturist of common sense, if they could conceive such an animal, ever dreamt of anything of the kind. For his own part, he believed the two to be as identical as the soul was with the human body, and as well might they expect the corporeal functions to be carried on with vigour and effect after the soul had winged its long flight into the regions of eternity, as to suppose that this country would not have received a death-blow to its energies the moment these two interests were separated. He had far greater reason to tax the opposite side of the House with a wish for this separation. He had been a constant resident in the manufacturing districts, and he had frequently heard manufacturers say, that they hoped ere long to ride rough-shod over the landed interests of this country; and when they 126 had performed this most christian feat, what would they have done? Why, what Cain did unto Abel—slain their own brother; and they might depend upon it, that the day that saw the downfall of the agriculturists would be a signal for them to weave sackcloth in their looms, and heap up their ashes for their own heads. Now, it appeared to him that this measure had been brought forward under a very great misnomer; it had received the appellation of free-trade; whereas, all that appeared to be sought for was the repeal of duty on a particular article, which pressed heavily on the particularly fine profits of the manufacturers. Free-trade to be just must be universal, and that land that was about to receive it as a practical benefit must be relieved from all those burthens which pressed heavily on the different portions of the community, and which, saddled with them as this country was, and more particularly the agricultural interest, would render it a cruel, unjust, and inefficient measure. Now, he feared that there were many hon. Members of that House who would gladly see this country assimilated to America; that land where freedom was supposed to expand her wing to the utmost, and soar the highest in her flight; that Eldorado of liberty where they held a population of millions in slavery, and where a citizen of the United States would not sit down beside a man of colour, no, not even in that very building where the Creator had declared that all men were equal in his sight. Let us see what was the state of this boasted land. From a pamphlet published by the League, he took the following:During the interval from 1815 to 1822, the farmer experienced the most extraordinary fluctuations in the price of his merchandise— fluctuations arising from the variations of the seasons, but aggravated by the state of the law, which either rigorously prohibited, or indiscriminately admitted foreign corn.…In the spring of 1817 wheat sold at 120s. a quarter; in the winter of 1821-2 it sold at less than 40s. a quarter; the average of the year 1817 being 94s., and that of 1822 being 43s.…The insolvency of tenants at this period was unparalleled in the history of the agricultural classes.Now, in a land where there was no Corn-law, he had a right to expect that there were none of these misfortunes or fluctuations; yet what was the case in America:—From the month of June, 1839, to the 127 month of October, 1840, the price of wheat was double at one period what it was at the other; in June, 1839, it was 31s. 9d.; in October, 1840, it was 63s. Ad. per quarter.Look for a moment at the two classes who would be most materially affected by the passing of this measure. He alluded to the agricultural and mechanical labourer, whose condition we were told were despised. Could he, as a military man, despise either of those two classes whence were drawn the men who, but lately, swept our foes from the heights of Affghanistan, and planted the standard of England on the fortress of the Bala Hissar? and was the manufacturing mechanic the more to be despised because the sphere of his actions was more confined? What was there in reason or common sense that could make us despise the men by whom we were clothed? what could human nature suggest but the sincerest sympathy for that being who positively puts food into our mouths; who, while we were warming ourselves by the fire, was exposed to all the inclemencies of the season, who demanded neither honours, rewards, nor emoluments,—who sought but a bare subsistence, and lay down to rest merely to refresh himself for to-morrow's toil? It was painful to see the way in which they had, most unjustly, been held up to the execration of their fellow-creatures, and hon. members who professed to be such sincere advocates for the cause of truth and justice would, he was sure, regret expressions towards the agriculturists, which he was certain, at a future period, their better judgment would condemn. Regarding these two classes, had the conduct of manufacturers towards their operatives been such as to induce them to believe that they would benefit in a similar ratio with their employers? He contended it had not. He would allow that in many instances the wages might nominally not have been reduced in the manufacturing districts; but what had the reality been? Where men had been working by the piece a most ingenious device had been resorted to—their labour had received a sort of "vires acquirit eundo " process, by means of which their task has been doubled while their rate of wages remained the same as formerly. Now, he called this a most Jesuitical way of not lowering a man's wages. Secondly, in the event of free-trade becoming the law of the land, what occupation was de- 128 vised for that mass of agricultural labourers who would be thrown out of employment by the poor and indifferent land being thrown out of cultivation? They would perhaps say, that poor land would not be thrown out of cultivation; but he strongly suspected that the farmers would decline the philanthropic honour of producing corn without any remuneration whatever; the dullest agricultural stupidity was rather too sharp for that. Well, then, what was to be done with these men. Would you give a man floss silk to weave who had been used to handle the plough and the flail? Why, more good stuff would stick to his fingers in a day's work than ever adhered to that of right hon. Gentlemen who had held office for the last ten years, and that was allowed to be no inconsiderable quantity. In the event of these men finding employment, he supposed we should next be told that, free-trade would not lower their wages. Now, he contended that it must. No farmer or manufacturer could afford to give higher wages for his labour than the value of that labour would produce him in return. If a man gave 12s. a week for his labour when corn was selling for 55s. a quarter, what sort of price could he afford to give them when wheat was at 35s. or 40s.? It wa3 of no use saying that the reduction in the price of provisions would make up the difference; it would not. He was almost fearful to name what he considered the greatest detriment that the farmer suffered from at this moment, because he knew full well what sort of reply he should have in return. What he alluded to was the perpetual ceaseless change in the law that ruled the farmer's destiny. If free-trade was to be our ultimate portion, far better that we should know it at once. Let the Corn-laws, like Lord Byron's description of the pirate's death—let them " with one pang, one bound escape control," sooner than be kept, like the sword of Damocles, quivering in perpetual uncertainty, over the farmer; and what was that man's condition at this moment? Why, positively trembling for existence under the breath of popular agitation; and was that the state you would leave those men in who once formed England's bulwark in her hour of need? He knew full well what hon. Members opposite would immediately say—why not settle the question at once? Simply because there were so many ways 129 of settling the question, and that they were not inclined to settle it in a rational way. In Spain and Italy they settled the question with the knife and the dagger; in Ireland they more politely referred matters to the shillelagh; but he apprehended that the settlement that was intended for the agriculturist was the ship's settlement, and when they settled the question he believed they went down stern foremost and carried all hands with them. Now; he trusted that this House and this country would pause before they gave so fearful a plunge; that they would pause before they gave impulse to a shock which would vibrate from one end of this land to the other, and which would be re-echoed back by the angry voice of millions, in a manner that never could be mistaken. His firm conviction was, that free-trade would convulse this country to its centre, and that it never would rise from the shock. He had to thank the House for the patient kindness with which they had listened to these remarks, for the sake of those whose cause he was pleading, he regretted that he had not greater ability to urge it, but every man could only do his best. He was sure that he should not appeal to the good feeling of that House in vain when he asked them to take into consideration that anxiety which every man must feel on addressing himself for the first time to the aristocracy of rank, wealth, and talent which he saw before and around him on all sides.
§ Sir C. Napier
would not have been inclined to trouble the House at all, but for the circumstance that he represented so large a constituency, which would not feel well satisfied with a silent vote. Last Session he had voted for the motion of his hon. Friend, and had stated his reasons for doing so. He thought it right on the present occasion also to state his reasons for the vote he intended to give in favour of the motion now brought forward. He was not himself an advocate for the total and immediate repeal of the Corn-laws, because he believed that such a measure would derange to a great extent the agricultural interest, and also, he thought, very much affect the labouring classes. If any hon. Gentleman had brought forward a motion for a fixed duty he should certainly have given his support to it in preference to a motion for a total repeal; but if no Member made a proposition for a fixed duty, he should certainly vote for 130 his hon. Friend's motion, because he believed the existing sliding-scale was still more dangerous and disadvantageous to the trade and commerce of this country, as well as to the agricultural interest. He thought the Anti-Corn-law League had done a great deal of good in this country; they had a full right to agitate the question as much as possible, for all must have observed that nothing was to be obtained from the House but by agitation. The Reform Bill had been carried by agitation, and Change of the Corn-laws must be brought about by the same means. He was, however, of opinion that Members of Parliament should confine themselves to the arena of that House in the discussion of questions, and that was the reason why he had never joined the League. He had prepared a table, which would place in the clearest light the operation of the new sliding-scale in excluding the distant ports of the United States, Egypt, the Black Sea, and Sicily from the benefit of the trade. From the United States only 72 vessels had arrived in this country with corn and flour; the average number of days on the voyage was 39; the quantity of wheat, 5,923 quarters; of flour, 181,564 cwt.; the duty at the time of sailing, on the wheat 14s., on the flour 5s. 5d.; at the time of arrival, on the wheat 9s. 10d., on the flour 4s. 7d. From Egypt, the number of vessels was 53; the length of the voyage, 66 days; the quantity of wheat, 28,224 quarters (no flour); the duty at the time of sailing, 17s. 7d.; at the time of arrival, 12s. 2¼d. From Sicily the number of vessels was 26, the length of the voyage 59 days, the quantity of wheat 32,508 quarters, with 285 cwts. of flour; the duty at the time of sailing on the wheat, 16s. 7¼d.; on the flour, 9s. 6d.; at the time of arrival, on the wheat, 12s. 1¼d.; on the flour, 3s. 9¾d. From the ports of the Black Sea the number of vessels was 122, the length of the voyage 92 days, the quantity of wheat 213,560 quarters (no flour); the duty at the time of sailing 17s.; at the time of arrival, 12s. 6d. The whole quantity coming to this country from all these different regions was 280,215 quarters of wheat, and 181,849 cwts. of flour. This clearly proved that under the sliding scale it was impossible for the distant ports to avail themselves of the market of this country. During a voyage from one of the near ports, performed with the aid 131 of steam, there might be a tolerable certainty that there would be no great change of duty, but it was perfectly impossible for a merchant in a distant port to run the rick of sending a cargo, because he might find that the price had fallen so much, and the duty run so high, between the time of shipment and arrival, that the speculation might prove ruinous to him. Even the small quantity of flour that was brought from America did not come in the course of a regular trade, but it was brought by the liners merely to avoid taking ballast. From New Orleans, whence the Vice-President of the Board of Trade had assured them that 600,000 barrels of flour, and 300,000 quarters of wheat were ready to be introduced, when the ports were opened, only forty-six quarters of wheat, and 26,569 barrels of flour had yet arrived. The new sliding-scale had diminished to some extent the quantity of wheat thrown on the market at once during harvest time, and so far it was an improvement on the old law; but under a fixed duty, instead of importing an increased amount at once, as we still did, the quantity required would be brought in as it was wanted, prices would continue steady, trade would be improved, and agriculture, as he firmly believed, would suffer less than it did under the present system. The Vice-President of the Board of Trade had contended that the British shipowners did not suffer in their interests, having a fair share of the trade; but it was clearly impossible for shipowners to send their ships abroad and keep them waiting till corn should go up, and the scale should go down. The growers must take the first ship that was to be had in the port, for the English shipowners could not afford to keep their vessels waiting there. He had shown that the sliding scale was as disadvantageous to trade and navigation as he believed it to be to agriculture, and as no fixed duty had been proposed, he felt it to be his duty to adhere to his hon. Friend, and vote for total repeal in preference to the right hon. Baronet's sliding-scale.
§ Mr. B. Cochrane
said, that the question before the House had been so often discussed at length, and all that could be said on the subject had been so completely exhausted, that it was almost impossible to put forward any new argument on one side or other, or to propound any original views. But it was, notwithstanding, a 132 question of such vital importance, not alone of itself, but in regard also to the collateral circumstances connected with it, that he trusted the House, in consideration of the duty he owed his constituents, and the country would bear with him for a brief space while he addressed to it one or two observations on the subject. Ever since her Majesty's late Government had brought forward their novel expedient for filling the Exchequer by the abolition of the Corn-law, the Corn-law agitation had been the one agitation of the country. As the hon. Member for Stockport had promised on a previous occasion, the opponents of the Corn-law, or rather, the promoters of the agitation, had sent their emissaries into every village in the country to promulgate their doctrines, and he considered it was but due to these persons to state that they conducted their agitation with great energy, with much vigour, and with a considerable degree of system in the matter. The result was, that the agitation of the Corn-law was now the all-pervading political feature of the day. He had been very much astonished at some of the arguments of the hon. Member for Sheffield in favour of the motion. The hon. Member had said that protection to agriculture commenced in 1815; but he could not understand how the hon. Member should make such a statement. In 1815, the remunerating price of corn was stated to be 80s., but in 1822, it was fixed as low as 70s.; and in 1826, when Mr. Canning brought forward his motion on the subject of the Corn-laws, it had been declared by no less an authority than the Duke of Wellington at 66s. Last year, likewise, the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government had placed it between 54s. and 56s. Under these circumstances, he wished to know how the hon. Member for Sheffield could say that there had been protection to agriculture for so long a period. On the contrary, there had been a diminution of protection since 1815—a diminution, progressive and certain, arising wholly out of the cry without doors on the subject. However, there was one fact deduceable from the statement of the hon. Member which ought to be borne in mind by the House in deciding upon the question before it, namely—that there had not been a single settlement of the Corn-law since 1815, which had been satisfactory to hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was urged that 133 a fixed duty would be a satisfactory settlement of the question; but he would ask the House whether, for a moment, any one believed that such a settlement would be considered final? Every hon. Member who had given the subject the least attention was well aware that the Corn-law was not the real question at issue; that it was only a stalking-horse for agitation; and that if it even were repealed the next day, the day following there would be found another grievance, wherewith to disturb the peace of the country—vote by ballot, universal suffrage, or anything else that could produce agitation. But to recur to other grounds of argument against the motion before the House. Last year the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had stated explicitly, as a ground for granting his motion on the subject, that the repeal of the Corn-law would not throw a single acre of land out of cultivation in the country; and, in proof of his assertion, the hon. Member stated as on authority, that no less than two millions of quarters of corn would be required for the consumption of the population over and above what the land at present under cultivation could produce. The same thing, in substance, bad been said a short time since, also, by the hon. Member for Stockport, who added, that by making proper arrangements, the landlord might be certain that no land would be lost to them which was productive at present. But then came the hon. Member for Sheffield, and be stated that the repeal of the Corn-law would throw all the bad land at present productive entirely out of cultivation. Which was to be trusted? When doctors differed, who would undertake to decide? One thing, however, was certain; these Gentlemen were all embarked in the same ship, and had in that respect but the same object in view, the end of their voyage. It was quite amusing to hear bow hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House spoke of the mighty interests mixed up and inseparably united with the Corn-law. The agriculturists of the country were talked of as a small section, and the immense influence possessed by them, as a legitimate consequence of their position, was affected to be slighted. But the agriculturists, including landlords, farmers, and labourers of every class connected with land, formed, in point of fact, the great mass of the population in point of numbers; and were, in strict truth, the great 134 elements of the national strength. On the subject of that influence he could not, he considered, quote any authority more apposite, nor of a higher character, than that of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Home Department, in his able pamphlet on corn and currency. The right hon. Baronet said:—United, what might not the landed interest effect? The ancient nobility inheriting strong attachment to the soil which their forefathers transmitted as the shield to the family honours, constitutes still an immense majority in the House of Lords, notwithstanding the more recent infusion of less noble blood. In the House of Commons the landed proprietors form a phalanx which no Minister could resist if they could be brought to act in concert, and move on one attainable object.In 1814, Mr. Huskisson stated that protection should be ensured to the home-grower of corn against the foreign producer; and although that distinguished statesman had changed or modified his opinions subsequently, he (Mr. B. Cochrane) did not see how hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House could refute that statement. At all events, they bad not, up to that time, succeeded in their attempts. The hon. Member for Stockport had laid great stress upon the subject of wages, in connection with the question under discussion, and bad attempted to prove that the distress of the country was directly caused by the operation of the Corn-law. No one questioned the distress of the country; but he could not admit the hon. Gentleman's conclusions as to its cause. The hon. Member bad alluded to the speech of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, and commented on the low wages and the distress which he said prevailed upon the hon. Gentleman's estate. On no estate in the south of England, however, he was was prepared to prove, had the tenantry such a kind landlord as his hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire, and no landlord had a happier or more contented tenantry. But if there was such distress on the estate of his hon. Friend as the hon. Member for Stockport had represented, what must it be in other agricultural districts? He would also ask, was there no distress in the manufacturing districts? Were all the workmen employed by the hon. Gentlemen and other manufacturers living perfectly at their ease in the midst of abundance, well supported and well cared for? [laughter.] The hon. Member for 135 Sheffield smiled. Bu the hon. Member did not smile when he made use of the distress among the manufacturers for the purposes of his own argument. The distress of the manufacturing districts, however, unlike that of the agricultural, had come to be considered as inseparably connected with ignorance and depravity, and in the minds of men they were identified with the productive results of the manufacturing system. That misery and depravity arose principally from the cupidity of individuals, who were cursed with the all-absorbing desire for an accumulation of wealth— that appetite which grew with what it fed upon. He asked—fearlessly asked—hon. Gentlemen opposite to produce parallel profligacy and distress as a consequence of the agricultural system, or as miseries common to the population of the agricultural districts. The hon. Member for Newark and another hon. Member had gone down to Bolton last year to examine into the condition of the working population of that town, and they had, on their return, described the distress which prevailed there in terms that horrified the hearer. Houses so shattered, that the wind, and the rain, and the cold, found a free entry, into them—all, indeed, but comfort, were among the items; and crowds, so destitute of every article of bedding, that one blanket was the average among every fifty-four individuals. All that wretchedness arose from the over-anxiety of individuals to accumulate wealth, and from the overproduction in manufactures, consequent upon that desire. A great deal had been said of national prosperity abroad, at the present moment. The conquests of England in China had been vaunted, her colonies had been put forward, and it was boasted that the sun never set on her empire—while at home her railways and canals, and steam boats and manufactories, improved modes of traffic and production, were pointed at as a corroborative proof of similar internal wealth and power. But to that was decidedly opposed the acknowledged distress of the people, and he (Mr. B. Cochrane), for one, would far prefer to see a country humble in its relations with other nations and less active in its internal movements, if the distress of the people were lessened and their sufferings more mitigated. With respect to the Corn-law, he would ask the House if the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government, had not, last year, 136 conceded sufficient to the clamour out of doors. The Government had, like men at sea in a storm, attempted to relieve the vessel of the State by throwing overboard part of the lading; yet now they were called upon to sacrifice the whole to the spirit of that storm, which would never be appeased by any sacrifice. They had conceded largely, and by so doing had reaped the usual results—they had satisfied no party in the State. It was now discovered by one part of the population that cheap bread caused low wages, while the other found to their cost that the production of the corn which made it was a most unprofitable labour. That fact came out in one of the organs of the party opposed to the Corn-laws, the Morning Chronicle. It was, in fact, the whole secret—the repeal of the Corn-laws was sought for to lessen the price of labour, and reduce wages—and that was the real cause of the interested agitation which existed on the subject. The concessions of the Government had satisfied no party; and in the language of the noble Lord, the Member for London, they had conceded without conciliating. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton had said that Scotland was perfectly satisfied to have a repeal of the Corn-law, but he could see no foundation in fact for such a statement. If the hon. Gentleman referred to the Lothians, where leases were for nineteen years, and the farms large, and the farmers possessed of large capital, thus being able by the combination of favourable circumstances, to afford loss for a time, then he might be right to a certain extent; but in Lanarkshire and the other poor counties of that kingdom it was a well-ascertained truth that most of the small farms were going out of cultivation. The reason was obvious; in 1841, the price of wheat was 57s.; in 1843, it was 44s. It was doubtless, the interest of every Government to keep down the price of corn, as a means of aiding taxation; but nothing could be worse than the system of concession adopted by them on this question. Of all doctrines in politics, that which he (Mr. B. Cochrane) thought the most dangerous was that of in media tutissimus ibis. He did not mean to say for a moment, that there were times and circumstances in which it would be only wise to steer between two courses; but he never could admit that it was wisdom to make an alternative a principle of action when no 137 necessity for so doing existed. In his opinion, the good of the country would be better consulted by a decided declaration either way—either for or against any further change in the Corn-law; and he considered that the many interests involved in it would be less affected even by the certainty of loss than by the apprehensions which they endured daily of some great impending danger. A broad, bold line of policy should be laid down by the Government, and it should be strictly adhered to. That policy should be antagonistic to concession as a general rule; as all the revolutions that had recently occurred in Europe were traceable to that cause. If Charles the 1st had taken a decided course, according to Hume, he would not have suffered death on the scaffold. If James the 2nd had not been sacrificed by his own inconstancy, and that of his Ministers, Halifax and Sunderland, according to Sir James Mackintosh, he would not have lost the crown of these realms: and if Turgot had not been displaced to make room for the vacillating policy of Necker and Calone, the miseries and slaughters of the first revolution would, perhaps, never have been inflicted on France. The only way to arrest the march of revolution in this country was to decide at once against all concession. With respect to the question before the House, if the agricultural party were only true to themselves, no influence that could be brought to bear on them from the boards of Drury-lane, or elsewhere, would be able to destroy them or even to injure their interests. In conclusion, he would warn the House against despising the considerations he had urged, and entreat hon. Members not to deceive themselves into the belief that a great crisis was not at hand, unless they chose to despise the solemn warning of Scripture that a kingdom divided against itself, any more than a house, cannot stand.
§ Sir G. Strickland
said, it was with diffidence that he approached this great question—one which had been the object of his own reflection for thirty years, and which was now discussed with so much ardour, that it seemed impossible to throw a new light upon it. He, however, represented a number of persons who were deeply interested in the question, and he felt it his duty to offer a few observations. Every man was now watching the progress of this question with the utmost eagerness, 138 and the cry was, " We are almost starving; will not the House of Commons give us relief?" He thought that nothing could be more true than what had been said by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Ward) that, unless the House showed some sympathy with the deep distress of the people, the result would be a general alienation of the affections of the people from that House. The distress not only extended to manufactures and trade, but to agriculture, and the agriculturists were daily and hourly saying, " We have no friends in the House of Commons." When it was clearly shown that corn was cheaper abroad, was it not natural for the suffering poor to draw the inference, that by the ports being opened and a new field opened for industry, so that food would be brought here in abundance, that their position would be rendered more advantageous, and that having asked, " Who stands between us and the amelioration of our condition?" they would answer the question for themselves—" The landlords of England." Such an opportunity was now presented to England to make the desired change, as, if lost, might never be presented again, without producing a revulsion in society which might shake its very foundation. At the present time he believed, more than for many years, there was a nearer equality between the price of corn in England and on the Continent. He believed that no great distress would be produced among the agriculturists by a change, but that a new market would be opened for industry; and so far from a great revulsion ensuing by the total repeal of the Corn-laws, he thought that the alteration would pass off very quietly. But let things go on until there should come a scarce harvest, and the clamour would be universal, and carry with it such a force, that it would be impossible to resist it. The Corn-law, must, then, be repealed; and then agriculture would suffer from one of those revulsions which had been so frequent during the operation of the sliding-scale; that scale, which the farmers said was always sliding up when they wished it down, and sliding down when they wished it up. Notwithstanding that England had been subjected to the odious, and, he would add, demoralising tax upon income, and that five millions of money were to be derived from it during the year, there was still a deficit of two millions at a time of universal distress. 139 How was that difficulty to be got over? The improvement of trade would give a spring to industry in all its branches. Agriculture would receive a corresponding benefit, and then it would be seen that we were able to meet the financial difficulties of the country. He had heard statements of improvement in the state of trade from high authority in that House, but the accounts he had received from different parts of the country told a very different tale. The hon. Baronet read extracts of letters from Doncaster and the West Riding of Yorkshire, detailing the state of distress there, both in manufacturing and agricultural districts. With regard to Doncaster, a few years ago, it would have been impossible to get up a petition against the Corn-law, but now he had a petition from that place, signed by 3,080 persons, praying for an alteration in those laws. There never had been a period when a change could be made with greater advantage, or at the expense of less oppression to the parties interested, than the present. Now was the time to do the good work, and, he was convinced, that it was by free-trade alone the happiness and prosperity of the country could be insured.
Mr. H. J. Baillie
had observed that one of the favourite arguments or assertions of the hon. Member for Stockport was that the manufacturers of this country did not ask or look for protection; and that if the agriculturists were to bring to bear corresponding improvements in agriculture, which the manufacturers had made in machinery, there would be no necessity for protection. Now, he believed that the landed proprietors and the manufacturers of this kingdom were not, and could not be, on an equality, as far as regarded their respective capabilities of sustaining competition. It was well known that England possessed the greatest advantages for the production of manufactures, greater than any other of the countries of Europe, because she possessed coal and iron in immense quantities, and therefore it was not surprising that our manufacturers were able to compete with those of other countries. But what was the fact as to the productions of the land 1 Why that England laboured under greater disadvantages than any other country which grew corn. Thus, corn grown in Poland was 20 per cent. more valuable than the corn grown in the West of England, the North of England, Ireland, and 140 Scotland, an advantage which that country derives from the superiority of her climate, and against which no skill or science on the part of the English agriculturist would ever enable him to contend. In Egypt three crops were raised in one year, without the aid even of manure. The hon. Member for Stock port had on a former occasion spoken of the state of the rural population in Dorset — (he must say he should have thought the hon. Member would have been better able to have given some information on the condition of the people in the manufacturing districts)—and he declared that the people who were engaged in the manufacturing districts were better off than those who were engaged in agricultural pursuits, but the hon. Member did not give any details. He would endeavour partially to supply that deficiency. He would not state what the actual condition of the population in the great towns at the present moment was, after two years of unexampled distress, but he would state what was their condition in the most important manufacturing county in Scotland in the year 1841, after ten years of unexampled manufacturing prosperity. In the county of Lanark, the population increased during the ten years from 1831 to 1841, from 316,000 to 434,000, being 37 per cent.; and the manufacturing produce, as estimated by the harbour dues on the river Clyde, had doubled during the same period. Iron mines had also been brought into operation producing 1.500,000l. a year, an increase of commercial and manufacturing prosperity, without a parallel in the history of civilizution. But what was the altered condition of the people? The average mortality of the people of Glasgow had increased from one in every forty-one to one in every thirty-one; and serious crime punishable with death or transportation had increased about 50 per cent., (being an increase about four times as fast as the increase of the population. Such were the results in a period of the most extraordinary manufacturing prosperity ever known in the history of any country. The House knew what they were to expect as the result of manufacturing distress. The starving cries of the weavers of Paisley and of Bolton had told them that. Still the hon. Member for Stockport said that the manufacturing population were better off than the people in the rural districts. Where in the 141 rural districts did the hon. Member ever hear of one in every three and a half dying of malignant fever, engendered by poverty and vice? The result of the manufacturing system had been to produce evils which were without parallel in the history of any country. Now, he blamed not the master manufacturers, nor did he blame any individuals, but he blamed that system which had been tolerated by the Legislature, which had not only permitted, but encouraged individuals to collect together the rural population into the towns in times of manufacturing prosperity without obtaining any guarantee, either as to the duration of employment to be given, or, if they gained employment, without being assured that any religious instruction would be afforded to them. The argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite was, that the Corn-law gave the agricultural interest a monopoly, and that, as all monopolies were an evil, and therefore ought to be abolished. But the abolition of a monopoly might, be a greater evil than the existence of the monopoly itself. The condition of the people in the western islands of Scotland, would show the effect of abolishing a manufacture of long standing, although it might be called a monopoly. The kelp manufacture was a monopoly; but what was the effect of the destruction of that manufacture? The rents of the landed proprietors were reduced 50 percent., that was an evil which they might he able to bear, but the great body of the population employed were plunged into a state of the greatest destitution, and in that condition they had ever since remained. They had been saved from starvation by contributions from other quarters. Such was the result of abolishing a monopoly in a remote district of Scotland, and if such consequences could result from so partial and limited an application of the principles advocated by hon. Gentlemen opposite, he need hardly ask what would be the effect of abolishing a monopoly which pervaded the whole country from one end of it to the other. The natural effect of withdrawing protection from corn would be, that a vast portion of the land of this country would go out of cultivation, the labouring population would be thrown out of employment, and consigned to a state of misery and destitution; and then, probably, they would receive the same amount of sympathy from hon. Gentlemen opposite, as the people of the islands of Scotland did, 142 when the manufacture of kelp was abolished. He did not believe that any Government would ever be induced to withhold protection from agriculture. They might have another set of men in power, and a sliding scale might be changed into a fixed duty, and for his part he did not think the agriculturists cared in what shape protection was given to them; but he was convinced that no Minister would venture to take upon himself the responsibility of being the certain cause of that great distress which would inevitably follow the withdrawal of protection from the produce of the soil, for the purpose of giving increased impetus to that extravagant system of speculation which had already been the source of so much evil and misery in the manufacturing districts of this country.
§ Mr. Gisborne
wished the hon. Member for Lincolnshire had been in his place, because that hon. Gentleman last night asked whether, if a farmer when calculating his profits found a deficiency in his crops, must he not look to the stock which he kept on his farm in order to realise his expenses. Now, as a practical farmer himself, and having long watched the progress of agriculture in this country, he (Mr. Gisborne) would say, he had always found that every improvement in agriculture had been attended by the devotion of a reduced and restricted breadth of land for the growth of corn. Every improvement in agriculture had led to the substitution of other crops for crops of corn. It might sound strange to some ears, but he would venture to assert that the growth of corn was the rudest and most barbarous product of agriculture. It was the product which was first resorted to in breaking up of waste lands, and the first adopted in the occupation of a new country. In every country, as improvements took place, as greater skill was introduced, and greater labour employed in the cultivation of the soil, the consequence always had been that a smaller portion of the land was devoted to the production of corn. It had been the case in this country in every improvement in agriculture; and every increase in the riches of a country had the same tendency. He had no doubt that in the time of Julius Cæsar corn was grown in Marylebone; and that in the days of Elizabeth they grew corn at Pad dington; but now, by the increase of wealth and of populaion, the growth of corn was expelled to a greater distance, 143 and so the rich alluvial bottom of the country became occupied by other things, being taken away from the growers of corn, who were driven to poorer lands. The necessary result was, that every country which became fully civilised, and very rich and wealthy, and not having a sufficiency of poor lands within its own boundaries on which to produce corn, was driven by necessity to become an importing country. But the argument of the hon. Gentleman was, that this country lay under great disability as to the production of corn, and therefore the Legislature in order to promote the growth of corn must give it protection. How far was that argument to be carried? He knew that the argument last year was, that this country ought to be independent of foreign countries in the supply of corn. But he had not heard that argument repeated during the present debate. He rather thought it was put forth last year more on the strength of the names of those who had advanced it than on any force of reason which it carried in itself. However that doctrine was gone. The hon. Gentleman opposite had spoken of the great evil that had been done to this country by collect ing the rural population into towns. Now, suppose the rural population had not been so collected, was the hon. Gentleman prepared in his rural district to support them? If they had remained in the rural districts would they have been as well off as in the towns? The manufacture of kelp was but a new manufacture in the islands of Scotland, by which many persons from the town districts were attracted, and if, as the hon. Gentleman had said, the landlords' rents had been, by the destruction of that manufacture, reduced 50 per cent., was it not a fact that by the introduction of the manufacture to those parts, the land was, in the first instance, improved 200 per cent? He would now address himself more particularly to the question before the House; but, before he did so, perhaps the House would permit him to state what were his feelings on again taking his seat amongst them, after an interval of two years; not that he thought his feelings were a matter of consequence either to the House or to the country; but, coming fresh from the country, and having upon him rather the impress that was to be derived from what was passing out of doors, than that produced by the partialities, and—he would not say aversions 144 —but the likings and dislikings created by the contests in that House, he believed that his own feelings might be fairly regarded as the reflex of the feelings of a very large body of men in this country, who do not care much about Whig or Tory, but who do- feel a very deep concern in the substantial interests of the country. During his exclusion from the House he had been living among the people in the distressed districts. He had met them both as an employer of labour and as a landlord, and more particularly perhaps as one having a great deal of cottage property. He had met them at the board as a guardian of the poor; he had met them on the bench as a magistrate, and still more than all, he had met them in his daily and intimate intercourse with the labouring classes in his own neighbourhood, and by nothing had the state of distress in the country, according as it struck his own mind, been so much marked, as by the gradual and increasing deterioration in strength and health of the greater part of the labouring population. Before he returned again to that House he certainly had heard a good deal of improvement in the manufacturing districts. In his own parish there were five cotton mills, all of which had been for a long time standing idle, and only one of them was now partially at work; but still he had heard that considerable improvement had taken place in the Manchester district. Now, he could not hear this without feeling that there were certain circumstances which a very discreet man would take into his account before he placed much credence in this statement. In the first place, they could not expect the month of May to be so dull as the month of December. In the next place, he remembered the great manufacturing prosperity which existed at the close of the year 1825 and the beginning of 1826, and which lasted as long as we sent our goods to the western coast of South America. That trade was stated to be the result of a very sound demand, but they all knew the events of that period. The stimulus which had latterly taken place in trade had been mainly owing to the demand for goods to be sent to China. He had been informed so by the manufacturers themselves; and before the House calculated too much upon it they should wait to see what return would be made for these goods. He hoped the right hon. Gentlemen opposite 145 would take these circumstances into their account before they laid too much stress in determining on a course of legislation upon the revival of a trade which might be of so very short a duration. But he had been about to say—it might be partly attributed to his own old habits as a Member of that House—that when the present Government came into office he watched with deep and anxious interest the course likely to be taken by them; and he soon found, that the right hon. Baronet admitted the abstract principle of free-trade. The right hon. Gentleman in one word, said that " we should buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market." That, in fact, was an admission of all the principles of free-trade. Another right hon. Gentleman, who on this subject must be considered as only second in authority to the right hon. Baronet himself, gave his adhesion to the same doctrine. That right hon. Gentleman had stated, that it would save a great deal of trouble and discussion, at once to admit the doctrine in the abstract. But the right hon. Gentleman had given not only an official, but a philosophical sanction to this doctrine, by publishing a document, which, whether considered as intended to prepare the minds of the people for the course which the Government would take on this subject, or whether as an overflowing of the right hon. Gentleman's own mind, which could not wait for the expression of his opinions in the regular way in his place in Parliament, must, in either case, be considered a document of very great importance, and one of extreme interest to those who were anxious to know what course of legislation the present Government were likely to take upon this subject. He was not one of those who considered that the tariff was in the least degree inconsistent with the principles which the right hon. Baronet, at the commencement of his Government, laid down. He thought the tariff fulfilled the condition upon which it was brought forward. But having heard these sound principles propounded by the right hon. Baronet, and having seen them partly carried out by the tariff, he certainly did receive a very considerable shock when, after the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his budget speech, he (Mr. Gisborne) found in the answer to some questions put to the right hon. Baronet, that these principles, so propounded, and which were the foundation of the system so ably 146 supported by the right hon. Baronet himself, and by his right hon. Colleague, were to have no extension whatever in the present Session of Parliament. He (Mr. Gisborne) had felt great confidence, that the right hon. Baronet would have carried out those principles, because he felt that it was a Government which could carry them out. They were not a Government which had to fight every night for its existence. It was not a Government depending upon three or four votes whether it should be a Government or not. He believed there never was a Government, as far as parliamentary opposition was concerned, since the French revolution, that stood so strong as the present Government, and it was from that Government which had so solemly propounded these principles they had now heard that those principles were to be carried no further. When his hon. Friend, the Member for Wolverhampton, in one of the ablest and most effective but quiet speeches he had ever heard, proposed to carry out these principles, the right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, met it with a decided negative, which was thrown before the House without even a rag to cover its nakedness. Now he protested against such conduct as that. A gentleman who had put forth to the country doctrines such as he had already stated to the House had no right to treat such a proposition in such a manner. That right hon. Gentleman had said,—That the industry of this country had nothing to fear from a steady and gradual increase of importation of all commodities from abroad which could be produced at less cost of human labour and capital than among ourselves.Was not corn such a commodity? Ay, said the right hon. Gentleman, but what you propose is not a gradual increase. But he wished to know whether the word " steady" was not just as much opposed to his (the right hon. Gentleman's) own proposition as was the word " gradual" to the proposition of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. How could any man who advocated a " steady and gradual increase of importation of foreign commodities," consistently say, that no further step should be taken in that direction; that there should be no increase at all? Was that a fair doctrine for the right hon. Gentleman to maintain, after the semi 147 official sanction he had given to the doctrine of free-trade? The proposition of the right hon. Gentleman himself was at least as much opposed to his own argument as to the proposition of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. The hon. and learned Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck) had said, that there was a single grain of wheat among a load of chaff in the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. Gisborne) would leave that observation to the hon. and learned Member whom it became so well. But the part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to which the hon. and learned Member for Bath referred, was not an argument— it was merely a phantom. What the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to was, the two millions of quarters of corn said to be ready at New Orleans to be shipped to this country at 22s. a quarter. This was merely a phantom, which the right hon. Gentleman had conjured up to annihilate his opponents. But the right hon. Gentleman had not only out-Heroded Herod, but had out-Tamboffed Tamboff, for he had not only increased the quantity, but had decreased the price. He said, that there were two millions of quarters waiting to come to England at 22s. a quarter. He (Mr. Gisborne) rather did wonder at the simplicity of the right hon. Gentleman. He should have thought, that his official experience, and if not that, even some of his commercial connections might have informed him, that if he had sent to New Orleans for 100,000 quarters of wheat, which he might have obtained at 22s. a quarter, it was very likely that some Mr. Trueman at New Orleans, would immediately have written to the consigner of the wheat, and have said, " a large buyer had appeared in the market, which has obtained an increased firmness, and I think we ought to increase our quotation for wheat by 2s. a quarter." And when the right hon. Gentleman sent for his second 100,000 quarters he would find he had to pay an increased price, and thus for every 100,000 quarters there would be an accelerating increase, and before half the 2,000,000 were sold, the price would reach even higher than 27s. a quarter. He would recommend the agriculturists, and even the right hon. Gentleman himself, who were alarmed as to the great quantity of wheat on the shores of the Mississippi, to read the Canada papers on the subject. They would there find all 148 the prices and charges set forth; the rate of shipping, the brokerage, the insurance, the interest of money, and so on; and, according to those papers, no wheat at all could come from America under charges amounting to 26s. 2d. a quarter. He wondered whether, on a future occasion, when the Canadian measure should be introduced, it would be the fate of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) to have to prove, that although a deluge of wheat might swamp us from the waters of the Mississippi, yet that nothing but a sprinkling of flour could come from the St. Lawrence. He should wish to know whether that was the part which was to be assigned to the right hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. Gisborne) had already said, that the right hon. Gentleman had no right to meet the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton after what that right hon. Gentleman had himself said and written upon the subject. The House were en titled to know from him why he excepted corn, and continued to except corn from that " steady and gradual importation which was not to do any harm to any interest in this country?" They had a right to know his principle, and also the ground of the exception which he had made in the instance of corn; but the right hon. Gentleman had not given any. After speaking much about the wheat that was on the shores of the Mississippi, the right hon. Gentleman said that it would be a mere sign of utter imbecility on the part of the Government, if, after having passed a Corn-law last year, they should repeal it this. But he had known a Government who were not very exigeante, and yet who had gone on very well notwithstanding. There were some experiments, however, which could not last too short a time; and he thought the Corn-law was something of that sort. As the right hon. Gentleman had given no reasons, he must turn to other speakers in the debate. The hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Christopher) had stated that this law was necessary for the protection of British agriculture. Now he (Mr. Gisborne) wanted to know whether it was for the protection of good or of bad agriculture? That such laws were necessary for the protection of barbarous instruments, barbarously applied — that they were necessary for the protection of inconvenient farm buildings and arrangements—for three-corned fields and three-horned cattle—for grass lands covered 149 with rushes, and corn lands with furrows full of water, and, above all, that they were necessary for the protection of lands let at rack-rent from year to year, that they were necessary for the protection of all these things, he firmly believed, for he was quite sure that none of these things could exist without them, nor long with them. But this he would say, with respect to the agriculture of this country, that while every art and every science, and everything else which contributed to human enjoyment had improved to an almost incredible degree, in our time, agriculture had hardly improved at all. Thirty years ago he had become a farmer, and he had then read works showing the state of agriculture, particularly in the Lothians, and the adoption of certain improvements in agriculture. Those improvements ex tended to Northumberland and to Norfolk where farming had been prosperous; but they bad gone no farther. In thirty years the advances in arts and manufactures had, however, been so remarkable, that if a man could be raised from the dead, he would hardly credit his senses when he beheld them; on the other band, if a man's grandfather, who had been a farmer, were resuscitated, he would know the very spot where he had lived. He would say, " Here is the old place again—here is my old house, my old barn, my old plough, and, if not my old mare, her old progeny, the old hedges, and everything as it used to be." Such, in fact, was the case with four-fifths of England. Thirty years since he had sold a small township of land, including a farm he had himself occupied—of decent soil, and decent climate; but on visiting it lately, he had observed, that not only had no improvement taken place, but that the farm he had cultivated, had even deteriorated. If an improved system were introduced, not only would. the produce be increased one-third, but the expenses would be one-third diminished. There must then, be, something peculiar in agriculture, which prevented the progress of improvement. He wished that some Gentleman of authority would contradict him on this point, in order that it might be fairly disputed and settled; but he laid it down broadly, that excepting some general improvement in stock, and some slight improvement in drainage, British agriculture had, for thirty years, and more, remained stationary, Another point had been introduced by the 150 hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Christopher) when he asked—Suppose that, under the free-trade system, you greatly diminish prices, can you continue to pay the interest of your debt, and the expenses of your establishments?His belief was, that taking the average of ten years, no possible legislation could materially change prices, unless the standard of value were altered; but as that was a doctrine which few persons held, he would take the other proposition, that there would be a large diminution of prices under a free-trade system. He would admit, at once that the present scale of payments could not be maintained; and having admitted that, he required the other side to make some admission to him: it was that if the principles of tree-trade were not carried out the power of consumption on the part of the people must be diminished. If they would not admit that be had plenty of authorities to justify the assertion, so supposing that to be the case, let them look at the way in which they derived their revenue. Three fifths of the revenue were at present derived from the customs and excise; and supposing that for want of extended trade the power of consumption materially diminished, as had been the case during the last three years, would the public creditor or our establishments have a better chance of being paid for under that system than under any other? If he were to advise the public creditor, it would be to take his chance of free-trade as the least risk of the two. Look what the state of things would be if the power of consumption ceased. All the burthens of the state must then fall upon the land. How long then did they think it would be before some Chancellor of the Exchequer would come to the House, and, speaking the sense of the people of this country, say " These fundholders receive every thing and spend nothing. They are living among a population whom we are maintaining, or they have withdrawn themselves from the spectacle of their misery. Therefore, let us impose 20 or 30 per cent. on the fundholders, that they also may assist to relieve the misery of the country, and bear their share of its burthens." For those who were desirous to keep faith with the public creditor, free-trade was the best chance of the two, and the risk the latter would run was nothing 151 to that which would result from any material diminution of the power of consumption. An hon. Gentleman had spoken strongly of the uncertainty in which the agricultural interest was placed by the agitation of this question; but to whom was this to be imputed? The right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) had, last year, altered the state of the farming interest; but bad he told them how long their present system was to last? Had not the language of the Government led to the general belief that it was not a permanent system? If this were so, surely on a motion like the present the agriculturists were entitled to know how long it was to be continued. If any gentleman stated the present law was a permanent measure, the right hon. Baronet immediately repudiated the notion; and under these circumstances, was it likely the agriculturists could be in a flourishing condition? All the best authorities on the subject admitted that the great bane of agriculture was, that the occupier had not a permanent interest in the soil: in the Lothians, and in Northumberland, and Norfolk that part of the population was most thriving which enjoyed leases, if they turned to the Highlands, where they took produce rents, they would find no such uncertainty. In fact, the only thriving agricultural countries were those in which the occupier had also a permanent interest in the soil. What landlord and tenant could make a satisfactory bargain while the law remained in its present state? What man could, under existing circumstances, sell a landed estate? Was it not, then, much better for the farmers to have this question finally settled that they might know at length upon what footing they stood. The Anti-Corn-law League had to-night been treated with great forbearance, although there had been indications that it was not a body regarded on the other side of the House with peculiar favour. But if hon. Gentlemen opposite would take his advice, he would show them how to get rid of it altogether. If they would carry back their recollections to the time of the Anti-Catholic Association they would find that it was got rid of by two persons—the one being Field-marshal the Duke of Wellington, and the other—Mr. Secretary Peel. Now, certainly, the field-marshal did not get rid of the Anti-Catholic Association by arraying against it the military 152 force of the empire; neither did the Secretary of State get rid of it by calling out the constabulary or municipal force, or consigning it to his Attorney or Solicitor General. On the contrary, they got rid of it simply by granting all that was desired, and he believed a little more. Now he would recommend them to do the same with the Anti-Corn Law League; and it would not surprise him if it were got rid of by the same means and by the same hands. He was sure it would never be got rid of in any other mode. The Vice-President of the Board of Trade made some remarks yesterday, which he was extremely sorry to hear. He argued (if argument if could be called) against the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, that the state of the people in this country was better now than it was one hundred years ago. Why were all their great improvements in science and arts? Was the vast power they exercised over manufactures to result in nothing for the benefit of the lower orders in this country? Was it enough to tell them that the people were a little better off now than they were 100 years ago? He would put it to any gentleman who was the owner of 2,000 or of 5,000 acres of land, how he would like now to live with only the same comforts and enjoyments as those possessed by his ancestors a century ago? Were the lower orders to share none of the improvements of society. He said civilisation was worth nothing if it did not benefit them? Was it to be a matter of congratulation that the working classes now sometimes ate wheat, whereas formerly they had subsisted upon rye? Such sources of gratification on the part of a minister deserved nothing less than impeachment? He (Mr. Gisborne) feared that many of the working classes now lived upon potatoes or oatmeal who formerly ate wheat. If it were offensive to compare the state of the people now with their state one hundred years ago, surely it was still more offensive to compare them with the serfs of Poland or of Russia. If the repeal of the Corn-laws were to be opposed, it must be resisted by better arguments than these. Every hon. Member on the opposite benches knew that the Corn-laws were at this moment doomed; he had said so elsewhere, and he repeated it here; and he supported the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, because he believed it would give a chance 153 to the labouring population, that they should participate in the advantages other classes enjoyed from the modern improvements in arts, science, and manufactures.
§ Mr. Colquhoun
said, that with respect to the observations of the hon. Gentleman on the present slate of agriculture, he should content himself with offering a few facts to the consideration of the House. When the hon. Gentleman said that agriculture was in the same state with respect to production as thirty years ago, the hon. Gentleman must account for this fact: at present 27,000,000 of people were fed on the soil of great Britain and Ireland — thirty years ago only 16,000,000 were supported on the same surface. Now, the quantity of corn imported was very nearly the same at both periods; therefore the quantity now produced was sufficient to feed 11,000,000 of additional people; and was it possible that this could be done by the agency of that rude agriculture and those barbarous processes which the hon. Gentleman denounced so vehemently? Unquestionably there must have been some change in the processes of agriculture, and some additional quantity of corn sown. But he would add one or two facts from a statistical authority who ranked high among hon. Gentlemen opposite, an authority whom he was sure the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Gisborne) would recognize, he meant Mr. Porter. Mr. Porter told us that there had been added no less than 3,000,000 acres to the cultivation of land within about the same period as the hon. Gentleman spoke of. He also said that in 1801, 10,000 acres fed 4,300 persons; but that in 1836 the same amount fed 5,500 persons. How were they to account for that fact. [Mr. Wallace: by the potatoes.] That might be the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite; but his (Mr. Colquhoun's) interpretation would be that there had been improved farming in operation to produce the change. It was the fashion he was aware, and one which the hon. Member for Stockport adopted, to denounce the agriculture of this country as barbarous. Barbarous with respect to what—to the agriculture of other countries? Why, the fact was that there was no country in Europe which produced an equal amount of produce. On the square mile throughout Europe, 81 persons were fed; on the 154 square mile in England 232 persons were fed; even in France, with all its advantages, there were only 157 persons on the square mile. Whether, therefore, they looked to past times, or to the other countries of Europe, he thought that the present generation had reason to boast of the agriculture of this country, and if the farmer had reason to feel confidence, if the Legislature were not continually changing the system, if the farmer was not made to feel that they were trying experiments upon him, he could not help hoping that in future times this country would see the same improvements in agriculture that had taken place within the last thirty years. But the hon. Gentleman having dealt thus with the agriculturists, proceeded to speak of the fund-holder; and he must say, that if the consolation administered by the hon. Gentleman to the farmer was small, that which the hon. Gentleman held out to the fund-holder was still less. He said that the fund holder's best chance, under the change of the Corn-laws, was that a diminution of interest would be accompanied by a great diminution of prices. He would appeal therefore, to the fund holder, and tell him, on the high authority of the hon. Member for Nottingham, that if the Corn-laws were abolished he must see an end to his security. But what would be the position of the manufacturer, the capitalist, the commercial interest, and the shipping interest? A state of confusion would be produced infinitely worse, he would not say than anything the country had ever seen, but than anything that any man could imagine; and this would be the peace and repose which the abolition of the Corn-laws, they were told would bring about. Then he wondered to hear those attacks made on the sordid interests as they were called, that were opposed to hon. Gentlemen opposite on this question; for if, as the hon. Member for Nottingham said, there would be no reduction of prices, and as the hon. Member for Stockport had told the people of Liverpool, there would be no reduction of rents on the abolition of the Corn-laws, where were the sordid interests that were opposed to it? Next, with respect to the wages of the working classes, he must say he never had been able to see how the abolition would ameliorate their condition, for wages certainly did not depend on the quantity of food that could be brought in 155 from foreign countries; they depended on the proportion between the working population and the demand for labour. He could not help remarking upon the argument employed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, who had spoken of the 6,000,000 of people, the people of Ireland, who were feeding upon potatoes. Ireland, in spite of the poverty of the food of its inhabitants, was in reality an exporting country in the matter of agricultural produce; and where a country was found to produce food so abundantly as Ireland, and it was also found that its people were suffering from the want of food more seriously, perhaps, than any other people of the empire, he could not help thinking the causes of their distress were to be found in their habits, in the rapid growth of their numbers, and in the consequent competition for labour. Colonel Torrens, a political economist, to whose opinions hon. Gentlemen opposite would be disposed to pay respect, asserted that whatever might be the result of the alteration of the Corn-laws, such a measure would not produce any improvement in the condition of the working classes, or in the rate of wages. They ought, therefore, to pause before they assented to such a proposition as that now before the House. He admitted, that if the introduction of foreign com would extend the manufactures of this country, that would be a great benefit; but he confessed that he had a great distrust of the probability that any great amount of our manufactures would be taken in return for foreign grain. If hon. Gentlemen held that a very small diminution of prices would take place, then the quantity imported would only be small. M'Culloch stated the importation to be expected from Europe was but small; and the hon. Member for Bath had declared himself a sceptic in his belief of those assertions which had been made of the vast amounts of corn ready to be brought to the British market from America. If this was true—if the amount of corn to be imported was small, it was clear that the advantages likely to arise to the manufacturing interests would be proportionally limited, and then, whether they looked at the interests of the manufacturer or the agriculturist, the change was one which could not be desired. This, however, he was persuaded, such a change as was advocated would do — 156 it would make a most rapid and most violent change in the price of corn—a change upon which no one could calculate with any degree of certainty—which would have the effect of deterring the farmer from those active exertions so important for the maintenance of our national prosperity. Before he sat down, he would refer to an observation which had fallen from the hon. Member for Nottingham — that the Anti-Corn-law League was not in favour on that (the Ministerial) side of the House. He must say, that he for one, thought, that they ought not to object, and he did not, to the fullest and freest discussion on this subject; for discussion, he believed, would lead to the elucidation of truth, on whichever side it should prevail. But then, he said, that the discussion should be full and fair, unaccompanied by personalities; by abuse, either general or individual; by the imputation of motives, which above all he thought was most unfair; and seeing the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cob-den) in his place, he must say, that he did not think that those just limits and bounds of discussion had been adhered to by him in the course of the agitation which had taken place on this subject. He was not going to touch upon that grave and serious matter which had been alluded to upon a former occasion, but he must say that the hon. Member—whose talents in and out of the House they must all appreciate—at whose presence in that House, from his experience and ability, they must all rejoice—when that hon. Member talked of the House of Commons as a set of men who were unworthy and unable even to perform the duties of a tallow-chandler's shop—when he said that they were a set of boys without experience, unable to conduct the commonest mercantile affairs—when he thus spoke of the assembled Legislature of this country, embodying as it did the highest experience, talent, and statesman-like wisdom on both sides of the House, he said that that was not the sort of language which should be employed. And more than this, when the hon. Member held up the aristocracy of this country, as he had done, as a set of men so base, and so worthless, that they were worse than the French noblesse — when he said that if they were turned out of their native country they could not do what the French nobility had done—they could not resort to their own acquire- 157 ments, or to teaching dancing, as the French noblesse had done, to maintain themselves, because, he said, they were only fit to be grooms and jockeys; when the hon. Member said this of an aristocracy which numbered among its names those of Chatham, and Grenville, and Grey—when he thus spoke of an aristocracy which, had placed the noble Lord opposite, the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell)—by all admitted to be the ablest and most acute statesman on the opposition side of the House, in the proud position which he held, which had given to the Ministerial side such men as the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies (Lord Stanley) and the noble Lord the Member for Dorsetshire (Lord Ashley)—a nobleman as remarkable for his philanthrophy as he was distinguished for his talents; when the hon. Member compared these men to the basest aristocracy which Europe had ever seen—the most corrupt, the most demoralised — he said, that the hon. Member had exceeded the limits of fair discussion—that he had resorted to language which was not likely to lead to the honour of any cause—language which, considering the high authority of the hon. Member in this country, ought not to have been used on account of the great responsibility which attached to him in consequence.
§ Viscount Howick:
I have so frequently had occasion to address this House on the subject now under discussion, that it would be an unwarrantable demand, Sir, on your patience if I now entered upon a general inquiry upon the policy of the Corn-laws, and repeated the arguments which I have more than once had occasion to press upon the attention of the House. I shall confine myself in the few observations which I shall make, on this occasion, almost exclusively to two points—first, the form of the motion—the form in which the question is now brought under our notice; next to the peculiar circumstances of the times, on which we are now called upon to pronounce judgment. First, as to the form of the motion. I confess that the form of the motion is not such as I should have adopted myself. I adhere to the opinion, which I have already frequently expressed in this House, that the best course which we can take on this difficult subject, is to impose on the importation of foreign corn a small 158 fixed duty. I adhere to that opinion, not because I think the agriculturist is entitled to protection, because I never will advocate what is called protection, in favour of any interest; for I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that you should apply to agriculture and to manufactures, and to every sort of commerce, the same general principle, and that you should put an end, as rapidly as circumstances will allow, to that system which is, in point of fact, a robbery of the community at large, under the vain imagination of doing good to some particular class—not, I say, because I am in favour of protection, but upon other grounds— because I think a moderate, or I should say, a small fixed duty, is the best solution of the existing difficulty. I adhere to this opinion, first, because I think upon the whole it would be the fairest compromise between conflicting opinions, for under the popular form of Government under which we live, I think that however strong our own opinions on various points may be, it is frequently the wisest course not to insist upon carrying out our own views to the full extent, but to be content with a reasonable compromise, with those who entertain opposite opinions to our own. I am not prepared to claim infallibility for myself, nor do I suppose that those who oppose me will be inclined to assert their own invariable freedom from error, and it is on this belief that I have come to this conclusion. But I am also in favour of such a measure, because I believe that it would be a valuable means of adding to the revenue of the country. I am sure that while it would scarcely have any sensible effect upon the price of corn, it would produce a revenue to the country, and that it would be the best of all taxes —a tax which would not be felt by the consumer, while, at the same time it would be highly productive to the Exchequer. But while I entertain that opinion, I am not the less prepared to vote for the motion which is now before the House, and, in taking that course, I think I am guilty of no inconsistency. For what is that which we are called on to vote? The hon. Member for Wolverhampton proposes:—
"That this House shall resolve itself into a committee for the purpose of considering the duties affecting the importation of foreign corn, with a view to their immediate abolition," 159 Now, so far as regards the existing duties on corn, no man can entertain a stronger conviction of the expediency of immediately repealing them than myself. If it were so to happen that on this occasion we should find ourselves in a majority—if the House were, on this motion of ray hon. Friend, to resolve itself into a committee, and if in that committee he were to propose and carry resolutions in favour of the repeal of the existing Corn-laws, I believe that it would be then quite consistent with the forms of this House that any Gentleman should get up, having cleared the ground by the demolition of the existing law, to propose resolutions for the imposition of such a fixed duty as he should think proper. I say, for one, that if no other Member of this House were prepared to do so, I myself should be prepared to make a definite proposition on this subject. I think, therefore, that, in supporting this resolution, I am, in fact, supporting a resolution which is in favour of the abrogation of the existing law, leaving it open to future consideration what is the system which shall succeed to it. I do not conceal my own opinion from the House, but I will say this, that even if I were convinced that, having abolished the existing Corn-law, it would be impossible to persuade the House to concur with me —if I were satisfied that the carrying of this resolution would lead to what is called free-trade in corn, I should be still prepared to vote for the resolution, because it is my deliberate opinion that—though I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that the abolition of the Corn-laws would not be a panacea for all the existing evils of the country—though I believe that there are many other measures which ought to be adopted, with a view of allaying the prevailing distress of the country—yet I am no less firmly persuaded that this is the first and most indispensable step which ought to be adopted. I do not say that the alteration of the Corn-laws will produce an immediate effect, but I do say that without it every other measure which you may carry will prove matter of disappointment. I am sure that unless we take this preliminary step —unless, by an alteration of the Corn-laws, we do what lies in us to assuage the existing irritation in men's minds on this subject, and also to give that free career to industry which industry requires, every 160 other measure which we take will prove insufficient in correcting the evils described on all sides of the House to be so appalling. This is my opinion, and therefore I say here, as I have said elsewhere, that if the alternative is put before me of retaining the existing Corn-law as it stands, or of abolishing altogether all duties on corn, I for one am prepared to abolish all duties on corn, I did not flinch from expressing this opinion when a candidate for the representation of an agricultural district, and all the reflection which I have since given to the subject, confirms me in the opinion which I then expressed. These observations, I think, are sufficient to defend me against any charge of inconsistency. But before I leave this part of the subject, I think it right to say further, that I am prepared to vote for a fixed duty on corn; but I confess that when I look to the state of the country—when I see how great are the evils arising from the continuance of this struggle—how rapidly the time is going in which, in my opinion, such a measure would be accepted as satisfactory, I am bound to add that though now lam prepared to vote for the imposition of a fixed duty, I do not pledge myself that I will hereafter adhere to such a course. I do not know that any one could have anticipated the progress of events which have proceeded with so much rapidity within the last few years, and, looking to this, I can anticipate a future time when compromise on this subject must be regarded as neither safe nor practicable; and I think that gentlemen connected with the landed interest would do well to consider that there may be now many persons who are prepared to vote for a remission of all duties on corn, who would not object to such a compromise. But it is doubtful how long such a feeling will continue. There is only one other point connected with this part of the subject with which I will trouble the House, namely the peculiar circumstances of the time which calls upon us to consider this subject. I do not think that any reflecting person, looks to the state of the country, and to the deep and widely spread feeling of dissatisfaction which prevails, without experiencing some apprehension and alarm. Does any man doubt that there is daily spreading among the middle classes of this country a feeling that they are treated with injustice, and that with the view to the interest of a par- 161 ticular class, this law is maintained, which sacrifices the interest and well being of all other classes of the community, and exposes them to injury and injustice? Can any man doubt that such a feeling is rapidly spreading among the middle classes? You may tell me that the prevalence of such a feeling is owing to the acts of agitators, and that there are designing men, and that, although their acts may produce great effect, you cannot yield to agitators. Is this the case? Suppose I should agree with you in this assumption, for the sake of argument, and that those persons who so act are influenced and actuated by improper motives and that these designing men, who make such representations, are not to be listened to by you? I would ask any man interested in agricultural pursuits whether, recognising that right of discussion which prevails in this country, and the publicity that is consequent upon it, he can prevent representations going forth to the people, and those representations gaining credit to such an extent, as is calculated to produce the most serious consequences. I presented last evening a petition from my own constituents, the language of which I confess struck me very forcibly, and it was expressed in very brief and forcible terms. They said in this petition that the obvious object of the Corn-laws was to render corn scarce and dear, and that their being enacted and continued was contrary to common sense, they therefore called upon the House to repeal them. Will any man deny that, if he regards the matter in a common sense point of view, the Corn-laws were apparently enacted to restrain the importation of foreign corn, and that therefore their object is to render corn dear. I say that it is undoubtedly the object of these laws to prevent the importation of corn, and, therefore, pro tanto to keep up prices, and to render it dear. This, I say, is the view that would be taken of the matter in the first flush. You may reply, "this indeed is the apparent intention of the law, but it is not its real object, but that in the long run the interest of the consumer as well as the interests of the producer require their continuance." I know that Gentlemen opposite will not agree in the view that I take of the matter, but I will suppose that the argument that I have just put, and which I know will be supported by many Gentlemen opposite is the correct view of 162 the case, and that by some elaborate process of reasoning it can be shown that the object of the law is not to make corn dear, but, I will venture to say, that no man in his senses can say that this is not in the first instance and first view of the law its apparent object. But, in the present temper of the people of this country, argue the matter as you like, and as skilfully and profoundly as you can, you cannot satisfy the people that the object of the law is not to restrict the supply of corn, and thus render it dear, and that those who have the main influence in legislating in both Houses, have a direct influence in restricting the supply of corn, and in making it dear. However just your argument may be, and however well founded it may appear, be assured, you never will be able to persuade the people that there is not some sinister interest at the bottom of your support of those laws. I agree with the lion, and learned Member for Bath that this is a mistaken view of the case, and that the fact is, that gentlemen who have land in the country are misled by an unconscious bias when they reason on a subject in which their own interests are involved. For my own part I believe that they honestly and sincerely entertain the opinions which they express on this subject; but I ask any one whether they will convince the people of this country that this is the case, and that, after the often repeated arguments that have been urged on both sides, they can hope to convince the people that this is the case? If not, and if the persuasion is daily gaining ground, that the middle classes are treated with injustice, and that this is done for the sake of only one particular class-if such an opinion be rapidly gaining ground, I ask any man of reflection, and putting aside all party considerations, whether this must not be attended with the most serious danger to the institutions of the country? Can the institutions of the country be safe if they do not stand: in the confidence of the people, and is? anything so calculated to undermine them I as the prevalence of such a belief? Can i anything tend more to alienate the different classes of the community from the; Legislature, and can anything, if this be allowed to go, be attended with more fatal consequences? I think that every hon. Gentleman will agree-whatever may be his peculiar views as to the policy of the Corn-laws-that the continuance of the 163 present struggle is an unmixed evil, which, if allowed to continue, must end in consequences of the most serious kind. And can you put an end to it? No one, I presume, can suppose that you can stop it while the Corn-laws remain as they are. No man in his senses can suppose that any Government, or any combination of men, be it as powerful as it may be, can put a stop to the prevalent feeling of discontent, or put an end to the demands for an alteration of the law. Both the feeling and the demand must continue while you endeavour to maintain the law as it is on the statute book. Before coming to a determination to maintain this struggle, I think it would be well for those gentlemen who, like myself, are deeply interested in the well-being of agriculture, and in the landed interest to well consider these two questions. In the first place, whether you can hope to maintain the present law — and in the second place, if you can, whether the object in view is worth contending for? Now, taking the latter question, as to whether the object is worth contending for. You recently altered the Corn-laws; now I ask whether it has been attended with any beneficial result to the landed interest, or whether they have not most deeply suffered since this took place? I believe that there is no difference of opinion as to the intensity of the distress which now prevails among the agricultural interest. Indeed, last night the right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-president of the Board of Trade, declared that the agricultural interest was actually in a worse situation than it was in 1835. In fact the farmer, in a comparatively scarce year, is only receiving the prices of an abundant year, and yet the right hon. Gentleman said that he did not believe that this arose from the operation of the Corn-law. But I ask, is not the same language heard under all Corn-laws? From 1815 you have adhered to a system of protection, and I ask landed Gentlemen whether, during the whole of that period, they have not constantly been mocked, under the operation of these laws, with prospects, of continued prosperity which they never obtained. After going on for a long time, the law of 1815 was condemned by most Gentlemen who had at all reflected on the subject. The Legislature abolished that law, and another law subsequently also condemned by its advocates and promoters, was then passed. The right hon. 164 Baronet who is now at the head of the Government was the representative of the Government in this House when the act of 1828 was passed. This, we were told, was to remedy the act of 1815, and that agriculture would be better off under its operation than it had hitherto been. I dissented from this view of the subject, and voted with the hon. Member for Montrose, and a small minority, for a fixed duty. This measure, however, passed; and this law was in force for some years when the right hon. Baronet, the author of it, came forward last year and told the House that it could not be longer maintained, as it worked ill for both agriculture and the consumer, and he, therefore, proposed a change. A change took place, and what has been the result? Is the condition of agriculturists improved? Decidedly not. [Cheers.] I understand the nature of that cheer, and that the hon. Gentleman means to imply that too much was done last year in the way of concession; but I think that the hon. Member was most ably answered, by anticipation, last night by the right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-president of the Board of Trade, who said that the lowness of prices was not caused by the change in the law, for that if the law had not been altered the price of corn would have been lower than it now was or had been during the year. The right hon. Gentleman 6aid very fairly that the old law held out a most injurious inducement to the importers of corn not to introduce their corn into the market until the last moment, and until prices had reached the highest range, and that, therefore, if the old law had been in force instead of the measure of last year, the corn would have been brought in in a mass instead of gradually, as the right hon. Gentleman said was the case last year. The right hon. Gentleman said, that if the old law had been in force last year, that only one-eighteenth part of the quantity would have come into the market at the price at which the bulk of the foreign corn was brought into it under the new law. This, I admit, is a valid argument, and I concur with him that the change in the law is so far advantageous to the landed interest, and that there is not near so great an inducement as formerly to the importer to keep back his corn from the market until the farthest point has been reached. But I wish to know, if this is to be taken as a well- 165 founded argument for the diminution of the duty, whether it fee not an equally well-founded argument for a farther redaction of duty. If hon. Gentlemen opposite attended to this part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, they would find it full of instruction. The right hon. Gentleman took a certain period of time previous to what he called the week of the greatest delivery, when the extreme point is attained, and he said that in 1841 only 45,000 quarters was imported, while in the week of the greatest delivery 1,914,000 was imported. The case last year was very different, said the right hon. Gentleman, for as much as 850,000 quarters were entered for introduction previous to the week of the greatest delivery, while in that week 1,354,000 were entered. This large influx of corn took place, be it remembered, just previous to the harvest, and coming in in such a way, must be very injurious to the producer. If the argument of the right hon. Gentleman is a just one in favour of the measure of last year, does it not follow that you should not hold out inducements to the importer not to keep back his corn until the week of the greatest delivery. No doubt, while the state and the produce of the harvest is uncertain there is an inducement to the importer to keep back his corn from the market; bat while you unduly strengthen these inducements, you make him carry too far what was a legitimate inducement before. The right hon. Gentleman, in comparing the present law with the former law, was only enforcing the arguments, with much greater ability than I could, which I and others have repeatedly urged upon the attention of the House. The force of this argument is to show the inexpediency of holding out these artificial inducements to persons to keep back their corn until a great rise in prices took place; while no doubt the anticipations as to the future state of the harvest would be quite sufficient. If, by your system of fluctuating duties, you add to this inducement to keep back the supply of corn from the market, you derange the whole equilibrium of the trade, and produce that state of things which the right hon. Gentleman said occurred at that period, which he so happily described as the week of the greatest delivery, when prices obtained their maximum, and when the farmer was going to introduce his new crop into the market. If the right hon. Gentleman 166 was right as to his view of the operation of the law, he should at once use his best exertions to get rid of this artificial system of fluctuating duties, and should endeavour to restore the trade in corn to its natural state, and not make the duty vary according to the prices in the market. I contend, therefore, that it is for the advantage of gentlemen connected with the landed interest to get rid as soon as possible of a system which they suppose is advantageous. But I ask, do gentlemen really suppose that this struggle can be maintained, and that this law can be continued, when there is a constant progress of opinion, and when there is a certain and irresistible tendency to change in the whole system? And if we look back for a few years, circumstances will clearly show this. In the year 1828, there was only a small minority of twenty-seven for my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose's proposal for a fixed duty of ten shillings. But what is the state of feeling in the House and the country on the subject at present? If we look on the state of public opinion that was indicated by the fact of the great number of petitions, most numerously signed, that have been presented to the House on this subject from almost all the important towns in the country, what an indication of public opinion is manifested ? Again, the House is probably aware that in many large towns requisitions have been got up by the constituency to their representatives, calling upon them to support the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. Such a requisition has been forwarded to my hon. Colleague and myself, and it is signed by two-thirds of the number of electors that ever voted at an election for that place. This strong expression of public opinion on the part of the inhabitants of Sunderland did not emanate from a body wanting in intelligence or public spirit. A similar feeling has been strongly shown in every place connected with the trade and manufactures of the country, and it is not confined to them, but is daily spreading among the tenantry of the country. In the county which 1 formerly had the honour to represent there exists the strongest indications on the part of the tenantry of a wish for a change in the system, and I believe that indications of the same kind elsewhere present themselves. 1 ask you therefore, whether common sense or prudence should not induce yon to put an end to this 167 struggle, and take warning by the past, remembering that late concessions are always unsatisfactory, and that if you are anxious to make terms that you should do so at as early a period as possible. I would ask Gentlemen opposite whether they feel secure in following the right hon. Baronet. Look to his previous conduct? Has it not ever been his course that when he has felt it necessary to consider the great question of the time being, that he has been a day too late. Was it not the case with the Catholic question. Was it not so with the great question of Parliamentary Reform, when he refused in the first instance to make any concession. Was it not so with the Corn-law in 1828, when I believe the country would have been grateful for a fixed duty of 10s., and would have accepted it, I believe, as a permanent settlement of the question, and we never should have had the matter agitated as it has been. In 1841, I believe, the fixed duty of 8s. would have been thankfully received. I am persuaded that this would not be the case now, but I believe that a lower amount of duty—for instance, of 4s. or 5s., would be still accepted. But I warn you, if you refuse the present opportunity of settling the question, by the adoption of such a step, you will, if you delay, not be very likely to be able to settle by continuing any duty whatever. I tell you, if you endeavour to continue the present law you will have a repetition of what took place on the Catholic question and on that of Parliamentary Reform, and you will have the right hon. Baronet, as he did with respect to the act of 1828, make the alteration when it suits his own purposes. You must have him, although you place little or no confidence in him; for you are well aware that without him you would be powerless to resist. Depend upon it he upon whom you rely will throw you overboard; and in pointing out to you the necessity of changing the system, he will tell you that it is better to do the thing handsomely; and, as he did in the Catholic question, do all at once for the settlement of the question. Depend upon it, on the occurrence of the first bad harvest, this will be the result. These are the reasons which induce me to support the motion of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Blackstone
said, that seeing the difference of opinion which existed amongst the various speakers who had supported 168 this motion, including the hon. and learned Gentleman who had brought it forward, the hon. Member for Nottingham, and the noble Lord who had just sat down, all of whom had declared that they had different objects in view, he could not think that any practical result could follow the proposition for going into committee, which would embrace such heterogeneous opinions. The noble Lord who had just sat down was anxious for a moderate fixed duty below that which had been proposed by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, and talked of a fixed duty of 5s. as one which would be accepted by the nation at large; and the noble Lord's reasons were, that such a fixed duty would add greatly to the impoverished finances of the country, and would raise an ample revenue to meet the exigencies of the Crown; but what amount of quarters of foreign corn was the noble Lord anxious to introduce by these means into this country? Why, if 4,000,000 quarters were imported at a 6s. fixed duty, the noble Lord would only augment the revenue by 1,000,000l. per-annum. Under the existing law he believed that last year there had been raised as stated last night by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, a sum of about 1,500,000l. or 500,000/. more than the noble Lord could expect from his fixed duty. He had been rather anxious to address a few observations to the House, after the speech of his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Board of Trade, because his right hon. Friend had been kind enough to allude to a reply he had made to some of his statements. He did not know whether his right hon. Friend was now in his place, but if so, he begged to congratulate him on the altered tone of the speech he made last evening as compared with that he had delivered on the same subject at the beginning of the present Session. He (Mr. Blackstone) had, with some degree of pleasure and delight, heard his right hon. Friend abandon those hacknied expressions about free-trade by which he heretofore had endeavoured to elicit cheers from the hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, and declare at last that the agricultural interests were in a great state of depression. His right hon. Friend had taken that different tone and had alluded to the alarm and fearful state of the agricultural interests. The right 169 hon. Gentleman had in eloquent terms told the House that the depression was great, and that the prices of agricultural produce and commodities were lower than they had been for the last sixty years. If his right hon. Friend spoke the sentiments of her Majesty's Ministers, it would seem that they were at last alive to that great interest with which for some time past they had been tampering. He knew not how this had arisen, whether it were because they had found foreign countries unwilling to alter their tariffs, or whether it was because they had found such a spirit and feeling prevailed in the country on the subject, as must command the respect and attention of any administration. But his right hon. Friend had stated, and from that statement he had dissented at the time it was made, that the corn-law passed last year had produced no depressing effect whatever upon prices, and that prices would have been much lower if the old law had still been in force and operation. His right hon. Friend had stated further, that the new law had stopped speculation. These opinions he denied, and contended that it was the sun which had given the country an early harvest and not legislation, which had stopped speculation and prevented the ruin of the farmers. But looking to facts, he begged to ask what had been the intentions of her Majesty's Government when they passed the measure of last year? The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government when he proposed the Income-tax, in the same breath told the House and the country that he was by his other measures reducing the prices of all the necessaries of life—corn, meat, and other productions —and he remembered well, that when the right hon. Baronet brought forward the tariff, he congratulated himself in these terms:—It is said that in making these reductions and inviting competition, we are beginning at the wrong end. My answer is, in the first place, we have reduced in a material degree the prices of the necessaries of life; and if any man will compare the duties this day payable on foreign oats, wheat, and barley, with those payable if the old law was still in force, he must admit that there has been a very great diminution.He contended, then, that it was the intention of her Majesty's Government to reduce the price of corn; and that intention had been carried out by the operation 170 of these measures. He was not inclined to enter into a discussion of the harsh phrases applied to the agriculturists by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Though he widely differed in opinion from those hon. Gentlemen, he would not lend himself to such expressions as they had used; on the contrary, he desired to argue the question calmly, and to do every hon. Member the justice of believing that his opinion was conscientiously formed: while he hoped hon. Members would apply the same rule to the opinions he entertained. It was said they had now got wheat at 45s. a quarter, but their lands were not gone out of cultivation. It was not likely that a fall of prices in one year would cause the lands to go out of cultivation; but if the price of wheat were permanently reduced the heavy and poor soils must be thrown out of cultivation, and many labourers in consequence would be thrown out of employment. The hon. Member for Salford opposite was reported in the Manchester Guardian to have stated at a meeting last year with regard to this subject,Now, supposing a million of acres of land were thrown out of cultivation, a tax of id. a quarter on the foreign corn imported would pay the wages of all the labourers thrown out of employment.And yet the advocates of a fixed duty asked for a fixed duty of 8s. a quarter on corn. [Mr. Brotherton, " I never said it,"] The newspaper in which the hon. Member was reported to have made this statement was in the confidence of the Anti Corn-law League, and, therefore, he had concluded it to be correct. He would, however, of course, accept the hon. Member's repudiation of the report. The noble Lord (Lord Howick) who had just spoken had stated that the tenant farmers were in favour of a free trade in corn. He felt bound to state that there was some degree of truth in this. They did not hold this opinion from any desire of having a free trade in corn, and of having all protection removed from agriculture, but he feared it was from another spirit, which he was afraid was now deeply rooted amongst the agriculturists—that the change affecting their interests made by her Majesty's Government had been so great that they looked to the future in a state of the utmost despair, and conceived that there was so much doubt. as to the line of conduct which her Majesty's Ministers would 171 pursues hereafter that they would rather at once see the end come than Wait in suspense and die by inches. It was probable that want of confidence in her Majesty's Ministers had given rise to this opinion There Was another feeling also strongly growing up amongst the farmers, which he deeply regretted—that they had been deceived in their attempts to save themselves from destitution by the resident gentry and nobility—the landlords, and those to whom they naturally looked up. The farmers bad not only met with no support when they had looked for it from the landed gentry, but had been treated with every possible coldness and neglect. This was a deep-rooted feeling, and had given rise to the sentiments expressed at the meeting at the county town of Hertford. The tame feeling was visible in Berkshire. In the petition sent up from Wallingford in favour of protection to the farmers, he blushed to say that hardly a single magistrate had affixed his name to it. This was a melancholy contrast to the feeling exhibited when the country had been appealed to on the same ground at the last general election. The magistrates and gentry had then been forward to come and turn out the Administration which had shown such extreme hostility to the landed interest, and had then been ready enough to urge on their tenants to the same course; but now the case was different; the farmers of the country were now acting for themselves. He held that to be most disastrous. He saw on the Treasury bench the right hon. Baronet the Member for Kent. In former years that right hon. Gentleman would not have deserted the farmers' interest. He trusted that the feeling now evinced by the agriculturists would be a deep warning to her Majesty's Ministers, and show them that though they might stifle the voice of the gentry, yet the voice of the farmers, and those who employed the agricultural labourers, would be heard. They were now acting in opposition to those to whom they had formerly looked up, and he trusted that this Would be an instructive lesson to the Ministry.
§ Mr. Wallace
had heard with much surprise the Speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down; it was a manly and a true speech, such as he had never heard from the Tory side of the House before. At last they had got a true and manly Speech from that (the Ministerial) side of 172 the House, and he thought the hon. and learned Member for Bath had done good by his gratuitous advice to the House in recommending to them temperate expressions, though he (Mr. Wallace) thought that hon, and learned Member needed the advice himself. He was no party to a fixed duty on corn; first, because he believed there ought not to be any such fixed duty; and, secondly, because he believed it could not be got. The people of this country were determined to have a free trade, and they sought no protection whatever. He had met a laird of Argyle-shire, a constituent of the hon. Member for that county (Mr. Campbell), and had asked him how he was getting on; and he replied that they were all ruined by the tariff, and that he should not vote for that hon. Member again. He should give his hearty support to the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton.
said, that having been so pointedly referred to by the hon. Member for Greenock, I feel I am called upon to interpose for a moment, merely to say that I do not know, neither do I care, who the Argyllshire laird is who made the remarks to which the hon. Member had alluded. For my part, I can only say, that I am glad that any tenantry of mine should judge for themselves on these subjects. I will state what is the impression amongst my constituents on the question of free-trade. I may tell the House that mine is peculiarly a breeding county. When the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government brought forward his tariff, my constituents, who rear black cattle in great numbers, expressed much alarm, and requested I would oppose the Government proposition. I felt assured the tariff would not have the effect anticipated, and being so persuaded, I answered the appeal of my constituents by saying, that I could not vote according to their opinions. But this year, these very men admitted they were wrong, and that I was right. They now acknowledge that the success of commerce is the best security for agricultural prosperity. I cordially supported the right hon. Baronet in the measure which he brought forward—my only regret being, that he did not go further. I say the price of cattle was quite enormous. It was a crying shame to this country. I looked upon it as a stain upon a Christian 173 country that the great article of food should have reached the extravagant and disgraceful price of 8d. and 9d. a pound. This 1 say, though deriving every farthing 1 have from land. And, further, if any sacrifice were necessary to secure the comforts of the people in this respect, I should not hesitate to make it. With regard to the anticipation of a repeal of the Corn-laws, I differ altogether as to the effect of such a step, from those around me. I have no fear whatever of the repeal. 1 am confident that in a few years we must see that repeal, and, if gradually effected, I am prepared for it. I only fear the immediate and total repeal. I think the effect of such a step would be to paralyse trade; but I confidently look forward to a modified system of repeal. 1 do not anticipate from such a change any depreciation in the value of land. I think a repeal of these laws would be the means of increasing the energies of the agricultural body. Farmers would see, that quantity of produce must make up for the lower quality of price, or they most raise more corn to have the same amount of money. I am satisfied that the change would, on the whole, greatly benefit Eugland. I am satisfied, that the labouring population would be greatly benefitted by it. The agricultural system roust be changed. 1 have seen in this country noble fields ready for the sickle, which a puff of wind would injure, and two or three labourers cutting away at a corner. Such is the slovenly system pursued. If farmers bad a little more difficulty in paying their rent they would display more energy. I have no hesitation in saying, that the industry of the tenantry of England would be greatly increased, if they trusted more to their own recources, and did not look for securing a price for their produce to protection. These are my humble opinions, which I should not have troubled the House with, if I had not been challenged. I can only congratulate the right hon. Baronet on the success, so far as he has gone, of his free-trade principles.
§ Debate adjourned, and the House adjourned at a quarter past twelve.