HC Deb 03 February 1846 vol 83 cc441-9

rose to move for— 1. Copy of the Warrant, or other document of authority, by which H. S. Chapman, Esq., Assistant Commissioner under the Commission appointed to inquire into the condition of the Hand-loom Weavers, and acting in that capacity in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1838, was afterwards appointed Chief Judge of the Supreme Court at Wellington, in New Zealand, in 1843. 2. Papers relative to Tariff's published in the United States, and presented in pursuance of an Address of the 18th of July, 1828, viz.: Copy of a Despatch from H. U. Addington, Esq., to Mr. Secretary Canning, dated Washington, May 30, 1824, and of Mr. Vaughan to Viscount Dudley, dated Washington, August 13, 1827, with other Inclosures. In moving for those returns he begged to state most distinctly that he had no notion of doing so in a spirit of hostility towards Mr. Chapman. It was due to that gentleman, who had received the highest testimonials from the Judge-Advocate, from the hon. Member for Liskeard, the hon. Member for Cumberland, the hon. Member for Bath, the hon. Member for Westminster, and other friends of his, to state that he believed the noble Lord the late Secretary for the Colonies was perfectly justified in the appointment he had made. But he was justified in bringing forward his present Motion, because in the report which Mr. Chapman had made when he was Commissioner under the Commission issued to inquire into the Condition of the Hand-loom Weavers in 18,38, there were errors—errors of so serious a kind that it was quite impossible to pass them over. For instance, he had said, in speaking of the price of wheat from the year 1800 to 1815, that it was above 80s., not unfrequently 100s., and that in the few following years after 1800 it approached 125s., whilst in 1802 it was but 67s.; in 1803, 57s. 1d.; and in 1804, 60s. 5d. In 1814 and 1815, Mr. Chapman said that wheat at that period was rather less dear. Now, what he called rather less dear, was 75 per cent. less. But as most of that gentleman's calculations were drawn from the year 1800, he would pass to that period, which was the most remarkable in the annals of this country, it having been the last year in which there was the visitation of famine. In that year there was a Report from a Committee of the House of Commons, presented on the 12th February, in which the Committee express regret at the mistaken application of charity, in the distribution of flour and bread to the poor at a very reduced price, which too free distribution, it was feared, would have the effect of increasing the inconvenience of the deficiency in the past year's crop. In the same year there was a Committee of the House, before which Mr. Claude Scott, a corn-merchant, was examined. The following was the opinion of that gentleman:— I think generally the supply will be moderate; the crops in general abroad have not been very productive, and in some parts, where we usually look for supplies, the exportation has lately been prohibited—I mean the Prussian provinces bordering on the Elbe. Our principal sources of supply may be looked for this year from the Baltic, and chiefly from Poland; for the produce of the harvest in the Prussian provinces bordering on the Baltic has been unusually bad, and the quality very light and inferior. A considerable quantity may be looked for from Poland, if there is no obstruction to its passage to the shipping ports. I have no means of judging the precise quantity from that part, but I hope it will be considerable, for the high prices in Great Britain will be the means of bringing all they can spare. The King of Prussia has already prohibited the export of all other grain but wheat, and it is apprehended that prohibition may be extended to wheat, particularly in the event of a further advance in the prices in Great Britain, which might create an alarm in those countries. Some quantity of wheat may also be expected fram Russia, but I have no means of ascertaining how much. The exportation of corn is strictly prohibited from Holland, Flanders, and France. The whole of the supplies which were then conveyed to this country was at an expense of not less than 20,000,000l. He next begged to draw the attention of the House to an extract from a Cabinet Order of the King of Prussia, dated Sept, 12, 1801:— With respect to taking off the new duty on wheat, I do not see that the country can suffer from its continuance to the end of this year, as the shipments of the present calendar year cannot continue much longer; the threshing out of the wheat will not be finished before the end of the current year, and therefore the supply to the seaport towns can only begin with the month of January next year. It is the fault of the merchant himself if he has encumbered himself with a larger stock than he could send to England before the 1st of October, as he is sure of a good price to that time; and the new measure of the English Government for reducing the bounty, having occasioned an unnatural rise in the prices of the best wheats, will make up to him in price what he would otherwise have received in bounty. Under these circumstances I consider it so much the more advisable to postpone the taking off the duty on wheat till the month of December, as we shall then be able to judge with more certainty whether the report of an unusually abundant wheat harvest in England is founded or not, and regulate our measures accordingly. Should the prices in England continue to that time between 50s. and 60s. per quarter, the duty shall then be taken off; and shall only be continued in full if they rise again to 80s. to 90s.; should they in this period rise something less than this last-mentioned price, the duty can be modified accordingly. An avowal such as this ought not to be lightly thrown aside. The Member for Durham, and others who acted with him, were of opinion that the King of Prussia had a right to do as he pleased with his corn; but he thought that the Parliament of England would do well to recollect that five-and-forty years had passed since the people of this country had been visited with famine. They had since that time been carried through strange vicissitudes, and supported mainly from the produce of that soil the decay of which they might lament when it was too late, and the hurt of which the Executive Government of the country, as if in league with the League, viewed apparently with feelings of indifference, if not altogether determined to destroy. He would pass from that question to another, on another document included in his Motion: he meant the Papers published in the United States in pursuance of an Address of the 18th July, 1828. His object in moving for those Papers was to show a most deliberate delusion, and mischievous perversion, by a person holding a situation of authority under a Government appointment. The letter for which he would first call would be the copy of a despatch from Mr. H. U. Addington to Mr. Canning, dated at Washington, on the 30th of May, 1824, and detailing in the fullest manner the conflict of feelings displayed by every description of party in the United States. Nothing could be more comprehensive than that letter, and there was the remarkable fact that neither Mr. Addington nor Sir Charles Vaughan made any particular allusion to corn as being mentioned in it, but spoke of the articles alluded to as Swedish iron, hammered iron, and bar iron, corn having been in fact hardly ever mentioned. The concluding paragraph of Mr. Addington's letter was as follows:— I have only to add, that had no restrictions on the importations of foreign grain existed in Europe generally, and especially in Great Britain, I have little doubt that the Tariff would never have passed through either house of Congress, since the great agricultural States, and Pennsylvania especially, the main mover of the question, would have been indifferent, if not opposed to its enactment. Such was the version of Mr. Addington—now take the construction of Mr. Chapman, "That our Corn Laws were an apology for the hostile tariffs of other nations required no proof." ["Hear!"] Hon. Members cried "hear." Let them "hear" by all means. Mr. Chapman added, that it would suffice to allude to the note written by the British Minister at Washington (Mr. Addington), to Mr. Canning, in which he had said that he had only to add, that if no restrictions upon the importation of foreign corn had existed in Great Britain, the Tariff would never have passed through either house of Congress, since the agricultural States, and especially Pennsylvania, would have been indifferent, if not opposed to it—thus erasing from the passage all that had reference to other parts of Europe, except Great Britain, and all that had to do with other articles of commerce, and opinion, except corn, and leaving the extract to stand in that position as if the entire allusion had been to this country alone. He (Mr. Wodehouse) had a conversation with the late Sir Charles Bagot on the subject, and another with Sir Stratford Canning. He had the honour of having had many communications also with that distinguished diplomatist, Lord Heytesbury—never had the honour to have one with Lord Clarendon. He believed, however, that all would concur in the feeling that there never was a stratagem more unworthy of any man who held the station of a gentleman. He would next call the attention of the House to matters that had taken place before the Import Duties Committee, in 1840. The Chairman of the Committee, the Member for Montrose, appeared, during the whole time it was sitting, to have been brewing his celebrated peroration to the Report. The hon. Member having read the peroration, in which the expression "the whole family of nations" occurred, observed, that a gentleman who sat with the whole family of nations in his lap might well be excused. The hon. Member proceeded to read extracts from the evidence given by Mr. Smith, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Manchester, who had quoted from the letter of Mr. Addington, as published. But he (Mr. Wodehouse) was not aware that any publication of that letter existed, with the exception of the deliberate forgery of the commission which he had read. The hon. Member then read the resolution passed at a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce in Manchester, and extracts from the proceedings, including a vote of thanks to Dr. Bowring for the active part he had taken, and the services he had rendered the cause of free trade, especially for the interesting statement he had made on the subject of the German League. The hon. Member also read the address which had been moved by Mr. Cobden, and passed, and which contained the following allusions to the letter of Mr. Addington:— That this meeting having heard with the deepest interest the able address just delivered by Dr. Bowring upon the subject of our commercial relations with the States comprising the German League, earnestly invites public attention to the incontrovertible evidence thus afforded, that the Governments and people of Germany are desirous of exchanging their productions for the commodities of this country, proving from undoubted authority that we are prevented solely by our restrictive laws from embracing the manifold advantages offered to us. There was incontrovertible evidence that that paragraph was altogether false, and the right hon. Baronet blamed them for not backing up these Gentlemen who used it as if it were true. The hon. Member for Bolton (Dr. Bowring) had written upon the same subject to Lord Palmerston. That hon. Gentleman had played a distinguished part in Egypt; but he (Mr. Wodehouse) had received information upon that subject, as to the appearance of the hon. Gentleman when there. The interpreter could hardly keep from laughing. He had the information from a source on which he could implicitly rely, It was from a friend—from a particular friend—a person on whom reliance could be placed. The friend was a lady—a married lady. She was not an actual eye-witness, so there could be no doubt of the authenticity of the information; and she assured him (Mr. Wodehouse) that those who saw the learned Gentleman now in every-day life beheld him shorn of his beams. If hon. Gentlemen had only seen him as she saw him, with a large straw hat, nearly as big as the clerk's table, a full flowing beard and moustaches; and—for the best was yet to come—with a pair of wide Circassian trousers—The hon. Member begged to add one word more in reference to the opinion of Dr. Harding, to whom was committed the examination into the state of the hand-loom weavers in the east of Scotland. Dr. Harding expressed himself thus:— The only remedy universally, and often exclusively, suggested by the weavers and their employers, is the gradual, but ultimately total, repeal of the present Corn Laws. I have already stated the means by which it is supposed that their operation is peculiarly injurious to the hand-loom weavers; but it by no means follows that their repeal would be as beneficial as their enactment is supposed to have been injurious. Notwithstanding the excitement and the prejudices existing amongst the weavers on this subject (which are not a little encouraged and fostered by its political bearing, and the efforts of itinerant orators), the most intelligent are aware that if such repeal should have a very injurious effect on the agricultural interest, this effect will ultimately be felt by themselves; and it is from a great increase of the demand for textile manufactures on the part of those countries which, in the event of such repeal, would supply us with corn, that they expect a certain and considerable gain. How far any such increased demand might be checked by the commercial regulations of foreign Governments, influenced by a desire of what is called 'protecting' their own manufactures from British competition—how far the repeal of these laws might affect the value of money, or the prosperity of other classes of the community, under existing circumstances, it must, of course, be for the wisdom of the Legislature to consider. He did not wish to occupy the time of the House, and he would, therefore, at once conclude by moving for the Papers.


said, that as the hon. Gentleman had distinguished him by his personal allusions, the House would allow him to say a few words. And, first, he would assure the hon. Member that the lady whom he had quoted had—no doubt with that knowledge of character for which ladies are remarkable—drawn very largely upon his credulity, and amused him with an oriental tale. That tale he seemed eagerly to have believed, and its romantic parts the more readily. Now, he would tell the hon. Gentleman what was true in the story—and it was true that he had discussed the subject of the Corn Laws with the Pacha of Egypt. It was true that the Pacha had defended his corn laws with as much, perhaps more, talent than the hon. Gentleman had exhibited in the maintenance of his own. Mahomet Ali fancied that he could regulate prices by legislation—provide food for his people by restrictions—and advantageously interfere between demand and supply by his own sovereign will. But he failed as others have failed. While residing at Cairo, with a commercial commission from the British Government, strong representations were made to him (Dr. Bowring) on the subject of the Pacha's decrees, which ordered that corn, beans, and bread, should be sold only on such and such terms. But neither farmers nor bakers would obey—the bazaars were left without grain—the shops had no supplies of bread—the more rigid and severe the ordinances for lowering prices, the higher those prices mounted. Famine menaced the city—the people were on the verge of insurrection. In such a state he had undertaken to be the organ of the public voice to the ruler of Egypt, and to represent to him, that however benevolent his intentions, his decrees were fearfully augmenting the alarm and the misery, and would infallibly lead to extensive and enduring distress. He told the Pacha that the causes which led to the rise and fall of prices were, for the most part, beyond the control even of the mightiest monarch, and that the only way to secure ample supplies at moderate rates was to remove all impediments to the ingress and egress of food; that prices would best regulate themselves; and that by allowing them to mount upwards was the certain means of bringing corn to the market. And it was his good fortune to persuade the Pacha of the correctness of these opinions, and to induce him to withdraw the decrees which interfered with the freedom of the trade in grain. The consequences were what he had ventured to foretell. Abundance succeeded to dearth—an ample supply poured into the markets, and the Pacha acknowledged that the advice proffered to him had been sound and wise. The hon. Member had referred somewhat disparagingly to his reports on our commercial relations with the north of Europe. They stated, what he (Dr. Bowring) now repeated, that had our Government been willing and able to repeal the Corn Laws some years ago, important advantages might have been obtained for our manufactures in the markets of Germany. But nothing would then persuade the hon. Gentleman and his friends to make any such concessions, and the opportunity was lost. The Ministry of that day, whatever their wishes might have been, was altogether helpless in the matter; Parliament would not place in their hands the power to treat for any advantages which were to be purchased by the more free admission of foreign corn. Could this have been done, a vast field would have been opened to British industry. It was closed against us by the pertinacity of the protectionist party. But a better era had arrived. He offered his humble but most hearty thanks to the right hon. Baronet, for having adopted wiser and better views. He had placed the question on more sound and solid ground than that of socking to convince other nations by arguments, showing that the protective system was pernicious to us and them. He said—and he (Dr. Bowring) was very grateful to him for saying it—that he was weary of those appeals to other Powers—that he was convinced our example should precede our negociations. He had thus taken away the sting from the allegations of strangers. When employed in those matters, he (Dr. Bowring) could answer many of the reasonings and many of the statistics of foreign protectionists; but he could never answer the arguments based on our own restrictive and prohibitory tariffs. If pointing out the defects and diseases of foreign commercial legislation, what could he reply to those who said "Physician! heal thyself?" Of what use was it to exhibit the blots and follies in the tariffs of others, when they were ready and able to retort upon him the greater blots and follies of our own? He looked forward now to better days. The expanse was widening. British commerce would make its way to general favour. Already from every country which had received the intelligence of the intentions of the Government, communications of the most promising character had arrived. We should be entering on a new era of prosperity. We were occupying our true position. We were giving a noble example—and when a country like this became a teacher of commercial wisdom, she was sure to find many and apt learners.

Motion agreed to.