§ Lord John Russell
I do not think that the Motion of which I have given notice will interpose to prevent the disposal of any public business now remaining for our consideration. I understood from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Consolidated Fund Bill and some other Bills would be passed at an early period of the evening, and I was perfectly satisfied to postpone my observations until a later period. These measures having been passed, I will take this opportunity—one of the last we shall have this Session—of considering in what way we have performed the duties we were called on to perform by Her Majesty in Her Speech delivered at the commencement of the Session. And in so doing, I shall refer to those subjects rather with the view to measure the progress we have made—to point out the defects that are to be found in those measures, and to ask the House to consider the prospect before them—than with the view contemplated on another occasion, and in another place, of proving the Ministers of the Crown to be incompetent to the functions which they have to perform. Whether that be so or not, it is not my present purpose to inquire. If, however, it were my purpose to imitate the practice to which I have referred—if it were my purpose to found a charge of incompetency on the fact that measures were delayed until a late period of the Session, and only sent from one House to the other in the month of July, 1455 when there was not time deliberately to consider them; and that many measures brought forward at an early period of the Session were given up at the end; I think ample materials could be found in the course pursued by Gentlemen opposite, for enforcing such topics on the attention of the House. One Bill alone, the Bill of the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department — I mean the Physic and Surgery Bill—would form the subject for lengthened comment of this description. The right hon. Gentleman was accustomed to lay great blame on me for bringing forward a measure on the Poor Laws of a complicated nature, and afterwards making Amendments in it, in compliance with the suggestions of Members of this House. It is not the custom of the present Government to listen to objections made in this House—at least not frequently—but they have the custom of altering from time to time their measures, owing to the suggestions which some particular classes of the community make. Thus, with regard to the measure I have just referred to: first, the Council of the College of Surgeons was implicitly to be relied on; then the general practitioners were to be looked to, and their suggestions complied with; then, from the objections of the physicians and surgeons, it was altered again, and though put in so many different shapes, each one was found unsatisfactory to some large class of the profession. I think I have said enough, if I were to imitate the language that was used with respect to me—if I were to place on such a foundation the charge of incompetency for the functions of legislation — that that Bill alone would afford me a sufficient opportunity of making such an attack. But, Sir, I acknowledge there is another question, far more important than the exact mode of legislation carried on as to a number of detailed measures; and that is the question for our consideration, how the great interests of the country are affected by the measures brought before this House, and in what position the country now stands in consequence of them. In reviewing those subjects, I will take the measures in the order observed in the Queen's Speech from the Throne, at the beginning of the Session. The Queen's Speech began by alluding to what will form a very small part of my present remarks—namely, the state of our Foreign Affairs, I rejoice to say that we are not 1456 now, as we were at the close of the last Session, looking anxiously to the settlement of differences with France, which threatened a rupture of our amicable relations with that country. I am happy to find our friendly relations so close and unbroken, and that there is every prospect of the continuance of peace between these two great and enlightened countries. Sir, there is a question, however, to which, though I do not mean to enter on it in detail, I cannot help adverting for a moment or two—I mean the question pending between this country and the United States of America. I wish, without at all desiring to interfere with the discretion of the Executive Government, or at all dictating to them as to the course they may think fit to pursue for the settlement of the question of the Oregon Boundary—I wish still to say that those opinions which I gave this House at another period of the Session, of the justice of our claims, are entirely unshaken by anything I have heard or read since on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, on that occasion, said the Government of this country were prepared to maintain our rights. I do not question that assurance. I do not propose to ask him any explanation of the mode in which he proposes to maintain these rights. I am glad to see—regretting as I do the loss of that distinguished and enlightened man who is now the Minister of the United States in this country—I am rejoiced to see a person, who was here many years ago, and who made himself universally respected and esteemed in the society of this country, has been appointed to replace Mr. Everett. I trust that, with fairness and moderation in the discussion of these questions between the two Governments, without any loss of honour or sacrifice of substantial interests, the negociations will be brought to a friendly and amicable conclusion. With these few words (and I am glad they should be so few), I leave the subject of foreign policy; and I come, at once, to what has been done in the course of the Session with respect to our domestic concerns. My opinion on this subject is—not that we should be altogether disappointed at the result of the Session—not that much was not done that affords good prospect for the future; but that while, on the one hand, we may congratulate ourselves on the progress made — especially on the statement of opinions—on the other, much 1457 has been left unsettled, much that is of principle left unasserted, and much of a practical nature that remains for us to accomplish, if we really wish to serve the interests of the country by our legislation. Now, Sir, I will take, in the first instance, that question pressed so often on the attention of this House, which I imagine will be again pressed on it next Session, and perhaps for many future Sessions—I mean the anxious subject of Ireland. Sir, in adverting to that subject, I cannot but, in the first place, rejoice that those opinions which were held by Gentlemen who sat opposite some years ago, have been in a great degree abandoned; that even the language held by one of the principal Ministers of the Crown since he came into office has been retracted; and that, therefore, so far as renouncing former erroneous opinions, and being ready to enter on a new course, I have reason to congratulate the House on what has taken place on this subject. It will not be forgotten, that many years ago, when the Government of Lord Grey was divided on the subject, not only did those who were opposed to us resist the Appropriation Clause (which, as I still think, would have been at that time a fair and moderate compromise on the subject of the Church of Ireland)—not only did they oppose that Appropriation Clause (which I do not say was unnatural with their views of Church property and Church establishments)—but they likewise denied to the Irish the rights which the English and Scotch had obtained, with regard to popular election in municipal corporations. Sir, a Gentleman who then filled a distinguished situation in Government, and who was afterwards raised to a still higher station on the Bench of Ireland, and whose death we have had unfortunately since to deplore—I mean Chief Baron Woulfe—expressed very logically the reasons why he thought those privileges should be accorded, and very feelingly the degradation which would be inflicted on our Irish fellow subjects if they should be withheld. He said, he thought it a matter of right, that if those who belonged to England and Scotland obtained the power of popular election in corporations, Ireland should have it likewise; and that it would require the strongest reasons of necessity to justify us in refusing those rights. He stated further, that if they were refused, it could only be done 1458 on the ground that the Irish Catholics were unworthy to be members of a free community, and were only fit subjects for a despotism. Sir, I do not think he represented more strongly than the justice of the case required, the feelings of indignation which the rejection of such measures as those I have referred to were likely to cause. And yet the rejection of equal corporate rights was the object of a great party move by the Gentlemen opposite, with the honourable exception of Earl St. Germans, and two or three others. There were other matters with regard to Ireland which then came into question; on every one of which it happened that those opposed to us were inclined to raise in this country both national prejudices and religious convictions, to assist them against the claims of the people of Ireland. Sir, that course of policy, since they came into office, they have, at first doubtfully and silently, but at last explicitly, abandoned. It is now admitted that Ireland ought to have equal rights; it is now admitted, that, in point of principle, as to the rights of voting for Members of this House, or for Members of municipal corporations, they ought to have the same rights as the people of England and Scotland. This, so far as principle is concerned, is a great progress. But let us examine a little how far their measures have been consonant to their professions, and what they have effected for the great object of reconciling the feelings of the people of Ireland to those of the people of England, and inducing them to join in sympathy for defence against a foreign enemy, and in mutual harmony and good will in their domestic concerns, as becomes the people of one united kingdom. Sir, on this subject it is hardly possible to use an expression too strong to convey an idea of what they professed themselves ready to do. Well, with regard to municipal rights, with regard to the rights of election as to Members to serve in Parliament, what Bill have they introduced? It is notorious that the number of electors in the counties in Ireland, from the strict interpretation of the present law, have been in a great degree, and gradually, diminished. That is a grievance which requires the attention of Parliament. The attention of Parliament, however, has not been called to it. With respect to another subject on which they proposed to legislate, and on which 1459 they made a very elaborate inquiry, no legislative measures have been introduced. I allude to the subject of the relations between landlord and tenant. It was my opinion, that the issuing of the Commission of Inquiry into the relations between landlord and tenant might be a wise measure; but I was not enabled to say positively it was so, until I should see the result at which that Commission arrived. It was evident that very considerable evils must attend the issuing of that Commission. It tended, in the first place, to raise great hopes amongst the tenantry—amongst the poorer and more ignorant class especially—it tended to make them believe that some great measure was at hand; that a comprehensive and efficient remedy would be applied for the relief of their misery, to supply the want of food and shelter, as well as put an end to the want of security of tenure, which they felt to be one of the greatest hardships they suffered. That was an evil inseparable from the issuing of the Commission. In the next place it was very likely, unless conducted with great care, to excite in the country considerable animosity on the part of the tenants against the landlords, from the former thinking they had the Government taking their part as against the landlords, who were looked on by the Government as tyrannical. In this respect the effect must have been far greater than that produced by the phrase which I heard some of those opposite condemn very strongly, which I think was a very proper phrase, and which was used by my late respected and ever to be lamented friend, Mr. Drummond, that "property had its duties as well as its rights." But the evils accompanying the issuing of the Commission might be remedied, if the Government, in issuing it, had a clear perception of the remedy which they wished to introduce, and only desired to frame its details by the additional knowledge they would acquire from the evidence taken before a Commission. I supposed, therefore, that some such remedy was in the contemplation of the Government. But, Sir, it appears I was totally mistaken in that supposition. It appears that there has been brought forward, as the result of that Commission, a Bill, which I must say was one of the most extraordinary measures ever brought under the consideration of the Legislature. It was a plan for the appointment of a Government Commission 1460 to interpose between landlord and tenant with regard to any transactions that might take place for the improvement of the land. How any practical man could have thought such a remedy at all suitable to the affairs of Ireland, I own I am at a loss to imagine. That Bill never arrived at this House. I suppose the universal outcry made by Irishmen of all classes and politics led to the abandonment of that Bill. Well then, Sir, what farther measures have they proposed? They have proposed a Bill for the endowment of the College of Maynooth, and a Bill for establishing of academical education, pointed to by Her Majesty in the Speech from the Throne. I do not wish to go over the arguments on these subjects. I think the endowment of Maynooth was made on a good plan; but I think the observation made with respect to it by a gentleman who has written very ably on the subject of Ireland perfectly just. He says there are two objections made to the endowment of Maynooth; one is, that the sum is so trifling that it is hardly worth the acceptance of the Irish; and the other is, that it would lead to the endowment generally of the Roman Catholic clergy; and this gentleman's answer is, "I think the first objection answered by admitting the value of the second, namely, by admitting that this grant will lead to the endowment of the Roman Catholic clergy." Now, at least, it would be an intelligible line of policy (without discussing whether it is right to endow the Roman Catholic priesthood) to introduce this measure to which the Roman Catholic prelates gave their consent, as the foundation of that still larger endowment to which it has been said the prelates would not consent. But the Members of the Government, one after another, explicitly declared that it was not their intention to follow up this measure by another such as I have hinted at; that such a measure might, in course of time, follow it, but that, at all events, the measure they introduced was a measure entirely by itself. Thus it is obvious they have raised a very great clamour in this country. They have excited, beyond any immediate clamour, a very deep feeling. If they do not mean to proceed farther—if they have not some measure in contemplation for another Session—I say they were unwise to provoke such resistance. Now, with regard to the other measure of 1461 academical education, it happens that, on this subject, as on many others, although Ministers refused to listen to the counsel of this House, they did take counsel from others out of doors, and answered the demands made on them by a certain portion of the people, as to a question in which the latter felt an interest. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, told us—what I was very sorry to hear, on the subject of Maynooth—that his object was very much to break the confederacy that existed in Ireland for the purpose of promoting Repeal, and to divide the Roman Catholics, by proposing the Bill as a satisfaction to one portion of the Roman Catholic population. Well, then, it does appear from this that the Repeal Association (as was justly said by the principal member of it) was the chief cause of the introduction of this measure; that it was not founded on justice, or adopted with the view of affording an improved education to the Roman Catholic priests, but was yielded to the clamour of the Repeal Association, supported by the increasing multitudes which the Association collected. Well, that Bill, in its course through this House, produced a great excitement in England, and that excitement was chiefly caused by those who are opposed, not only to Maynooth, but to all ecclesiastical endowments — those who maintain that we are here to regulate secular questions alone, and that all religious instruction, in chapel or school, should be given on the principle of voluntary support. Such being the case, the Ministers introduced their next measure on that principle; and all the arguments stated by the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department in favour of his academical measure, were arguments repeatedly urged by some Members in this House, and very forcibly maintained by persons out of this House, against any State support of religious instruction whatever. But, Sir, above all, I would wish to impress on the House that these measures are late and are imperfect. In the first place, I maintain they are late; and I think that a great lesson is to be learned from the mode in which the party opposite, in Government and in opposition, have treated the claims of the Roman Catholics of Ireland. Many years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, was, I believe, a Member of this House, and was, if I 1462 am not mistaken, Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Grattan said, more than once, that if the Roman Catholic claims were allowed, he had sufficient authority from the prelates to state, that no Roman Catholic bishop would be appointed to whom the Crown objected. That would have been a great concession to the Crown of this country, and it would have enabled the Crown to refuse its sanction to the nomination of any prelate likely to use his religious authority for seditious agitation. That offer was rejected, and the Roman Catholic claims were refused. In 1825, another proposition was made by a noble Lord, still a Member of this House, that provision should be made by law for the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland. The House agreed to that Resolution; but the Government of the day refused to concede the Roman Catholic claims, and that proposition fell to the ground. If you had agreed in 1813, or in the other years that Mr. Grattan made the proposal of conceding the Roman Catholic claims, you would have had the security of the nomination by the Crown of the Roman Catholic bishops. If you had agreed to Emancipation in 1825, you would have had the security—and a great one I consider it—of an endowment of the priests provided by the State, they no longer depending on voluntary support. You lost the opportunity for these measures. You granted Roman Catholic Emancipation at last, because you chose it as the alternative instead of civil war. You did not found it on justice and large policy, but you chose it as the least of two great evils. Such was your want of foresight, such your improvidence with regard to the past Now, with respect to the present—let us look to another measure I have already mentioned, namely, that for giving the people of the towns of Ireland an equality of municipal privileges with those of England. In 1836, it will be remembered, the King of this country, by the advice of his Ministers, stated that he hoped Parliament would agree to the reform of the municipal corporations of Ireland, founded on the same principles as the measures adopted as to England and Scotland. For my own part, I thought the assurance so general that it would be adopted by the whole House. I was disappointed; for I found the strongest opposition was raised to a concession of that kind. The question, then, was, whether or not you would 1463 grant equal rights to Ireland: and let those who have attended for the last two years to the speeches of Mr. O'Connell, hear the language which he then used, if Parliament was ready to grant terms of equality to his country. Mr. O'Connell said—He had met congregated thousands in Ireland, and asked them, would they give up Repeal if he could get justice? He was met by a unanimous shout, 'Get us justice from England, and never think of Repeal more.' He came with that announcement to the British Legislature. He announced it with no affectation of humility—he did not represent any town, city, or borough—he represented millions, and had the confidence of millions. Do justice to Ireland, and England had nothing to apprehend from the further agitation of Repeal, nothing to apprehend from Ireland, but everything to hope. Henceforth separation was at an end. Do them justice, and they were ready to become a party to the Empire. Refuse it at your peril.At a subsequent part of his speech he said—What was it that the Irish people wanted? Simply to become a part of England. True, they had sighed and struggled to procure a domestic legislature, and perhaps to that object might be still directed the aspirations of his own heart. But he and they were ready to give it up. He called upon the House to witness that they were ready to abandon the Repeal for ever upon one condition, and one only—that of being placed upon perfect equality with England and Scotland.He then said, if that were not agreed to, they were resolved to do justice to themselves. Now, just consider what would have been your position had you agreed to those terms, and said, "We give you perfect equality, we will close with your proposal, we will give you what Mr. Pitt declared you should have and had a right to." Would you not have placed a great bar in the way of the further agitation of Repeal? Could Mr. O'Connell, after you had complied with these conditions, fairly again have raised that cry, which has inflamed millions, for a Repeal of the Union, and a separate legislature for Ireland? But, Sir, hon. Gentlemen opposite were again late. Not this House, but the House of Lords, in which their party had a majority, refused that measure, and others, which would tend to place the people of Ireland on an equality with the people of England. Well then, Sir, I ask, (having refused measures for the settlement of the ecclesiastical question in 1825, and Parliament 1464 having in 1836 refused civil equality,) do we find now, when Ministers are willing to propose, so far as political rights are concerned, perfect equality, the same answer as to a readiness to give up Repeal, which I have already read to you? Do we hear it now said, "Give us equal privileges, and Repeal is at an end?" Not a word of the kind. They tell us that no measures you can propose will have the effect of inducing them to give up the demand for Repeal. Without imputing to those opposite any improper motives for their conduct in 1836, I must say it was most shortsighted and totally wanting in wisdom, and that if the conciliation of Ireland is not effected, it is to be attributed to the delay and the refusal so long persisted in, to remedy the evils of which Ireland complained. Next, Sir, with regard to the ecclesiastical question. You refused the compromise proposed by the Appropriation Clause. You now hear the Church Question discussed as at the bottom of the evils of Ireland, by those who have considered the question of Irish Government on one side or the other. Many Gentlemen, not connected with party, have discussed this question. I have mentioned the able author of "Ireland, Past and Present," on the one hand; and on the other, amongst the opponents to Maynooth, I may name the distinguished author of one of the pamphlets recently published, the Rev. Baptist Noel; they both agree that it is most unjust to refuse Ireland equality. One party says the way to effect that object is to endow the Roman Catholic Church, and to place it on equal terms with the present Establishment. Mr. Baptist Noel says, and those who think with him say, they would never consent to such an endowment, and that it would not only be unwise, but a violation of what is due to the conscientious conviction of Protestants. What he proposes is the total abolition of the present Church Establishment of Ireland. Now, depend on it, that Government, however constituted, will be forced sooner or later to adopt one of these alternatives. It is impossible that they can refrain altogether from a settlement of the question in one way or the other. There are difficulties in the way of both. I have stated in the House before now on what general principle I should act. If I were to attempt to carry into effect that view, I know I should excite 1465 great opposition amongst a considerable party in England. If you attempted the destruction of the Church of Ireland, you are aware of the difficulties you would be met with, the feelings you would have to shock, and the principles to which you would have to run counter. But every man who has looked at all impartially at the subject of Ireland, every Englishman who has looked to the settlement of the Irish question, has agreed in this—that either on the one principle or on the other, the future policy of the country must be conducted. It is for these reasons, I say, that the Government, in bringing this question before us in a partial way—in submitting one measure of an excellent description, and to which I gave my best support, and another measure of a doubtful character—ought to have been prepared with ulterior measures, and that if they thought it right to go no farther in the present Session, they should not be unprepared with a remedy in a future Session; for, depend on it, unless you determine to settle this great question, the mind of Ireland will continue to be agitated. And how will it be agitated? We had formerly great parties discontented with the Government. In 1834, there was a great meeting at Hillsborough to declare their dissatisfaction with the existing Government. Great numbers of Protestants declared their dissatisfaction with the Governments of Lords Normanby and Fortescue. During the present Government millions have assembled, and with the greatest enthusiasm in their cause, declared their adherence to the opinions of the Repeal Association, and cheered with shouts of delight any taunt or invective, not only against the Government, but against the people of England. But we have now arrived at this result, that neither the one party nor the other are content. While we have assemblages on the one side presided over by Mr. O'Connell, we are threatened on the other with immense Protestant meetings, to declare their dissatisfaction and discontent with the present state of things. Let the Government rely upon it, it will not do to allow this general discontent to continue. It is not only disgraceful to them as a Government—it puts in peril the whole United Kingdom. Let them recollect that the phrase of the right hon. Gentleman, when he spoke of sending a message of peace to Ireland, was no idle phrase; that 1466 the force of discontent will not be allayed, until you take some large principle, until you act upon it consistently, and declare that to that principle you are determined to adhere, and that whether it goes to diminish the Established Church, or to raise up the Roman Catholic body, you are resolved to do what is just, and will take all the consequences that shall follow. My advice in this House was, that first you should take all the civil and political questions—that before you attempted to settle the religious questions, you should give civil and political equality to the Irish. My advice was not taken; the question of civil and political equality has been this Session entirely postponed, and other minor measures have been introduced; but still I think that would be the right course, and that you cannot expect the Roman Catholic prelates to be ready to enter into any arrangement before they are enabled to say, "We are not betraying any right of our lay fellow countrymen—they have every right that Englishmen have, and we are now only treating with respect to a subject in which we have no separate interest from the rest of our countrymen." This, therefore, is the conclusion which I draw from your measures with respect to Ireland. You have done well in abandoning all your former declarations—you have done well in withdrawing your opposition to measures which you formerly denounced and frustrated—but in not adopting some clear and large line of policy, your course has been defective, and it is well worth your while to consider in what manner you can amend those errors. I need not allude to various measures particularized in the Queen's Speech, which have not been introduced. There is that measure, with regard to which the Queen declared that it would be highly gratifying to Her if we would legislate—namely, that which was framed with the view of promoting the health and comfort of the poorer classes of Her subjects. On that important subject legislation has not been carried into effect; and, indeed, hardly a single stage of any measure on the subject has been moved. But I come to another subject, with respect to which I must likewise say that there is a good deal that is gratifying, while there is still much remaining to disappoint the expectations that may have been formed. I allude to the measures that were proposed to us by the Queen's Government, in consequence 1467 of the Speech from the Throne, with respect to the finances and trade of the country. I was not one of those who thought that an income tax was rendered necessary by the deficiency of the Revenue to meet the public expenses. But this I was always ready to say, from the commencement, and I am more persuaded of it this year, that if an income tax was to be imposed, the right hon. Gentleman took a wise and comprehensive view of the interests of the State, when he combined the imposition of an income tax with measures to relieve the industrious classes from many of the taxes which pressed most heavily upon them, and liberate trade from many of its restrictions. With respect to this subject, certainly, the Government have more than fulfilled any expectations that we on this side could have formed. They have not fulfilled the expectations of those who thought they came in as a Government pledged to the maintenance of protection to native agriculture and industry; all those expectations of a great body of their supporters have been entirely disappointed. They have, on the contrary, clearly declared their adherence to those sound principles which all the greatest writers on those subjects have propounded, and which the greatest practical statesmen who have attended to them have acted upon. So far, therefore, as their measures and declarations go on some of these subjects, I think they have been benefactors to the country. But there are three subjects on which the Government of 1841 proposed to legislate, upon which their legislation falls far short not only of completely free trade, but even of that system of approach to free trade, by reduction of duties, of which Mr. Huskisson was the advocate. With respect to timber, for instance, they have left the great differential duties of 25s. on foreign timber, and 1s. on colonial. With respect to another article, that of sugar, they have adhered most unfortunately to the Resolution of 1841, and have kept on a prohibitory duty against the produce of certain foreign nations. Sir, we have urged that subject over and over again; but facts much stronger than any arguments we can use, have since confirmed our views upon this subject. We have had this year a proposition by Spain to carry into effect the Treaty of Utrecht, made in 1713. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newark, argued for two hours and a half 1468 to show that that Treaty was not in force. The greater part of his argument, I think, was founded on points which had nothing to do with the demand of the Spanish Minister—on which the Spanish Minister did not rest any part of his case, or upon facts which, if rightly looked into and examined, did not bear out his conclusions. But even supposing that all his conclusions had been right, and that the proposal of Spain in truth amounted to this—"We offer to make a Treaty now which shall be similar to that which we think was concluded between the two nations in 1713;"—I say all the dictates of wisdom should have induced you immediately to close with that offer. You should have said, "We will not argue with you. We will not go back to what James II. did in violation of his faith on this subject, as he violated his faith upon every other. We will not go back to what we did in the last century, or attempt to show that one party or the other did not conform to the letter of the Treaty; but we will form a convention now in plain, clear, terms, similar to those stipulations we have with many other Powers of Europe, by which we shall agree that Spain and England shall treat each other commercially on the footing of the most favoured nations." I think that is the only sort of commercial Treaty that is eligible—I do not allude, of course, to the Treaties of navigation—the only one that is worth having with any foreign nation—that you should not have differential duties imposed against your produce in comparison with any foreign nation. I am persuaded, if you have those terms, you need not be afraid of entering into competition on an equal footing with any of the foreign nations which may be your rivals. But your wretched policy of 1841, of placing a moral tariff on sugar, drives you to find every sort of far-fetched and fine-spun argument, by which you may defeat advantageous proposals similar to that of Spain, and injure the best interests of the country. And how stands the case as to Brazil? The right hon. Gentleman has not heard officially of the proposal to lay on 20 per cent. of the duties on foreign produce additionally, as against English produce and manufactures. At the same time, the merchants have an entire belief that such is the intention, and that there is an ordinance prepared, if not issued, to impose those additional 1469 duties on the produce of England. Be that as it may, however, it is clear that on the subject of sugar, then, you have not carried into effect anything like a system of free trade. You preserve a duty, avowedly prohibitory, for the sake, as you say, of discouraging the Slave Trade, and distinguishing the consumption of slave-grown produce, but which, I believe, has not in the least degree that effect. That determination puts you on a footing of commercial enmity with Spain and Brazil, injuring the sale of the manufactures of this country, and endeavouring to carry into effect a prohibition which, I think, it is quite plain that in the end any statesman having the conduct of affairs of this country will find to be both unwise and impracticable. Thus, both on timber and sugar, you retain large differential duties. What have you done as to corn? With respect to corn, likewise, it was supposed that the Gentlemen opposite, having resisted in a body the Motion to go into a Committee on the Corn Laws in 1839 and 1840, were strongly in favour of protective duties, and even of the special law of 1828, as affecting the importation of corn. Yet although nine-tenths of the country were persuaded that that was the intention of the party opposite, their words at least have been very much better than were their then professions. After the elections of 1841 had been finished—after the adherents of the present Ministry had been chosen, either without a contest or by triumphant majorities, in order to support a new Government, which the farmers and the agricultural interest believed would firmly stand by the Act of 1828—a new law has been introduced, lesser restrictions have been imposed on the importation of corn, and their course in this respect has been altered. It has not only been altered with respect to the letter of the Act of Parliament; the security of protection has been shaken by the language which has been held by the Ministers of the Crown. They have held language quite inconsistent with the maintenance of their own Act, and the assurances then given to the agricultural interest of the maintenance of their laws have been like the sliding scale itself; as the duty sinks from 20s. to 1s. so have these assurances become—Small by degrees, and beautifully less.So that in the present year there is far 1470 less security for the maintenance of the Corn Laws, than there has been in any previous year. We had a confession from the Secretary of State for the Home Department that the sliding scale by itself would cause considerable evils, and that it was necessary to prop it up by a fixed duty levied upon some part of the corn that would come in; and that as corn from Canada might be obtained under a fixed duty in May, June, or July, when the corn from the Continent was kept back waiting for a diminution of the duty, it was necessary to have a Canada Corn Act, in order to make the sliding scale bearable. Now, this is a confession of the total imperfection of the sliding scale—this is a confession that the sliding scale by itself would not answer its purpose, and that you are obliged to prop it up by the Canada Corn Act, framed on a principle totally different. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury took away another argument for the sliding scale, on which the advocates of protection have always relied namely, that the labouring classes would be losers by the admission of foreign corn; because when bread was cheap, the wages of labour would be very much diminished. The right hon. Gentleman declared his belief was, that such would not be the case, and that the low price of bread and provisions was an advantage to the labouring classes. That which he thus stated to be his belief, was proved in detail by the right hon. Gentleman who sits near him, who showed that during the years of cheap corn you had not only had more comforts and better wages for the labouring classes, but you had, in consequence, less crime and diminished immorality. It is obvious, the case of the present Corn Law is greatly weakened by these admissions; but let us look to the foundation on which it has now to rest. Can any one have heard what has been passing within the last ten days without feeling the misery of an uncertain law for the import of corn? Can any body feel that there is a doubt whether the next fortnight will bring us a tolerably good harvest, or one miserably deficient, and not wish that the labouring classes of this country should be provided with food from all quarters from which it can be obtained? I maintain that it is the duty of this House to provide for such a contingency; but what is it you do? I admit 1471 that, whether you have a small fixed duty or a completely free trade in corn, it must always be matter of deep anxiety whether the harvest should turn out to be favourable or unfavourable. That if there were now at this present moment a completely free trade in corn, and you were in doubt whether the harvest would turn out an abundant or a very short one, it would be impossible there should not be a very considerable amount of speculation; it would be impossible there should not be a rise in the price of corn, and fluctuations in the price to a considerable extent, dangerous with respect to the currency as well as the sustenance and welfare of the people. That I admit; but then that is a consequence for which the Legislature would not be responsible. I maintain, if you had either a fixed duty or a free trade, you would be sure of such supplies coming in as could be obtained. I think a fixed duty in such a case would only diminish the price at which the merchant abroad would sell the corn. But at all events, according to such a system, your legislation would be certain and uniform. There would be no doubt nor contingency as to the duty at which the corn would be admitted; but as the matter at present stands, there being the uncertainty of the seasons, there being the uncertainty of foreign supplies, you superadd, by your legislative wisdom, the artificial uncertainty whether a few weeks hence the duty will be 20s. or 1s. You thereby double the amount of speculation—you double the hazard to which the people of this country are exposed—you double the gambling in this article of necessary sustenance for human life. Then, Sir, is it wise to continue such a law—it is wise for a Ministry, who profess free trade, for a Prime Minister who makes it his boast that he has done more for free trade than any other Minister for a very long period of years — it is wise for him to rest upon a law which he must own to be so defective with respect, not only to all the principles of political economy, but all the other principles on which commercial transactions are usually based?—and then, to add to this uncertainty, we have Gentlemen continually avowing that they do not think the law will be permanent. We had only the other day a gentleman (Mr. Sotheron, North Wiltshire), who has been always a constant supporter, not only of the present Ministry generally, but especially 1472 of their policy as to the Corn Law and the sliding scale, avowing publicly that he did not think this law would last, and that two years would probably see the end of it. Why, when people hear that language used by a supporter of the Government, not one of those ultra-protectionists opposed to the right hon. Baronet, who might in a moment of discontent say, that he did not believe the Minister would support the Corn Laws, but one of their steady supporters, what can the farmers think but that it is a settled point that this law shall be abandoned? Well, then, I say, if it is to be abandoned, do not leave the country in this miserable uncertainty. Begin your next Session soon, begin it early, and begin it with a reconsideration of the Corn Laws. The farmers themselves must feel, even if they desire to have a large protection against the admission of foreign corn, and to have high prices kept up, that it is anything but desirable to have to treat with their landlords on the supposition that there is to be such a law, and then to find two years afterwards that there is no longer any such system, and that the whole is swept away. However much your proceedings may suit the political interests of parties, it can never suit the interests of the farmers. They cannot but wish to have something certain; and I am quite satisfied the most enlightened of them would much rather even see any evils that might fall on the country, by the sudden adoption of the measure proposed by my hon. Friend behind me, the Member for Wolverhampton, than be kept in this state of uncertainty, having doctrines preached to them that go to the destruction of the present system of Corn Laws, and yet have the Corn Law kept up, as an apparent protection, without any security that it may last another year. I contend, therefore, that while you have done much to make an approach to a system of free trade, still on the great articles of consumption, timber, sugar, and, above all, corn, you are keeping up restrictions contrary to every sound principle, and which it is impossible, if you believe your own theories, that you can mean to uphold. At this very moment, with respect to corn, the stock for the supply of the country is unusually small; I shall move, therefore, for an account of the quantity that is now in bond—it is unusually small in consequence of your own law. And let it not 1473 be forgotten, when Gentlemen refer, as I have seen them sometimes do, with great satisfaction, to the failure of speculations in the foreign corn trade, that the consequences of a failure in those speculations are very often injurious not only to those immediately engaged in them, but to the whole country, manufacturers, commercial men, and agriculturists; that the indisposition to get together a supply, and lay up a store of corn on which the country can rely in case of a sudden failure of the harvest, is a national misfortune; that a law that tends to make the trade gambling and uncertain, is a loss to the agricultural interest as well as to all others, and that no law based upon such principles can be for the present or permanent advantage of the country. Sir, there is another subject upon which I wish to touch, as connected with the present Session, although no practical measures have been introduced with regard to it; because it fulfils two conditions which I have showed to be applicable to other subjects—that the Gentlemen opposite have taken a very different tone from that which they formerly took, and therefore great progress has been made in liberality, while, at the same time, much remains to be done. I confess that when I held office there were two subjects that gave me peculiar solicitude, and upon which I was anxious to carry some measures that might be of permanent advantage to the country. One subject was that of Ireland, upon which, immediately after the Reform Act passed, I looked as one on which legislation might now take a better course, and provide for the happiness of the people of that country. The other was the subject of education in England. I will not allude to any particular county, seeing an hon. Baronet opposite who was very much discomposed by a quotation which I made from the Gaol Reports with respect to his own county; but I will allude generally to the fact which appears by all the Gaol Reports, that there is a great proportion of the humbler classes of the people of this country to whom, in early youth, no instruction is imparted in the simplest rudiments of religion; that the name of God, the name of Jesus Christ even, are unknown to them from their youth; that no instruction is afforded to them by which they may guide their path through life, or may look to happiness hereafter; that the first information they receive upon these 1474 subjects is when they are sent to a gaol to satisfy the justice of the laws which they have infringed, and when they meet for the first time, in the person of the chaplain of the prison, with a religious instructor, who opens their minds to the divine truths of the Christian Revelation, and who points out to them the religious and moral duties which they ought to have performed, but of which they have never been aware. I have always considered this, so long as it has been brought before me, as a most melancholy fact, which, professing as we do that ours is a Christian country, is disgraceful to ourselves, its legislators. On looking at all the later Returns, I find but a confirmation of that which I observed many years ago. I was once struck by the case of a boy who was imprisoned for ensnaring a hare; the chaplain had examined him to know what his religious instruction was; he had received none whatever; he had never heard the name of Almighty God, and had never gone to a church, having been employed during Sundays by the farmer for whom he worked, along with the other farm servants, in cleaning the horses in the stable. I find, looking at some of the later Reports made by order of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that a clergyman in one of the western counties stated, it was their custom that boys employed by farmers were not sent to school, but were kept in the stables on Sundays; and, therefore, were neither taught to read the Bible nor had any opportunity of attending the instructions of a clergyman, and the performance of divine service. It appeared to me, Sir, that we ought to make some further effort for the reduction of this amount of lamentable ignorance, and for the improvement of those unhappy subjects of our laws, before they become the inmates of a prison. It appeared to the late Government that we could do nothing more useful than to establish a Committee of Privy Council, which should superintend generally the distribution of grants of the public money intended to promote education, and which should likewise have the control of a normal school that was then proposed to be founded. Great objections were popularly stated to this normal school, chiefly, I believe, because the Roman Catholic children were to be allowed to read the Bible in their own version, and that part of the scheme was abandoned in the hope that the remainder 1475 might be successfully carried into effect. But I never knew more fierce invectives, more virulent attacks, than were directed against the Government of that day, for the attempt which they thus humbly made to diminish the existing appalling amount of ignorance. When we said there were numbers of the humbler classes who were deplorably ignorant, who had no knowledge of religion, we were told of the dangers of Popery, of Socinianism, of latitudinarianism. The country was excited to opposition. ["Hear!"] Several of the Gentlemen opposite who call "hear," as I have said, indulged in more violent language than if we had been attempting to destroy the Constitution, or subvert the religion of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, spoke, as usual, with more moderation and temper on the subject than his followers; but still he stated very strongly his objections to the measure we proposed. He said—Sir, I object to the plan of the noble Lord on three distinct grounds. First, that if it were the feeling that such a Board of Education should be appointed—and the reverse is the case—it should not be appointed in the manner proposed by a single vote of this House. My next objection is, that any such Board of Education should be so constituted as to be exclusively composed of Her Majesty's Ministers. Thirdly, I object, in reference especially to the children of members of the Established Church, that there should be an entire exclusion of the ecclesiastical authorities who are properly placed in charge of the religious education of the community.Sir, I am happy to say that the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues have now got over those objections. I am happy to say, that in this case, as in many others, they have adopted our measures; and they have appointed a Committee of the Council on Education, consisting of Her Majesty's Ministers, holding office at the pleasure of the Crown. I am glad, likewise, to see, that not only is the education grant increased this year, but the right hon Gentleman has lately said it is to be still further increased; and also that this Board will have greater power of interference, and larger authority, than it at present possesses, or than we formerly proposed to give it. I rejoice at this symptom of improved views—I rejoice that the objections which were then felt, and so unjustly expressed towards us, have yielded to sounder theories, and that they are only waiting an 1476 opportunity to carry them out into larger effect. For my own part, I have no want of confidence in the noble Lord the President of the Council, or those who act as his Colleagues in this benevolent and useful task; but I think, likewise, there is more to be done, and other measures which the House may adopt. After the Board has acted for some years without any interference with schools throughout the country—which, by the way, we never proposed in the slightest degree by the former scheme, you may give the Board means of uniting with a control over sums granted from the public funds, some control over sums raised by charitable endowments, so as to make those endowments, which are at present inefficient, effective for the purpose for which they were devised. I think, likewise, you may do that which was then proposed, and was a great object of jealousy — I never could tell why—give gratuities, or retiring allowances, to deserving schoolmasters, and perhaps some other mark of honour. They are members of the community on whom much depends—no trade or profession is more important or arduous; and yet you can hardly get any man of superior understanding to stay in it ten years; because it is, in fact, one of the least honoured and regarded by the community. I trust, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will not be contented with what he has hitherto done. I think this grant of the present year is insufficient; and I hope that it will be much increased in the next. I certainly shall not raise to it any of that opposition by which we were formerly met. However entire may be my want of political confidence in those who sit opposite, I do not think so badly of them as to suppose that they would apply any of the funds intended for education in any way to promote party or political purposes. I believe they will apply them carefully and conscientiously, to promote the welfare of the community. Leaving this subject, to which I have deemed it necessary to advert, I must request that the Government, asking this House, as they do, to follow implicitly their dictates—asking their majority to vote for every measure they bring forward, and if by chance an adverse vote is given with respect to a part of any measure, asking them to submit to that which, to the feelings of this House, must be extremely repugnant, and rescind the vote, if it does not suit the convenience of Ministers—asking for this obedience, I 1477 must demand of them, when they meet us at the commencement of another Session, to propound some principles on which they mean firmly to stand. My hon. Friend, who was far more favourable than I was to their measure of academical education, said, "If you think fit to adopt new principles, I shall be glad to see you sincere converts to those which we have always professed, and which you formerly opposed; but you must be consistent and sincere, and propose good measures accordingly." But this has not been the case. The very reverse, indeed, has been the case. We heard the other day from the First Lord of the Treasury a protest against the principles of the Roman Catholic prelates, when they said that a professor of anatomy might instil heretical opinions into the minds of his pupils, and lead them away from the Roman Catholic Church. But a few days afterwards, we heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, who had pointed out himself the danger and impolicy of having tests in Ireland, and the necessity of abolishing such invidious distinctions, and of upholding the most liberal principles—we heard from that right hon. Gentleman a few days afterwards a tone entirely changed, and he argued in this House that it was necessary strictly to maintain tests in the Universities of Scotland; and those, too, not any general tests as to a belief in the vital doctrines of Christianity, or the truth of revelation, but a test discriminating the Presbyterian and the Episcopalian, and even between one set of Presbyterians and another. It is difficult for the House, however willing to give their confidence to a Government, to acquiesce in such a course; and by diminished majorities the House of Commons has showed that it is somewhat ashamed—that it is aware it is hardly to its credit to vote for one set of principles to-day, and for another set a few days after. Then, if the Ministers ask so much—if the votes of Parliament must be always in accordance with their own opinions, is it too much to ask of them in return, before another Session shall begin, to settle among themselves in their Cabinet what shall be the principles of the Session?—whether the voluntary principle, or the principle of an Establishment — whether education without religious tests, or education confined to one form of Christianity? Unless they do this, they can hardly expect, however sure of their majority, that the 1478 people of this country will view with respect the decisions of their Representatives. The people of this country, whatever may be their respective occupations—one man seemingly absorbed in merchandise, another in farming, another in some profession, every one engaged in some one or other pursuit—have yet each man some certain set of opinions which he entertains, and which he would regret to see departed from. You will find that every man in this country is more shocked at a total want of principle, than at the maintenance of principles opposed to his own opinion. In that case, even if he differs from the principle adopted by a majority of this House, he bows to its decisions with respect. But if there be continual wavering and change, no fixed and settled principle governing the conclusions of this House, he can entertain nothing but contempt and dislike for the decisions of those whom he sees are led in one course to day, and in another, and perhaps a directly opposite course some short time afterwards. I therefore put in my prayer that next Session we may see some principles laid down which may be understood to be the principles of the Government. In this I am asking what would be very convenient, undoubtedly, for the minority who are in opposition in this House; but I am also asking that which would be no less for the advantage of the majority, whose position at present must be exceedingly puzzling. If any Gentleman were asked by his friend, for example, in relation to the Irish academical measure, if he were a supporter of Her Majesty's Government, he might answer, "I am; I am against religious tests in Universities; I think them useless; and I consider the Roman Catholic bishops a bigoted set of men for requiring the introduction of them in the Colleges Bill. Therefore, I support the Government on this question." But the friend of this Gentleman would probably be greatly surprised to see his name next week in the list of a majority voting for the directly opposite principle. Before I sit down, I wish to allude to a report which is current respecting a proceeding which I believe would be, so far as I know, without precedent in this country. Her Majesty, it is said, is about to leave these shores for foreign parts as soon as the prorogation of Parliament takes place. We formerly had Sovereigns who possessed dominions in Germany, and who were accustomed frequently to leave this country; but in such 1479 cases a Council of Regency was always appointed. When George IV. visited his dominion in Hanover, Lords Justices were appointed during his absence. Now, Her Majesty, it is reported, is about to leave this country for three or four weeks, and it appears that no authority of this description is to be appointed, that the precedents to which I have alluded are not to be followed. It appears to me, that in this case, it would be the constitutional course that some depository of the power of Majesty should be appointed; and I do hope that it is not the intention of the Government to depart from the course invariably followed on former similar occasions. I cannot allude to this part of the subject without making one more reference to the situation of Ireland. Her Majesty having twice visited Scotland, it would have been most grateful to Her to be able to visit Her subjects in Ireland, who, I believe, are as loyal and affectionate as any part of Her people. But when an address was presented upon this subject, the answer which Her Majesty was advised to make was studiously ambiguous; and, as I understood it—though in that I may not be correct in my interpretation—implied a doubt on the part of the Ministers, whether Her Majesty would receive a welcome in that part of Her dominions. It would be painful to think, as King William IV. was prevented visiting the city, by those who were then his advisers, that Her Majesty should be hindered from visiting Her subjects in Ireland also by the advice of the Ministers of the Crown, from a doubt as to Her reception. I trust it is not on that account that the visit to Ireland has been postponed. I trust Her Majesty might rely—I think She might safely rely—upon receiving a cordial welcome, if She visited Her subjects in Ireland. Still it is impossible not to draw some inference from the very ambiguous expressions put into the mouth of Her Majesty, in answer to the Address of the Mayor and Corporation of Dublin. I am sure if Ministers perform their duty—if they conduct the government of Ireland in the manner it ought to be conducted, with a view to the welfare of the people—there can be no doubt of the Sovereign meeting with the warmest welcome from the people of Ireland. At all events, whatever may be thought of the advisers of the Crown, I feel assured, that, personally, Her Majesty might expect, and would receive, the most affectionate reception. With these observations I shall 1480 conclude. I have occupied the time of the House longer than I ought; but I have a precedent for the course I have taken, in speeches made in a very different spirit from that in which I have had the honour of addressing you—speeches intended solely to show the delay that had taken place, and the imperfections in measures that had been introduced by the Government of that day. It was much easier to make such a speech at that time, as there was then an unscrupulous opposition to the measures of Her Majesty's Government in this House, and a majority adverse to the Government in the other House of Parliament. But now, with a large and confiding majority here, and a large and confiding majority in another House, it is, notwithstanding, impossible for the Ministers of the Crown to say that they have brought all their measures to perfection, that they have not altered some, and have not abandoned others. I do not impute this as matter of blame to the Government. Some of these measures, it is true, might have been better considered prior to their introduction into Parliament; but I feel that the business of the House, combined with the duties of executive government, are so heavy, so harassing, so continuous, that there can be no wonder some measures are brought forward in a state in which they are not found fit to receive the sanction of the two Houses of Parliament. With respect to the attendance of Members of this House upon the business of the country, neither the Ministers of the Crown, nor Her Majesty, nor the people at large, have reason to complain. There has been a most assiduous attention on the part of the Members of this House to the public business, and a most assiduous attention also to the business of Committees in the investigation of railway questions, not affording the excitement and interest of political debates; but in regard to which this House imposed upon itself a rule, because they thought it their duty towards the public. Whatever, then, may be said of our political conduct, or of the trust we ought to repose in the Ministers of the Crown, I must say that so far as regards assiduous and laborious attention, both to public and private business, the House of Commons has exceeded — and you, Sir, must know that fact as well as any one here—any Parliament of preceding years. The noble Lord concluded by moving for—A Return of the quantity of wheat in bond on the 1st day of July every year since 1838; 1481 and also for a List of the Public Bills which have passed a Second Reading, distinguishing those which have since become law, during the present Session.
§ Sir J. Graham
said: The noble Lord has concluded a speech marked by his accustomed ability, and by some degree of bitterness. Certainly, as to the ability, I cannot hope to compete with him; with respect to the bitterness—[Mr. Sheil here made some remark.] I know not why the right hon. Gentleman interrupts me thus early in my address [Mr. Sheil: I beg your pardon]; I never interrupt the right hon. Gentleman when he is speaking. I was about to say, that not feeling any of that bitterness the noble Lord has expressed, I have no wish to return it. The noble Lord has concluded with a most harmless Motion, to which I can have no objection. The House may think it was hardly my duty to rise after the noble Lord on the present occasion; but he has dealt generally with domestic questions in which I have officially taken a large part, and from some of the topics to which the noble Lord has adverted, I think it my duty to offer some observations to the House. In the first place, I would observe, that I think it quite consistent with the position held by the leader of a great party, at the close of a Session like this, marked by the consideration of such important subjects, that he should pass under review the measures of the Session; and I have no complaint to make of his doing so, nor against the object of his Motion. Sir, the noble Lord has asked two important questions — he anxiously inquires in what way the Ministers of the Crown have performed their duties? and what is the general position of this country? He has said, that several measures of importance have been delayed during the present Session, and he has also adverted to measures which have been introduced and abandoned. The noble Lord has observed, that the abandonment of measures introduced is a mark of incompetence on the part of the Minister who so introduces and so abandons them. That observation does not apply to my Colleagues; it applies only to me, and is made in reference to the Physic and Surgery Bill. Now, I should certainly have thought, of all the measures that could be introduced into this House, which might be considered impossible to be drawn into the vortex of political conflict, this was the measure. I see behind the noble Lord the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Warburton) 1482 and the hon. Member for Lambeth—they will say, that it is not possible to undertake a task of more desperate difficulty than to legislate on this particular subject. They will not agree with the noble Lord, that the abandonment of a measure on that peculiar subject is a proof of incompetency to deal with great questions. I must say, I cannot conceive I failed in my duty; because, receiving representations from parties having conflicting interests in a question personally affecting their position in society, and their interests in other respects, I modified that Bill, or yielded a priority to measures that appeared of more pressing urgency. I may state also my conviction, that if time had permitted, I by no means despaired of the success of the measure. The noble Lord proceeded to advert to various questions, following the course of the Queen's Speech—first, as to foreign policy; next, as to questions of a domestic nature. With regard to the first branch of those questions—our foreign relations—I am happy to be able to concur with everything that has fallen from the noble Lord. He has congratulated the House and the country, that whereas at the close of last Session, there was a misunderstanding between France and England—now, happily for the peace of Europe and the world, and for the interests of this country and France, a good understanding prevails between these two great nations. I cordially agree with the noble Lord in his regret at the loss sustained by the departure of the able, accomplished, and amiable Minister of the United States (Mr. Everett). But that country, I am happy to state, will be well represented still by the highly esteemed Minister who has just arrived; and I am convinced, that in the negotiations pending between the two countries, there will be every disposition to maintain relations of amity. The noble Lord then proceeded to other topics: the first subject he referred to was the administration of the affairs of Ireland. The noble Lord alluded to renunciations of former opinions, and adverted to a hasty expression used by me some years ago in the heat of debate, of which, on more than one occasion, I have offered an explanation to the House, which I thought had been satisfactory. I feel a deep sense of responsibility with regard to that country; and if the noble Lord believes for a moment that my official conduct could be swayed by the feelings or opinions exhibited 1483 in that hasty expression, he does me great injustice, the extent of which I hope is demonstrated by my public conduct. But the noble Lord also said much from which I cannot dissent. I think with him that the rule of the Government of Ireland ought to be equality of civil privileges, and impartial laws fairly administered. The noble Lord censures the Government for not having brought forward in the present Session some amendment of the Municipal Act, and of the elective franchise of that country, and that we have preferred other questions to these. Let the House remember that, at the close of last Session, Lord Monteagle, a former Colleague of the noble Lord, pressed in the strongest manner—and I may add in the ablest manner—the consideration of the question of the increased endowment of the College of Maynooth on the Government. The hon. Member for Waterford, also, in season and out of season—both when he was a Member of the Government, and when he was opposed to it, never failed to urge on the attention of the Legislature, the extension of collegiate education in Ireland, as a matter of primary importance. Her Majesty's Government have exercised their discretion as to the topics they should bring forward; and seeing, with respect to the elective franchise, that in another Session there would be time enough to consider it before it would probably be called into operation, we thought we were discharging our duty by giving a preference to the two questions we brought under the notice of the Legislature, and which we have succeeded in bringing to a successful termination—the endowment of Maynooth, and the establishment of larger means of academical education in Ireland. With respect to the Municipal Act, let me call to the attention of the noble Lord that at the time an alteration in the municipal franchise in Ireland was introduced by the late Government, we stated that equality and identity of the franchise in Ireland and in England, it was impossible to establish; but equality without identity with the franchise in England is possible. The Earl of St. Germans was the organ through whom we ourselves presented a Bill on the subject of municipal corporations in Ireland that did establish complete equality of the franchise with that of England. From that measure we have not receded; to that we have adhered, and are prepared to adhere. So also with respect to the elective franchise. We have argued 1484 that question, and have shown to the House, that with respect to the franchise in cities and towns in Ireland, equality does exist with the elective franchise in England; and that, if anything, the money value is favourable to Ireland, and that in Ireland the sum which is the measure of the franchise is lower, as contrasted with the sum in England. In counties great difficulty has existed. Doubts have been raised and entertained by courts of law with respect to the legal interpretation of what constitutes the franchise. We have stated our willingness to remove those doubts, and to establish an improved elective franchise in Ireland, which shall enlarge the basis of the constituency. We by no means recede from that assurance; and as with respect to the municipal franchise, so also with respect to the county franchise, there is no indisposition on the part of the Government to introduce measures which shall establish in Ireland perfect equality as contrasted with the franchise in England. The noble Lord next proceeded to advert to the Landlord and Tenant Commission. He did not blame the issuing of that Commission; but he censured the Government for not giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission, if they thought those recommendations satisfactory. I beg the House to remember that the Report of that Commission was not presented to the Government until after the commencement of the present Session of Parliament. I know not whether hon. Members have seen the evidence collected by the Commission; for, until a recent period, the whole has not been printed. It is most voluminous, but most worthy of attentive consideration. Several measures were recommended by the Commission; and the noble Lord has commented on the Bill which was introduced into the other House of Parliament by a noble Member of the Government. The machinery by which it was sought to give effect to the object in view, is a matter certainly open to comment and difference of opinion; but with respect to the object of the Bill itself, I do not think that in this House any objection can be entertained to it. It is admitted, that in Great Britain and Ireland, different customs prevail with respect to outlay on the part of the tenant. There are certain improvements, and certain necessary outlays, which in Great Britain are generally — I might say universally—borne by the landlord; but which in Ireland are universally borne by the tenant. A great hardship, therefore, 1485 exists whenever a tenant in Ireland is suddenly ejected, he having no claim for compensation on account of this outlay. It did appear to the Government, as it had appeared to the Commission, that some security should be given to the tenant in cases of ejectment, for obtaining compensation on account of outlays benefiting the landlord; but which compensation is now, neither by custom nor by law, secured to the tenant. It was, therefore, the object of the Bill in question, under certain safeguards and restrictions, to secure to the tenant that which he is most justly entitled to. The mode in which it was sought to effect that object might be open to comment and stricture; but the question as to the mode of effecting the object is one comparatively of detail, and not of principle. To the principle of the Bill introduced into the House of Lords, I most decidedly adhere; and should a similar Bill be discussed in this House, its principle is one which I feel confident can be advocated and defended with complete success. The noble Lord then adverted to the Maynooth Bill, and to the Irish Colleges Bill; and, considering that, in the general principle of those measures, the noble Lord entirely concurred, I was surprised, that after the ample discussion which they underwent, the noble Lord should have thought it expedient, on the present occasion, to revive topics of disagreement which have been urged with the most bitter hostility against both those measures. The noble Lord spoke of the inconsistency of the Government in proposing that in the new Colleges in Ireland (regard being had to the peculiar circumstances of that country) no test should be imposed on the teachers or students, while in Scotland, in reference to ancient Universities which had existed for more than a century in a particular form, and in conformity with a solemn national compact, the Government had felt it their duty to uphold existing tests. I will not now stop to reconcile that inconsistency; but I must say that, with respect to political decisions, various and conflicting circumstances naturally and justly lead to opposite political conclusions. The noble Lord then adverted to former differences which existed in this House in respect to what is termed the Appropriation Clause. I am really surprised that he should bring that topic forward; because I thought that he himself, and the Government to which he belonged, after trying for four or five years to enforce 1486 that principle, had deliberately abandoned it. The noble Lord now charges us with bringing before the House, and throwing into discussion uselessly, the great alternatives with respect to which, he says, the decision of the Legislature must sooner or later be given—namely, the question how you shall arrive at religious equality in Ireland—whether by endowing the Roman Catholic religion, and raising that religion to the level of the Protestant, or by abolishing the Protestant Establishment. With respect to the last alternative, I need not say that insuperable objections to it would be found both in the feelings of the people of England, and also in the feelings of their Representatives, as testified by their votes in this House. For myself, I cannot conceive any circumstances, at any time, that would induce me to advocate or consent to such a proposition. The abolition of the Protestant Established Church in Ireland would be such a shock to the rights of property in that country, and such a violation of the most solemn agreement—it would be so adverse to the feelings, and to the sense of right of the people of this country—that it would be a measure fraught with the utmost danger, and impossible to be carried, without open violence. With respect to the other alternative, it is not for me to argue that question now. I have repeatedly asserted, that to the endowment of the Roman Catholic clergy I personally have no insuperable objections; but I again repeat that to any such proposal emanating from the Government at the present time, and under present circumstances, I see the greatest possible resistance would be offered. No measure proposed by the Government involves the assertion of any such principle, which is left perfectly open to the future consideration of Parliament. I certainly am aware that the tendency of events in this country is necessarily to raise these important questions. I believe the solution of them with all their difficulties will be found almost impossible. I know not what may be in the womb of time; but I am quite certain that it is not the duty of the Government, having regard to the peace of this great Empire, to precipitate the discussion of these questions, or to urge them forward. The noble Lord says that the policy pursued with respect to Ireland has satisfied no party. I should regret the fact, if I admitted the truth of the assertion. The policy has been one of strict justice; yet, as it has 1487 been meted out with an impartial and firm hand, amidst the conflict of the most angry passions and feelings in Ireland, this circumstance certainly does expose the Executive Government to the risk of satisfying, as the noble Lord stated, no party. It may not be possible to exhibit strict impartiality in suppressing the violence of two conflicting parties, without incurring, to a certain extent, the resentment and anger of both; but it is the firm determination of the Government, charged with the administration of the affairs of Ireland, steadily and firmly to persevere in a course of even and impartial justice, and to endeavour to secure to all perfect equality of civil rights. The noble Lord, turning from Ireland, discussed the question of education in this country. I think, next to the question of Ireland, in importance, is the question of the state of education in this country. The noble Lord has done justice to the Government with reference to their efforts to extend the benefits of education. Though our efforts may not have been successful to the extent which might be desirable, yet, since we have been responsible for the government, we have succeeded in doing much. On a former occasion, my right hon. Friend pointed out the great increase in schools which had been founded both in connexion with the National Society and the British and Foreign Society throughout the country. We have also extended the means of education for masters, and have planted excellent schools on the best models in various manufacturing districts, through the operation of the clause passed in the Factories Bill. That clause worked in a most satisfactory manner. The quality of the education was improved; and the effect of the general provisions of the Factories Act was to secure to a great body of children in the manufacturing districts, generally under twelve years of age, education under masters competent to teach them, for at least three days in the week, and for three hours during each of such days. I am happy to say that, concurrently with the operation of these measures, the progress in the decrease of crime is most encouraging. The noble Lord says, that legislatively we have done nothing with respect to the health and comfort of the working classes. It is my opinion, which I have often expressed, that their health and comfort are mainly promoted by securing to them the first necessaries of life. And here I come to a portion of 1488 the policy of the Government which the noble Lord commented on with justice, giving the Government credit for their acts and good intentions. The noble Lord referred to the great decrease made in the present Session with respect to the duties levied on all articles of raw material connected with our manufactures, and also on many articles connected with general consumption. I beg also to remind the noble Lord, in speaking of the health and comfort of the working classes, that a Commission has carefully inquired into the subject, and its Report has not only been taken into consideration, but has been embodied in a legislative form. There has been laid on the Table of the House, by a noble Lord a Member of the Government, a measure comprehensive in its nature, and intended to secure the health and comfort of the working classes, by local taxation on the property of the different localities. During the recess the Government will have time to give more consideration to the subject, and will be able with better effect to call the attention of the House to it early in next Session. To come now to the question of finance. The noble Lord approves of the imposition of the Income Tax, coupled as it was with the remission of duties on various articles of raw material which enter largely into our manufactures; but then the noble Lord says, that there are other measures which we ought to have introduced, but which we have omitted to bring forward. Now, I do think, that considering the labours of this Session, it ought to be borne in mind, that if we have been unable to introduce measures respecting the franchise in Ireland, up to the period of the Easter recess, the Income Tax expiring on the 5th of April, the time of the Government and of Parliament was mainly occupied in discussing the propriety of reimposing the Income Tax, and the remission of various duties. The noble Lord stated that generally he approved of the remission of duties and of the Income Tax; but then he referred specifically to three important articles with respect to which he differed from the measures which have been adopted by Her Majesty's Government. Sir, I am not at this period of the Session—almost its last expiring hours—about to revive all the debates which have taken place with respect to these articles; but I must be permitted to say with reference to the timber duties, that, as compared with the duties we found imposed on timber upon our coming into 1489 office, it cannot be disputed that a great improvement has been made by the present altered rate. The duty on Colonial timber has been altogether remitted; the duty on Baltic timber has been greatly reduced, and much to the advantage of the consumer. The price also has been considerably lowered. The consequence has been an increased consumption, and we have derived a large revenue from Baltic timber, coincident with great relief to the consumer. This is the case with respect to the alterations in the timber duties. Then as to the subject of sugar: here, again, what is the working of the alteration with respect to the interests of the consumer? You may dispute the policy of our measure, and you may say that it was politically erroneous as well as morally defective, in making a difference between slave-grown sugar and sugar the produce of free labour; but practically it has been beneficial. Experience shows, that while the Revenue has gained, the consumer has also benefited materially by the alteration. Six months' experience—the experience of the last six months, which are not, be it remembered, the six months of the year in which the consumption is the largest—shows that an increase in the consumption has taken place approaching to 30,000 tons, instead of 20,000 tons, which would have been the half of the anticipated increase of 40,000 tons on the consumption of the entire year, and the sum yielded to the Revenue has increased proportionably; while the retail price of sugar has, since our measure was passed, fallen 1½d. a pound. With respect to the anticipations of the noble Lord of a defective harvest, the noble Lord has been alarmed by some mist that hung over the Surrey hills ten days ago, which perhaps gave a colour to the noble Lord's views on this subject; and I ascribe the Motion of the noble Lord very much to this particular topic of his speech. The noble Lord was probably actuated in making it very much by the particular apprehensions he felt with respect to the harvest; for he intimated that the prospects of this country at the present moment were gloomy, and I think he said almost unparalleled. Now, first, I must remark, that there are at the present moment in bond of foreign corn, wheat, and wheat flour, no less than 450,000 quarters. In the year 1839, when the noble Lord was responsible for the conduct of affairs, what was the position of the country in this respect? Was it similar to 1490 the present position of affairs, which the noble Lord says is unexampled? Allow me to remind the noble Lord, that on the 6th of August, 1839, there were in bond in this country only 51,000 quarters of foreign corn, whereas We have 450,000 quarters in bond now; and that, further, on the same 6th of August, 1839, there were in the Bank of England only 2,450,000l. in specie; whereas, at this moment, there are 16,000,000l. of specie in the coffers of the Bank of England. Did the noble Lord in 1839, at the end of the Session, such being the position of the country, come forward and propose any alteration of the Corn Laws? Did he come forward to do so at the end of the Session of 1840? Did he at the end of the Session of 1841? As a Member of the Government, and as a responsible Minister of the Crown, feeling deeply the situation of the country, with only 51,000 quarters of foreign corn in bond, and only 2,450,000l. of specie in the coffers of the Bank of England, did he come forward and propose a remedy by means of an alteration in the Corn Laws? No; neither then, nor in the immedately succeeding Sessions, did he propose any such thing. The noble Lord, however, has not refrained from remarking upon the delusion, as he called it, of our professions, and of our sliding scale, which he described as "small by degrees, and beautifully less;" but when the noble Lord so derided our sliding scale, had he no other scale, "small by degrees, and beautifully less," in his recollection? Was there not a proposition of an 8s. fixed duty, which fell down to 6s., and then to 5s.; still getting "so small by degrees," to use again the noble Lord's quotation, "and beautifully less," that the noble Lord had great difficulty to persuade many Gentlemen on this side of the House, that he meant to give them any protection at all? Sir, I am fully aware, that with the rapidly increasing population of this country, the difficulty of supplying it with food must necessarily increase also; but I am happy to know that the increase of home grown corn, arising out of the improvements that have been made in agriculture, has been very great within the last few years; and at the present moment, when some persons are indulging gloomy anticipations as to the approaching harvest, there is the largest quantity of old homegrown wheat in store ever known at this period of the year. As regards the price, the average price of the last six 1491 weeks, made up to the present day, is 49s. 11d. a quarter; and the average price of the week is considerably less than 54s. a quarter. I agree with the noble Lord that a bad harvest is a most severe infliction of Providence on any nation; but I must add that no legislation, however well devised, can secure any country from that calamity and its consequences; and I am not one of those who think that it is an evil of the existing law, that at a time when there are serious apprehensions that the harvest may be deficent, corn cannot suddenly be taken out of bond, but must be gradually brought to market with a duty decreasing as price increases; and thus, while a supply is secured, there is imposed on the consumer the necessity of caution and frugality. That is the operation of the present Corn Law. But so far am I from entertaining the apprehensions of the noble Lord, that I am still sanguine in the hope that no very great deficiency of supply and increase of price is to be apprehended. At all events, I do not think that at this period of the Session, the House can sanction any alteration of the Corn Laws, which have been discussed at great length in previous debates, and on which the opinion of the House may fairly be said to have been pronounced, and pronounced by large majorities. Before I sit down, I will advert to only one other topic, to which I think it my duty to offer a few words in answer to the noble Lord. He spoke of the possibility of Her Majesty's visit to Her Irish subjects; and he appeared to think that, from the answer which Her Majesty was advised to give from the Throne to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, some conclusion might be drawn that Her Majesty's answer meant to convey some doubt of the loyal reception which awaited Her in Ireland. Now, I think, that in deducing this conclusion, the noble Lord is either mistaking, or has forgotten, the terms of that answer. I am quite satisfied that Her Majesty felt that whenever she visited Ireland, she would be cordially received. Whatever may be the state of that unhappy country, and however torn by the conflict of angry passions, I am quite satisfied that whenever Her Majesty may visit that portion of Her dominions, Her presence would be the harbinger of peace; and that there would be but one cordial and ardent wish to greet her with loyalty and devotion.
Mr. M. J. O'Connell
, as an Irish Member, wished to express his thanks to the 1492 noble Lord for having brought the state of Ireland under the notice of the House. He thought that the tone in which the noble Lord expressed himself towards Ireland would have a beneficial effect on that country, and he trusted it would have some effect on the Ministers. The Government ought not to have brought in a measure founded on the Report of the Landlord and Tenant Commission unless they were sure of making it effectual. The party opposite, after for ten years opposing the giving equality of franchise, were now ready to concede it; but their readiness now was of no more use to Ireland than their opposition was before. With respect to the Church question, he must say, though with no sectarian views, and wishing to live on terms of friendship and equality with his Protestant brethren, that it was a serious matter to leave that question unsettled for another year or two. Something ought to be done while there was yet time. He wished the Government to take no extreme, but a middle course; and he still thought they might succeed in allaying the religious animosities which existed in Ireland. He would not leave them until they became too formidable to settle without a collision and a certain exposure to all the mischiefs of party contests. When the Government appointed a Commission to inquire into the condition of landlords and tenants, they were warned that if they were not prepared to do something it would be better far to leave the evils of Ireland as they were. They did, however, give hopes that something would be done; but even the hopes of the most rational men had been most cruelly disappointed by the measure which had been introduced into the other House of Parliament. Not one of the Commissioners who conducted the inquiry had been consulted on the details of that measure; and it was well known that, out of five noble Lords and Gentlemen of different politics who belonged to it, no one had given his approval of the measure. Besides this, the Government was somewhat unfortunate in the selection of the individual who brought that measure forward. No one could deny his talent; his ability in debate was unrivalled; and that he was a good landlord there was evidence; but with all this he might be a bad legislator. That noble individual talked of the safeguards for the tenant, by which safeguards the tenant would just gain nothing; as, under the Registration 1493 Act, the restrictions, the forms and conditions required from the tenant were such as to deprive him of all the benefit intended or professed to be given by the measure. He thought it would be worth while during the recess for the Government to prepare some really benefited measure for the tenantry of Ireland, which should not be nullified by accompanying restrictions. By doing so, they would be able to deal with the question of the Irish franchise, which they never could unless they first settled that of the nature of the tenure of landlords and tenants. He hoped that next Session the Government would be able to carry out measures in the spirit of that of one which he had before expressed his approval. He did not over-estimate it, but he took it as an indication that they would do yet more. He hoped, indeed, that in the course of a few Sessions that House, whoever might form the Administration, would be able to congratulate itself that they had made some greater progress in the settlement of those questions, which, while they were troublesome to the House, were disgraceful to the Empire in the eyes of the civilized world.
§ Mr. Plumptre
said, it was neither an unusual nor objectionable thing to review, at the close of the Session, the chief measures which had occupied the attention of Parliament. When the right hon. Baronet, at the commencement of the Session, introduced the Maynooth Bill, he (Mr. Plumptre) expressed his objections to that measure; and now that it had passed into a law, he was of opinion that it was no less objectionable. The more he considered that measure, the less was the satisfaction with which he viewed it. He could not avoid asking the question, had it given satisfaction to Ireland? Had it not been the means of dividing a great party in that country? They should not forget, that if it had been left to the decision of the usual supporters of Her Majesty's Ministers, it would have been lost. Of the usual supporters of Ministers, 152 voted against the measure, and 150 in its favour. If it had been left to the strength of the supporters of Government, it could not have been carried. The Statute Book was disgraced by having such an enactment; and next Session he should—though not with much hope of success—feel it his duty to do what in him lay to remove from the Statute Book that which the country considered to be a most obnoxious Statute. 1494 It would have been much better to have left the improvement of affairs in Ireland to the progress of public opinion. He did not know whether hon. Gentlemen were aware of what was going on in Germany; and what was taking place there might be expected to occur in Ireland. [The hon. Member read an extract from a book entitled, "The Apostolic Christian, or the Catholic Church in Germany," which detailed the proceedings of John Ronge with reference to the "Coat of Treves," and also contained the abjuration of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church by several citizens of Esterfield.] He read that extract because he thought, that if in Ireland they exhibited the same boldness and honesty as were shown in Germany, a far happier state of things would take place in that country than any such measure as the Maynooth Bill was calculated to produce. There were other subjects which at that late hour he was not disposed to detain the House by entering on. He had heard with satisfaction the statement of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, that there was at the present time a larger quantity of bonded foreign corn in this country than in 1837, and also more home-grown corn than at that time. He was sorry to say, that in the county with which he was connected, wheat was considerably blighted. He would not enter upon any other topics, but conclude by expressing his regret that Her Majesty's Government should have brought forward some of the measures which they had thought it necessary to pass, as it was always with great pain he opposed the present Government.
begged to call the attention of the House to two points which had been overlooked on the present occasion. The first related to the alteration which had been made in the Sugar Duties. The home consumption had increased, it was stated, 30 per cent. in consequence of the reduction of the duties; but the official returns made the increase 33 per cent. So far that was favourable to the principle of reduction. But, at the same time, notwithstanding the great increase of consumption, the revenue would be very much diminished—a consequence which might be avoided by opening our ports to the markets of the world. What was the practical result of that alteration? It improved the value of free-labour sugar, but it improved the value of slave-labour sugar at the same time. The arguments used against throwing 1495 open the trade was, therefore, at an end; for it appeared that the effect had been to stimulate the price of slave-grown, to discourage which was the professed object of the opposition to a more enlarged commercial policy. He therefore hoped, that next Session the right hon. Baronet would come forward and throw open all the markets of the world to British commerce. There now remained no pretext for refusing to do that. The other point to which he (Mr. Moffatt) referred, was one which had not at all received the attention of the House. He alluded to our trade with India and China. They were all aware of the advantageous results expected from the Treaty which Sir Henry Pottinger had effected, but they had not considered how these advantages were to be realized. Our trade with China, as compared with that of the last ten years, had increased 300 per cent. How were the Chinese to pay or to meet this increase of trade but by the article of tea? The Chinese had set us a liberal and wise example by throwing open their ports at a small rate of duty. They charged upon our importations only 10 per cent. duty, while we levied upon their tea a duty of 200 per cent. That was a system not calculated to maintain or extend our trade in that quarter. We have had in this country an increase in importations to the extent of 34 per cent. But how had consumption been forced? By a large depreciation of price at the cost of the import merchant. The consumption might, by a reduction of duty, be legitimately increased, to the advantage of the revenue and the benefit of the community. He trusted that these subjects would receive the attention of Her Majesty's Government during the recess.
said, that he thought, from the attention which had been given to the practical observations of the hon. Member for Dartmouth, that the hon. Member for Kent might satisfy himself that he was not, as he had said, out of place when he departed from his usual strain in giving the House useful information. The hon. Member for Kent should not either think that when he referred to such matters as the subsistence of the people, that he was stating anything foreign to practical Christianity. He apologized to the House for his allusion to the prospect of the harvest offered in the county of Kent. He would excuse him if he said that to this House and to the country, that 1496 part of his speech would have a far greater interest than his reference to his peculiar religious views, and that when he would give the House information connected with this subject, as he learnt them in his county, he would always command the attention of the House. He had stated a very important fact to the House, peculiarly so at this moment. He told them that the wheat was very generally blighted in Kent—a fact worthy the notice of the right hon. Secretary of State, who was at a loss to discover how anybody could feel anxious about the harvest. The right hon. Secretary wondered where the noble Lord had been living; he thought on the top of the Surrey hills, where, enveloped in some mist, the noble Lord had fancied that the harvest of this year might be deficient. Why, he might ask in return, where the right hon. Gentleman had been living, or what he had been reading of late? He should have thought that if he had communicated with any person in the street, or had read any of the ordinary organs of information, he might have explained the fears expressed by the noble Lord, for he would venture to say, that it was the universal topic of discussion at this moment in the country—that no two people met without exchanging their apprehensions on the subject; and that peculiar uneasiness was felt in consequence of the weather for the last few days. And why should the right hon. Gentleman be surprised when he repeated to-night what he said before, that one of the greatest curses that could befall the people, would be a bad harvest? By which he meant that an insufficient supply of food in the present state of the country, was one of the severest inflictions of Heaven. With those opinions of the right hon. Gentleman, which probably differed from those of some of his friends, why should he not think it worthy of thought, and why had he not met the grounds on which the noble Lord rested his fears, by some assurance that they were baseless? "If the right hon. Gentleman has no fear on this subject, he must have exclusive information. Why does he not communicate it—why does he not tell us that a bad harvest, with which we have been visited so frequently, will not recur? It is all important to the country, on account of that policy which places this country in the critical position of depending upon the hazards and accidents of a season in this small portion of the globe; and as this is the condition which at this time of the year we 1497 are always placed in, and as it is wholly unnecessary, it does become intimately connected with any review of the proceedings of a Session to learn if anything has been done to relieve the country from so precarious a dependence. The right hon. Gentleman and the Government seem to be perfectly alive to the evils now which follow from dearness and scarcity; they are consequently alive to the blessings which attend the failure of the Corn Law. We are fresh from the experience of that law having failed in its purpose in raising price by limiting quantity; and the right hon. Gentlemen has been clear and complete in his acknowledgment of the great blessing which has attended that failure. The right hon. Gentleman has declared to this House that since food has been cheap and abundant, he had to congratulate the country upon everything which he would most desire to see—the people were contented, the country prosperous, and a great diminution of all those ills, moral and social, incident to a densely peopled country, which extend so fearfully when the usual disturbance occurs which attends dearness and scarcity. He admits that this has followed upon a good harvest. Is it unreasonable to ask if he expects that we shall always be blessed with a good harvest, and if not, if he has taken any precaution to prevent a scarcity of supply, the result of a bad one?" They were about then to separate with a perfect knowledge of the came of past suffering and present prosperity—with a belief that the cause of prosperity was accidental, and with as perfect a conviction, he believed, that such prosperity need not depend upon accident; that their impolitic meddling with the trade was the occasion of all the doubt and danger that existed at this time. He had often complained at that season of the year of the House separating without doing anything to place the trade in food upon a solid steady footing; but never did he think it so entirely reasonable to do so as he did this year. Never was the experience so complete—never was the opportunity so good, of changing the law—never were the principles on which that law was rested more thoroughly discredited—never had measures based on the opposite principles been so completely successful. Circumstances and opinion had alike called for the change; and it was fair matter of observation and reproach, at the end of the Session, that nothing had been done towards it. He did not hesitate to say, that if all the measures 1498 that had been carried this Session had been postponed, and the community provided with something like security for a constant adequate supply of food, that more would have been done for the future happiness and prosperity of the country; and he would go further and say, that if the evil of a bad harvest were to occur again, that nothing that had been done of a beneficial kind during the Session, would be felt or appreciated; and he would apply that particularly to those great public works which they had been so assiduously engaged about this Session. And why had they been engaged in them? Why did they hear of so many? Simply because the people were prosperous, because there was a large available surplus of capital, because the annual income of the country was larger this year than it had been for years past. "But all these works being accomplished depend upon the continuance of prosperity; and if anything should occur to disturb our credit, or disturb our economical arrangements in this country, which invariably follows when the harvest is bad, then, I say, nothing but loss, and ruin, and suffering will attend those who have embarked in them; and it is well worthy the notice of those who have contributed to those schemes, that there is no instance where the price of food has risen, arising from deficient supply, that such undertakings have not been among the first to feel it and to suffer from it. To these works to which we have been giving our sanction, we have been showing our faith and respect for the principle of competition. There is not a line of railway that has been proposed, that might not be opposed on the same grounds that the proprietors of this country oppose competition in the market with their produce; and yet so little faith have we in monopoly when it does not profit some favoured interest, that let but any rival line show that the public can be served cheaper and better by a competition, and legislative sanction is instantly given to it." The proprietors of the country asked of that House to make them an exception to this principle; and they on that side asked why they should be excepted? How were they different from all other men? How had they shown that they ought to be trusted? Had they not frequently left the public deficient—had they proved that they had taken the best means that they should be properly supplied? Had they proved that those under them were happy and contented? 1499 or had they recommended their system by any one circumstance? They were, however, to be excepted. He then asked of the Minister, with his views of the evils of deficient supply, what steps he had taken to prevent the recurrence of that calamity? They took the supply of food out of the natural operations of commerce. What did they substitute? "The Government support their party in this exclusive privilege of supplying the people with food. Have they taken any security that they will do it adequately? Can they give the country any assurance that what has happened before will not recur? Do they know that everything which skilful husbandry can accomplish has been done; that they are by common consent dealing with their properties in the manner most likely to produce an abundant supply of food? And if they do not, how can they justify the system? The public are well supplied with everything in which the law does not interfere. The case which we make is, that the same would happen with regard to food if commerce was allowed to be free. The case of the advocates of perfect free trade was, that the merchants, manufacturers, the capitalists of this country, would prove at the bar of the House that they could, by their united energies, supply this community with food as cheaply and plentifully as it was possible to be done. You trust them in everything else, you mistrust them when you don't succeed in any system you substitute, and when it is all-important there should be success." He said that their course was more dangerous now were it pursued, than it had been before, and one which could not with safety be persevered in. In former times, Governments had defended vigorously this system of protection. They deemed it essential, they fostered every prejudice connected with it, confirmed every fallacy, and encouraged the ignorance by which it was maintained, and they were consistent in their measures accordingly; but the present Ministry had done just the contrary—they had left nothing undone to prove the hollowness of their own principles of protection; they had introduced competition in everything else, and had declared themselves favourable to the application of that principle in everything but food; they had, in short, stripped the principle of protection of all its pretences of even indirect good, and had left it in full force where it was most severely tried, and where its failure was most fatal to the people. "Let it also be remembered that when the disasters of a bad harvest 1500 recur, that there will then be no mode of accounting for the ills it brings with it by any of those idle fallacies which have appeased the people before. The people have been taught by experience how false and hollow are all the things put forth to divert their minds from the real cause of their misery before. It will be impossible to tell the people that it was over-production that deprived them of employment, or too much machinery, or an over issue of money, or the cupidity of manufacturers, or the inability of exporting to foreign countries. They have seen that with the increase of all these things—more machinery than ever, more production than ever, more money than ever, more manufactures and more wealth accumulated, more hostile tariffs than ever—yet they have had better wages, more employment, and are generally in a better condition than before; and that there is no way of accounting for the improvement but by the restoration of our internal commerce and our usual consumption, and all the arrangements for production consequent upon the abundant harvests that we have had for two seasons past." He said, then, that when a period of distress recurred, from deficient food, that the causes of this mischief would be obvious to the humblest man, and that, therefore, the responsibility would be fixed much more distinctly upon a few than it had been before. A poor consolation to those who suffered; but it ought to be surely a matter of serious consideration for the political majorities of the two Houses of Legislature, that to them the public would justly turn as the authors of their calamity, in persisting in a course of which they had been so frequently forewarned and counselled against. He knew no persons who would have to share that responsibility with them but the electors of those great towns who, holding the franchise in trust for the non-electors, had preferred obeying the orders or pandering to the objects of the rich, rather than extending justice and protection to the poor and the powerless; and they would and must be, upon any occasion of confusion, justly and indignantly reproached for their breach of trust in returning Members to that House who, to serve the interests of a favoured class, impeded the commerce and restricted the supply of the people's food.
§ Mr. Milner Gibson
, would venture to doubt whether any oppression which it fell to the lot of the Irish to suffer, whether any infraction of the civil rights of any portion of the Empire, was greater than 1501 the oppression practised upon this country by those who supported the Corn Law monopoly. The question of the Corn Laws was not second in importance to any question of civil liberty and equality in Ireland. It stood before them as a question in which the civil rights of the people of this country were concerned, and was a question very seriously involving their happiness and prosperity. Bills on physic and surgery, Bills for education and religion, were important in themselves, but the food of the people was the first and most urgent subject for their consideration. If they opened to the people of this country the markets of the world, they would educate themselves, and all the blessings which were anticipated from education would follow; but if they thought that they could elevate the moral condition of the people, while their physical condition was depressed, they laboured under a great error. As to the coming harvest, the anticipations regarding it gave rise to reflections which bore not on the present moment so particularly as on the whole policy of the system of the Corn Laws. A foreign corn trade was a legitimate pursuit, and the Government had no right to throw any obstacle or hindrance in its way. The present Corn Laws were most especially pernicious, because they were most calculated to prevent their having large stocks of corn held by capitalists, which would be their resource in the event of a bad harvest. Under a free trade in corn, they would have large stocks of corn held by merchants, who would receive corn as a regular commercial return; and the country would thus have a palliative and remedy for a deficient harvest. As to the article of indigo, they had in hand what was equal to a year's consumption, if there should be a sufficient supply; but what was their stock of corn? They had six days' consumption in bond. This was the state of things; and, for the purpose of making corn-growing more profitable to a certain class in this country, they persevered in what he must call a shabby and mean system. It was a humiliating thing to find the leading gentry in this country supporting a principle by which the people of this country were precluded from buying their food at any shop but their own, and telling them that this system was grounded on reasons of State policy. The Corn Laws were maintained for the purpose of swelling the emoluments of those who held land, at the expense of those who did not, and for 1502 preventing the manufacturer and the merchant from competing with the agriculturist; they were nothing but a monopoly, of an oppressive, a mean, unjust, and a shabby character. He was neither for fixed duties nor sliding scales, and he hoped that no time would be lost in abolishing entirely the duty on corn. The Corn Laws could not be maintained on the ground that they were necessary for State policy. The hon. Gentleman concluded by cautioning hon. Gentlemen opposite against telling the farmers that they had pledges from Ministers that the Corn Laws would be maintained. The Government were perfectly free to repeal the Corn Law next Session if they should choose to do so.
§ Mr. Darby
said, that if the hon. Gentlemen begged of them not to go down to the country and say that the Government had pledged themselves to maintain the Corn Laws, he would, in return, request the hon. Gentleman not to say that Government did intend to alter the Corn Laws. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton said, he hoped the Ministers would declare their thoughts on this subject. He should have thought that the hon. Gentleman did not want to be enlightened on it. The hon. Gentleman dealt a great deal in prophecy, but he had never known one of his prophecies to turn out true. The hon. Gentleman frequently declared in 1841, that trade would never revive in consequence of the Corn Laws; whereas now he told them that capital was never so abundant, that production was never so great, and that steam engines were never so busy. Yet all this was done in the face of the Corn Law. The hon. Gentleman talked of the quantity of corn in bond, and made the starvation of the country depend on it; but he would ask the hon. Gentleman if he had ascertained the quantity in the country—did he know the quantity of free stock and the quantity of home-grown corn in the country at the present moment? The hon. Gentleman knew nothing of the subject, and he only hoped he would not alarm the country by his speech. He also had the pleasure of telling the hon. Gentleman that the glass was for some days rising. He had, he regretted to say, seen a sort of fiendish delight on the part of some at the bad weather. If they were to have bad weather, they must meet it with becoming resignation; but he could only pity those who rejoiced in it as a means of carrying out 1503 their views with respect to the Corn Laws. His opinion was that, with bad harvests, this country would be ten times worse without the Corn Law than with it. Were it not for the Corn Law, such a breadth of wheat would not be sown in the country as was sown last year. He believed that merchants had been purchasing homegrown corn under the operation of those laws. In spite of the rain and the bad weather, corn was not so dear as the hon. Gentleman would have wished. If the views of the hon. Gentlemen had been carried out, the prospects of the country would be ten times worse than at present.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, that he was sure that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton most sincerely prayed that all the arguments which he could adduce in support of his views, with respect to the Corn Laws, might not derive fearful corroboration from the calamities which would be inflicted upon the country by a bad harvest. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had been seconded in all his efforts by a cycle of good harvests. He agreed with hon. Gentlemen who asserted that the Corn Laws were matters of paramount importance. Ireland, although the land of difficulty, should not entirely end gross the attention of the House. His noble Friend commenced with Ireland, and terminated with Ireland. That was not unnatural, because Ireland was a subject which pressed upon every public man, an exclusive subject of consideration not unfrequently in the Cabinet; and he was sure that there was no subject which engaged the solicitude of the right hon. Gentleman opposite more than Ireland, which did not now, however, present as pleasing a prospect as he could desire to have offered to his contemplation. He was not at that late hour of the night going into all the topics which had been adverted to by his noble Friend. But there was a measure of the Government to which he felt it his duty to advert, and it did the greatest credit to the Government that they passed it, and he trusted that they would make it a model measure. It was a measure which Her Majesty's Government might take as a pattern by which their future legislation in respect to Ireland should be regulated. It was a measure valuable in itself, and more so in view of the results to which it was likely to lead. With respect to their measure for academic instruction, he did not set the same value upon it as he did upon the Maynooth Bill. It 1504 would turn out not to be so satisfactory to the people of Ireland. The Government should have consulted the Catholic bishops, before they determined upon it; and he would take that occasion to tell them, that as long as they allowed Trinity College to remain in the enjoyment of a prosperity connected with Protestant ascendancy, so long would the Irish people be discontented with any system of education which the Government might devise, and so long would a suspicion of the intentions of the Government be entertained by the Catholics of Ireland. He had no doubt that the Academic Bill had been conceived by the Government from the very best motives, and with the very best objects in view; but he did not think that their intentions in this respect had been as prosperous in their execution as they were beneficial in their original design. They were opposed, as to that measure by the Catholic clergy of Ireland, and he was much afraid that their opposition would continue. He would now say a few words only upon the Registration Bill, not so much for the purpose of retrospective condemnation, as for the purpose of suggesting the course which, in his opinion, the Government should in future adopt. The registry in Ireland had almost disappeared. It was becoming "fine by degrees, and beautifully less." In the county of Tipperary, with its large population, the registry had fallen down to the small number of 4,000. In Waterford, with a population of 150,000, the registry did not exceed 500. And how had this state of things been brought about? Why, because the Government had kept the people in suspense on the subject ever since they had come into office. Men were careless or indifferent on account of this very suspense about the registry, because no man was sure that, after having placed himself upon it, his vote would remain upon the registry. These were great evils, and if the right hon. Baronet told his friends before he came into office, to "register, register, register," he must say that he should give them—his political antagonists—the opportunity of applying also that great instrument, of the effects of which the right hon. Baronet had had, so far as he himself was concerned, so favourable an experience. It was intimated that the object of the Bill in contemplation would be to put the two countries upon a footing of equality. Did that mean that the Government had it in contemplation to restore the 40s. franchise in fee? They contemplated formerly a 5l. franchise; that was a 1505 part of their former project. Such a franchise did not exist here. He did not want a restoration of the 40s. freehold for life in Ireland, for that was impracticable. What he wished to see established was a 40s. freehold in fee. If they were ready to give the Irish a franchise, embracing 5l. in fee, why not, on the same principle, give them one embracing a 40s. freehold in fee? Suppose a man had land worth 40s. for ever, and built a house upon that land, why should not that man have a vote? By giving such a franchise to Ireland, all the difficulties which arose from the 40s. freehold, as it formerly existed, would be set at rest. The Chandos Clause was to be deprecated. If they gave the tenant at will a vote, the tenant would, in times of tranquillity, be the mere slave and tool of the landlord; and in times of insurrection and disturbance, he would he found a fitting instrument for increasing confusion and perpetrating strife. They had it in their power to induce the landlords to make leases, by depriving the landlords who did not of a variety of advantages which he now enjoyed in the enforcement of rent. He believed that there was at one time an intention, on the part of the Commissioners, who investigated into the relations subsisting between landlords and tenants in Ireland, to recommend that the landlords be compelled to make leases. This they afterwards abandoned, thinking that it would be too great an infringement of the rights of property. If they took away the power of distress from the landlord—if they required him to give one or two years to quit—if they made him liable to account with his tenant, when improvements had been made upon his property, they would thereby embarrass tenancy at will to such an extent, that they would hold out the strongest inducements to the landlord to grant leases. Almost all the evils of Ireland arose from the one source of insecurity of tenure. He thought that to destroy this source by having leases granted for thirty-one years, would remedy half the evils to which the country was now subject. If leases for thirty-one years were adopted, the tenant would have the advantage of the capital, which he might employ in improvements, for a just and reasonable time, at the expiration of which period there need be no account with the landlord, much good would result; but if they adopted instead, the system recommended and proposed by Lord Stanley, 1506 they would do nothing but introduce fresh elements of confusion, which would assuredly add to the calamities of Ireland. He took the liberty of making these suggestions, with a view to the proper fashioning of the Bill, which the Government had it in contemplation, as it appeared, to introduce next Session. Ireland had reason to expect much from the Government, for they had made announcements with respect to the government of Ireland of the most important character. Indeed there were acknowledgments, if not promises, made by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, which might be regarded as great political events. He had declared that it was of the utmost importance to conciliate Ireland—that Ireland could not be governed by force—and that in Ireland the efficacy of the trial by jury was not to be relied upon. These declarations on the part of the right hon. Baronet he regarded as equivalent to measures, because they were declarations which must be followed up. How were they to be followed up? He thought that it was a great misfortune to the present Government, and one of the chief sources, perhaps, of their difficulties, that eight millions of the people of Ireland were entirely beyond the pale of the patronage of the Crown. The patronage of the Church, and the patronage of the State, did not exercise any great influence over the great mass of the people of Ireland—600,000l. of the public property circulated amongst the Protestant ecclesiastics of the country. The patronage of the State was monopolized by the same class as monopolized the patronage of the Church. That was not the case under the predecessors in office of Her Majesty's present advisers. The patronage of the State was then distributed between Catholics and Protestants. Under the former Government they had a Catholic Chief Baron, a Catholic Master of the Rolls, a Catholic Attorney and Solicitor General, a Catholic Vice President of the Board of Trade—they had Catholic Lords of the Treasury—and several of the great offices in Ireland were filled by Catholics. In addition to this, the minor patronage of the Crown in Ireland was widely diffused between the adherents of the two creeds, and produced a signally beneficial operation upon the country. But what was the case now—what was the course pursued by the present Government? He did not find that a single individual, with the exception of his learned Friend Mr. Sergeant Howley, 1507 a man of the highest merit, with this exception, he did not find that a single Roman Catholic had in Ireland been promoted to a situation of importance. An office at the disposal of Government, connected with the Board of Bequests, had been given to a Catholic, it was true; but that could scarcely be adduced as an exception to his charge. He now called upon the Government to fulfil the engagements into which they entered when they came into office—those engagements which they solemnly contracted when they said that between the Protestant and Catholic an equality should be maintained. Indeed, he believed that he was not misrepresenting the language of the right hon. Baronet opposite, when he reminded the House that the right hon. Baronet said, that if a Catholic and a Protestant were candidates for the same office in Ireland, he would prefer the Catholic. How had that declaration been carried out? It was to but a very small body of the Irish people that their patronage extended. He defied the right hon. Gentleman to contend that his declaration had been carried out; for the whole practice of the present Government with regard to State patronage in Ireland had been in direct opposition to it. Reference had been made to the ecclesiastical institutions of the country. He lamented the decision to which the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had come with respect to the Established Church in Ireland. Any man who looted at Ireland at the present moment, and saw the agitation, which had not yet subsided—the monster meetings, which were but the symptoms of the distemper, had ceased it was true, but the distemper itself was as virulent and active as ever—must most deeply lament the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman. He said nothing, however, on the important point of the conciliation of the Catholic clergy. He (Mr. Sheil) thought that there were means, which might be readily adopted, by which the State might expend money for the purposes of the Church, and yet preserve the independence of the clergy. He saw no difficulty in the Government granting money for the purpose of building churches, for purchasing glebes, and erecting glebe houses, nor did he see any in giving proper dignity and rank to the Catholic clergy. It was deeply to be deplored that the Government, when engaged with the Maynooth measure, did not make it larger than it was. They would not then have found that they would have had any more 1508 difficulties to encounter in carrying the measure—which he would not, on the whole, call a small one, but which, he contended, might and should have been made much larger—than they experienced with it in its present shape. The right hon. Baronet was conscious of all the difficulties with which he was beset; he ought also to be aware of the many and great advantages with which he was surrounded. In addition to the power which he could command upon other points, he possessed great power upon Irish questions, from the assistance and sustainment which he received from hon. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House. He must also be aware of the circumstances which conspired to make him almost, as to these questions, omnipotent. Let him remember how the Catholic question was carried. It was carried by the impracticability of forming what was then called a Protestant Cabinet. In this respect the right hon. Gentleman was now in a similar situation to that in which the Government was placed in 1829. If he had determined to bring forward a larger measure of conciliation, and his party had abandoned him in so doing, and he and the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department had resigned office together upon the subject, he (Mr. Sheil) believed that it would have been found impossible to form a Government on the principle opposed to that upon which the right hon. Gentleman had retired. That was their great source of strength, and they should have boldly and manfully acted upon it. Not long ago the right hon. Gentleman said that there was no sacrifice which he was not prepared to make for Ireland, with a view to confer peace and tranquillity upon that distracted country. He (Mr. Sheil) wanted no sacrifice of principle on the part of the right hon. Gentleman—he would exact no self-immolation from him. All that he wanted at the right hon. Baronet's hands was justice to Ireland, in its broad and legitimate sense, and that he should, in measuring out that justice to her, introduce measures to Parliament of which the failure would not be discreditable, and of which the success would be attended with the most beneficial results.
§ Motion agreed to.