§ Mr. Villiers
rose to move the following resolutions:—That this House do resolve itself into a Committee, for the purpose of considering the following Resolutions;—That it appears, by a recent Census, that the people of this country are rapidly increasing in number;That it is in evidence before this House, that a large proportion of Her Majesty's subjects are insufficiently provided with the first necessaries of life;That, nevertheless, a Corn Law is in force which restricts the supply of food, and thereby lessens its abundance;That any such restriction having for its object to impede the free purchase of an article upon which depends the subsistence of the community, is indefensible in principle, injurious in operation, and ought to be abolished;That it is therefore expedient that the Act 5 and 6 Vic. c. 14, shall be repealed forthwith.
§ Mr. Villiers
said: Sir the purpose of the Motion of which I have given notice is once again to bring under the consideration of this House, that most just and important claim made on the part of the community at large, that the trade in our first great necessary now restricted by an Act of this House, should, in future, be unfettered and set wholly free; and I can most truly say that, if I could persuade myself that the power with which the subject was presented to the House could in any way affect its success, that I would not again have become the instrument for 1354 proposing it. This however, Sir, is notoriously not the case. I have upon two occasions before in this Parliament made a similar Motion, and have been supported by other Members with the greatest ability, who have left nothing unsaid that could be urged in its favour; and they have done so in vain. It may then perhaps be asked, upon what grounds it is that I again make the appeal. Sir, I think I may take credit for not adopting this course without due consideration, and that I should not have hastily decided upon a course which was more likely to injure than advance the cause. Had those who are united with me in opinion on this subject remained silent upon it during this Session, our opponents would not have been slow to infer that, either from their vast influence or powerful eloquence, we had fled from the field, or that we were satisfied with the former decisions of this House. A notion certainly most foreign to the fact. But I think the public might have concurred in this view had we remained silent, considering the novel attitude which the country gentlemen have assumed on this question during the past year. Those gentlemen have lately deemed it expedient, with the hope of influencing public opinion in favour of their law to descend into the field of public agitation; and to refer their case to the same tribunal to which that body who, in self defence, are now leagued together to oppose the Corn Law have found it necessary to appeal. The meetings of those gentlemen appear to have been somewhat select, and they seem to me rather to have agitated themselves, than to have succeeded in awakening much sympathy in others; yet, inasmuch as their professions appear somewhat large in print, and as has been shewn no lack of confidence on the other side, it would have been curious if, when both met together, on this common ground, no occasion had been taken of expressing face to face the conflicting arguments which each are in the habit elsewhere of using. The public expected such an opportunity of judging fairly between the contending parties as to which have the right on their side; and for my part Sir, I see no reason for despair, and much ground for hope, in the continued discussion of this question; for I am unable to explain otherwise than from conviction on the part of the Government of the substantial justice of our cause, why they have not allowed any Session, nay, why they do not allow 1355 any month of any Session, to pass without abandoning some portion of the ground on which the system to which we are opposed is based. I do not say this from any idle purpose to make mischief between the two sections of the opposite party, because I feel no respect for that blindness or that boldness on the part of those opposite which is not ready to defer to the greater experience and greater ability possessed by the Government, in saying how far and when it is necessary to abandon that which they are neither able to keep or entitled to possess. It seems to me that we are deriving all the advantage from discussion which a cause based on truth and justice is likely to secure. We are gradually gaining ground in public opinion, whilst those who are opposed to us are rapidly and steadily losing it. Public opinion, fortunately, possesses great influence in this country, and discussion has great influence in forming that opinion; and deference is so far felt to be due to it, that any law or institution which is assailed must be defended on public grounds. The difficulty with hon. Gentlemen opposite in arguing this question is, that they are unable to rest its defence on its true ground, and it is somewhat awkward to assign any other; for the instant that it is attempted to defend this law upon public ground, that defence becomes the subject of the closest inquiry; it is sifted and tested in every way to examine if the plea is hollow or true; and there is no one ground which I have heard since I came into this House that has not now been thoroughly examined, and in my judgment completely exposed. I am curious, therefore, to hear what fresh ground is on this occasion to be taken. The ground upon which it was first placed before that was tested by experience was certainly the most plausible, since which it has proved to be the most foolish on which it could stand—namely, that it was dangerous for this country to be dependent for its supply of food on other countries, and that, on this account, our landowners should be protected from foreign competition. It was assumed that we might safely depend upon foreigners for the means of revenue, for the material of our manufactures, and thus for the means of employment to millions of our people, whereby they get bread, but not dependent upon them for the bread itself. That was the plea set forth for the enactment of the law—one which, at the time, all thinking men derided, and which has 1356 since become contemptible by the failure of the experiment. Returns laid before this House during the last twenty years, prove that the expectation of being thus independent if ever honestly entertained has been completely disappointed, and that since the law was passed we have been largely and constantly dependent on other countries for supplies of corn, that this dependence is increasing, and that during the last five years of the experiment we have fallen short in our home supply to an amount equal to 17,000,000 quarters, that the corn we have imported has not been grown for our market, but for the consumption of other people, and therefore obtained under peculiar disadvantage to us. During the thirteen years of the duration of the law passed in 1828, there was imported from foreign countries no less than 30,000,000 quarters of grain actually necessary for the consumption of the people of this country. The advocates for the home monopoly would hardly then allege a sufficiency of home supply as an excuse—at least, not from those who regard the truth. Whether this soil can or cannot produce enough to support its population, I cannot pretend to say; but the fact stands upon record, that it has not produced enough, and that we have been obliged to resort to other countries to the extent I have stated. Will any one pretend, however, that the other excuses which have been alleged in defence of the law have not been shewn to be equally futile and insufficient? When the only profit or gain connected with this law has been traced to the owners of the land, the proprietors in Parliament have repudiated the charge, they have denied that they had any interest in the law, and asserted the single object of such a law to be in the interest of the occupier and the labourer, whose well-being and existence, as they allege, depended on their continuance. But is there now, whatever there may have been before, a single man of honest mind who has given thought to the subject, that for a moment will assent to such a proposition. Will any man this night venture to repeat what is so demonstrably untrue? Will there be a single Member of an agricultural county rise up to-night, and say I can prove that the tenant farmers have benefited or do profit by this law? The interest of these classes in these laws had been fully and fairly inquired into by those leagued together for the purpose, and so far from the Corn Laws being of any service to them, nothing 1357 appeared to be more identified with the permanent interest of both the farmer and the agricultural labourer than their total repeal. Every person is now familiar with the fact that the distress of no class had been more prominently or more frequently obtruded upon the public than that of the farmers. Evidence could be submitted at the Bar of this House, or before a Committee, that would leave no doubt that, for the last thirty years, the farmers had been, of all men, the most embarrassed, and that their distress had been more obtruded upon the attention of this House than those of any other class of persons. In fact, it is now matter of notoriety that they had derived no benefit from the Corn Laws. The farmer has been duped and deceived by the promise of Parliament about this law. He has been assured that by this law he would be secured in the price for his corn; and what had been the result? Why, that he had been deluded into the payment of higher rent. The same had occurred with regard to all the exemptions that had been procured for the farmer in the payment of taxes, there was not a landlord in the House who did not know that they contributed only to swell the rent that was given for the land. The Members of that House dare not call a single farmer before them, and ask him whether what they had done in his behalf, as they said, had been at all to his benefit? It was the evidence of one of the most competent among them, that whatever relief they had procured for the farmer through Parliament had been for the advantage alone of landowners. He would venture to say that not an hon. Member in that House would repeat again tonight that the Corn Laws were enacted for the benefit of the farmers. He defied hon. Members to repeat that the law was upheld for such purpose. The farmers assert themselves that they are the most distressed class in the community, while they hold their lands under circumstances the most disadvantageous for its proper cultivation. The assertion that these laws were for the benefit of the labourer was equally absurd and unfounded. No one would now venture to say that it was for the advantage of the labourer that the prices of food should be kept up, and that high prices ensured high wages. There was a volume in this House, produced by the labours of a Commission of the Crown, which effectually disproved that assertion. No man in the face of that volume could rise and say that these laws were for the advantage of the 1358 labourers, Their mouths were closed by the evidence taken by this Commission. This was an authority which they did not venture to dispute. That evidence proved that no one could be lower in the scale of civilization than the agricultural labourer. Country gentlemen may now study it by the light of fire in their own neighbourhoods. Scarcely a day passed but the papers were full of accounts of what were called the crimes of the labouring classes, which were, in fact, the results of their necessitous condition. The hon. Member for Stockport had asked for inquiry upon this subject; he had made a motion to that effect, but the majority who are proprietors did not assent to it; they felt the danger of calling upon a single farmer or labourer to give evidence with respect to their condition, and their experience of the operation of these laws. The Motion of my hon. Friend was a perfectly fair one, and one quite in point; but the landowners refused the test of calling upon the tenantry to give their opinion upon the Corn Laws, to speak of their operation in raising rents, and upon the poor labourers, to say whether their case was not made more desperate by high prices. But the landowners will never bring forward either farmers or labourers to tell of their experience of the working of these laws. I see in the Times newspaper a statement, that in some parts of the country, where there has been much discontent and breach of the law, wherever the farmer allowed the labourer an opportunity of procuring provisions cheap, thus virtually repealing the Corn Laws, they became better affected, and property was safe. And I now ask the landowners to answer this question, how it was that the labourer was always found to be contented and well affected after prices had continued low, but that they were always disaffected, and the property of the country endangered, when food was scarce, and the price was high. I ask the hon. Member for Knaresborough, who has thought it decent to give notice of the Amendment he has placed upon the Votes to meet and answer this point. I call upon him to give evidence of the good condition of the agricultural labourers if he can. I will here read a public letter, yet unanswered, addressed to the county of Bucks, one of the most purely agricultural districts in the country within a year ago, by a Baronet and a magistrate of that county, Sir Harry Verney, no member of the Anti-Corn Law League. The hon. Baronet writes as follows:— 1359My friends, it is with pain that I contemplate the condition of the agricultural classes, especially of the agricultural labourer. See his damp, un whole some, ill-ventilated, crowded cottage—ride through a village, where groups of men are standing about, unable to obtain work. Remark the downcast look of a man, as honest and upright as the most honest and upright amongst us, who has gone round from farm to farm and cannot obtain labour; follow him home to his family, and see him enter his cottage, where his wife and hungry children await his return, hoping that he may have obtained employment and food; but he has failed. The charity of a farmer, or the kindness of those who divide with each other the widow's mite, of some neighbour less poor only than himself, supports the family for a few days, until the order of admission to the workhouse is obtained. There are few, I hope I may say, no deaths from want in our agricultural districts; every poor family that has a crust or a dish of potatoes will divide it with their poorer neighbour who has none; in every village there are farmers and farmers' wives ready to assist a starving family. But are there no diseases brought on by poor living? No constitutions impaired by unwholesome and insufficient diet, want of clothing, and bad dwellings? Are not the minds as well as the bodies of our peasantry often enfeebled by their sufferings, and unfitted for the very exertions that would better their condition? You know as well as I do the reply to such questions.This was the letter of a Baronet of Buckinghamshire—one who had property in the county; and such was his description of the state of the labourer after thirty years of protection. I will now read the evidence of a farmer as to the state of the labourers as well as the farmers, and the benefit which they expect from the continuance of monopoly, who had spoken in the presence of other farmers at a public meeting in the county of Gloucester, Mr. Josiah Hunt, of Almondsbury, a practical tenant-farmer of great experience. [An hon. Member made a remark about the Poor Law.] He would notice the reference of an hon. Member to the subject of the Poor Laws presently. This farmer (Mr. Hunt) said,He believed that with free-trade the cultivation of the land would be improved—the produce of the land would be increased—the independence of the tenant secured, and his prosperity greatly augmented. He could fully bear out what Mr. Cobden had said about the agricultural labourers—their wages were miserably low, and yet the farmers could not pay more. In his own parish hundreds of families lived on 7s. per week—their fare was worse than that of the pauper—whole families of 1360 grown up children slept in one room, to the total disregard of the decencies of life, and to the total destruction of feelings of propriety and morality. It had been said the land had to bear peculiar burthens; but it should also be said the farmers had peculiar exemptions; and if the farmers' windows were untaxed, and his riding horse and his dogs free of duty, it was not to benefit him, but that he might be able to pay higher rent to his landlord. He cordially seconded the resolution, believing that a Repeal of the Corn Laws would improve the prospects of the tenant-farmer, and promote the physical, moral, and social condition of the labourer.In the same speech also, he expresses a distinct opinion on these laws, and says:—The Corn Laws he was fully convinced were no benefit but an injury to the tenants; they were designed to raise rents, and to place the tenantry subservient to the political domination of the landlord — and if he needed anything to fortify his opinion on the Corn Law, it was the fact of the best practical agriculturists in the kingdom entertaining the same views upon the subject; the whole system, he declared, was not to benefit the farmer, but to raise the landowner's rent.The hon. Member opposite referred to the effects of the Poor Law just now: what did the hon. Member suppose was the average weekly cost of supporting a man with his wife and six children in the workhouse in the country? He would find it was 17 s. 6d. a-week; whilst the wages of the labourer he would find were only 7s. 6d. a-week. The working labourer, therefore, was very far worse off than the pauper, and was forced into the workhouse in self-defence. Let the hon. Gentleman opposite stand forward and avow himself the friend of the landowners, if he pleased—let him court the dominant class in the State, if he thought it convenient or proper to do so; but before he stood forward in such a cause as the friend of the poor labourer, I call upon him to answer the statements which I have just read to the House. These statements, along with a host of others to the like effect, fully bear out my position, that neither the farmer nor the labourer were interested in the continuance of these laws; and it was but justice to add that it was to the exertions of the Anti-Corn Law League that the disclosure of these important truths were owing. Let hon. Gentlemen then apply themselves to these facts, disprove them if they can; prove the contrary if it is in their power, and they will satisfy the public far better that they are right and 1361 honest in their professions than by vulgar abuse of the Anti-Corn Law League. Knowing they cannot do that, I am at a loss to anticipate what popular or public ground they will attempt to occupy on the present occasion. The right hon. the Secretary for the Board of Trade, who did not like to repeat all the foolish things which were said by his supporters, had, when this subject was last discussed, started an argument of his own, which I confess I don't think much wiser than those of his Friend." The right hon. Gentleman said, that he would not urge the objection of danger from not obtaining a sufficient supply of corn from abroad when wanted, as he believed that the supply of corn would be regulated pretty much upon the same principles as that of any other commodity, and that we should not be liable to more interruption in this trade than in other commodities. But the objection which the right hon. Gentleman threw out was that a depression of price consequent on an increased quantity of corn would throw out of employ a large amount of agricultural labour. From what had fallen in the course of former debates, the landowners in this House did not appear to entertain a very high notion of the right hon. Gentleman's agricultural knowledge. The hon. Member for Sussex, indeed, seemed to imply that from what he had seen of the right hon. Gentleman that he was so ignorant on these matters as not to know an ox from a plough. With respect to the notion of the repeal of the Corn Laws displacing agricultural labour, the right hon. Gentleman gave the House none of the data upon which that fancy was founded. He supposed, of course, that the right hon. Gentleman calculated upon agricultural labour being displaced, as the consequence of certain lands being thrown out of cultivation, which was to result from increased quantity, and low price of produce. Now, looking at what had been said by agriculturists themselves, I am at a loss to understand that the necessary consequence of a reduction of prices would be to throw any considerable quantity of land out of cultivation. The fact, I believe, is, that if a little science and economy were applied to the cultivation of the land, a low price was compatible with paying the labour of cultivation, and obtaining a good profit. A nobleman, distinguished for his knowledge of agriculture, Lord Ducie, declared publicly that all apprehension upon this score was a fallacy, and that exclusive of rent 1362 they could produce wheat on almost any land at lower prices than those quoted at any foreign port. Now, it was obvious that before land could be thrown out of cultivation, it must have given up paying rent; and before it ceased to support the labourer, it must go to waste. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have shown at what prices land could not be cultivated with a prospect of profit; and he would have to show that it would not be worth the mere application of industry required for cultivation, before he declared that the lowering of prices in the market would be followed by the displacement of labour. I don't think it probable that the right hon. Gentleman will repeat this argument again to-night. Since he had formerly used it, he had possibly read what had been said by men who knew something about the subject, and he had doubtless profited by what he had read. But there was another argument which the right hon. Gentleman had since advanced; it was to this effect:—that we should be careful how far we risked the reduction of rent, lest owners of land should themselves become farmers. The right hon. Gentleman was afraid that the farmers themselves would be ousted from their tenancies, and the landowners, by attending to the cultivation of their own land, become useful members of society. Now, I don't think that the right hon. Gentleman need labour under any very serious apprehension on this score. I don't think that the firstborn of the land will be very likely to take to an industrious and laborious pursuit as long as they could be more agreeably employed in doing nothing. Let him not be alarmed—let him. rest satisfied that, during his time, at least, those who were born to inherit the land would continue to be trained up in idleness as they had heretofore been, and be chiefly qualified for consuming the fortunes which others had acquired. But whilst the right hon. Gentleman was dreading the displacement of agricultural labourers, let him reflect upon the alternative in the consequences of fettering trade, necessarily resulting in the displacement of manufacturing labour. It appeared that between the period of the last censuses being taken, in, ten years upwards of 360,000 agricultural labourers had gone from their villages to the manufacturing districts as a means of living. Did not the right hon. Gentleman perceive that, by the returning of any considerable portion of that number to the agricultural districts in consequence of the 1363 want of employment in manufactures, there would be a far more certain depression of agricultural labour, than he apprehended would result from the introduction of foreign corn, and the consequent lowering of prices. But the most intelligent landowners themselves were now convinced that increased production and low prices did not displace labour; on the contrary, they instructed their farmers that the principle to proceed upon was, by the application of more labour, and increased skill and improvements generally, to produce the largest possible quantity at the lowest possible price. Indeed if this argument against low prices was good, it was just as much so against improvement as against free-trade, increased supply and reduced price was the expected result of both. They could not increase the productiveness of the land without the effect of the additional quantity being felt in the market; and the right hon. Gentleman reasoned from the effect of low prices that land would go out of cultivation. Another argument had been used as showing the necessity of great caution in any change—which was the numerical importance of the agricultural classes in the scale of society. But a document had recently appeared—namely, an analysis of the late census—which gave some information on this matter. It appeared from these calculations that the agricultural classes, about whom so much had been written, and of whom it had been said that they constituted seven-ninths of the whole population of the country, were only 7 per cent. and a little more of our population. And with what show of right or justice would it be pretended to exclude the whole mass of the people of this country from their natural right to buy their food as abundantly and as cheaply as they could, out of regard to the supposed exclusive interests of such a fraction of the community? No right can be allowed in any portion of the public to impose taxes or restrictions on the rest, and I contend that those who would continue this law are bound to prove that it is the means of giving the most abundant supply of food to the people at the cheapest possible rate, and that ought to be the real question with the supporters of the Corn Law; and if they failed to prove the affirmative of that proposition, then I say that the maintenance of the Corn Laws was the maintenance of tyranny, and the cause of enormous evil; for I stand here not on the part of this or that interest, 1364 either manufacturing or otherwise, but on the part of the people at large, to assert that it was their right, and for their unquestionable advantage, and for the good of the whole country, that they should procure and have access to their food as cheaply, as abundantly, as conveniently as by means of capital, commerce, industry, or any other human contrivance they could possibly possess themselves of. Do the Corn Laws effect that? And if not, where is that public necessity which Lord Grenville says so truly, ought to be imperative to justify any tampering with the means of the people's subsistence, for as he truly says, to confine ourselves to our own soil appeared to mar the provision of Heaven, which by varying the climes and seasons of the earth, had relieved any nation like our own from exclusive dependence on itself. To legislate for limiting the sources of supply was, in point of fact, to encourage scarcity, and it was monstrous to confer upon any body of men who were irresponsible, and whose interest in this respect might conflict with that of the community, the right to enact laws for regulating the supply of food. It was giving them complete power over the people. He who determines the amount of food, could make slaves of the people; and they could not too quickly direct the attention of the country to the immense importance in all its bearings, on the condition of the community, of food being abundant, and of the purpose and effect of the Corn Law to restrict that abundance? The time was most convenient,—our information on the matter was never greater. Never was our experience more complete, of the effect of more or less food upon the moral as well as physical condition of the people—never had we approached the subject at a moment more calm or free from excitement—never had there been a period in all respects so adapted from the knowledge of the past to legislate for the future. There were, moreover, now, some hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, who were now much occupying themselves in the praiseworthy endeavour to discover the cause of the bad physical condition of the people —and who, as they say, wishing to overlook pecuniary and selfish considerations, were anxious to legislate alone on principles of humanity. I invite those hon. Gentlemen, then, to go into the question of a great cause of the misery and sufferings of a great portion of the labouring people, the dearness and insufficiency of wholesome 1365 food. I ask them to investigate the cause of that severe and pressing competition which they say themselves compel the people to toil too long, to work too hard. I wish then to examine the connection of that circumstance with the limited amount of food—which by raising its price confines their means to the bare payment for necessaries—deprives them of the power of educating their children; compels them to neglect the domestic duties of life, and thus sink them in the scale of civilization. I hear from some of them that people are made slaves by circumstances. I ask them, then, to examine the circumstances that cause this evil, with a view to remove them. I ask those hon. Gentlemen who were actuated by those philanthropic motives, whether this competition which led to these lamentable results was not influenced by food not keeping pace with population, and by laws existing to limit the supply of food, while none could exist to check numbers of the people? Could there be any doubt upon this point? The truth of this proposition was admitted sometimes by hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves. They always were anxious for a good harvest; they prayed for it in their churches; and why? Because a good harvest rendered food more plentiful. Those hon. Gentlemen had certain associations in their minds as to the effects of a good or a bad harvest, and amongst them was that, with a good harvest, the people had more employment; that they were improved in their condition, and were not liable to those extreme sufferings which a bad harvest, and the consequent scarcity of food and high prices entailed upon them. Then why quarrel with those who sought to obtain the same results which they only in a more certain way looked forward to as the consequences of an abundant harvest by other means—by the freedom of trade? The object of both parties is the same, and your desire for good harvests and ours for free-trade proceed from the same motive. When you pray for good harvests, we do not wish to accuse you of a wish to reduce wages and to benefit yourselves only; then give us credit for being actuated in our attempts to increase the supply of food by other means—the same motives as yourselves that of benefiting the condition of the people. Could there be any difference in point of fact, whether food was rendered scarce to the people by a bad harvest, or by limiting the supply by any other means? If you care to know 1366 what would follow from free-trade, ascertain what occurs from a good harvest — whether wages fall — whether the home-trade is bad — whether labour is displaced; and if you wish to know what would be the effect of restricting the supply of food to the growth of this island, consider what you expect would follow from confining the supply of this town or the county in which it stands to the growth of its spare soil. Apply the system of the sliding-scale to London, and make the squares or Grosvenor square alone perhaps attempt to give corn for the whole town. What would be the effect? If the people increased and the food did not in proportion, would not the price of food rise and competition for food increase? Would not wages be reduced, and the people be compelled to work harder for less money and less food? And would it not be said of those who refused to admit corn from without, for the purpose of keeping up the rents of the square, that they were guilty of the grossest selfishness and the grossest injustice? And where was the difference whether the principle was applied to a single town or to a whole kingdom? The population of the country was increasing rapidly; and the produce of our own soil, it was notorious, was not keeping pace with that increase; and yet we refuse to admit an adequate supply from other countries. Let in food from abroad, and there would be found customers enough or it would not be entered in. If there was no fear from corn being admitted, why not let it in? If there were fears of the results of change, on what did they rest? Could it be denied that it arose lest food should be too cheap, and that the blessing would be too widely diffused; and could that be justified on any principle of justice or humanity: and what is to be said of any man, who, being a party to this injustice, who supported this system for the interest of his order, should go forth to sympathise with his victims, and get credit for seeking to heal the wounds he had inflicted? Would you not charge him with the grossest ignorance or the grossest hypocrisy? This was a question which did not affect the operatives of the mill and factory alone, but the whole working population. We have no excuse for not looking at its effects. We have had lately forced upon us the means of judging of the effect of years of scarcity and plenty upon the moral and physical condition of the people. Within ten years we have had four years of scar- 1367 city and four years of plenty. From 1832 to 1836 was one continued period of abundance; from 1838 to 1842 was a period of scarcity. I will first compare the effects of scarcity and abundance by figures. I find that, in the four years of abundance from 1832 to 1836, the price of wheat had averaged 46s. a quarter, and in four years of scarcity the average price had been 66s. a difference of 20s. a quarter in price of wheat. Here then was an opportunity of judging of the sacrifices which the people had been called upon to make during these dear years. One of the first consequences of the period of scarcity was, that the people were able to consume less, though they had to pay more, while at the period of abundance they had to pay less, and consumed more. That had been the case in the years I have referred to. The difference of consumption was usually supposed to be one-tenth more when food was cheap than when it was dear; this was shown by the sales and deliveries in the markets. The average consumption of wheat in this country was calculated at 16,000,000 quarters. In cheap years there would be an addition of one-tenth to that amount, making the consumption of wheat in those years 17,600,000 quarters, and in dear years they must subtract one-tenth from the average, leaving the consumption in years of scarcity at 14,400,000. Now, for the 17,000,000 of quarters the people paid 149,000,000l. and for the 14,000,000 184,000,000l. Mr. M'Culloch had calculated that 195,000,000l. was the annual value of agricultural produce of this country, and it appeared that the increase in price of all other produce besides corn, was during these years one-sixth higher than it had been during the cheap years. These calculations were based upon Returns made to that House and the contract prices at Greenwich Hospital, I believe their correctness will not be disputed, and with this data it will be found that the people of this country were thus called upon to pay 33,000,000l. a year more for their food in dear years than in cheap years, while the amount of that food was diminished in the proportion I have stated. This was one of the effects of the deficient supply of food consequent on the dependence on our own seasons instead of regular commerce, and of itself was sufficient by diminishing consumption of other things than food to occasion stagnation of trade and depression of prices. Then on these occasions of scarcity a great sacrifice 1368 was always required at first by exporting bullion to procure supplies from abroad, to the prejudice and derangement of all the monetary affairs of the country, which, by limiting credit, tending still further to depress prices, lower profits, and create that which was called over-production or glut of our markets. These were some of the consequences that had hitherto followed from an insufficient supply of corn in this country, and from the same cause resulted an increase of pauperism and poor-rates, increase of crime and emigration. This was not my assertion only, or opinion, or the mere speculation of those who agreed with me, but I will refer to what Government had done, and to what Ministers had said, to show that in their minds these effects resulted from these causes, and to remove or diminish the evil, it was necessary to deal with these causes. I will first call the attention of the House to the several remedies which have been proposed by the Government, and recognised by all the leading Members of the House as efficient for the purpose of removing those evils, and as showing their opinion that all the sufferings and misfortunes of the people resulted from a deficient supply of food. In 1841, eighteen months after the period of scarcity and depression to which I have alluded, Her Majesty, in the Speech from the Throne, referred to the deficient supply of food, and the consequent sufferings of the people, and recommended remedial measures to the consideration of Parliament; and what was the remedy which the Ministry of that day—those who were responsible for the good order and welfare of the country-proposed? The then Government came forward, and said they had no remedy to propose but an alteration in those laws which restricted the supply and enhanced the price of the great necessaries of life. At the end of 1838 the deficiency began: and continuing till 1841, at the beginning of that year, Ministers came forward, and said they had nothing else to propose to relieve the distresses to which Her Majesty had called the attention of Parliament than an alteration in the duties upon the import of corn and sugar. My noble Friend, the Member for London (Lord J. Russell) on that occasion expressed his regret that the people of this country were in a worse condition than the negroes of the West Indies— that they were subject to greater privations, and that the great mass of the labouring population were fast falling into a state of 1369 pauperism, and becoming recipients of public relief; and the noble Lord referred to this condition of the people in introducing a measure to relieve their distresses by altering the Corn and Sugar Duties, and those other laws which tended to enhance the price of food to the people. They well knew the fate of that1 proposition. They knew the results to the Government who had brought it forward. Those who were interested in keeping up the price of corn united and combined with those interested in keeping up other monopolies and ejected the Ministry. But did that cause the distress to subside? What was done in the year following? Her Majesty in opening the Parliament was again obliged to refer to the sufferings and privations of the people, and saidI have observed, with deep regret, the continued distress in the manufacturing districts of the country.Bearing testimony to its being no fault of the people themselves, she saysThe sufferings and privations of the people which have resulted from it have been borne with exemplary patience and fortitude.And the Mover of the Address in the House on that occasion said, thatSix months ago the House had heard statements made of the awful distress under which that part of the country with which he was connected was then suffering. He regretted to say, that the distress was now frightfully aggravated. He would refer to the returns of workhouses to show that applications for relief were greatly increasing, and were, in many instances, made by persons who had been formerly in a state of comparative prosperity. He would refer to the charity and visiting societies, to prove that many were now applicants to that charity for relief who had, not long ago, been themselves dispensers of charity. He regretted to be obliged to state, that in his opinion pauperism was advancing in this country.The admission of the distress however did not relieve it; and we find the Archbishop of Canterbury shortly afterwards writing a letter to the clergy, exhorting the ministers of every parish to promote subscriptions amongst their parishioners for the relief of the distress which existed. But at last, after making many other attempts to talk down the distress, and pretending that it would pass away of itself, what happened? Why, the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government came down to Parliament, and told them that taxes upon the 1370 necessaries of life had exceeded their limit, and, as a means of relieving the sufferings of the people, and to enable them to consume taxable articles, they must reduce the cost of living; and by the Tariff which the right hon. Baronet introduced and carried, he admitted what we had so long been contending to prove, that the cost of living in this country had been rendered extravagantly high. This, however, was not enough: the right hon. Baronet at last felt that he was obliged to alter the Corn Laws; and that measure he declared he introduced amidst the greatest suffering of the people. Those Corn Laws which the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Ferrand) looked upon as essential to the protection of industry, and the contentment of the poor, the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had himself altered, alleging as his reason that, as it was absolutely necessary that the price of food to the people should be reduced, those laws, in fact the tendency of which was to keep up prices must in mercy to the people be altered. At last, however, they found the Queen congratulating the country on its improved condition—and when was this? When the harvest had been ascertained to be good, and when supplies from abroad had been introduced, and when the food of the people promised to be cheap and abundant. And when was it that the Secretary of State announced to the country that he was happy to say that the rate of mortality was diminished? It was in 1843, when food was more plentiful, and importation had increased the supply reduced the price. Great God! the rate of mortality was diminishing! Then the people had been actually dying of want, starving to death, under the influence of our legislation, for that was what the admission of the right hon. Gentleman amounted to. The suffering of the people did not depend upon surmise; they had, unfortunately, official evidence of it, to which he was anxious to call the attention of the House. In the first place, he would refer to the progress of pauperism; and I find that, in 1837, the rates levied in England and Wales for the relief of the poor amounted to 4,044,741l.; and, in 1843, they amounted to 5,200,000l. The number of paupers chargeable upon the rates, when the period of distress commenced, was 1,000,000; and when the Minister announced that there were indications of the distress subsiding, the number was 1,500,000. What was the number of 1371 able-bodied adult paupers at the same period unable to obtain employment, and depending on the poor-rates for relief? At the period when the distress commenced, the number was under 200,000, that was in 1836; and in 1842 the number was 407,570. Then, observe in particular places the increase in the amount expended in relieving the poor in dear years as compared with cheap years. I find that the amount expended:—
Throughout the manufacturing districts there was great increase more or less in these proportions; but it was not confined to these districts. The increase was hardly less in the agricultural districts. In the fifteen chief agricultural counties I find the increase in the amount of poor-rates between 1836 and 1842 was 21 per cent., while in the twelve principal manufacturing counties the increase had been 30½ per cent. This surely was sufficient to show the injurious effect of high prices of food on the labouring population, the universality of the effect of scarce food upon the nation. Then what was the effect upon the revenue? This I am aware is a large subject, but none was more deserving of the attention of the House and the country; and although I feel it would be inconvenient for me to go into it fully, I trust some hon. Gentleman, more competent than myself, would draw the attention of the House to it; for if there was anything that was operated upon more directly than others by the scarcity of food, it was the state of the revenue; and as that question excited, I find, more interest in the minds of some persons than the suffering and privations of the working classes, it was on that ground an important matter for consideration. I will refer to the state of the Excise revenue as affording more especially a striking evidence of national distress. It appeared from the Parliamentary Returns, printed the 30th of May, 1842, that the augmentation of the taxes made in 1840 was estimated to yield 784,000l. to the Excise, whereas it only 1372 yielded an increase of 58,170l. that year, and in the year following there was an actual decrease of 182,747l. In the year ended October 10, 1842, the net revenue from Excise was 733,448l. less than in the year ended October 10, 1841. Such was the state of things in the fourth year of the deficient supply of food. Then what was the effect of scarcity on the moral condition of the people? What was the increase of crime in periods of scarcity, as compared with the periods of abundance? In 1834 the number of commitments in England and Wales had been 22,451; in 1836, a year of low prices and plenty, the number was 20,000, showing a decrease of 2,451. In 1843 the number had gradually increased, under the influence of scarcity and high prices, to 31,000, being an increase over the year of low prices of 11,000. He now came to the effect of dear years and limited supplies in increasing emigration. From 1832 to 1837 the average number of emigrants had been 70,000, that was in cheap years. In 1841, under the influence of distress and high price of food, the number was 116,000, and in 1842 it had increased to 128,000. In 1838, the bankruptcies were 800; in 1842, 1,500. This was the experience we have of the effect of scarcity and high prices on the condition of the country; and he asserted again, and there was no one instance to the contrary, that when food was abundant and cheap, the working population, both in the manufacturing and agricultural districts, did not become better off than when food was scarce and prices were higher. I might quote an authority upon this point, to whom, perhaps, the House would be induced to look with respect. I allude to the late Lord Liverpool. In 1822, the harvest had been extremely good and prices been low, the proprietors of land came as usual to Parliament, complaining of distress, and begging for relief; and in that year, when the price of corn was exceedingly low, that noble Lord, speaking in reply to the Earl of Stanhope in the House of Lords, said,—
In 1836. In 1841. Increase. £ £ per cent. At Stockport 2,628 7,120 134 Manchester 25,669 38,938 52 Bolton 1,558 6,268 304 Oldham 3,968 7,682 159 Hinckley 2,040 4,200 97 Sheffield 11,400 23,800 109When the noble Earl (Earl Stanhope) says that the low prices incident to the distress which agriculture suffers, benefit no man, I answer, that although I sincerely wish the distress did not exist, I cannot be blind to the fact, that they certainly do benefit a great majority of the people. Do they not benefit those who were, during the war, the principal and almost the only sufferers? In all large towns they have occasioned considerable benefit by the fall of the Poor Rates. I have been at 1373 some trouble, my Lords, to ascertain the real state of the case, and can pledge myself to the accuracy of this statement. In this metropolis, in which your Lordships are now sitting, never were the lower orders of people in a better condition than they are at the present moment.This was at the beginning of a year in which the agriculturists were clamouring for a rise of prices and scarcity in food, and complaining of distress as the consequence of abundance and plenty; and this was the time, when, according to Lord Liverpool, the working classes generally were never in a better condition. What was the opinion of Mr. Tooke upon the same point? That gentleman, in writing of the period from 1819 to 1822, said,—That the great mass of the community was greatly benefited by the transition from dearth to abundance, there is not, there cannot, be any reasonable doubt. What but the privations and sufferings of the great bulk of the community led to the popular discontents and commotions which prevailed, and were with difficulty repressed, in the great dearths at the close of the last and the beginning of the present century, and again in 1812, in 1817, and 1819?—dearths which, after their natural cessation, these legislators would, as far as in them lay have artificially perpetuated; while, on the other hand, the contented state of the working classes in 1821 and 1822, and not to mention the great increase of the revenue in those years, attests the comparative well-being of the bulk of the community in periods of what those who are interested in high prices and high rents are pleased to characterise as agricultural distress.There had been Committees on agricultural distress, appointed by the House of Commons in the cheap year of 1833; and Mr. Tooke, remarking on the evidence, said,—There is one point which the whole tenor of the evidence before the Committee of 1833 tended to establish beyond doubt, and that is, the improved condition of the agricultural labourer; and the fact is thus noticed in the Report; 'Amidst the numerous difficulties to which the agriculture of this country is exposed, and amidst the distress which unhappily exists, it is a consolation to your Committee to find that the general condition of the agricultural labourer in full employment is better now, than at any former period, his money-wages giving him a greater command over the necessaries and conveniences of life.I must now ask the attention of the House to some evidence of the effects of the scarcity of food upon the health and life of the people, and I am induced 1374 to refer to some details on this matter from observing the willingness of the House on another question to listen to such matter; and indeed I am fortunate in being able to refer to testimony in this case which had been relied upon in the other, he alluded to the factory question, and they were here cited for their opinion that nothing tended so much to shorten life and injure the health of the people as a scarcity or a constantly varying price of corn, which meant, in fact, a varying amount of food. If I remember rightly, the noble Lord (Lord Ashley) had alluded to the authority of Dr. Hawkins and M. Villermé. The former of those authorities had stated the opinion of himself as well as that of Villermé and Quetelet in the following passage:—The price of corn has a most remarkable influence on the movements of population and of disease. We have not a sufficient number of data to enable us to estimate the exact amount of its influence, but we shall assuredly not be mistaken in classing it among the most energetic causes which press upon the operations of life. This influence extends not only upon deaths but upon births. It affects also the number of marriages, of diseases and even of crimes.It was the opinion, then, of these eminent medical writers, that upon the supply of food depended, in a great measure, the physical welfare of the people. In Milne's work on Life Annuities it was stated that that which was the case in England with respect to the influence of food on disease, held equally true in other nations. A table is given in that work "exhibiting the number of deaths, the proportionate mortality, and the character of the crop of each year in Sweden and Finland from 1750 to 1803," which shows that throughout this whole series of fifty three years there is not one exception to the rule, that every increase in the scarcity of food is accompanied by a correspondent increase in the mortality of the people. In every year following a scanty or failing crop, the number of deaths was increased, in some instances to a most appalling amount; for instance, in 1760, after an abundant harvest, 60,323 persons died; and in the next three years the crop being middling, scanty, and a failure, the deaths were respectively 63,188, 74,931, and 85,093; from 1770 to 1773, the deaths rose from 69,895 to 117,509, from the same cause—a failing crop. And not only is every failure of the crop marked by a rise in the ratio of mortality, but conversely there is no marked decrease 1375 of mortality throughout the whole series of fifty-three years, that is not preceded by a plentiful crop. In fact, the evidence on this subject was more uniform than on almost any matter of medical science. All authorities were agreed that the greater or less mortality was influenced by the adequacy or deficiency in the supply of food. Taking the Returns furnished by the Manchester Dispensary, and comparing six dear with six cheap years, I find that 196 persons had annually died in the dear more than in the cheap years. From extensive Returns obtained from sick clubs in various parts of the country, from Blackburn, Stockport, Maidstone, the Potteries, and many other places, it appeared that during the six cheaper years, the mortality among the members was 3 per cent.; during the dearer years 4 per cent. being an increase from dear food and bad trade of 1 per cent. There was an important work lately published, entitled, " An Address to the Clergy of the Established Church of England, on the Effects of a Scarcity of Food, showing the Tendency of Starvation to engender Epidemic Disease." It was there shown, by quotations from Reports of physicians, writing at the time on purposes quite independent of any agitation, that each of the three remarkable periods of scarcity by which this country has been visited, viz. 1798, 1816, and 1840, were quickly followed by epidemic fever; and this fever was attributed by the medical men of the respective times to want as its principal cause. The evidence of Dr. Fitzgerald, as to a late epidemic in that part of Ireland where he practised (Clonmel), showed that in his opinion the primary cause of the disease was insufficiency of food. He said:—Let me take this opportunity of guarding myself against misapprehension. It is by no means my intention to affirm that epidemic typhus always owes its origin to deficient and deteriorated food, and to that cause alone. I fully admit the influence of contagion, dirt, cold, damp, insufficient clothing, want of employment, depression of spirits, and the other causes of the disease alleged by physicians; but I would observe, that these causes must in this climate coexist with scarcity, and some of them, at least, be occasioned by it. They may be more or less obviated by the particular circumstances of the country at the moment, and hence the pestilence will be found more or less general; but the great truth which I have laid before you will remain unaffected, that typhus fever is the inseparable companion of great and continued scarcity after bad harvests.1376 Take evidence from another country. There was a most important Report by Dr. Alison, in which it was stated that 23,000 persons existed in Edinburgh in an entirely destitute state, and completely dependent upon casual charity. He said:—As the botanist can tell the quality of the soil from the flowers that spontaneously arise upon it, the physician knows the state of a people from the epidemics that mow it down. It is not asserted that destitution is a cause adequate to the production of fever (although in some circumstances I believe it may become such), nor that it is the sole cause of its extension. What we are sure of is, that it is a cause of the rapid diffusion of contagious fever, and one of such peculiar power and efficacy that its existence may always be presumed when we see fever prevailing in a large community to an unusual extent. The manner in which deficient nourishment, want of employment, and privations of all kinds, favour the diffusion of fever, may be matter of dispute; but that they have that effect in a much greater degree than any cause external to the human body itself, is a fact confirmed by the experience of all physicians who have seen much of the disease.Then, again, there was the evidence of Dr. Grattan, in Ireland, whom he found writing as follows: —Next to contagion, I consider a distressed state of the general population of any particular district the most common and extensive source of typhoid fever. The present epidemic (that of Ireland) is principally to be referred to the miserable condition of the poorer classes in this kingdom; and so long as their state shall continue unimproved, so long fever will prevail, probably not to its present extent, but certainly to an extent sufficient to render it at all times a national affliction.I lately applied to a medical gentleman practising in a populous district of London, Dr. Hunter, of Bloomsbury, whose experience quite confirmed all the information I have received upon the point. This gentleman wrote as follows:—An extensive practice for more than twenty years, almost in the very focus of typhus localities, has given me an opportunity of seeing that disease in all its various degrees of malignity. There are numerous predisposing causes, such as impure air, crowded neighbourhoods, want of cleanliness, and so on; but all these sink into insignificance and unimportance when compared with the great monster predisposing agent—I mean a scarcity of nutritious food; and it may be said, if other causes have slain their thousands, this alone has slain its tens of thousands. My experience justifies and warrants me in affirming that where the people have insufficient nourish- 1377 ment, there typhus fever manifests itself with all the honors of a depopulating plague. Witness Ireland. No sooner does a year of scarcity appear but this fell destroyer of the human race shows itself, carrying off thousands; and this affirmation will, I am sure, be confirmed by any medical practitioner who has had the misfortune to see, as I have, whole families carried to their weary bourn by this scourge of the human family, brought into existence and activity by the physical wants of the people. I happened to know a family of nine persons, seven of whom died in one short month, and all by the fell destroyer, typhus, and this too in an agricultural district, where the air was as pure as the morning breath of Heaven, and where contagion was impossible, as the farmhouses were at a considerable distance from each other. But in the same district, where the families had sufficient food, and of a good quality, fever was wholly unknown.I have a great amount of evidence of the same kind, relating to France, Belgium, and Germany. All medical men seemed to come to the unanimous conclusion that the well-being of the people varied with the quantity of food with which they were supplied. Now, I might be asked, what all this had to do with the Corn Laws. These laws it will be said are intended to avert these evils, to increase the supply of food and to protect native industry, at least I see something of this kind is intended to be implied by the Member for Knaresborough's Amendment. Then, Sir, I say, we are here brought directly to the question of what is the purpose of the Corn Law; and I want to have it answered. What is the object of that law, if it is not to limit and restrict the supply and thereby produce scarcity? I wish to know what other purpose it has, and if so, why that has never been shewn? I want to know if any person who speaks in defence of the Corn Laws has ever argued for any thing but for preventing cheapness by preventing plenty? If their object was to produce plenty, why were those who maintained these laws dissatisfied whenever there was abundance in the country? How was it that when the people were well fed and well off, that it was precisely that moment at which the proprietors came forward with complaints? They had evidence to show that it was always the case that when the people were in a comparatively comfortable state, the complaints of the agriculturists were loudest. If plenty was the object of the law, why at that moment its supporters should be most satisfied? If plenty, I repeat, has been the object of the law, how is it that it had continually 1378 been a question as to how prices could be most effectually raised, with reference to no other object? And what did they find stated in every Committee on Agricultural distress, but that the great evil had been the excess of produce, and that the remedy for the evil, was to sow and to raise less? In 1836, when, as I say, the people were well off— when they were well employed — when poor-rates were diminishing and crime was diminishing—the agriculturists were asking what could be done to mitigate or modify the cause of these things? In 1833 and 1836, when by the evidence of all competent persons, the condition of the people was comfortable, the agriculturists, both in this House and the other, were asking how they could best diminish the supply of food, with the view to what they would call improving the prices. If the purpose of the Corn Law was to prevent scarcity and secure abundance, how is this to be accounted for? How came it that when the law was first introduced no one had any idea that it would produce plenty? How was it that those who introduced and defended the law never did so on any other grounds than its tendency to make food scarcer than it would otherwise be, to produce, in fact, that scarcity which I have shown is invariably attended with want, disease, crime, and death. How was it if the law had not that intent, that those who had been most prominent in their opposition to it had always charged its supporters with wishing for and aiming at the production of scarcity? On what grounds did Lord Grenville rest his opposition to the law, but on those that it would produce scarcity and uncertainty in the supply of food? These objects of the law—these views of its framers—were not denied then and are yet sought to be justified. There was a Member of the House at that time, a distinguished person—the respected father of the present Prime Minister—who protested against the law, and stigmatised it as cruel and oppressive towards the people.Those," said that remarkable man, "who had profited by the war prices, were the landowners. They have reaped a rich harvest from the misfortunes of the people, and they now propose the Corn Law to keep up war prices, which was to perpetuate national misfortune. He told them that they were about to perpetuate the effects of war by acts of legislation; that the effect of war, owing to the interruption of commerce which it occasioned, was high prices; and that the object of the Corn Law was to perpetuate these prices. But 1379 while he said this, he warned the landowners that they would eventually themselves be the sufferers by their selfish legislation. They would raise rivals in manufacture, thus injure their best customers, and bring fresh burthens on the country; and, although by the enactment of a Corn Law they hoped to promote their own interests, they would in the end be most cruelly deceived.These were, in effect, the words of the late Sir Robert Peel, and they had been most fully verified. How came the popular opposition to the Corn Laws at the time of their introduction, if it was conceived that their object was any other than to produce scarcity? What was the cause of the riots in this town at that period? Did the people think then that the promoters of the Corn Laws wished to protect their industry, (a term not even thought of at that time), or to improve their condition, or to produce. If the agriculturists could then have defended their measure, why did they not use argument instead of artillery? They used no argument—they used cannon instead. The people were answered by fire and shot and not by reason. It was the only argument to offer. Could they gather either from what had been said and done in more recent times, that any other result than that of scarcity was aimed at by the Corn Laws? Two years ago, amidst great national distress, the hon. Member for Somersetshire was objecting to the Tariff proposed for the purpose of relieving the distress by lowering price; that hon. Member representing the agricultural interest and supporting the Corn Laws, objected to the Tariff, not because it would diminish the supply of food, but because he apprehended the precisely opposite result. The hon. Gentleman read a statement which he considered to be entitled to the utmost confidence, to the effect that, if we were to open the trade with the United States, that there could be no doubt but that there would ensue a most extensive traffic; that food would be poured into this country in abundance, and that our manufactures would be largely exported to make payment in exchange and that the effect would be the lowering of price on articles of general consumption. This the hon. Gentleman looked upon as a great evil. The hon. Gentleman now shook his head; but his speech was recorded in Hansard, and to be found in the library; and in that speech he regarded the Tariff as a means of making food 1380 cheap, and opposed it upon that ground. Were they, then, in the face of such facts to be told that the Corn Laws had plenty and cheapness in view? I lately took the trouble of looking at speeches made at the meetings of protection societies, and, after having read them, I have not been able to find that any of the speakers at those meetings wished to increase the supply of food. Indeed, at one of these assemblies, met in the county of Surrey, a Gentleman, a great proprietor, present, with more candour, if not with more wisdom, than the greater number of his brethren, confessed frankly and broadly that they were met upon that occasion to advance their own interests, and to render food dear. To render food dear, he acknowledged, was their interest, and that the purpose of their meeting was to concert how they could best accomplish that end. If, he continued, any resolution should be proposed which did not take that view of the case, he had an Amendment in his pocket which he should propose, and which embodied his opinions. Now, at this meeting were present many of the great landed proprietors in Surrey. It was a meeting of the nobility, gentry, and clergy; and, although it was quite true that in any meeting there might be found some wild man—some enthusiast, whose views were not generally shared by those present—yet, on the occasion to which he was alluding, not a syllable was uttered with the view of contradicting opinions so candidly and boldly put forward. It went forth, therefore, to the world that the meeting had no purpose but that of promoting their own interests, and that these interests were to make food dear. Certainly, then, if this had been the original object of the law, it was still adhered to. When we hear of settlements and mortgages—personal interests—and that the objections of landowners to the repeal of the Corn Laws is, that the prices which these laws enable them to obtain for their produce enable them to provide for the interest of these mortgages, how can they come to any other conclusion than that the purpose of the law was to raise price, and that by diminishing quantity? I shall not be satisfied that this is not the case until some county Member gets up and says, that his object was to lower the prices of produce as much as possible, in order to make food as accessible to the people as they could, and without any regard to the advantage to themselves from the price. I shall 1381 watch for such a sentiment with attention, and I hope the public would observe if any such fell from any defender of the Corn Laws. But the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Pusey) might perhaps say, that protection was necessary for the development of agriculture, food would be rendered abundant and cheap by adopting improvements in husbandry. Now, I beg to ask, what is it which the experience of the last thirty years, this system of protection proves in this respect? What was the present state of agriculture? Had its advance satisfied the supporters of protection if that is their object or the wants of the people, if that is its defence; and if not, is the promise of other results better in future? I do not know exactly for what reason—but perhaps from fears of an impending change in the system of protection —there has lately been a great bustle among agricultural societies. A good deal has been said and a good deal promised. But in looking over the reports of these agricultural meetings, what strikes me most forcibly is the universal admission on the part of the people of all stations, of all kinds, that nothing could be more deplorable or more imperfect than the present condition of agriculture. They all said that these were not the times when agriculturists could stand with crossed arms, as if that was their attitude, that the state of their respective localities was shameful, that something must be done, that they could not afford to follow the example of their forefathers. This was a sort of confession which they now heard on every side. There was the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, and the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, who took it into their heads during the recess to deliver lectures upon the state of agriculture in their respective neighbourhoods. The right hon. Baronet attended a Tam worth dinner last autumn. The right hon. Baronet began by stating that they had met there not for the protection but for the promotion of agriculture. A very important distinction by-the bye, and one that should not be forgotten. He went on to say,—It becomes us seriously to consider what we can do to promote agriculture. It is impossible to travel ten miles in this district without seeing that mere reliance on personal experience will not ensure success as a farmer.In short, that they must conduct their business in a different way from what they had hitherto done. Now, at all these meet- 1382 ings, I observe, after the evil had been mentioned, the cure was always pointed out, by somebody; at the Tamworth dinner, for instance, the right hon. Baronet, after having referred to the defective state of agriculture in his neighbourhood, and after being followed by Dr. Buckland, who said that he never saw such a deplorable state of things as was presented by the farming about Tamworth, and mentioned that he saw more thistles in one field there than he believed grew in the whole of Lincolnshire. He adverted to some of the modes by which this state of things could be improved; and alluding to one of them, he said—On a late occasion, in a neighbouring city, I took an opportunity of saying something about leases. I said then that the habit of this county was adverse to the practice of granting leases, but still, that if any tenants of mine felt that their position would be raised, their confidence in the security of their tenure increased, and they were to apply to me for an extension of the terms now generally granted, in order to have additional security as to the application of their capital—I said, then, that I should be disposed to give to any such application my favourable consideration. I remain of the same opinion. I repeat the same declaration in presence of many who occupy my land.He then pointed to another grievance of a most enormous kind much felt by the farmer, he meant the ravages committed by the game, and with respect to hares. With respect to hares, the right hon. Baronet informed his auditory, that—I will forego the gratification of mere sport; and if any tenant informs me that the hares upon his farm are so numerous that they are doing him serious damage, I shall at once give orders for their immediate destruction to that extent that shall satisfy him that he can in future sustain no loss in that way.This was all very well, and a very good example to set; and very important for the proof it afforded of the party really in fault for all this bad farming. But I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he supposed that either in Warwickshire or in Staffordshire the hares of any other landlord had been killed, or leases granted at the request of farmers in consequence of his Tamworth speech; and if not, whether this grievance of the cultivator did not continue? Then, in the same autumn, the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, paid an agricultural visit to his own county, and he told the people there what improvements he and his family had recently effected upon their land:— 1383But every month" said the noble Lord "that passed over his head convinced him, that so far from having done all that could be done, they had only made a beginning, and were only doing that which it was their bounden duty, but still more their abundant interest, to do.But why is this discovery made only now? I am afraid that the efforts of the League are answerable for the clearness with which they now see that something must be done. Were the League to relax its efforts or to give them up, how much would be heard about improvements in agriculture, or about liberal offers from landlords to kill all the hares and rabbits upon their estates? But his Lordship went on to allude to tiling and draining.Over and over again he had heard from tenants that their land had been doubled in value by draining and tiling with slate soles, which had a great advantage over tile soles, being lighter and less liable to break in the carriage. They would tell him, perhaps, that these were very expensive operations, and that the farmer could not conduct those operations.To which the meeting vociferously responded, "Hear, hear, hear!" And what said his Lordship? Why, precisely what the free-traders have been doing for years past. [This is from the report in the Liverpool paper, and he says],—Well, perhaps they could not, unless they had perfect confidence in their landlords, or unless they had the security of a long lease." [Loud, repeated, and marked applause, the object being apparently to elicit something further on the subject of leases from his Lordship.]But nothing was elicited, for his Lordship went on as follows: —There were many other topics which he might press upon their attention, and said, that this was no time for the farmer to stand with his hands behind his back, going on half asleep, just as his father and his grandfather had gone before him.But at all these meetings there seems to have been some practical man ready to comment on the advice given by the landlords, and on this occasion a practical man named Mr. Neilson was present and spoke. Let the House attend to his observations. They were as follows:—His Lordship has said, a material improvement in the agriculture of the county had been seen, but as far as his (Mr. Neilson's) observations went, these improvements had principally taken place on farms where the land- 1384 lord had come forward with a liberal hand: he did not hesitate to say however, that with some exceptions, the landlords were more deserving of blame for the want of improvement than the tenants themselves. Look at the state of the land when the tenant first got possession of it. Look also at the terms on which it was let to him. They asked rent without legalized terms of possession, or they had a lease abounding in clauses for the protection of the landlord, but none for the tenant. In many instances these were totally restrictive of cultivation; tying them down from ploughing a certain part of their land, or restricting their cultivation to one-ninth of fresh land each year. These terms were not likely to induce a farmer to expend his money on property not his own. Far be it from him to make any depreciatory remarks on that noble system of mutual confidence which enabled estates to be handed down from generation to generation of tenants under the same family; but looking at the uncertainty of human affairs, and the fluctuations of property, this was not a general system—one under which a man was justified, with a proper consideration of his family, in expending his money. Seven years were not a sufficient time to enable a man to repay the outlay of improvement, without doing injustice to the land during the latter period of his lease. Give him a long lease, and he would freely stretch out his hand, with a certainty of getting it back again.These remarks are made by a farmer in the presence of the noble Lord. It is received with marked applause, and not a word is uttered in repudiation of the sentiments expressed. There is moreover an extraordinary unanimity of opinion as to the causes of defective agriculture, which means as regards the community, a defective supply of food throughout the country; whenever there is independence enough combined with experience to give it expression. I have here the sentiments expressed by Sir R. Verney, on the subject of tenure, at a public meeting of the Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire Agricultural Association. The hon. Baronet stated, after alluding to the generally defective state of farming, that—There is a remedy, and one which, aided by your landlords, it is in your power to adopt, viz., an improved system of farming. This would at once afford employment to the labourers, and the money which you now expend in poor-rates for the maintenance of their families would render them industrious and happy, and would yield to you a profitable return. In order to carry out such a system, you would require your farm-buildings to be adapted to increased produce from your land. You ought to have well-arranged farm-yards, with the 1385 needful barns, and cow-houses and stables, and with cesspools, into which all your cattle-sheds and yards should drain. You ought to have encouragement and assistance in effecting such improvements, such as draining, &c.; and, having obtained these things, which it is as much your landlord's interest as his duty to provide, you ought to have the assurance of such permanency of tenure as will enable you to reap the fruit of any capital that you may embark in the cultivation of the soil,The hon. Baronet went on to say that—One of the essentials to the prosperous pursuit of agriculture was a good farm-yard, and he would boldly state what he believed to be another—they all stated their opinions freely, and his opinion was, that unless they got leases, long leases, agriculture would never prosper in England as it ought to do.On this same occasion at the dinner of this Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire Agricultural Association—the editor of the Mark Lane Express, the avowed organ of the farmer, expresses his unqualified approval of these opinions of Sir Harry Verney, and stating that—He was happy to be present at this meeting, and to hear such sound observations from those who must give the start in agricultural improvements—the landlords. He felt confident that if the capital invested in the United States and other stocks were invested in that best of securities—farming, they might bid defiance to the world.At the same dinner, the hon. Member for Bridgewater was present, and his opinions on this matter, and indeed on the question before the House, have been expressed with still more distinctness. I have seen them reported as follows—The more I see of, and practise agriculture, the more firmly am I convinced that the whole unemployed labour of the country could, under a better system of husbandry, be advantageously put into operation; and, moreover, that the Corn Laws have been one of the principle causes of the present system of bad farming and consequent pauperism. Nothing short of their entire removal will ever induce the average farmer to rely upon anything else than the Legislature for the payment of his rent, his belief being that all rent is paid by corn, and nothing else than corn, and that the Legislature can, by enacting Corn Laws, create a price which will make his rent easy. The day of their (the Corn Laws) entire abolition ought to be a day of jubilee and rejoicing to every man interested in land.The farmers' clubs and agricultural societies all seemed impressed with the idea that the cultivation of the soil should proceed in a more efficient manner, that its 1386 capabilities were still great, but that the conditions under which land was occupied precluded their full development. For instance, I find Colonel Powell, at the Herefordshire Agricultural Society, who was described as " a friend of the farmers, a friend of the landlords, a friend of the poor, and a friend of man," said—I can see no prospect of any benefit till rents become more equalized with, and parallel to, the value of the produce of the land. Many meetings connected with agriculture have of late taken place, and various plans at these meetings have been adduced to meet the pressure of the times; but gentlemen, although good in themselves, they do not hit upon the right remedy. One says, drain, drain! You are all to be drained. Another tells you to keep up your orchards—nothing equal to Herefordshire orchards. Others say guano. This new manure will produce such immense crops that you yourselves will not fail to receive the bulk; this will be a remedy for all evils. Another says, if you are eaten up with hares and rabbits I will have them all killed— by-the-by, a proposition not to be entirely despised. Nothing more is wanted than that. But still there is only one thing that can be done to alter your position at the present time it must come to this, that rents must be adjusted to the prices of the produce, and leases must be granted.Again, he said,There must be fresh rents and corn rents. Draining, manuring, &c, are subjects worthy to be attended to, certainly; but these, if we may judge from the tone of the addresses that have taken place at some of our meetings lately held, are to be a specific remedy. There is a new dictionary just published, which contains a vast number of words—many new ones— and a most excellent work it is, and some critics speak most highly of it; but it has an omission of one little word—one little word is left out—that word gentlemen, is ' rent.' To some this is a most perplexing little word, and to many it proves so; at all meetings that take place the speakers use excessive caution about repeating this little word, and I observe invariably, the word ' rent' rarely comes out — this bolus gentlemen, they cannot articulate, much less digest.Colonel Powell thus concludes his able and honest speech—-I say gentlemen, that one thing only can benefit us so as to do us any lasting good, that is, fresh rents, corn rents, long leases. These form a just and equitable guide between landlord and tenant. The farmer would then know what to depend upon. This would be only fair between man and man.The gallant Colonel sat down amidst loud and long applause. Again, Sir R. 1387 Pigott, at a recent meeting of the Worcestershire Agricultural Association, as Chairman said—It is through the medium of such societies as these, and these alone, that we can hope to throw off the weight that oppresses us, and promote the regeneration of agriculture.The hon. Baronet so describes agriculture after thirty years protection, that something must be done to regenerate it, and he goes on to say—I trust there is no one so blind in this way as not to see that a sort of public interdict has gone forth against the return of high prices throughout the world, and apart from all political influences—though no doubt it is very agreeable to us to be able to talk over those days when sowing and gathering were mere mechanical operations, and when the profits were sufficient to cover any deficiency either of produce, industry, or skill—depend upon it those days will never return.That is, the happy days when the high price that the people could be made to pay for their food, would cover the consequence of ignorance and neglect among the producers. Here again, however, the practical man has a word to say, and a Mr. Collis, a farmer, is reported to have said,The president has said that the landlord would be glad to meet the wishes of the tenant; but, at the same time, I do think that if the tenant had a more fixed tenure in the land [here the speaker was interrupted by the cheers of the farmers], the landlord would get as good rents—better perhaps—and more regularly paid; and that it would be to his advantage, as well as to the advantage of the tenant. [Loud cheers.] There is no other means of accounting for the prosperity of the Scotch farmer, except that he has a better tenure than we have. [Cheers.] I read with great pleasure a speech of Lord Hatherton, in which he said that light and poor lands were not only better cultivated where the tenant had got a lease, but the tenant was able to pay much higher for them. [Cheers.] We must also recollect the very able paper by Earl Spencer on Lord Leicester's farm—very-light soil, which has been reclaimed, but which now grows excellent crops. It is quite impossible a tenant can do this unless he has a fixed tenure [Loud cheering], because, whatever may be his faith in his landlord, circumstances over which he has no control might occur—the tenant might die as well as the landlord, and then his family would not have any return for the money which he had spent upon the soil. [Loud cheers.] Besides, great advantage must arise to the landlord as well as the tenant, because the land would be very much benefited, and thus become more valuable. I lately read a speech 1388 of the Earl of Stair, in Worcester—and I find the farmers are framing it—in which he says he will grant his tenants leases on terms; the tenant to lay out money as well as the landlord; and the only advantage to the tenant —and a great one it is—will be, that he is to have a lease.'I have many more reports of what has been said lately, all shewing that it is the opinion of the most experienced men, that agriculture was behindhand, that it ought to be improved, and that the circumstances under which land was now held, prevented that improvement, I have particularly adverted to this, because I expect to find some Member rising on the other side, and saying that, by chemical processes and other improvements, the deficiency of past times was likely to be supplied; and though admitting what perhaps it would be difficult to dispute that the country is under-supplied with food, yet alleging that if the skill of the agriculturist is encouraged he will be able to meet the demand. Now, he had pointed to those meetings not for the purpose of disputing this position, but to shew that this encouragement depended upon sacrifices being made on the part of the landlords, which were but little likely to be made. The fact was, there was required from the landlord a sacrifice of power, patronage and pleasure. First, they were asked to convert tenants-at-will into tenants under lease; and he need not tell hon. Members what a sacrifice that was. Instead of the farmers going to the hustings like serfs, they probably would, because they could, exercise an independent judgment on the choice of their representatives. It could not be denied that, ever since the passing of the Reform Bill, the custom of giving leases had rather discontinued, and the practice of taking tenants-at-will had become more general. There was not the least likelihood then of tenants getting leases. The fact was, the competition for land made landlords comparatively safe in not granting them. I saw lately fifty-six applications had been made for one farm in the county of Hereford. Under such circumstances, did any man think landlords would not look for, and would not get, the highest possible price for their land? Then they were secure of their rent, for being the law makers, they had of course not forgotten themselves, and by the somewhat arbitrary law of distress they obtained priority over all other creditors and such power over the tenants' property as made them sure of such rent as was 1389 due. Again, as regards the prospect of money being laid out in improvements, it must be remembered that, the proprietors of land were generally but tenants for life themselves, as the occupiers were holders at will, and they had, therefore, but a slight motive to lay out much money for a distant advantage. From the customary mode of settling property in this kingdom, in nine cases out of ten, when our hereditary proprietors came to an age to look to the improvement of their estates, they found themselves in a position for saving rather than spending money, and knowing that their properties must descend to their eldest sons, they felt bound to make provision out of their personal property for their youngest children. This is not only my observation, but has been expressed by those who has turned their attention to the circumstances essential to the improvement of agriculture. Was it likely, again, that the landlords would sacrifice the patronage and pleasure conveyed in their power over game? Nothing harassed or perplexed the farmer more. The game destroyed his crops, without its being possible in many cases to make him any indemnity: the discouraging effect upon the farmer in his calculations for improving the land of being obliged to preserve or not being allowed to destroy the game could not be estimated; yet when we read the quantity of game killed at a battue of a landholder, was it to be expected he should forego such a source of patronage and pleasure? The fact was, we could never induce the landlords to make the sacrifices required by the interests of the community, until he saw it would be for his advantage to have the greatest amount of produce at the lowest price. When that time came then would he be induced to seek out men of capital and skill and to confer on them a lease. Under such a system we might hope to see landlords seeking out farmers who would farm the land well, and be happy to give them leases at the rent they would agree to pay; and I should like to see landlords competing for tenants, instead of fifty tenants competing for one landlord. I am bound to admit, from inquiries I have made, that at present there is a great reluctance on the part of some farmers to accept leases if the landlords would grant them. But why? From the uncertainty of the present state of things. They have been severally promised 80s., 64s. and 56s. a quarter for their corn. They hare at different times got 40s. instead 1390 of 80s.; 39s. instead of 64s.; 46s. instead of 56s., the farmers have been promised the higher price, but have been deceived, after they had acted upon the faith of getting them; he now saw there was no assurance for his price, and he never knew from year to year what the Legislature might think proper to do. And I venture to say, that no intelligent farmer would say he could suffer as much by free-trade, with certainty of tenure as he now did as a tenant-at-will, harassed by competition and deluded by a protection that was never realised. Now then, Sir, I consider that I have established these several positions namely, that the supply of food provided from the soil of this country has been deficient,—that great evil and inconvenience has resulted from it—that the protective system leads to and favours a bad and slovenly system of cultivation,—that we have no hope of a sufficient supply from our own soil without great improvement in agriculture,—that vast numbers of the people are daily suffering from want, and that they are rapidly increasing in number; and I say, that under these circumstances we are bound to consider if the evil cannot be averted in future? Now, I ask if they are inevitable? Why should they be? Why should commerce, subjected to and regulated by competition, be mistrusted in this case more than in any other? The right hon. Baronet said we could and ought to trust to this principle in every case except in the issue of money. We generally trust to the operation of mutual self-interest among members of a community for satisfying their respective wants. Is there any reason to expect that it will fail in this case? Why should it? And if any doubt honestly exists on this subject, why do we not inquire if it is well founded? Why do we not question, at this Bar or in our Committees, those who would naturally engage in the trade? Why are not our merchants and ship-owners and others, who conduct our foreign trade, not examined and asked whether they have reason for doubting that, under the ordinary operations of commerce, a regular and abundant supply of food, at the lowest cost at which it could be procured, could not be furnished to our markets, should the produce of our lands at home prove inadequate for the wants of our vast and augmenting population? If this inquiry is not made, does any body really doubt that it proceeds from the certainty that is felt of the reply that would be given, and of the confidence 1391 with which it would be asserted, that the objection or doubt is totally and without a question unfounded. Some of the foolish things indeed which have been said before, to create doubts on the matter, can hardly be repeated after the recent experience which we have had. For instance, we should hardly hear this evening that nothing but bullion would be taken in exchange for grain, if the trade in this article was free. We have been importing for five years past large quantities, to the amount, as I said before, of 17,000,000 quarters; and the greater part of it we know has been paid for by manufactures exported to the countries from which this grain has been brought; and notwithstanding the apprehension that the bullion would disappear altogether if the trade in grain was free, there never has been so large an amount in the coffers of the Bank of England as there is now, and as there has been for upwards of the last three years. There appeared a short time since a very able article on this subject in the Economist newspaper, from which I will quote the figures showing that during this time, while our exports to other parts of the world were falling off, yet to the grain-growing countries from which we have been importing largely, it had increased. Thus in the following years
Would any body then pretend to doubt that, if under all the disadvantage and uncertainty with which the trade in food with other countries is carried on at present, the exchange is still effected by means of manufactures, that it would not do so with more certainty and profit if the trade was regular and unrestricted. These things indeed can hardly be questioned with honesty in future; and it rests now with those who cannot deny, that under the present circumstances of our country, and the mode in which our agriculture is conducted, we are insufficiently supplied with food, to justify, by reasons we have not yet heard, the continuance for their own benefit, of restrictions so replete with danger and disaster to the people. I have now only to apologise for having occupied the time of the House so long; and I will only for a moment advert upon the objection usually taken to the resolution which I propose, that it is extreme and unreasonable. Now, I should wish to ask, in the first place, who 1392 it is that has a right to make this objection? Who is it that has a right to complain that the demand I make is too large? Is it those who say that they will, under all circumstances, stand by the existing protection, and will be no parties assenting to the abatement of one iota of it? Is that the language that ought to deter me from demanding, on the part of the community, what is right in principle, and what, in justice, they are entitled to? Surely, no! Yet these it is said constitute the majority in the Legislature. What chance, I ask, should I have with these, if I had proposed a moderate fixed duty, instead of my Resolution, and which I am told is the reasonable thing to move? Is there the smallest reason to say that this would be received with more favour than what I propose; or if there was any real ground of alarm, or of complaint at the extent of change that would be effected by totally abolishing this law, according to the apprehension of interested opponents, would not the danger be as great, if the principle of the law was altered, and what is called a small, or moderate, or low fixed duty was proposed instead of the sliding-scale? If there are vested interests involved in this system of making food scarce, by means of inferior lands being kept in cultivation, would not these (granting the position to be true) be said to be as much in jeopardy by this change as by a total repeal? What is it that is said by the advocates of the sliding-scale in private? why, that its great merit is, that it prevents the trade being regular, that it prevents this market being calculated upon by foreign growers, and that if the trade was to be regular they would sooner have the trade free and the question settled than a pretended or delusive protection in a small fixed duty. Indeed, the intelligent men of this kind say if the trade is to be regular, they would sooner have the price at home low than high, for they know well that it is the high price and not the low price that makes this a good market for foreigners. Under the operation of the scale there is never much to come in from abroad when it is wanted most, it is only the surplus of what is grown, for other countries, but if the trade was made regular, the price at home would probably fall, and while this would lead to economy and improvement at home, it would make the market less good to the foreigner. Whenever, therefore, Gentlemen opposite are induced to admit that 1393 they have no right to legislate against the community to benefit themselves, they will be as ready for free-trade as for a fixed duty. But while their power is sufficient to exclude this from their consideration, they will determine the amount and form of protection that suits them. best. With regard to the change being immediate which I propose, I say, that I have the best authorities in its favour, and that all men who have experience in these matters say, that when commercial changes are to be made, they ought to be made completely and immediately. We had the authority of the President of the Board of Trade only the other night in favour of this view. Nothing could be wiser than what he said. He said, commerce will always adapt itself to circumstances, and to keep great questions of trade in suspense, was the way to contract commercial enterprise and produce the evils that were apprehended. Upon this ground, the Wool Duties were totally, immediately, and unconditionally repealed; and what said the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government only a few nights ago to console his Friends, who were complaining of the measure. Why, that the sudden transition from restriction to freedom had improved the prices in the market. In looking back to the period when the policy of an open trade between England and Ireland was in question every argument that is used now against free-trade with the rest of the world was then used against the trade with Ireland being free. Cheapness of Irish labour, peculiar burthens of England, vested interests, and the apprehension of land being thrown out of tillage here, in short, every thing now relied upon as pretext for continuing the law, was dwelt upon then. The trade however, was opened, and what was the result? large importations of wheat doubtless took place, but the trade between the two countries greatly increased, and while through the increasing demand of the people here the price of food was maintained in the market, nothing but advantage accrued to the two countries. These pretexts however, seldom succeed when the interest is weak, for instance, the Beer Duties were immediately repealed in spite of large capitals having been invested in the licensed ale houses, and arrangements having been all formed upon the faith of the Act that regulated the old system. The complaints of brewers and publicans were disregarded, and the principle of minor or particular interests 1394 yielding to the general interests, was acted upon. Again with regard to machinery, it was plausibly argued that by allowing its free exportation, an advantage was given to foreign manufacturers in rivalry with our own. The interest affected in the matter was comparatively weak, and their remonstrance was unheeded, and now our best machinery is exported freely to the world. [Mr. Gladstone: The change was eighteen years in progress.] Well, the changes in the Corn Laws have been going on for the last thirty years, there have been about seven alterations in the law since 1815, and one undeviating struggle against the law on principle. Again a case quite as strong in point of effect and hardship, might be made out in favour of those who had lent their money on Turnpike Trusts, they had an Act of Parliament to depend upon, and they considered the security a safe one; the projectors of railroads obtained an Act to enable them to carry out their project. The paramount interest of great public advantage in the better mode of travelling demanded that every facility for its adoption should be given, and no time was given to the mortgagees to change their security. But a still more important change was effected of late years, and without any of the considerations that are assumed to operate in this case. I mean the Poor Law—the analogy in this case is quite close, for though the old Poor Law was very prejudicial to the poor themselves —but they did not think so. They had expectations raised under it, however mischievous they might be, they were influenced by it in their conduct, in their domestic relations, their character, indeed, may be said to have been formed under it, and perhaps if ever there was a case in which the feelings of the people should have been duly considered, though opposed to an enlightened view of their own interest it was in this case. There was, however, the sudden introduction of a somewhat rigid system without any deference to what might be termed the feelings or immediate wishes of the poor. [Mr. Borthwick, "Hear."] The hon. Member appeared to be sensitive on this point; I should like to ask for whom he was going to vote to night? [Mr. Borthwick: For the poor.] The hon. Gentleman is going to vote against this Motion, and he will doubtless tell us that he is swayed in doing so by the old arguments of existing interests, peculiar burthens, and the necessity of consulting the feelings, and prejudices of 1395 those whose interests would be immediately affected. But he Knows he cannot repeal the New Poor Law, which in truth should only have been passed after the repeal of the Corn Law, and the hon. Member knowing that he cannot alter the New Poor Law as he is supposed to wish, knowing that its rigour proceeds from the extent of pauperism in the country, is going to vote for the continuance of the law, which limits employment to the poor and renders the food dear to those who are, God knows, but ill requited for their labour. He was going to add to the wealth of the rich by raising the price of the food to the poor, but did nothing to raise the wages of the unfortunate labourer; and then said that he was going to vote for the poor! He knows that he can do nothing so pleasing to the dominant class as to vote against this Motion, and he knows what I well know, that he can do nothing more offensive to that class than to support this Motion — to conciliate their favour, or to obtain their patronage he must oppose this Motion—and if he can be offensive to those who support it, they will applaud him the more. It was the same with the question of the Slave Trade and slavery when it was allowed by the British Government, and was sought to be abolished by a few persevering persons, and the same arguments, that I am combating as to existing interests and the danger of changing at once a system so long established was urged at that time, in favour of perpetuating those abominations. Mr. Pitt himself, was unable to shake the interested influence in this House on this matter, and it called forth one of his most indignant rebukes, when he was charged with disregarding the vested rights of the planters. He said:—
1837. 1842. Exports to Continental Corn Countries £11,581,242 £16,860,416 Exports to all other Countries 41,787,330 30,520,607I do not understand complimenting away the lives of so many human beings. I do not understand the principle on which a few individuals are to be complimented, and their minds set at rest, at the expense and total sacrifice of the interest, the security, the happiness, of a whole quarter of the world, which, from our foul practices, has, for a vast length of time, been a scene of misery and horror. I say, because I feel, that every hour you continue this trade, you are guilty of an offence beyond your power to atone for; and, by your indulgence to the planters, thousands of human beings are to be miserable for ever. I feel its infamy so heavily, I am so clearly convinced of its impolicy, that I am ashamed I hare not been able to prevail upon the House 1396 to abandon it altogether at an instant—to pronounce with one voice, ' immediate and total abolition.' There is no excuse for us, seeing this infernal traffic as we do. It is the very death of justice to utter a syllable in support of it. Sir, I know I state this subject with warmth. I feel it impossible for me not to do so; or, if it were, I should detest myself for the exercise of moderation.Now considering the irreparable mischief which has been inflicted on millions of our people by the operation of these laws, the moral as well as pecuniary ruin, which by their effect on our commerce they have at different times brought upon the industrious classes—and the certainty which their continuance holds out of a recurrence of these evils I cannot and will not, for the sake of conciliating a few great men, abandon a great principle which in its application has in view to redress an enormous wrong, and to confer a vast advantage upon the people at large. I therefore now beg leave to move the Resolutions of which I have given notice.
§ Mr. Ferrand
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House had not informed the House what particular interest he was anxious to represent. The Anti-Corn-Law League party had endeavoured to convince the working classes of this country that they had their interest particularly at heart, and for a lime they were enabled to make many of those classes believe so, and they received considerable support from them; but at last the working classes showed that they were fully aware of the intentions of the Anti-Corn-Law League party, and they were now so detested and despised that they dared not hold one single public meeting in the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire or Lancashire. During the last winter he bad visited between thirty and forty of the largest manufacturing towns in those counties, and he there gathered that there was one universal feeling upon this question—the working classes were diametrically opposed to the repeal of the Corn Laws. If that was not the case he would ask the hon. and learned Member for Bolton how happened it that he did not go to the manufacturing districts and put this question fairly and broadly to the working classes; and if they could not come to that House, backed by the opinion of the mass of the people of the manufacturing districts, he asked what right had they to call upon that House to listen to 1397 their statements and believe their assertions? In Manchester on one or two occasions attempts had been made by the working classes to express their opinions in the presence of the Anti-Corn-Law League upon this question, and what treatment had they received? The hon. Member for Wolverhampton said he would read a letter to show the opinion of the landed proprietors upon this question. He would take the opportunity of reading to the House a letter from a working man, stating the treatment he had received at the hands of the Anti-Corn-Law League party in Manchester, which was as disgraceful to them as a body as it was to the magistracy of the town. On the 14th of February the Anti-Corn-Law League party held a meeting which they declared to be public, at the Free-Trade-hall, and true it was that those who were admitted within the bar had presented to them tickets, one of which he then held in his hand. The workmen at that meeting put a question to the assembly after the hon. Member for Stockport and Colonel Thompson had declared that the meeting was public— "Is this a public meeting?" and now let the House listen to the treatment this poor man received. He had written to him (Mr. Ferrand) in a letter dated "Manchester, February 20," and he had made the strictest inquiry as to the truth of this man's statement, and found that it was true. [The hon. Member read a letter from an unnamed individual complaining of having been expelled from an Anti-Corn-Law meeting at Manchester and confined in the police office]. Then came said the hon. Member six signatures attached to the letter, as witnesses. He went to this man, and advised him to lay the whole case before Mr. Maude, the stipendiary magistrate of Manchester. There was, he was sure, no man in that House who would assert that the conduct of this individual was illegal. When one man was given in charge, he could not be discharged without being taken before a police magistrate; but here the man was first confined in a cold, damp cell, then taken before Mr. Maude, and that gentleman told him the police were justified in what they did. That was the treatment the working classes received at the hands of the Anti-Corn-Law League whenever they attempted to express their opinion against the principles of that body. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the 1398 Secretary for the Home Department whether, in allowing such conduct, he was performing his duty as a public officer paid by public money? The hon. Gentleman had been particularly desirous of impressing on his hearers that the working classes in the agricultural districts, if deprived of their labour by free trade in corn, would find employment in the manufacturing districts. Such an attempt was made in 1837 and 1835, and the result was well known. Some of the most influential parties of the Anti-Corn Law League were most intimately connected with what he had ever called, and should continue to call, selling of people out of the agricultural into the manufacturing districts. Strong assertions were then made on the part of the manufacturing classes, that if the working classes were removed from the agricultural districts, they would find food and employment in abundance; but in some three or four years he himself heard the hon. Member for Manchester assert in that House that thousands of the working classes in the manufacturing districts were living on 15½d. per week, and were obliged to pawn their clothes to procure covering during their hours of rest. He had often asked in that House where were those wretched creatures now? An attempt had been made by the Poor Law Commissioners to render an account of them, but it was as disgraceful to them as it was to the manufacturers who had induced them to leave the agricultural districts. But let him bring before the notice of the House what had been the extension of their trade in the manufacturing districts upon the working classes. Let them be heard. The manufacturers were heard in that House, for there were plenty of their order there to fight their battles. But let the working classes be heard. Let him bring to the notice of the House the memorial of the wood-sawyers of Manchester and Salford which had been presented to the Lords of the Privy Council for Trade. That body had presented a petition to that House, imploring it in the most abject language to listen to their prayer, and remedy the sufferings they had endured for years in peace, but they had memorialized in vain. [The hon. Member read an extract complaining of the number of sawyers who were thrown out of work by machinery.] It said—A pair of sawyers consider it a good average day's work, they being paid by the piece, 1399 to cut 300 superficial feet in twelve hours, while one steam sawmill, in the same period of time, with the assistance of six men, will cut at least 30,000 feet, thus doing the work of 200 men, throwing 194 sawyers out of employment, and, at a very low average of three to each family, leaving 582 individuals destitute of the means of subsistence. That your Memorialists conceive they have thus made out a complete and palpable proof, that machinery applied in the sawing of timber drives manual labour out of the market, and, contrary to its effects in other branches of industry, without advantage to the public—the mill-owner being the only person who derives any benefit from it.That was the language of the sawyers of Manchester and Salford, and yet not any allusion was made to the Corn Laws as being the cause of their distress. He had also in his hand a petition from the calico block-printers of Lancashire, Cheshire, and Derbyshire. [The hon. Member quoted a portion of the Petition in which the petitioners complained of printers being thrown out of work by the use of machinery. They prayed for restrictions on the employment of machinery.] Had the block-printers, continued the right Member, petitioned for a Repeal of the Corn Laws? If hon. Members went down into the districts where these men were employed, they would find that their firm conviction was, that the Repeal of the Corn Laws would only tend to increase their misery, and to involve them in deeper distress. The men to whom he was alluding, had not forgotten the misery which formerly resulted from the introduction of thousands of agricultural labourers into the manufacturing districts. That step had done more to weaken the power of the Anti-Corn Law League than any opposition they had had to encounter from the agricultural interest. During the last two Sessions of Parliament he had presented petitions to that House, signed by 25,000 frame-work knitters in different counties. who declared that they regarded the extensive use of machinery as the great cause of their sufferings; but these petitioners did not make any complaint of the continuance of the Corn Laws. He would beg the indulgence of the House while he read some extracts from a pamphlet written by a Manchester operative, which had been published today at the expense of an hon. Friend of his, one of the Members for Cornwall (Mr. W. Rashleigh). He had made strict 1400 inquiries as to the truth of the allegations contained in that pamphlet; and if they were denied by hon. Gentlemen opposite, he was prepared to put their accuracy to the test. He would ask any hon. Gentleman who denied the truth of those statements to go down to Manchester, and meet the writer of this pamphlet publicly, before the working classes, and there to ascertain whether or not his statements were true. He would read a few extracts from this work, to show the dreadful misery and sufferings to which the manufacturing operatives had been reduced in consequence of the extensive introduction of machinery. He would show the House what had been the effect upon the hand-loom weavers, the power-loom weavers, the spinners, fustian-cutters, machine-makers, and block-printers. He found, from the statement of the writer of this pamphlet, that in the year 1781, 5,198,7781bs. of cotton were produced in this country; there were sixty reeds in the piece of twenty yards, and 120 picks; and for this the operative received 33s. 3d. In 1841, the production of cotton was 528,000,0001b. The reeds were then increased from sixty to sixty-three, and the piece was lengthened from twenty to twenty-four yards; but the weaver received only 3s. 9d. for the work. The writer of this pamphlet remarked:—It will be seen by the above table, that the mean increase in the manufacture of cotton from 1781 to 1841 was from 5,198,7881bs. to 528,000,000lbs., or, in other words, our trade has increased 101 times; that is, where we manufactured one pound of cotton in 1781, we manufactured 101 lbs. in 1841. We presume the Corn Law Repealers could not expect a more rapid increase of trade than has here taken place during the last sixty years, supposing that all restrictions were removed from our commerce; and surely if there were a shadow of truth in the statements, that ' increased trade, would give increased prosperity to the working classes,' they ought indeed to be supremely happy. During the periods included in the above table, it will be seen, however, that the handloom weaver was reduced from 33s. 3d. for weaving twenty yards of a sixty reed, down so 3s. 9d. for twenty-four yards. Now if the hand-loom weaver of 1841 was paid for weaving twenty-four yards, at the same rate as the weaver of 1790 for weaving twenty yards, he would receive 39s. 10¾d. instead of which he only receives 3s. 9d.; that is, he receives 1s. where he used to receive 10s."They had here the history of the cotton 1401 handloom weaver since 1781. But what had been the effect of the adoption of machinery upon power-loom weavers? In 1825, the power-loom weavers employed by Mr Ashton, of Newton-moor, received 2s. 8d. for a piece consisting of 72 reeds, 24 yards, 22 picks; while in 1836, for the same work, they only received 1s. 2d. In 1824, the power-loom weavers in Mr. Hepburn's mill received 2s. for a piece of 72 reeds, 24 yards, and 22 picks; and in 1843 they received only 1s. for the same work. In 1837, the power-loom weavers at Mr. Guest's mill, Holttown, received 1s. 1d. for weaving 36 yards, 46 reeds, 42 inches, 12 picks; and in 1843 they only obtained 1s. for 60 yards—the length having been increased, between 1837 and 1843, from 36 to 60 yards. But what had been the case with respect to the spinners? The writer of this pamphlet gave a list of 20 of the largest coarse mills and 15 of the largest fine mills in Manchester. It appeared that in 1829 there were in the 20 coarse mills 770 spinners and 371,883 spindles. In 1841 the number of spinners had been reduced to 200, and the number of spindles had been increased to 409,258. The number of men thrown out of work was 529, while the number of spindles was increased by 35,385; and, during this period 428 "self-actors," which, he believed, were worked without the superintendence of operatives, were introduced into these mills. But the writer also gave a list of 15 fine mills, in which, in 1829, 1,000 spinners were employed, and in which there were 674,074 spindles. In 1841, the number of spinners had been reduced from 1,000 to 487, while the spindles had been increased to 736,128; 513 spinners were consequently thrown out of work, while there was an increase of 638,854 in the number of spindles. The spinners of Manchester, while suffering under severe distress, issued an address to the public, in which they thus referred to the effect produced by machinery upon their labour:—There were, in 36 coarse firms in 1829, 1,088 spinners employed; and in 1841 only 448; and those 448 were working upon 53,353 spindles more than the 1,088 men were in 1829, in addition to throwing out of employment 640 men. If the wheels must have continued the same size as in 1829, their numbers would have been 1,348 employed, thus in reality throwing out of work 1,100 men through the improvements in machinery, 1402 and we regret to add, that those who remained in employment have been reduced upwards of 60 per cent., which has thrown out of circulation from the spinners and their piercers the enormous sum of 2,700l per week, or 135,000l. a year, allowing 50 weeks to the year. Whether legislative interference or individual avarice has brought about this state of things, we do not attempt to decide, but this we do know, that thousands of our fellow-workmen, their wives and families, have fallen victims, whilst those who are in employment are so much overworked, that they are too old for their business when they should be in the prime and vigour of life.The fustian-cutters, though they had not suffered so severely as some other classes of operatives from the introduction of machinery, had still felt its effects to a great extent; for as was remarked by the author of this pamphlet, when numbers of persons were thrown out of employment by the introduction of machinery in any particular branch of labour, they immediately came into competition with hands employed in other branches of industry. The wages of fustian-cutters, which, in 1827, were 1l. 6s. 6d. per week, had been reduced in 1843 to 10s. It had been stated by an hon. Member of that House (Mr. Brocklehurst), before a Parliamentary Committee, that in 1821 the weekly wages of silk weavers employed in the manufacture of one description of silk were 30s., while in 1831 they were reduced to 9s.; and that a proportionate reduction had taken place in the wages paid for other qualities. The right hon. President of the Board of Trade (Mr. W. Gladstone) at the close of the last Session of Parliament inserted a Clause in the Customs Bill, by which the exportation of machinery from this country was legalized. He believed that that step would be attended with most ruinous results to the trade of this country. It might have the effect of giving an impetus for some time to come to the manufacture of machinery; but when he had asked the opinion of several manufacturers, who were advocates of free-trade, as to the conduct of the President of the Board of Trade in proposing this measure, their answer had invariably been '' Oh, he began at the wrong end. We are all anxious for free-trade—except in machinery." It appeared, therefore, that these manufacturers, who were strong advocates for free-trade in corn, did not at all admire the principle of free-trade as applied to machinery. He believed that if the hon. Member for Sheffield instituted 1403 a diligent inquiry among the advocates of free trade on the opposite side of the House, he would not find a single person who was not prepared to contend that these was some particular interest in this country which required protection. He would beg to read to the House a statement which had been issued by the machine-makers of Manchester, to which he begged to call the particular attention of the right hon. President of the Board of Trade. They stated that in one of the large machine shops in that town the following machines had been introduced, since the year 1838: —One planing machine, equal to fourteen men, employs one man or boy to direct it; five smaller ones, equal to three men each, employ one person each; one blotting machine, equal to twelve men, one person directs it; one self-acting lathe, equal to three men, with one person to superintend it; one nut-cutting machine, equal to three men, employs one boy; one screw-cutting machine, equal to ten men, employs one boy; one wheel-cutting machine, equal to twenty men, employs one man; one boring machine, equal to ten men, employs one person. In another shop, there were twenty self-acting lathes, equal to a hundred men, one man or a boy attends two of them; eight planing machines, equal to ninety-six men, one man or boy attends one of them; one cutting machine, upon a further improved principle, equal to twenty men, employs one boy only; one slotting machine, equal to twenty men, one man or boy to direct it.The writer of the pamphlet from which he (Mr. Ferrand) was quoting, then went on to say,We give the above statement of the machine-making machines, as a sample only of what has taken place in all parts of the country. Upon the most moderate calculation, the machines set to work to make machinery in Manchester, during the last twelve years, are equal to the labour of 3,000 mechanics, as previously employed; and, notwithstanding the great increase that has taken place in this description of labour, in a great measure owing to the foreign orders given to the master mechanics from Russia, Prussia, and other countries, there were in 1843, 450 out of employment in Manchester alone.The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) had given a most harrowing description of the sufferings of the agricultural labourers, and, if the statements of that hon. Member were true, their position was a disgrace to the agricultural proprietors in any county in which such distress existed; but, if these 1404 statements were true, the suffering to which the hon. Gentleman had alluded could only be increased by the repeal of the Corn Laws. He would describe to the House the condition of the manufacturing operatives in Bolton—a town represented by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Dr. Bowring). The following statement was made by Mr. Ash-worth, of Bolton, a very active Corn Law repealer:—There are in Bolton 300 families, consisting of 1,400 persons, whose sole income does not exceed for food and clothing 15½d. per head, per week. There are 1,000 families with only 1s. 6d. per head weekly; 1,200 ditto 2s.; 1,300 ditto 2s. 6d. Of these poor people 1,601 bad only 500 beds amongst them; 582 of them slept three in a bed; 185 ditto five in a bed; 75 ditto six in a bed; 42 ditto seven in a bed; and in some instances, eight in a bed; and 23 had no bed at all.This was the statement of Mr. Ashworth, a gentleman whose opinions and statements were frequently quoted by hon. Gentlemen opposite. His firm conviction was, that, if they searched throughout the whole agricultural districts of England, they would not find anywhere such frightful misery and degradation as it appeared from the statement of Mr. Ashworth existed in Bolton. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton had laboured to convince the House that the repeal of the Corn Laws would be beneficial to the labouring classes. The hon. Member had, however, long ago ceased to address such assertions to the working classes themselves, for they knew full well the fallacy of such statements. He thought he could not do better than read to the House the answers given by a Bolton weaver who was examined before a Committee of that House to an hon. Member who asked his opinion as to the effects which would be produced by the repeal of the Corn Laws upon the condition of the operative classes. The question was asked, "Would you be as well off if the Corn Laws were repealed as you were" (in a given year mentioned?) The reply was, "No; if you gave me all my food for nothing I should not be as well off." "Why?" "Because since that period the reductions that have taken place in my wages amount to more than the price of all the food I eat, and the clothing that I wear." He (Mr. Ferrand) believed that Mr. Ashworth has stated, at a public meeting held in London two 1405 or three years ago, that a Bolton weaver could afford to purchase a shirt only once in five years, on account of the low rate of his wages, caused by the introduction of machinery; but a Bolton weaver was able to weave as much cotton in a week as would make 50 shirts. Now, he would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were anxious to extend to the commerce of this country, even at the risk of sacrificing the agricultural interest, how they could reconcile the assertions they frequently made in that House with the statements he had read to-night, on the authority of a manufacturing operative? It. had been customary for hon. Members opposite to assert that the statements made by him in that House were incorrect. But what was the statement of the working classes when he (Mr. Ferrand) visited Yorkshire and Lancashire last winter? The hon. Member for Sheffield laughed; but he could tell that hon. Gentleman that the working classes of those counties had said that every word he (Mr. Ferrand) had uttered in that House was true; and informed him, also, that his assertion of those truths had caused them to place confidence in him. The persons who had contradicted him knew that they were contradicting what was true; but they durst not meet him in the manufacturing districts and there deny the truth of his statements. He was extremely sorry to disturb the noble Lord [Viscount Howick, who was apparently in a state of forgetfulness] but he hoped that when the noble Lord was fully awake, some hon. Friend of his would inform him what he was now about to state. On more than one occasion that noble Lord had positively asserted in that House, that he (Mr. Ferrand) had charged the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cob-den) with carrying out the truck system in all its harshness and cruelty. He denied that he had ever made such a charge against that hon. Member; and if the noble Lord reiterated that charge, he would call upon him as a Gentleman, and as a Member of that House, to read the words in which he had made that accusation. The statement he made, on the occasion to which the noble Lord had alluded, was this—" Will the hon. Member for Stockport deny that he kept cows and sold the milk to his workmen?" A few days afterwards the hon. Member for Stockport denied that he did; and a Committee was appointed by the House to 1406 inquire into the extent to which the truck system was carried. One of the witnesses examined before that Committee was a gentleman residing at Chorley, where the print-works of the hon. Member for Stockport were situated; and he was asked— "Does any manufacturer in your neighbourhood keep cows and sell the milk to his workmen?" The answer was, "Yes, Mr. Cobden does." The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden) was present while that witness was under examination, but he never put one question to him nor did he then deny the truth of his assertion. He hoped, therefore, that before the noble Member for Sunderland again charged him with bringing unfounded charges against the hon. Member for Stockport, he would in candour and fairness state his grounds for making such an accusation. He regretted that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had quitted the House— he should liked to have asked the hon. Member whether he had found it convenient to forget the language he used when the hon. Member was employed as a Commissioner to ransack the country for evidence upon which to found the New Poor Law. Had that hon. Member forgotten that in his Report he gave the same advice which he now gave to the working classes—that they should combine for the protection of their labour against the injurious effects of machinery? Unless they did so, he was convinced that they would be sunk deeper and deeper still in misery and degradation, in order that they might pander to the luxuries and increase the wealth of the millowners. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, in his Report, which was to be found in No. 11, Appendix A, part 10, p. 39, said, on the authority of one of his witnesses,—Amongst other evils that have arisen from the lowness of wages has been a deterioration in the character of the work, which has tended to drive the trade to other parts of the country.Again, at p. 40, he said,—On conversing with another manufacturer, I found that he regretted the great fall in wages, but said, that as a capitalist, he had no choice between reducing the wages of his men and giving up his business, for, if a certain portion of the operatives were obliged to take lower wages, the wages of the rest must also follow, since otherwise the master who employed those at reduced wages would get possession of the market. He said he could always calculate out of a given number of workmen 1407 what proportion working at low wages would bring down the rest, and that if any circumcumstance caused a fall in one district, wages must fall in all other districts producing the same article.He should like to call the attention of hon. Gentlemen opposite to the language the hon. Member for Wolverhampton used when calling upon the working classes to protect their own interests and industry. At page 47, the hon. Member said,—It is to be feared that many of the devices to which parishes resort" [such as he (Mr. Ferrand) supposed the deportation of what they called their surplus population to the manufacturing districts] " tend to deter the operatives from taking measures to prevent their numbers exceeding the demand of their labour, which, however, though it may be difficult for the exception, are actually adopted in some trades at present; for instance, in this town, Pershore, county of Worcester, the wool-combers never suffer a man under the rules of their combination to bring up more than two of his children to the same trade, simply under an apprehension that by increasing their numbers their wages would fall; but the weavers, not having shown the same sagacity, have overstocked the trade, and now depend upon their parishes for keeping them in the same employment.Now the Anti-Corn Law League party had for some time been showing all their sagacity in destroying the landed interest in order to get what they called free-trade in corn, or, in other words, compel the agricultural labourer when the agricultural districts are overstocked to seek refuge— that was the phrase used by the Anti-Corn Law League party—in the manufacturing districts. What had been the result of this seeking refuge in the manufacturing districts? All the sagacity that could be exerted could not prevent wages sinking to the starvation point when thousands of labourers from an agricultural district were poured into one manufacturing town to vie with the operatives already established there. This question had been discussed in the manufacturing districts by the Anti-Corn-Law League party till they only dared to hold their meetings with barred doors, and under the protection of the police. They had now taken refuge in Covent Garden Theatre, where they were in the habit of collecting all the ragged political dissenters of the metropolis; but, was that a fit audience for them, when they were appealing to the working classes, and discussing, as they said, their interests? Why not call upon 1408 the working classes to come and take part in those discussions when their interests were the subject of inquiry? The fact was, as he had before stated, that, go where you would—to Manchester or any other manufacturing town—and you found that the working classes were everywhere diametrically opposed to free-trade, and were for asking protection for corn as for every other manufacture that needed it. He had addressed the House, not for the purpose of defending the agricultural interest; he left to the agricultural Members that task, not forgetting that when they got protection for themselves they forgot to protect the working classes. He considered it to be as sure as that the present Poor Law could not stand with the present Corn Law—to adopt an expression of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton — that, if the Government and Legislature of this country persisted much longer in treating the manufacturing classes as at present, if the people were to be trampled in the dust in the manufacturing districts, it would be found that all law and order would be trodden under foot; it would be found that men would be ready to take extreme courses who had always hitherto been anxious to live peaceably, and who had covered the Table of the House, year after year, with petitions praying the House to listen to their appeals; who had been, year after year, imploring the Government to condescend to read their petitions, in which they asserted that machinery was the cause, and the sole reason, of their distress, and asked that, instead of giving extension to that machinery by depressing the landed interest, the House should once more give the working classes the power to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following Amendment:—To leave out from the words 'provided with the' to the end of the question, in order to add the words, ' means of purchasing the first necessaries of life:That, although a Corn Law is in force, which protects the supply of food produced by British capital and native industry, and thereby increases its abundance, whilst it lessens competition in the market of labour, nevertheless machinery has for many years lessened amongst the working classes the means of purchasing the same:That such Corn Law having for its object the protection of British capital, and the encouragement of native labour employed in the growth of an article upon which depends the 1409 subsistence of the community, is just in principle, beneficial in operation, and ought not to be abolished.That it is therefore expedient that every encouragement and protection shall be given to native industry, which is the groundwork of our national greatness, and the source of our national wealth,' "—instead thereof.
§ On the question being put,
said, it has been a very generally received opinion, constantly broached in this House, and still more frequently repeated on the hustings, that the agricultural and manufacturing interests are identical—that the depression of one is injurious to the other. It is undoubtedly a wise policy to impress the fact upon the whole community, to induce them to bear and forbear, and to assist each other in bearing the necessary burthens of the State. The obstinate and mistaken policy of Gentlemen opposite has destroyed the illusion. It has been left for them to set the agricultural and manufacturing classes in direct opposition, and even in open hostile array. By their policy associations have sprung up on either side—the one to counteract the measures of the other; and the most bitter and violent language (for many reasons to be deeply regretted) has been used to set class against class, and to foment the worst passions of the labouring community, whether agricultural or manufacturing. On the one hand the landed aristocracy of the kingdom are represented as selfish, sordid, griping, and careless of the wants of the poor, even to the cruelty of depriving them of cheap bread. Thus are the landed aristocracy represented as drones in the hive, fattening on the labour and industry of others—themselves useless. Nothing can be more unfounded or so manifestly devoid of truth as these mischievous assertions; for I will take on myself to assert, that whether it be in munificence and hospitality, or whether it be in benevolence or charity, none stand more prominently forward than the landed aristocracy of England. Drones in the hive, indeed! From the moment the great captain of the age, the illustrious Wellington, landed on the Peninsula, who were the most eager to rush into the battle field? The landed aristocracy of England. Who composed the elite of that great commander's personal staff? The landed aristocracy of England. Have I not heard those most distinguished corps, the British 1410 Guards, described, and even sneered at in this House, as the aristocratic Guards? Whose services are more brilliant, who so frequently called for, when hard service and hard fighting are the order of the day? Who is it that have carried their standards in the hottest of the fight, and waved them in the hour of victory? Why, scions of the landed aristocracy of England. Call men such as these drones! Heaven forbid, that the British hive should ever be without such drones as these? Well, Sir, to counteract the Anti-Corn Law Association, sat up by the great manufacturing interests—which has been denounced by the agriculturists as unconstitutional, as a self-elected, domineering party, usurping the functions of Parliament, they have formed themselves into a counter-association. I am not aware that they go by any specific name, but I should recommend that they call themselves the Anti-Tamworth or Anti-Peel Association. For it is very evident that they are frightened at the idol of their own creation; and that the association has been formed to overawe and coerce the measures of the right hon. Baronet. Then, Sir, this Anti-Tamworth Association take the worst leaf from a bad book, and in their turn denounce the great manufacturers, and the active partisans of the Anti-Corn Law League, as scheming, deceitful politicians, who are solely intent on putting money in their own pockets by the cry of cheap bread, when in reality their real object is to be enabled to lower wages, and to deprive the working class of their present scanty earnings. Is this a state of things that can last? Is it probable that the great majority, that is, the poorer and middling classes, will consent to be governed by the minority, when that minority, which ever section of it you take, is constantly impressing on the minds of that majority that they are governed by selfish sordid purposes, and not for the general good? No, Sir, such is not human nature. The majority only succumb to the minority when it is for the general good, and when they feel that they are governed by honest, upright, and just principles. We must all know, even Gentlemen on the opposite side must begin to acknowledge, that the existence of the present Corn Laws is an affair of time only—they are doomed; and although their existence may be prolonged by the inconsistency and dictatorial policy pur- 1411 sued by the body calling itself the Anti-Corn Law League—the time is fast coming when they will be swept from the Statute Book. The meddling interference of that body with constituencies with whom they have no common interests, of whose general political opinions they are ignorant, or careless, has done much to retard the progress of this question. But be that as it may, I shall not be driven from my consistency. I have always repudiated the sliding-scale. When the scabbard was thrown aside, when I had to choose between that scale and total repeal, I then voted with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and on this occasion I shall give him my most cordial support.
was anxious to take an early opportunity of addressing the House, because the House would be of opinion that they ought to have a declaration at the first practicable moment, from the Government, of what course they were about to take on a question of so much importance. In enunciating that course, he trusted he should give a clear and explicit statement. It would be his duty on the part of Her Majesty's Government, to endeavour to prevail on the House to give a most direct negative to the Motion; and, to that end, he must refer for a moment to the Amendment which had been proposed by the hon. Member for Knaresborough. As he understood the question as put from the Chair, the question now before the House was, that the words proposed by the hon. Member for Knaresborough do stand part of the question; and if the House affirmed that, then they arrive immediately at the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and the House would come to a vote "Ay" or "No," on that question. Now, he thought that the House, and the hon. Member for Knaresborough, would feel that it would be infinitely better to meet a question of this nature fairly, and not by means of any indirect proposition; and he thought, that the hon. Member for Knaresborough had mixed up with his Amendment many important propositions, especially with respect to machinery, to which he, for one could not give his assent, because he conscientiously believed the direct opposite of the hon. Member's proposition; for he thought that, though some evils, and serious evils, had accompanied the progress of machinery, yet he found when he asked 1412 what was the condition of the labouring classes as a whole, since the great increase which had of late been made in machinery, that the means of subsistence and employment they received from that extension of machinery, had been augmented in a hundred cases for one in which they had been curtailed. He thought it clear, at any rate, that if the question was to be raised on a matter so complex as the operation of machinery on manufactures, that was a subject so important as to demand a separate discussion, and he hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member for Knaresborough would allow them to set aside his Amendment, and come at once to the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton had stated that he was convinced no man would be found in this debate to say that the Corn Law was to be continued for the benefit of the farmer or labourer. Now, he apprehended that the hon. Member underrated the courage of the generality of hon. Members, who, he would venture to say, would be found addressing the House on that (the Ministerial) side of the House in the course of this debate, as respected even the case of the labourer. He was not prepared to throw over the landlords altogether; they, like every other body in the community, had a fair right to consideration at the hands of the House; but he repudiated the statement that the landlords' interest was the exclusive or even the especial object of those who framed the Corn Law, and he did not scruple to say, that whatever might be the embarrassments and difficulties which a repeal of the Corn Law would throw upon landlords and occupiers, and, last and most important of all, the agricultural labourers, he believed the landlords of those three classes would be that which would most easily contend with and most readily overcome those embarrassments and those difficulties. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton told the House that all the farmers were of his opinion—that all the independent farmers to a man thought as he did — and that the whole matter with which the House had to deal in reference to the Corn Laws was solely an affair between the landlords and the country at large. So far the hon. Member might be said to argue in a circle, for wherever he found any man or any class of men favourable to a repeal of the Corn Laws he 1413 forthwith dubbed them spirited and independent. On the other hand, wherever and whenever he found any man or class of men unfavourable to that project which was the especial object of his advocacy, he immediately described them as the reverse of spirited and independent. Now, so far as he had any opportunity of making himself acquainted with the sentiments of the farmers, he should say, that they did much more to stimulate the landlords to resist a repeal of the Corn Laws than the landlords did to excite them to that resistance. As a question of fact and feeling he should say, the sentiment in favour of the existing laws operated more strongly on the mind of the farmer than it did on any other class. He was not sure that it was equally so with the agricultural labourer; but he believed it to be very nearly so. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might consider that those people deceived themselves; but they were quite as ready to suppose that the hon. Gentlemen fell into the error of self-delusion. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton addressed the House at some length upon the motives and causes of the incendiary proceedings which now, unhappily, prevailed in some parts of the country. In those particular counties in which this feeling manifests itself, the hon. Gentleman told the House that nothing could be more wretched than the condition of the agricultural labourers; but when the House looked at the statement which the hon. Gentleman made on the subject, they must at once see that he took the most unfavourable specimens, and offered them as presenting a fair average picture of the whole country. He was sure the House would, upon reflection, see that the account which the hon. Member gave of the state of the agricultural labourer presented a very exaggerated view of his real condition. Though the condition of the agricultural labourer was not satisfactory as regarded remuneration, yet, at all events, he was free from those extreme reverses to which the inhabitants of Paisley, Stockport and other manufacturing towns were frequently subjected. No man, who knew the relative situations of both classes, could for a moment doubt that the manufacturers had often far more sufferings to endure occasionally than ever fell to the lot of the agricultural labourer. But the argument founded on this statement, was a matter of less importance 1414 than the bold proposition which the hon. Member enunciated discussing the causes of incendiarism, when he told the House, that there was invariably discontent amongst the peasantry when the prices of bread were high, and there was a general feeling of content amongst them when the prices of bread were low and the hon. Member used a word which he seemed to be very proud of, and asked who dared deny this proposition. In replying to this part of the hon. Member's speech, he (Mr. Gladstone) would be sorry to be understood as regarding a high price of bread at any time as otherwise than a public mifortune. But the hon. Member dared any one to deny what he had asserted, that discontent or content prevailed according as the price of bread might be high or low. Now, in 1839, 1840, and 1841, they had heard of no incendiary fires, and were not these years in which there was a high price of bread, whilst in 1843 and 1844, whilst there was a steady and low price of bread, these incendiary fires occurred. Now, the hon. Member who challenged them to produce an instance where discontent prevailed concurrently with a low price for bread, must not travel farther back than the year that had just elapsed, which he was sorry to say, furnished him with the instance which he sought for. There was one point which the hon. Member had mooted; he had mooted the question of what was the cause of those incendiary fires. He supposed that it was very probable that they were caused by the less amount of employment. He was not asking the hon. Member whether he was conscious of ever having encouraged the commission of those crimes. It would be an insult to the hon. Member to put such a question to him; but he would ask him whether the persevering and sedulous course of agitation which the hon. Member pursued, and which undoubtedly, he perhaps thought would produce great public advantage, he would put it to the hon. Member whether that agitation which he said, had suggested to the landlords to destroy their hares and rabbits, and to grant leases to their tenants—whether that agitation might not have produced the more pernicious effect in discouraging the farmer and the landlord from extending the application of capital in the cultivation of the soil; and whether that withholding of capital, and the diminution of employment, may not have been occasioned by 1415 the shock to the confidence of the farmer and the landlord, which was the consequence of that agitation. He would put it to the hon. Member to consider whether the withholding of capital occasioned by this agitation might not have been the cause of that want of employment which was so much to be lamented, and which the hon. Member said, had led to those incendiary fires—if that was so, there was wisdom, so long as Parliament determined to maintain the Corn Laws, in discouraging the agitation to which he alluded, by them in that House setting their face firmly against any Motion such as that now before them. The hon. Member, in the course of his speech, referred to arguments, which he (Mr. Gladstone) had used in former discussions on the subject, and the hon. Member had in particular referred to one which was of primary importance. The hon. Member said, that one of his objections to the repeal of the Corn Laws was the displacement of rural labour that would be consequent upon that repeal; and the hon. Member met the argument, that the consequence of repeal would be, that land would be thrown out of cultivation, by saying, that so long as land was capable of producing rent, it would not be thrown out of cultivation. But the hon. Member mistook his argument. Supposing that he granted that there would be an increase of trade, and an increased demand for our manufactures, consequent on the increased demand for foreign corn, still it did not follow that the greatest injury to the condition of the agricultural labourer might not be the consequence. There might be a great displacement of rural labour, without any diminution of rent. He did not know whether the hon. Member meant to include land converted from arable cultivation into pasture, as land thrown out of cultivation. His argument was, not that a large quantity of land was absolutely to be thrown out of cultivation, but his argument was, that the landlord might obtain a high rental and large profits from turning his land into pasture, and producing butcher's meat, butter, cheese, and milk, and at the same time, though that might be highly profitable to the landlord, the result might be to make such a diminution in rural labour as would be felt to be most injurious by the labouring classes. To that argument he had heard no reply; and it was this consideration—a consider- 1416 ation for the interests of the agricultural labourer, as well as for the farmer and to the landlord, that made him feel it to be his duty to meet the present Motion with a decided negative. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton told them, that because they feared a displacement of agricultural labour, the supporters of the present law must be adverse to agricultural improvement, for such improvement must lessen the number of agricultural labourers employed. This he maintained was a very unfair representation of the argument; for, though the effect of agricultural improvement must be a diminution of the number of labourers employed, yet it would produce the effect gradually, and not in the sudden manner that changes would ensue from the projected plan of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. Though there might in some places be a diminution of the demand for labour, yet, in many others there must be a corresponding increase arising from agricultural improvement; for example, by the cultivation of waste land by the practice of draining, and by other causes of a similar description, and eventually that species of labour must stimulate the means of increased employment, and tend to raise wages more than any thing else. In one sense it might be said, that agricultural improvement must have the effect of diminishing the demand for labour; that was to say, there would be less labour for a given quantity of produce; yet from this cause the demand for rural labour might actually increase. When the hon. Member for Wolverhampton stated that the original object of the Corn Law had been to promote scarcity, and that those who supported it did not repudiate the charge, he could hardly have read the debates that had taken place on the subject. He would also take the liberty of reminding hon. Members, that the expectations of Parliament in 1815, was not a capital consideration in determining the judgment of the House in 1844. They might have been erroneous, and the hon. Gentleman might be justified in applauding the sagacity of Lord Grenville, but the hon. Member for Wolverhampton only did justice to the supporters of the present Corn Laws, when he admitted that the argument of his noble Friend, Lord Ripon, was, that Parliament ought to give encouragement to our domestic agriculture, and assist in securing 1417 a more abundant supply of corn than the country had previously possessed, or than could be obtained by any other means. He did not expect that hon. Members on the other side, would concur in the views of this subject, taken by his noble Friend; but they would do well to answer those arguments before they told the House, that the Corn Laws tended to limit food, and to produce scarcity, disease and ruin. Into such propositions he should not detain the House by entering, but he would ask the hon. Member what would be the effect of repealing those laws, on the condition of those classes whose labour was connected with maintaining them. It might or might not be true that protective taxes on the importation of commodities must limit the general enjoyment of these commodities. But that was not the question which they had to consider. The hon. Gentleman had made a speech which was opposed to the whole of the protective system; but he could not expect that they were to go into a discussion of the original grounds upon which the protective system was based. The hon. Gentleman said "What encouragement have I to attempt to conciliate the House by proposing a moderate fixed duty instead of the total repeal of the Corn Laws?" But the hon. Gentleman must have seen that there were other reasons against his proposal more conclusive than that which he adverted to—namely, that the whole of his speech was directed as much against any fixed duty, however moderate, as against the maintenance of the Corn Law at all. The hon. Gentleman took no cognisance of any argument against the Corn Law, on the ground that it gave too much of a peculiar form of protection to one interest than was given to another, and he had a right to argue, from the principle of protection, against the hon. Gentleman, and to say that it lay with him to make out a case against the particular law which only exemplified that principle—a case, however, which the hon. Gentleman had not made out. He was not an upholder of extreme doctrines on the subject of protection; but at the same time he did feel most strongly that confidence in the stability of a law was an essential element in national prosperity. [Lord Howick: " Hear"] The noble Lord opposite cheered him; the noble Lord was an advocate for a low fixed duty, and he would ask the noble Lord what he thought of the prospect at present, and 1418 whether, if confidence in the law should be undermined by the agitation which had been going on, he could have any hope of resting on the stability of any measure which should establish a low fixed duty? It was perfectly clear that the noble Lord would in such a case find himself in the position of those who now defended the Corn Laws. Every argument which had been used by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton against the Government would in that case be used against the noble Lord and his fixed duty; but the Government had an advantage in one respect which the noble Lord might not have. The sense of Parliament was clearly in their favour, and they were able to take their stand upon the law as it is, and to say that it was their intention to give stability to the measure by exhibiting their determination to give a fair and full trial to the law. They had not as yet had a complete or comprehensive experience of the law; but he would venture to say that it had realised the most sanguine expectations of those who supported it. Both parties were for stability and confidence. The hon. Gentleman sought to obtain that confidence and that stability by depriving the landlord, the tenant, and the labourer of that protection which the law had afforded them for centuries, and referred a support of his Motion to something which he had said on a former occasion, to the effect that when a change in the commercial law was resolved on, the more rapidly the change was made the better. But in applying that doctrine to the Corn Law the hon. Gentleman had begged the whole question, for it so happened that they did not intend to make any change in that law. If they were like the hon. Gentleman, advocates for a repeal of the Corn Law, then they might be disposed to repeal the law at once, rather than consent to a fixed duty, as proposed by the noble Lord opposite, and which might be abrogated in the next year. In such a case the doctrine might be applicable. But the ground on which they stood was this—in former years, especially in 1842, Parliament did bestow a considerable portion of its time in discussing the question of the Corn Law. They had passed eighteen nights, in the Session of 1842, in fair discussion and debate on this law, and they could not renew that course every year. Having settled the question so recently it was absurd to 1419 expect that Parliament should renew the discussion every year; and if Parliament did consent to keep a question of that magnitude in perpetual agitation, it would be taking a course which would be fatal not only to those who are protected by the Bill, but fatal also to its own credit and character. He claimed something like stability for the decisions of Parliament [Laughter], The noble Lord and hon. Gentlemen opposite laughed at what he had said. Possible it was that they might perceive a meaning in his words of which he himself was totally unconscious [renewed Laughter]; but still he would say, let there be something like stability for their decisions. Were they willing to accede to that? If so, he wished they would join with him in voting against the present Motion. He would beg the House to observe that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had not established nor even made any charge against the present Corn Law. The hon. Gentleman stated distinctly and broadly that he was opposed to every protecting law. But this very year they had passed protective laws through Parliament. The hon. Gentleman said, that they had abolished the duty on wool, that they had taken off' the duty of 1d. a pound on wool —a duty which protected nobody; and because they had done so the hon. Gentleman said that they ought to abolish the duty on corn—a duty which protected a large portion of the people. The duty on wool protected no one, and he did not believe that there was ever submitted to Parliament a wiser measure than that which abolished such a duty. But it could not be considered as a protective duty. On the contrary, it operated in the manner of a tax on British produce; it went to limit the quantity and to depress the price of British wool by discouraging the consumption of the article. But this very year they had passed laws awarding protection to the growers of sugar and cotton. He did not mean to defend or impugn these measures on the present occasion, but he called on the House to observe that protection had been the rule of this country, and that the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton went, not to prove any particular defect in any particular law, but was directed against the whole protective policy of the country. The hon. Member pointed to nothing less than the total and immediate extirpation—if 1420 he might so call it—of every vestige of that policy, and the hon. Gentleman was bound to make out a strong case before calling on the House to accede to his Motion. He hoped the House would mark the contrast between the speech which the hon. Gentleman had made to-night and his speeches on former occasions on the subject of the Corn Laws. On former occasions the hon. Gentleman always had a variety of arguments to show the inconvenience arising from the operation of the law. With respect to the present law, although it had been tried for only a short time, yet the operation of it had not been altogether free from difficulty. In the year in which it was passed, a short time before the harvest, a most remarkable change occurred with regard to the crops. In 1842, from a dark and gloomy prospect in the first part of the year, a change of weather, almost miraculous, took place in the latter part, and the fears of a bad harvest were changed into the certainty of a most abundant one. In 1843 a contrary state of things occurred. The first five months gave promise of a productive crop, but an unfavourable change took place, and the harvest fell very far short of the expectations entertained in the earlier part of that year. The experience, therefore, which they had had of this law comprized in these two years had not been altogether of that tranquil and even tenor which existed when no great and sudden expectations affected the minds of men. On the contrary, the two years to which he referred were years of considerable excitement. And yet what had been the operation of the law during these years? Was there any man who had supported the law in the year 1842 who could honestly say that he had been disappointed in its working? Could any one point out a promise or a prediction hazarded in the course of the protracted debates upon the measure, which promise or prediction had been subsequently falsified? The law had been framed with a view to meet the colorable, and, in many cases, the substantial objections which had been made to the measure which it superseded; and would any one say that those objections could be revived against the present law? The opponents of the former measure were accustomed to complain of the great fluctuations in prices to which it gave rise. But they had passed through two critical years; and yet, could any one say that 1421 those years had been, upon the whole, years of unsteadiness of prices? There had been considerable variations in the corn trade during those years; but there had been throughout the whole period considerable steadiness of prices. And, during the present year, when there could have been no change in the harvest, they had the averages moving in scarcely a perceptible degree from month to month. His right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) had been accused of having promised the agriculturists a particular price for their corn; he had done no such thing; but he had referred to certain limits within which, on the whole, he thought it desirable, if practicable, that the price of corn should range, and the limits he named were from 54s. to 58s. per quarter. The law came into operation on the 29th of April, 1842, and from April to December, 1842, the average price of wheat was 55s. 10d.— that was within the limits. In 1843 the average price of wheat was not 55s. 10d. but 50s. 1d.—that was certainly below the limit; but that was a year of abundance. The farmer did not greatly complain, and he hoped hon. Gentlemen opposite would not complain that the price which his right hon. Friend had indicated was desirable. From the commencement of the present year to the 15th of June the average price was 54s. 6d., so that it singularly happened that two out of those three averages under the operation of this law had been within those very limits alluded to by his right hon. Friend, saying it was too much to hope that any legislative act could fix the price of corn within those limits; but looking to the interests of particular classes, those were the limits within which it was desirable the price of corn should range. During the present year, for the last few months, and especially the last few weeks, when the corn-market generally became uneasy, the steadiness of the market had been remarkable in a most peculiar degree. There was another objection which it was customary to make against the operation of the recent law, and that was its unfavourable effect on the currency. It was said that the effect was to induce parties to hold back their corn to create an artificial scarcity for the sake of driving up the price, and then suddenly to introduce a large quantity of grain, which could only be paid for in bullion, to the derangement of the whole commercial operations of the country. That was the capital charge 1422 against the whole Bill—the head and front of its offending; had that charge been repeated against the present law? No, it had not, and yet they had introduced large quantities of corn under the present Bill. In 1842 there had been introduced and released for consumption a greater number of quarters of wheat and wheat flour than in any year had ever been introduced into this country; and yet it was introduced without producing in the smallest degree any derangement of the currency. That charge, then, against the old law had now entirely fallen to the ground. He might refer to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton himself on this subject. The hon. Gentleman had said that we had at the present moment a trade with the Continent in corn, which was carried on regularly and paid for in manufactured goods instead of bullion. ["No, no."] He did not mean to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman—he did not mean to say that the trade was as extensive or as steady as the hon. Gentleman could wish; but we had a trade in corn with the Continent. The fact stood on higher authority than that of the hon. Gentleman, and it was so far a regular trade that it was not carried on by those sudden fits and starts that required gold to be sent out of this country in order to bring in corn. It was quite clear the hon. Gentleman himself considered it a steady trade, for he had referred to the increase of exports to prove that the corn we got from the continent was paid in goods. During the present year 160,000 quarters of wheat had been introduced for consumption; he did not mean to say that was a very large quantity, but it was considerable when they looked at the price at which it was brought in. Was the hon. Gentleman so unreasonable as to expect to have the same amount of corn imported every year irrespective of the price? Under a free trade in corn of course much less would be introduced in years of abundance than in years of scarcity. The average price during the present year was 56s., and yet with that price they had introduced during five months 160,000 quarters for consumption. He remembered a great point had been made by the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. F. Baring), that whereas the old law had operated as a prohibition up to 70s., the present law would operate as a prohibition up to 60s., and the answer then made to that argument was, there would not be 1423 large quantities of corn introduced to depress the market under 60s., but a trade would be carried on in corn even when the price was below that limit; and what was the fact? That in the five months of the present year, although the price had never come within several shillings of that limit, there had already been introduced 160,000 quarters of wheat. He would not go into all the details of the objections which had been urged against the old law, because those charges had now disappeared, and he challenged hon. Gentlemen opposite to repeat them as regarded unsteadiness of price, the enhancement of price, the effect on the currency, and the effect on the revenue, against the present law. What had been the operation of the present law with respect to the revenue? In 1842, they derived a very large revenue from the import of a very large quantity of corn—about 1,300,000l. In 1843 about 800,000 quarters of corn and flour were entered at 14s. per quarter, and in 1844, 160,000 quarters had been entered at an average duty of 17s. per quarter. Perhaps it would be said that was a very high tax to lay on the importation of a necessary of life; but then that was absolutely contradictory of one of the leading arguments raised against the old law. Then it was part of the grievance that foreign corn was not introduced into this country till the price rose, and the duty paid was not higher on an average than 5s. But now they had got 17s. per quarter raised during the present year; while the price at which that duty was leviable was 60s. The charges made against the old law had not been renewed against the new; but the hon. Member for Wolverhampton attacked the present law on the principle of hostility to all protective duties. He did not dispute the fairness of that position, but those who adopted it were bound to do two things; they were bound to prove both that the present law was a bad one, and that all protection was necessarily mischievous. But they had proved neither. Nothing that had been said at all tended to convince his mind that very great mischief would not result from the adoption of the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. It had not even been attempted to be shown that great mischief would not result from it to the condition of those connected with the soil. The hon. Gentleman estimated that class at only one-seventh of the population, 1424 He did not know by what mode of calculation the hon. Gentleman had contrived to reduce their numbers so low; he apprehended the hon. Gentleman entirely omitted the case of Ireland. But even with regard to England his calculation was not at all an accurate one. Those employed in agriculture, when joined with those immediately dependent on them, namely, the tradesmen, the inhabitants of rural towns and villages, immediately and entirely dependent on agricultural customers for their business, would be found to constitute a considerable majority of the working population of this country. But whether they did so or not, although the hon. Member had made an argument of great ingenuity against the whole protective system; he had made none against the operation of the present Corn Law, nor attempted to deny the fact that the anticipations of a favourable kind with which it was announced had up to the present moment been even more than fulfilled. He had assumed that the condition of the agricultural labourers was bad, and that because bad it could be no worse, but he had given no proof of that allegation, and calling, as he did, on the House of Commons to reverse, upon ground so insufficient, a decision so solemnly arrived at, founded on such protracted discussion, and in which, perhaps, more than one-half of the industrious population of the country conceived their interests to be bound up, he, for one, could not doubt as to the course which the Government ought to take—he could not doubt as to the course Parliament ought to take and would take; he was sure, at all events, they would not be parties to encourage an agitation which he thought the hon. Gentleman himself must allow, while it continued, produced the most mischievous effects—an agitation which he thought not only mischievous whenever it tended to shake the confidence of the people in the stability of the law, but likewise most unjust to those who regarded this Corn Law as a fair adjustment between conflicting interests and a settlement of a great question, to which, until it could be proved that it had failed to attain its purpose, it was the bounden duty of the Legislature to adhere.
§ Lord John Russell
I find myself upon this question in a position somewhat similar to that in which the right hon. Gentleman stated the Government to be placed 1425 the other evening—a position by no means enviable. For I find that my hon. Friend, the Member for Wolverhampton, has proposed a Motion, not asking the House to go into Committee on the Corn Laws, but asking the House to go into a Committee for the purpose of voting a Resolution which would at once destroy any Corn Law; which would ask the House to pledge itself to abolish all duty with respect to corn, and which the right hon. Gentleman says is directed against the protective system altogether. I find, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman opposite ask the House to vote against the motion of my hon. Friend, on the ground that they ought to stand by and maintain the present law. Now, I am not prepared, with my hon. Friend, after all the attention and re-consideration that I have given to this subject, to say that the Corn Laws ought to be forthwith repealed; neither am I prepared, with the right hon. Gentleman, to vote in a manner which he would understand as a vote for the maintenance of the present law. I will first notice the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman. He began his speech with throwing some kind of doubt upon that part of the speech of my hon. Friend—of which I thought the only fault was, that he was endeavouring to prove what was abundantly clear to every sensible mind— namely, that cheapness and plenty were great blessings, and that dearness and scarcity of food were great evils. My hon. Friend pointed out that these evils were the cause of the increase of crime, disease, and death; and that fever and famine were the consequences of the high price of food. I should not have thought that any person would doubt that these results would follow from such causes. It really was saying no more than what common sense inspired, and what was daily read in our prayer-book, that cheapness and plenty were blessings for which we ought to be thankful. Yet the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary upon that point to say that while there were no incendiary fires in 1839, 1840, and 1841, when prices were high, yet in subsequent years there have been incendiary tires, when prices were moderate. If he did not mean this, I know not why he introduced it. The hon. Gentleman said that we should maintain the law on the ground of stability. I do not think it has any claim to our support on that ground. It 1426 appears to me that there is something inherently vicious in the system of protection which requires the interference of the Legislature from time to time. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) must be aware that the present law is at variance with all those principles which he has so frequently stated ought to regulate the commercial affairs of this country. The right hon. Gentleman cannot be ignorant of the defects of this law. The principle he stated in 1842 would be fatal to the present law. The right hon. Gentleman has, with great confidence, placed this law on the experience of the last two years. I must say, that whatever superiority of wisdom Her Majesty's Government may have over their predecessors, there is one advantage they certainly have enjoyed— they have had much better weather. I know not whether the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to stand the test of three bad harvests, or of two, or even of one. The right hon. Gentleman entirely founded his defence of the present law upon a favourable harvest. He finds a moderate price of wheat during a time when there would have been a moderate price of wheat under the old law, and he appeals to that short experience of two years as a proof of the excellence of this law. It has been said that nothing has been done in the present year to break down the protective system, and the right hon. Gentleman referred to the laws relating to wool. I entirely agree in his statement, for I think that the duty on wool was injurious to the grower in this country. My opinion is the same of the Corn Laws, and that a greater consumption of wheat would follow the improvement of that law: there is no interest to which the present Corn Law is more detrimental than to the agricultural. The right hon. Gentleman has told the House that, upon the short experience we have had of the law, he is determined to maintain it; but I think it liable to the very objections from which he contends it is exempt. If you have a tolerably good harvest, no peculiar evils may result from it; if you have a prospect of a bad harvest, and yet it turns out an abundant one, you would have a considerable importation by which the importers would be ruined; if you have a bad harvest occasioned by sudden causes, you have a sudden and an immense importation, at a high price and a low duty. I hear the right hon. Member say that the 1427 same difficulties would have to be encountered under a fixed duty; but it seems to me that, under a fixed duty, you have one certainty at least to depend upon. Now, you have two uncertainties—the uncertainty of the harvest, which may be either bad or good, and the uncertainty of a duty varying from 1s. to 20s. With a fixed duty there would be a fixed element, upon which the farmer might calculate; and there would be a regular trade, as in other commodities. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton asks me to go into a Committee for the purpose of voting his resolutions; and in the latter part of his speech he endeavoured to show that he was acting only in conformity with precedents in proposing a sudden and total abolition of the duty on Corn. I do not think that the precedents upon which he relied bear him out. They were, the abolition of the Beer Tax and the Slave Trade. But what I wish to look at is this:—What could you reasonably expect from a sudden revolution—from a state of considerable protection—to one of entirely free-trade? The first consequence I apprehend, would be a great change among all concerned in agriculture; the landlord and the farmer would be doubtful how far their capital could be employed to profit. The effect would be a diminution in the employment of labour, and as long as that lasted there would be severe suffering. There would accompany it, I should think, a much greater importation than would be consistent with the advantage of the merchant. So important a change would give rise to extraordinary expectations, and the result would be, not a state of cheapness and plenty, but a sudden glut, occasioning much distress. Let us look, however, at the opinions of those who may be deemed authorities upon this subject; because, while my hon. Friend and those who act with him, members of the Anti Corn Law League, have put forward the principles of free-trade in grain, the only part that is original in their proposition is that which relates to a total and immediate change of system. Adam Smith and Ricardo, among writers, and Lord Grenville and Mr. Huskisson among statesmen, have held the same doctrine; but there is this difference between them and the Anti Corn Law League, that the former are for a gradual, and the latter for an instantaneous alteration of the protective system. I will not quote Adam Smith, 1428 because it is well known that his opinion was, that a change from prohibition and restriction to freedom, in order to be safe must be gradual. Mr. Ricardo was so far from proposing a sudden change that his proposition as regards corn was first a fixed duty of 20s., which was progressively to be reduced to 10s. He very likely thought that a duty even of 10s. would be more than was reasonable, but he considered that it would be an evil to make a sudden change, and that practical wisdom dictated a gradual alteration. Then as to Lord Grenville, upon whose words and authority my hon. Friend has relied, what were the expressions he used in 1815? He said,If the measures which had formerly been adopted for the protection of trade and manufactures were right, let them be continued; if they were wrong, let them be abrogated, not suddenly, but with that caution which was necessary in dealing with a system which had been engrafted into usage, but which in due time ought to be changed.Lord Grenville had laid down this principle in his protest, and it was to be recollected that the present Corn Law was a system of 1815, and that it had already endured a generation. Mr. Huskisson is a great practical authority, and to him my hon. Friend has likewise referred; but what was the cautious proceeding of that statesman? As to cotton and wool he contended that there could be no great danger, because our manufactures in cotton and wool were sent to third parties, and could bear competition with all the world. That was not like the case of corn, where competition might be effectual; but as to cotton, he reduced the duty from 60 to 10 per cent., and as to wool to 15 per cent. In another article, regarding which there was much more fear of competition—I mean silk—Mr. Huskisson allowed a duty amounting to 30 per cent., and in some cases to 40 per cent. Therefore, whether we look to the doctrines of Adam Smith and Ricardo, or at the practice of Lord Grenville and Mr. Huskisson, the change they advocated was not sudden but gradual. I do not now wish to argue the comparative merits of a fixed duty or a sliding-scale; but, as I have already said, I find myself unable to take a part in this vote. I heartily wish that there might be some compromise of the question, for I do not think the existing law suited to stormy times. I do not 1429 expect that any vote of this House, however large may be the majority, will put an end to agitation upon this subject. I think the present system so unreasonable and so unwise, that it is impossible to expect that there should not be agitation against it, I do not believe that any settlement of the question will be come to, until those interested in land, the landowners especially, are disposed to consider this law as really unfavourable to the interests of the country, and therefore unfavourable to them as a class. It is not mere words to say that there can be no better measure of the prosperity of the landowners than the prosperity of the whole nation. If manufactures flourish, the landed interest need not fear that it will be long behind in the race of success. If commerce and manufactures are prosperous, the landed interest is sure to flourish also. Before I sit down, I must say that I regret that the whole case of the protective system has not been stated. I would take into view, the protection, not merely to agriculture, but to the manufacturing and commercial interests; and if the whole be unsound, let the system be abrogated. This would be a fairer mode of proceeding, than making continual harangues on the subject of the Corn Laws, mixed, as they often are out of the House, with attacks upon landlords. I believe that the attacks upon landlords, and upon the agricultural interest generally, have done much to indispose landowners, and still more farmers, to the fair consideration of the question. I am disposed to think that the right hon. President of the Board of Trade has some foundation for his statement that the farmers are more opposed to an alteration of the law than the landowners. At the same time, I know that the landowners are very strongly opposed to an alteration of the law; but like manufacturers and merchants, farmers are persuaded that the protective system is advantageous to them. The farmers are the most determined opponents of a change, and the efforts recently made have induced them to look at the question rather with blind passion than with calm deliberation. I cannot, therefore, look for any fair settlement of the dispute, and I am sorry that agitation should thus be continued from year to year. There is no help for it, perhaps, if Government are determined to maintain the present law; but the time will come when the 1430 principles held sound, as applied to other interests, will be held sound as applied to the growers of Corn.
§ Mr. W. Miles
commiserated the position of the noble Lord which obliged him to suggest a compromise; but he (Mr. Miles) called upon the Government and the whole agricultural interest in the country to submit to no compromise. He rejoiced at the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, for it was an honest and straightforward speech in defence of the protection given to agriculture by the Bill of 1842, and completely supported the determination expressed by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government to abide by that protection. [Mr. Gibson: This year.] He would not adopt the interpretation of the hon. Member for Manchester. He confidently relied upon the words that were spoken, and believed it to be the determination of the right hon. Baronet to give to the present law a full and fair trial—notwithstanding the attempt of the hon. Member to excite discord amongst the right hon. Baronet's supporters, by inducing them to believe to the contrary. It was said, that their powers were diminishing, while those of the Anti-Corn Law League were augmenting. But how was that proved? What did the League do? They interfered in elections, and what had that gained for them? They could certainly show for it the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, but considering who it was previously represented that borough, they could not boast of having gained much. Then, passing over Wiltshire, Salisbury, and other places that were won from them, see what had happened in Lancashire. The hon. Member recently elected for that county, in speaking on the Sugar Duties, said, that he was sent there to represent protection generally. It was, however, the habit of the League whenever they sustained a defeat to proclaim a moral victory. He owned their agitation had been incessant and their exertions great, but what had been the result of their labours? Why, to arouse the whole body of the farmers of England in their own defence. It was said, that they had been instigated to that defence by the landlords, but he asserted that the landlords had been the last to move in the matter. The tenants had come forward, strongly and boldly; the landlords felt the benefit of [their conduct, and they were determined never again to be put down while the pernicious agitation of the 1431 Anti-Corn Law League existed. If public opinion were against the Corn-Laws, how was it that the League never held their meetings openly in the manufacturing districts? Because they durst not attempt it. The operatives knew well that the League wished for cheap bread as the means of cheap wages. The cry of "large loaf" was, undoubtedly, seductive for the poor labourers, whose wages in some districts were certainly too low. But did the League tell them how their condition was to be benefited—how their labour and its remuneration could be increased? That was the point on which the argument of the League entirely failed. The assertion that a Corn-Law produced scarcity, had been utterly disproved. He spoke not, of course, of the old law, but of the new one; and he asked had there been any scarcity? It had been proved that the supply had been sufficient, and at the same time the operations of commerce had not been obstructed. It had been said, that the freight of foreign wheat was sufficient protection. Why, 600,000 quarters had been in a short period imported from Dantzic at a 15s. duty, with 10s. freight, (as had been alleged, on uncertain authority indeed), and the cost price altogether in our market had not much exceeded 30s. A factor in Dorsetshire had imported into Weymouth 800 quarters of Dantzic wheat at the small charge of only 3s. 9d. per quarter in foreign bottoms (as was usually the case), the cost price in our market being only 34s., and he sold it at 58s., while he could only get 48s. for wheat of his own growth. Ruin would stare all classes of the agriculturists in the face if the Corn-Laws were repealed as was desired. Now as to the calculations of Earl Ducie, so far as they respected the noble Lord's own accounts they were unintelligible—so far as they regarded "Cotswold" farms they were contradicted. The hon. Gentleman read a statement, subscribed by three farmers, cultivating a portion of the Cotswold Hills, in reply to a statement published by Lord Ducie, respecting the cost of production and the profits to the farmer. These practical men declared that when that noble Lord asserted the farmers would make 12per cent. on their capital, he was in error; in excess by one-fourth or one-fifth; and that the cost of a bushel of wheat, on the poor land which they tilled, was much more than it could be bought for, in case there was a free trade in corn. He (Mr. Miles) would ask the House to look at the land- 1432 lord's interest on a bushel of wheat. Those were facts well worthy of observation and attention; but the calculation was still further carried on in the paper to which he had alluded. He wished to be particularly accurate, and, therefore, would again refer to the statements contained in the return before mentioned. Relative to flour, it inquired what was the amount of money which eventually the landlord took? He (Mr. Miles) would not presume to answer the question himself, but after enumerating that a load of wheat would produce six and a half sacks of flour, and that 520 loads of wheat would he about the produce of an acre, the authority from which he quoted, left the profit to be received by the landlord about five farthings per load; about the one-seventh part of the four pound loaf would be found to be the remaining share of those who had a further interest in the question. That part of the question which had reference to the landlord, he wished particularly to bring before their attention, so that the House and the country might clearly understand what interest the landlords had in the maintenance of the Corn Laws. ["Hear, hear."] He understood the ironical cheers of the hon. Gentlemen opposite; but if in anything which he had stated, there was error, he should be happy to be set right. With respect to that question, he desired that if there were blame anywhere, it should be placed upon the right shoulders. His attention had of late been forcibly drawn to the relative prices of wheat and the four pound loaf, and from which he was induced to believe that the consumers in London paid one-fourth too much. In corroboration of that, he might fairly use a statement contained in the Times newspaper, which taking five months of last year, showed how much was relatively paid to the English and French miller, and to the English and French baker. The paper was well worthy the attention of the House; and he would assure them that it was the last paper with which he would trouble them. He found, without going wearisomely into details, that in those five months there had been the following relative difference between the profits of the English and French farmer, between the English and French miller, and between the English and French consumer. As regarded the British and French farmer, the difference was 18½ per cent; as regarded the British and French miller, the difference was 24½ per cent.; and as regarded the Eng- 1433 lish and French consumer, the British had to pay; 43½ per cent. more than the French consumer. Let then those parties who were the real culprits bear the blame and odium of the high price of bread. He thanked the House for hearing him so patiently at that late hour of the night. He would only, in conclusion, ask them seriously to consider the position in which they stood. If ever there had been a time when hon. Members might covet the honour of representing the counties of England, that was the time. The farmers had nobly and manfully stood forward and done their duty. The word had gone forth that they had submitted to the lowest reduction of protection to which they possibly could, and it would be for them in that House to support the farmers in that noble resolution. After what the right hon. Baronet had said, there could be no doubt as to the protection which ought to be given to the British farmer. With agriculture the permanent and best interests of England were bound up, and it remained with the House to determine whether that protection should he permanently assured to them.
§ Viscount Howick
spoke to the following effect:*—Sir,—I fear it is almost too late an hour for me to ask the House to listen to the observations I am anxious to make upon this subject, but still, as I believe we have all a strong wish that the debate should finish to-morrow night, and as I should be very unwilling to interfere with those Gentlemen who will then desire to address you, perhaps, late as it is, the House will extend to me its indulgence, if I now endeavour to state my opinion on the very important question which has been brought before us. I agree with my noble Friend the Member for London (Lord J. Russell), that the question has not been submitted to the House in a convenient shape; I think it would have been better and more consistent with regular parliamentary practice if my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton had moved simply for a Committee of the whole House on the Corn Laws, at the same time giving notice of the resolutions which, if the House should agree to go into Committee, he would there propose, instead of embodying the resolutions which he wishes afterwards to have discussed in Committee, in the question to be put from the Chair. But though I should have preferred having the Motion submitted to us* From a corrected Report.1434 in a different shape, I have no hesitation in giving it my support; I shall do so chiefly because I think with the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Miles), and with the President of the Board of Trade, that the question is now practically brought to this point, shall we maintain the existing Corn Law as it stands or shall we entirely repeal it? and I have never concealed my opinion that, whenever this should be the only alternative offered to me, I should have no doubt in giving my preference to the absolute repeal of the present law. I greatly doubt whether Her Majesty's Government have really served the Agricultural interest in bringing the question to this point, but since they have done so, and have altogether rejected any compromise, and I am thus driven to make my choice between two extreme propositions, that choice, as I have already said, will unhesitatingly be given in favour of the absolute repeal of the present Corn Law. Sir, often as the subject has been debated, it seems to me that it is brought before us to-night under circumstances which give to it somewhat of a novel aspect, and of additional importance. We have just heard from the hon. Member the representative of a great agricultural county (Mr. Miles'), that the wages of agricultural labour are lamentably low, and a very short time has elapsed since we had from Her Majesty's Government a similar admission with regard to labour in manufactures. In the recent debates on the Factory Bill, we were told by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the reduction in the working hours of certain classes of labourers proposed by my noble Friend the Member for Dorsetshire (Lord Ashley), would be attended by a diminution of productive power which the country is not in a condition to bear; the loss, it was said, must fall either upon wages or upon profits, and both were already so low that no further reduction could be hazarded even for such an object as that which my noble Friend had in view, and which both the right hon. Baronets (Sir J. Graham and Sir Robert Peel) admitted to be one, it would be most desirable, were it practicable, to accomplish. Thus, Sir, we have, on the highest and most undoubted authority, the admission of this fact, that in agriculture as well as in manufactures, both wages and profits are at this moment unfortunately low; that is to say, that 1435 productive industry generally is in this country at this time inadequately rewarded. That this is a state of things deeply to be lamented, and imperatively demanding the consideration of the House; one of which we ought, if possible, to ascertain the cause, and to which it is most important to put an end, must, I think, be felt by all of us; to relieve productive industry ought to be our very first object. Now, Sir, I am prepared to rest my vote in favour of the Motion which has been submitted to us upon this single ground, that the inadequate reward of industry,— the low rate of wages and the low rate of profits, are to be traced directly to the existing Corn Law. No doubt other similar restrictions upon commerce contribute to this result, but the proposition I mean to endeavour to establish is, that it is mainly to the limitation imposed by law on the importation of corn that the present inadequate reward of industry is to be attributed; this is what I shall endeavour to show, confining the observations I am about to make to this one point, and not considering the question before us in any other view. In attempting to establish this proposition, I will in the first place ask you to what other cause you can attribute the fact that both wages and profits are so low? Do English capitalists and English labourers receive little because they produce little? Is it because English industry is unproductive that it is ill rewarded? Most certainly not;—in energy and in judgment British capitalists, whether they are merchants, manufacturers, or farmers, are second to those of no other country; while the persevering and skilful industry of British labourers is proverbial throughout the world; and the success of the joint exertions of both classes in the work of production is great in proportion. In manufactures we all know that science, by rendering the gigantic force of steam subservient to our uses, and by the astonishing improvement of machinery, has increased the power of human industry in producing the materials of clothing and the great majority of articles ministering to our wants and convenience almost beyond calculation; so much so that an Amendment has actually been moved by the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Ferrand), declaring this to be an evil, as if increasing the facility of supplying human wants could be a calamity to the poorest classes of so- 1436 ciety! To be consistent, I wonder that the hon. Member did not recommend that' English labourers should return to the happy, simple state of the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia, who do not know the misfortune of having any machinery or implements to assist their labour. The hon. Member certainly had some difficulty in finding a seconder for his Amendment, but he did at length obtain one, and I leave it to the country to decide whether the two hon. Gentlemen, the Mover and the Seconder of such a resolution, are not extraordinary specimens of legislative wisdom. But, Sir, I was arguing that it is not owing to any deficiency in productive power that industry is ill rewarded in this country; so far as regards manufactures, as I have shown, this is sufficiently evident; in agriculture, though certainly to a less extent, it is not less certain that there has also been an improvement in the efficiency of labour. Notwithstanding the handsome crop of thistles described tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton as growing at Tamworth, there can be no doubt that agriculture in general has of late years made great progress, and that owing to the advancement of science and the improvement of implements not only is the whole produce of the kingdom greatly increased, but the amount of produce in proportion to the labour employed is much larger than at any former period. The inquiries recently made into the state of agriculture in former times have clearly shown that each labourer now employed in the cultivation of the soil produces at the present moment a considerably larger quantity of human food than even at so late a period as the beginning of the present century; and if we look back to a more distant period— for instance, to the reign of Queen Elizabeth,—at least two or three times as much as each labourer similarly employed at that time. Since, then, it appears that English labour is now more effective than at any former period in producing food, and clothing, and those manufactured articles by which we pay for commodities imported from abroad, why is it, I want to know, that the English labourer receives a smaller share of all these things than formerly? For it is not only money wages that are low; not long ago the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden) described the mode of living of the Dorsetshire peasantry, and showed how 1437 wretched their condition is; and my noble Friend the Member for the county (Lord Ashley) admitted, with the frankness which distinguishes him, that that description was not overcharged. The hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Miles) has also admitted that the agricultural population in a great part of the south of England is in a very bad condition. Why, I again ask, is this? Why, when industry is admitted to be so productive, is so small a portion of the fruits of industry enjoyed by the labourers, while their masters are also equally ill off, profits being as low as wages? The test of the low profits of the employers of labour is the high price of the funds and the low interest of money, showing what difficulty there is in finding profitable employment for capital. How are these facts to be accounted for? It cannot be said that they are occasioned by heavy taxation, for with in the last twenty-five years taxation to a large amount has been remitted, and there has been no proportionate improvement in the condition of the labourer and the capitalist. Indeed it would not be difficult to show that this country as compared to other nations, is not heavily taxed in proportion to its wealth; and though there are certainly some objectionable taxes, the revenue is not upon the whole drawn from sources which makes it press heavily on productive industry. It seems to me that there is one way, and only one way, of accounting for the facts which I have mentioned, and it is this; the territory of England being limited in proportion to the number of the people, the owners of the land are enabled by this natural monopoly to demand from those by whom it is cultivated, a payment in the shape of rent which has to be deducted from the gross produce of the soil before it is divided between the labourer, and the farmer or capitalist who employs him. The increasing population and consequently increasing demand for the total produce of the soil, creating a greater and greater competition for land, more and more, in proportion to the amount produced, is thus subtracted from the produce, before it is divided between those by whose labour and capital it is drawn from the soil. Thus wages and profits in agriculture are kept down, while rents are raised by the limited extent of land in proportion to the numbers of the people; but as those engaged in other branches of 1438 industry must exchange directly or indirectly a large part of the produce of their labour for food, and as wages and profits in different occupations in the same country are always tending towards equality, the price of agricultural produce regulates the price of all other commodities; and the rate of agricultural wages and profits regulates wages and profits in every other department of productive industry. Thus the generally low rate of wages and of profits is the immediate result of the want of a wider field for the employment of capital and labour. That I am right in this view of the subject, and that it is the limitation of our territory, in proportion to the number of people to be fed, that keeps down wages and profits, is, I think, conclusively proved by the fact, that wherever land is more abundant, there both profits and wages are higher. Take our own Colonies, for instance, in New South Wales and in Canada both profits and wages are high, not merely money wages, but the command of the labourers over the necessaries and comforts of life. Yet labour in these distant Colonies is far less productive than at home, that is to say, it takes a far greater amount of labour to procure an equal supply of all that a labourer wants, than in this country. In the back woods of Canada, the tools and clothes which the settler requires have to be brought to him from a great distance, the very corn he consumes has frequently to be carried to the mill, and brought back at a vast expenditure of labour, over many miles of scarcely passable roads. The labourer, in this country, on the contrary, has everything at hand, the corn he produces is carried by the best possible roads to a canal or a railway, and converted into flour by steam-mills of the most perfect construction. Yet with all these advantages on the side of England, the Canadian can procure more food, more clothing, a better habitation, and is in all respects better off than the English labourer. This is only to be accounted for by the fact that in Canada land is so abundant that little or nothing is paid for its use, and nearly the whole produce of the soil is enjoyed by those by whose capital and labour it is raised. The same fact is everywhere to be observed; wherever the extent of good land easily accessible is large as compared to the population (provided only that security is maintained), industry is invariably well rewarded, both wages and profits are 1439 found to be high. Whether we look to New Zealand, to Australia, or to Canada, this rule we find invariably holds good; on the other hand, a dense population, or in other words, a contracted field for the employment of labour and capital, as invariably leads to intense competition for employment, and, as the result of that competition, to low wages and low profits. I am almost ashamed of arguing at such length in support of what seem to me such plain and elementary truths, but I am compelled to do so, since they lie at the very root of the question before us. If I have succeeded in showing that it is the restricted extent of our territory, as compared to our population, which makes profits and wages so low, it follows, that if we could enlarge our territory, our numbers remaining the same —if a large additional extent of fertile land, readily accessible, could be obtained, the remuneration of productive industry would immediately be increased, because a part of the labour and capital now competing for employment within our narrow bounds, would find employment in cultivating this additional land; and, of course, the competition for our former territory becoming less active, the farmer and labourer would be enabled to divide between them a larger proportion of the fruits of their industry. Now, Sir, an increase of our territory is not to be obtained, but I wish to be informed whether precisely the same results would not follow from permitting our capitalists and labourers to exchange freely the produce of their industry for food brought from abroad? An increase of territory would increase the reward of productive industry simply by rendering less stringent the natural monopoly of land. If ten or 100,000 labourers, and a proportionate amount of capital, were to find a new field for employment in the production of food upon additional land recovered from the ocean, this would raise both wages and profits by diminishing the competition for land and increasing the supply of food; and surely it is obvious that the very same effect must follow if these same labourers and capital, instead of producing food directly from newly-recovered land, were to produce it indirectly, by producing clothes and tools which they were permitted freely to exchange for corn and flour produced in Poland and America. That such an exhange could be made, if the law allowed 1440 it, is admitted. The argument of the hon. Member who spoke last turned entirely upon the too great facility with which he supposes that foreign corn could be introduced. Is it not then a monstrous abuse of the power of the State to forbid such an exchange so manifestly for the benefit of the working man—an abuse peculiarly monstrous to be sanctioned and maintained by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who lately, in discussing the Factory Bill, were so eloquent upon the right of the poor man to make the most of his own labour, and to be free from all interference in trying to turn that labour—his only and sacred estate—to the best advantage: is it not, I say, a monstrous injustice that a cutler at Sheffield, or a spinner at Manchester, the produce of whose year's labour might perhaps be exchanged for thirty quarters of foreign wheat, should be prohibited from making that exchange, and should, by your laws, be compelled instead to accept home-grown wheat, of which he can obtain only twenty quarters? What is this but robbing him, for the benefit of another, of one-third of the produce of his labour? I do not, of course, assume that this is the exact amount which is really taken, but whatever the difference between the amount of foreign corn which he could obtain, and of home-grown corn which you permit him to obtain, in exchange for the produce of his labour, in that precise proportion you deprive him, for the benefit of another, of the fruits of his honest industry—you lake from one man that to which he is justly entitled, to give it to another who has no earthly right to it. Recollect that you are not taxing him for the benefit of the State; if you were, there would be no injustice, all classes are interested in maintaining the State, and taxes levied to provide the means of meeting the necessary expenses of Government if not unduly apportioned, are perfectly just. But your Corn Law is avowedly imposed to check the facility of exchange. The right hon. Baronet opposite altogether disclaims it as a source of revenue, and maintains it exclusively for the sake of what you call protection to agriculture, this protection being neither more nor less than a right given to the owners of the soil, to obtain from productive labour a greater share of its fruits, than they could otherwise require by forbidding the labourer to exchange the produce of his labour with 1441 those who would give him most in return for it, and compelling him to buy his food in the dearest market. This, translated into the plain language of common sense, is the meaning of what is called protection. I believe that in every civilised and densely-peopled country, wages and profits must gradually fall. The effects of this tendency to diminish the comforts of the people, is to a certain degree, counteracted by the increasing efficiency of labour and the improvement of machinery, of which the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Ferrand) has so bad an opinion; but still I contend that the fall of wages and profits in a densely-peopled country, can only be prevented from pressing most heavily on the working classes by permitting the importation of food. The freest importation could not, I believe, prevent such a fall, but it would keep it within bounds, and render it no serious evil; it is the means appointed by Providence for making the unoccupied territories of the world available for the support of old and fully-peopled countries. Is it, then, just to interfere with this process? Have we a right, by a law passed not for the sake of revenue, but merely for the benefit of a particular class, to put difficulties in the way of the importation of food? I ask you whether it is just, and whether it is wise, for our own sake to do this? and, Sir, I wish, I could press upon you as it ought to be pressed, the condition of the productive classes in this country at the present time; I wish I could impress upon you half as strongly as I feel it, the solemn duty of losing no time in endeavouring to improve the condition of the industrious classes. It is acknowledged on both sides of the House that they are deeply suffering. Look, in the first place, at the condition of those who live by the productive employment of capital; of course, the higher the rate of profit the smaller the capital necessary to maintain a tradesman and his family in decent comfort, and on the other hand, the low rate of profits is rendering it daily more and more difficult for the smaller class of tradesmen to obtain a living. Its tendency is to throw all trade and the whole business of the country to a greater and greater degree into the hands of a small number of persons of very large capital, to the utter destruction of those of humbler means, to build up those overgrown establishments, peculiar to the present day, on the ruins 1442 of those on a smaller scale which formerly existed. The consequence is to make more and more marked that contrast between great wealth in some and great poverty in the mass, which the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), in introducing the Income Tax, justly described as one of the social evils of the times in which we live. It is to this same circumstance or the low rate of profits that we must attribute the difficulty, so much complained of, which young men of the middling and upper ranks find in establishing themselves in life, and the overcrowded state of every profession, with the moral evils which hence arise. If we look to the labouring classes the case is still worse. [Colonel Sibthorp; No, no.] The hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln, like myself, comes from a part of the country where the labouring classes are comparatively well off, and we are spared the pain of witnessing the extreme distress which is described as elsewhere existing. But Lincolnshire, of whose superiority the hon. Gentleman is so proud, in fact, furnishes an illustration of my argument, because it is the circumstance, that in the last century, there has, in that part of England, been a great increase in the extent of land brought into cultivation, which is the cause of the superior condition of the labourers. But though the labourers in that county and generally in the north of England are comparatively well off, in the southern counties, it is universally admitted that their condition is most deplorable. In Suffolk, in Dorsetshire, in Wiltshire, this fact has unhappily been too painfully brought before us. In Wiltshire, only the other day, I observed in the newspapers the account of a public meeting, which was held to consider the means of improving the distressed condition of the people. From time to time, we have disclosures as to others of the working classes being in a similar state of suffering; for instance the condition of the poor sempstresses in London has not long since been brought under our notice. The evil in all these cases is the same,— it is the effect of an over-crowded population pressing for the means of subsistence who, in their intense competition to obtain a livelihood, are driven to offer their labour for the lowest remuneration upon which existence can be maintained. Now, the question which we have to consider is whether we can do anything effectually to 1443 relieve this large and suffering population, except by adopting the measure this night submitted to us, and by which, as I have shown you, we should diminish the stringency of that monopoly which is the original source of all the difficulty we experience. I am persuaded that every other measure we can take would prove ineffectual. Some hon. Gentlemen are of opinion that all this suffering might be got rid of by a sufficiently large system of emigration. Such is not the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, and I am bound to say, that in this I think they are right; although I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Liskeard (Mr. C. Buller) as to the great advantages which would flow from extensive and systematic colonization, and though I think we have great right after the promises of last year, to complain that the measures of the Government upon this subject have fallen so lamentably short of what we were led to expect, still I cannot believe that emigration even upon the largest scale, could by itself, effect a real improvement in the condition of the great body of the people which must remain at home. But if it is impossible by means of colonization alone to raise the condition of our population at home to a level with that of those who emigrate—for it ought not to be lost sight of as a proof of what is the real nature of the evil under which we are suffering, that if the poor sempstresses of London or starving peasants of Dorsetshire can prevail upon themselves to break the ties which bind us to our native land, and are fortunate enough to obtain the means of reaching our colonies, in general they want no other assistance, they there find that their labour, which here was of little value, affords them a sure and sufficient resource; and, instead of competing for employment with their fellows in distress, by offering to work for the lowest possible wages, the competition is amongst those who wish to employ them who first shall secure their services. If, I say, it is as I believe, impossible to improve to this extent the condition of the working class at home, we may at least forbear from aggravating the natural difficulties of a crowded population by imposing artificial restrictions upon the importation of food; we may open our ports for the admission of corn, thus rendering less intense the competition for the means of subsistence, thereby raising the value of labour in the market and enabling the 1444 labourer to obtain a larger share of the fruits of his industry. This, I again say, is the true remedy, and the only one that will not disappoint you. Some Gentlemen again bid us look to an alteration of the Poor Law. Now, Sir, it seems to be perfectly evident, that charity, whether enforced by law or voluntary, can never constitute the habitual dependence and regular means of livelihood of the great body of the working population. If this were practicable, it would be destructive to the moral character and to the happiness of the poor. I can conceive no situation more degrading or more miserable than that of the peasantry in a great part of the South of England previously to the Amendment of the Poor Laws. Relief in cases of age or sickness, or of temporary or accidental distress, will always be necessary; but in a healthy state of society the honest earnings of independent industry, not the contributions of charity, will always constitute the habitual and ordinary means of support of the great body of the people. Again, Sir, there are others who attribute the prevailing distress to the misconduct of those who, they say, oppress the poor by screwing down wages to the lowest possible amount. But it was truly said by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden),in describing the low wages of Dorsetshire, that it is not in the power of employers, whether farmers or manufacturers, to determine the amount of wages at their pleasure; the rate of wages depends on circumstances over which they have but little control; it is governed by the relative proportion of the supply and demand for labour; no combination, whether to raise or to depress wages, can permanently succeed; all experience shows that in the end, whatever may be done to prevent it, they find their level, and that the condition of the working classes can only be really raised by improving the demand for labour, thus enabling them to command higher wages as a right, not to obtain them as a boon. This, I am persuaded, we can accomplish, simply, by taking off the restrictions which now prevent the poor from buying food where it can be got the cheapest, restrictions which every man who hears me must be conscious in his own heart to be utterly inconsistent with those principles of commercial policy which the right hon. Gentlemen opposite take to themselves so much credit for 1445 maintaining "in the abstract." Maintaining these principles, it is to me altogether incomprehensible how the right hon. Baronet can reconcile it to his sense of duty to defend the present Corn Law when he sees what is the present condition of the people, unless he can propose some other mode of improving it. The House should beware how it persists in this system, and the more so because, though the hon. Gentleman who spoke last treated with some derision the notion that this is a question of rent, in which the farmers and agricultural labourers have no interest, I must express my conviction that this is the light in which it is and must be considered; it is a question of rent, and of rent only. In saying this I am very far from meaning to give offence to the owners of land, to whom it is impossible I should not wish well, since all my interests are bound up with theirs, but I feel it to be the truth, and I cannot therefore abstain from stating it; and yet, though it is as I believe a question of rents, I would most earnestly entreat Gentlemen interested in land to consider the subject a little more deeply, when I am persuaded they will find that, even upon the narrow ground of self-interest, we ought to desire to put an end to these restrictions. For nearly thirty years we have now tried this policy of protection, and what have we to look back to but to a continued succession of disappointed hopes of agricultural prosperity which have always mocked our expectations, and to constantly recurring periods of agricultural distress. I am persuaded that our own interest requires an abandonment of this policy; but however this may be, whatever the effect on our own interest, I feel most strongly that it is our solemn duty no longer to resist a change so essential for the welfare of the industrious classes. We know that by divine authority a malediction is denounced against those who withhold from the labourer his hire, and it is my firm conviction that the guilt is no less, of those who as legislators, maintain laws by which industry is curtailed of its due reward, than is that of the private and individual extortioner who deprives the labourer of his wages. In that guilt, if the House should be resolved to incur it, I, at least, for one, will have no share or participation, and I call upon you most seriously to beware how you act. All experience proves that, if justice is 1446 too long withheld in such cases, far more than justice is always in the end extorted, and I think there are not wanting significant symptoms that from that end we are no longer very distant. It is true that the Government, in supporting the existing law, is all-powerful in this House, and probably also with the constituency by which this House is chosen; but as a friend to the existing political institutions of the country—as one who would look with alarm at any sudden or violent disturbance of the present distribution of political power—I warn you that, when once the persuasion shall become general, that this power is perverted for their own benefit, to the oppression of the rest of the community, by those to whose hands it is by these institutions committed, their foundations will be sapped; when once this persuasion becomes general, the days of our present political institutions are numbered. [Colonel Sibthorp: When it does.] The hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln says, "When it does;" I tell him that already that persuasion is fast training ground. ["No, no."] The hon. Gentleman may say "No," but if he were skilful to read the signs of the times, he would give a very different answer. Let us only mark the facts which are notorious to all. Whence, I would ask you, arises the universal prevalence of Chartism in the manufacturing districts? The Members of the Anti-Corn Law League have been taunted to-night with not being able to venture to hold open meetings in the largest manufacturing towns; but do you really suppose that the interruption given by Chartists to free-trade meetings arises from their being friendly to the Corn Law? If you do, you are greatly mistaken; the feeling which prompts these interruptions is of a very different kind. The Chartists, as they call themselves, entertain so deep-rooted an aversion to the existing institutions of the country, that they will not join in any attempt to procure the repeal of the Corn Law, until they shall have first obtained the political changes for which they seek; because they believe that, if the Corn Law were first repealed, they could no longer hope for any support for their designs from the middle classes, but that, if the Corn Law cannot be otherwise got rid of, the middle classes will ultimately join them in their assaults on the present constitution of the country. It is this feeling of hostility to our institutions 1447 which is the true key to their conduct; but this feeling never would have become so general, or so strong, had it grown up merely from a persuasion of the theoretical injustice of their own exclusion as a class from political power. It is a sense of suffering and distress—it is what the Chartists themselves have called "a knife-and-fork question"—which is at the bottom of their desire for a change in our political institutions; they feel that their situation is one of great privation, that they have to maintain a constant struggle with poverty, and they refer this state of things to what they call your "class legislation;" hence, naturally enough, their desire to place the power of legislation in other hands. Do not suppose that you can remove this impression from their minds except by improving their condition; you cannot convince them that the difficulties which they suffer are not the result of your legislation, and for this simple reason—that in the main they are right. It is true that, as might be expected from men who (to our shame) are in general very imperfectly educated, they are often mistaken as to the real faults of our legislation, and the remedies they propose would often only tend to aggravate the evils of which they complain; but still they are not wrong when they instinctively come to the conclusion that they ought to be able to command a "fair day's wages for a fair day's work," and that when they cannot do so, there must be something amiss in your system of Government and legislation. God, I am persuaded, has not so constituted the world, that without some fault on the part of those in whose hands power is placed, honest industry can fail to receive its just reward, and in return for toil, to obtain adequate means of subsistence. If we turn from the manufacturing to the agricultural population, here also we find undoubted symptoms of the prevalence in many districts of great discontent. The President of the Board of Trade has distinctly admitted that it is to the discontent of the peasantry that we must attribute the incendiary fires which have been of late so unhappily frequent in Suffolk; and it is clear that in this case at least the feeling arises not from political theories, but from the pressure of distress, It has been asserted that this distress, and the discontent it occasions, are to be attributed to the New Poor Law; but I cannot ac- 1448 quiesce in this opinion, when I remember that outrages of a precisely similar description prevailed much more extensively some four or five years before the alteration of the Poor Law, than they have ever done since,—they were, I believe, then, as now, to be ascribed to distress, and to abuses in the administration of the Poor Law. But these abuses, at the present time, appear to me clearly to arise, not from the change which was made in the law in 1834, but from an attempt to return under the new law to one of the worst parts of the former system. Some letters have lately appeared upon this subject in the Times newspaper, and though I by no means agree in all the views of the writer of these letters, still he must, I think, be admitted to be a person of considerable ability, and to have employed great care and industry in the collection of facts bearing upon the state of that part of the country in which these fires have prevailed. It was one of the most serious objections to the former state of the law, that by confounding wages and relief, labour was paid, not according to its fair value, but according to the supposed wants of the labourer; and thus most inadequate wages were given to single men. Now it appears, from the letters to which I have referred, that the Boards of Guardians in this part of Suffolk (which consist, be it remembered, of the very same individuals who as overseers and vestrymen administered the old law) have returned to their old practices, and have endeavoured, by refusing relief to single men who decline working for wages however inadequate, to compel them to accept much lower wages than are paid to men with families for the same sort of labour:—this I contend to be contrary to the whole spirit of the Act of 1834; it is a perversion of that law, by the guardians entrusted with its administration, which the Poor Law Commissioners (whose powers, in my opinion, ought to be exerted at least as much for the protection of the poor as of the rate payers) might with great advantage interfere to check. But, Sir, it is, with reference to the subject before us, most important to remark that this abuse is one which may in a great measure be attributed to the Corn Law. It is that law which, as I have endeavoured to show you, occasions the intense competition for land; whence arise both the power and the temptation to commit this abuse. The 1449 competition for land drives the farmers to offer rents which they cannot pay, and at the same time obtain a fair living for themselves, and give a fair living to those whom they employ — hence they are tempted to endeavour to reduce wages to the lowest possible amount; and the same competition amongst the labourers compels them to accept what is so offered. Nor is this all, the Corn Law farther contributes to this result by discouraging the improvement of the land, which ought to take place, and which would increase the demand for labour. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has expressly told us that the distress prevailing in the county of Suffolk is, in part at least, occasioned by the reluctance of landowners and farmers to invest money in permanent improvements, owing to their distrust of the stability of the present Corn Law. I have no doubt that this statement of the right hon. Gentleman is correct, and I can add that this same feeling is the cause of that indisposition of farmers to take leases, which it has this evening been with truth remarked is frequently found to exist. This seems to me to be a strong reason for endeavouring to place the Corn Law upon such a footing as shall inspire confidence in the permanent stability of our arrangements; and if, as we are told by the right hon. Gentleman, this can only be accomplished by an absolute repeal of all restrictions upon the importation of corn, to that repeal let us by all means come without delay; were we to agree to such a change, that fear of foreign competition which now acts in discouraging enterprise and improvement, would immediately have precisely the opposite effect, and would operate as the strongest stimulus to exertion. But, Sir, in referring to the state of Suffolk, I have been led much further than I had intended: I will now, before I sit down, revert but for a moment to the argument I was pursuing, and I will ask you whether it is safe to allow those feelings of discontent which I have described, to continue to work unchecked in the minds of a large division of the agricultural peasantry, and of almost the whole of the working class in the manufacturing districts? I ask you, further, do you think you can cure this discontent except by relieving the distress from which it springs, and improving the condition of the great body of the people; and hare you any 1450 other means to suggest of accomplishing this object, than those which we recommend for your adoption—the removal of restrictions upon trade, and the restoration to the labouring man of his right to make the most of his labour, by exchanging the fruits of his industry with those who will give him most in return. In conclusion, though my noble Friend the Member for Dorsetshire (Lord Ashley) is not present, I must express my earnest hope that he and those Gentlemen who voted with him and with myself upon the Factory Bill will feel that, consistently with what they did on that subject, they cannot support the continued exclusion of foreign corn from our markets. I am well acquainted with the high and honourable motives of my noble Friend, but to those who know him less, I trust his conduct will afford no pretence even for imputing to him that although for the benefit of one part of the working class he is determined to try a bold experiment, where the interests of others only are concerned, he is not prepared where his own interest, or that of his party is at stake, to pursue with equal courage and equal energy the course by which he might with most effect promote the noble object he has proposed to himself, of raising and improving the condition of the great body of the people. My noble Friend has repeatedly expressed his sense of the evils which now afflict the working classes in this country, and seeing how great are those evils, and that no other remedy is proposed, he surely must feel that he could not be wrong in joining with us to demand the removal of artificial restrictions, which even their advocates do not venture to defend upon principle, which the President of the Board of Trade has this evening in the most marked manner shrunk from defending upon principle, and only attempted to support upon some special and exceptional grounds. My noble Friend may rest assured, that when he sees in combination with a system avowedly artificial and unnatural, great misery and distress, he could not be mistaken in calling for a change of policy, in demanding that a return should be made to that system of free intercourse between nations, by which a benevolent Providence evidently intended that the abundance of one country should be brought in aid of the scarcity of another, and in refusing, when the people are suffering so deeply from the difficulty 1451 of obtaining the means of subsistence, to tolerate any longer the maintenance of artificial arrangements, of which the professed aim, and certain effect, is to restrict the facility of introducing into this country an additional supply of food for their use.
§ Debate adjourned.