§ Order for Committee read. On the Motion that the Speaker do now leave the Chair,
§ MR. P. MILES
said: Sir, I rise to move the Amendment of which I have given notice—That this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee.Not that I wish, Sir, to inflict upon you the tediousness of listening to a long debate, but because I consider this the most fitting time for taking the discussion on this question. I trust I shall approach the consideration of it calmly and dispassionately; and that no expressions of mine may tend to excite any angry feelings during the debate. This question is of too important a character—of too comprehensive details—to be treated on mere party grounds. It is a question in which every man in this country is interested, from the highest to the lowest—the merchant equally with the manufacturer, the landlord with the tenant, the operative with the 550 artisan. I trust that each one of them will give it his deepest consideration. I consider this question to be of far greater magnitude than the Reform Bill, because it involves a change of that policy which has been the ruling principle of this country from the earliest period of its history—under which it has attained to great eminence, and enjoyed a high degree of prosperity—a policy which all nations have long followed, and which all still continue to follow. Whether the country be prepared for this great change—whether the constituencies are ready to grant their approval—remains yet to be proved. But I cannot hesitate to say that, on a question involving such vital interests, the country ought at least to be consulted. For undoubtedly the majority of the Members of the present House of Commons were elected on protection principles. Notwithstanding the explanations given by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government at the commencement of the Session, I cannot but agree in the expression which fell from this late noble Secretary for the Colonies, which I believe also expresses the opinions entertained by a majority of the right hon. Baronet's Colleagues — that there was no peculiar necessity for this measure—and that though undoubtedly there has occurred a failure in the potato crop in Ireland (a calamity which no one deplores more sincerely than I do), yet that there was no real ground for apprehending a famine in that country, for every report states that the barley and oat crops were large. From a Return lately presented to Parliament, I find, that between July 5, 1845, and Jan. 5, 1846, nearly a million of quarters of grain has been exported from that country, and more than a million of cwts. of meal. This does not look like a famine: that there was no apprehension of famine in this country, is, I think, proved by the fact, that at the time when the right hon. Baronet desired to open the ports, the price of wheat was only 56s. 2d. per quarter—the price which the right hon. Baronet considered in 1842 a fair price, and not over remunerative to the farmer. I trust that the House will not consider that I undervalue the responsibility of the Minister, or that I wish to taunt the right hon. Gentleman with being alarmed without a cause. I can well understand the anxiety attendant on the high office of Prime Minister; I can well imagine how such anxiety must be enhanced by the bare idea of famine, and 551 how he might be apt to neglect other duties to give to this engrossing subject his undistracted attention. I can well understand also the eagerness of a Lord Lieutenant, desirous not only of giving the first information on the subject of an expected scarcity, but of continuing his reports of all the intelligence he might be able to collect from different quarters, and from different parties. I admit that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government did read some alarming paragraphs on the first night of the Session, and which, I dare say, made a great impression upon him; but I think that when he was considering this question, he ought likewise to have considered the state of the markets in this country; for I believe there are no parties who watch the progress of the nation so closely, and who weigh so well the probable prospect of abundance or scarcity, as the leading corn merchants. And I say, that if all their reports had agreed in representing a great scarcity—if all parties had been unanimous on the subject—it is but expressing an opinion in which the farmers of England would all join, when I say, "Open the ports—admit all the produce you can—avert the horrors of famine, whatever may be the consequence!" But that there was no danger of famine at that time, I think there is ample evidence in the price of wheat. And when I consider that the Colleagues of the right hon. Baronet, who had equal means of judging of the probable chances of abundance and scarcity, declared the reports to have been exaggerated, and declined to open the ports—I cannot help thinking (without wishing to impute improper motives to the right hon. Baronet) that the cause of protection had been long doomed in his mind, and that the failure of the potato crop was but the extra impulse that sealed its fate. We are asked to look at the measure of the right hon. Baronet as a whole, and not in isolated parts; and it is, Sir, as a whole that I am prepared to give it my decided opposition. But when I say that, I do not mean to deny that there are some parts of it from which I think the country might derive a benefit. I bring this question forward, because I think that a moderate protection is due to native industry. I say "moderate protection;" for I have never advocated more than what was fair and just. I bring it forward, not on account of the agricultural interest only, but on account of all the interests of this country. 552 I cannot myself be said to belong to any particular interest; I am equally engaged in them all. I know the difficulty I encounter in bringing this question forward, and enforcing opinions which the right hon. Baronet has given up as unsound and "untenable," after maintaining them for thirty years. I remember well the ability he displayed in maintaining those arguments; and I can easily foresee the talent with which he will now controvert them. But I am not deterred from advocating this cause; and I am induced to encounter these difficulties, because I know that a large minority in this House, and a large and influential party—perhaps not a minority—out of this House, hold opinions on this question in accordance with my own; and I believe, that if I had asked, even less than three short months ago, when these measures were first proposed in the Cabinet—if I had asked many of the Members whom I now see sitting on this side, behind the Treasury benches, whether they were prepared to abandon all protective duties, and to vote for a repeal of the Corn Laws, and for free-trade measures, that scarcely an affirmative answer would have been returned. I feel, sure, Sir, that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton must have been astonished at his miraculous accession of adherents. May I presume to ask those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, whether they were meditating in the quiet of country life on the results of these last three years? Were they watching the progress of Ministerial convictions towards free trade — anticipating the final realisation of those opinions, and preparing to substitute them for their own? What the opinions were upon which these hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were elected, I know not—that is no affair of mine; I leave them to settle it with their constituents. I must say, for myself, however, that if my opinions had undergone such a change, I should have felt bound to follow the example of the noble Lord (Ashley) the late Member for Dorsetshire. My objection to these measures is, that I can see no termination to them; every succeeding Session brings greater changes. And I know, that if impartial justice is meted out to all, larger and greater changes yet must follow. I think I may venture further to say, that if these changes take place, the confidence of the country must eventually be shaken, as undoubtedly will be its confidence in public men. But the more I consider this question, the more I am convinced 553 that it ought not to be allowed to pass this Parliament, before the deliberate opinion of the country has been pronounced upon it. Sir, I cannot agree in the opinion expressed by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, that the prosperity we have enjoyed recently has been mainly produced by his measures. First, we must look to the state of affairs left by the noble Lord opposite, and the circumstances of the country at the accession to office of the right hon. Baronet. Great confidence was then reposed in the right hon. Gentleman. He had a strong majority in Parliament. The trade of the country was in a critical state—I may say, in the greatest depression; and I believe I may also say, these evil consequences were mainly to be attributed to the bad harvests and the excessive overtrading of the previous three years. It was at this very period, when the right hon. Baronet entered office, that the great experiment of railroads had been tested, and had been found to answer: we have, since seen how far speculation in that direction has gone. Could any one foresee the immense extent to which railroads have been carried, and the enormous amount of employment they have given to the labour of the country? The effect, I know, has been, that in many counties so great has been the demand for labourers, that scarcely a labourer has been obtainable. We must also take into consideration the immense impulse given to the iron trade, the price of iron having more than doubled within the last two or three years. And if I may judge from the number of applications recently made to Parliament for now Bills during the present Session, I do not think it likely that there will be any cessation in the progress of the construction of railways for some time to come. We cannot overlook the immense extent to which all this has augmented the coal trade of the country. The wages of the labourers have in many instances trebled. And when I consider all these facts—when I remember that periodical fluctuations of trade have always taken place, and that the right hon. Baronet entered office at the lowest period, and that there has since occurred the immense increase of consumption consequent on all this increased activity in the iron and coal trades; when I recollect that all this must have been, to a great extent, independent of the right hon. Baronet's measures; when I remember further, that the termination of the war in India has led to increased commercial 554 activity, and has given a great inpetus to every department of trade; and when I couple all this with successive good harvests, I can hardly believe that all this prosperity has been brought about by the measures of the right hon. Gentleman; for I believe that many of these circumstances would doubtless have taken place if the noble Lord opposite had remained in power. Neither, Sir, do I believe that our commercial exports are to be taken as the true test of our prosperity. We have lately seen to what extent foreign markets have been glutted, and the length of time required to get rid of that glut. Within the last few years, we have seen India and China inundated with our cotton goods, where they could be purchased cheaper than they could be bought in Manchester. For my own part I place much more reliance on our home market; and when this is coupled with our manufacturers working to "order" for foreigners, I think that it is a much surer test of our prosperity than if I were to see our exports continually increasing. In considering the details of this measure, the article of most importance is Corn. It is not my intention to quote speeches which the right hon. Baronet has previously made, or charge him with inconsistency. I know it would be useless. He has told us he has abandoned his principles, and consented to change the measures which he himself passed in 1842. If he consider that this is essential to the best interests of the country, I do not blame him. But I cannot consent to follow him, or to change my opinions so easily. The measure of 1842 has been admitted by all parties to have worked well so far, as a Corn Law. It has conduced to great steadiness of price, and it has answered the right hon. Baronet's expectations. Under that law, he aimed at a price of 56s. as a "fair price" for the farmer. I should like to ask him what price he considers a "fair price" for the farmer now? I should be glad to know at what price he aims under the proposed law? Does he consider that his measure promises such great advantages to the farmer as to form an adequate "compensation" for the loss of 10s. or 15s. per quarter upon the price of corn, the "fall" expected by the Gentlemen opposite? But the right hon. Baronet has, indeed, told us that he does not believe the price of corn will be lowered by the projected measure. Then why does he repeal the existing law? And if he is 555 right in his opinion, what becomes of all the arguments about "cheap bread," which we have heard so much about from hon. Members opposite? The right hon. Baronet tells us one story, and hon. Members opposite another. I say, then, Sir, are we not justified in hesitating to vote for these measures, and in appealing to the opinions of the country? For we feel that there is no necessity for any such change. I believe there is a great difference between the cheapness which is the result of a good harvest, and the cheapness which is produced by the importation of grain from abroad. I am afraid that the right hon. Baronet has been misled in his calculations, and has over-estimated the results of his own policy, through the bountiful harvests we have been recently blessed with. A great authority on this subject—Mr. Huskisson—said, some time since no doubt, but not the less truly, I think, on that account, that—cheapness produced by the importation of corn from abroad, is a sure forerunner of scarcity; but that steady home supply is the only sure foundation for steady moderate prices.I agree in that opinion. I think it most important that no check should be given in this country to the cultivation of corn. I consider no state so critical for this country to be placed in as to be dependent on foreign countries for the supply of its food. What may be the result of these measures, no man can foretell. My own conviction is, that they will lead to greater fluctuations in price than have ever been known; and that before long we shall have the right hon. Baronet proposing some measure to the House to regulate the trade in corn. I believe they will induce the great capitalists of Europe improperly to speculate in corn, and that it will be of far greater advantage to the foreigner than to our own country. I do not pretend to say it will lead to the utter ruin of the agricultural interests. But I think that it will assuredly cause severe agricultural distress, and that it will inevitably tend to lower the wages of this country, and that the working classes will certainly feel its effects before the higher orders. If these measures pass, we may henceforth consider free trade to be the ruling principle of Her Majesty's Government, and that sooner or later every interest must bow before it. When you have removed protection from agriculture, I cannot see with what justice you can retain it for any other interest. The shipping interests, with all others, must follow; and 556 what becomes of our navigation laws and reciprocity treaties? Where the sweeping torrent is to stop, when the barriers are once broken, I cannot say. But I feel convinced that if justice is to be done to all, no protection can continue. If the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) comes into office, he must outbid the right hon. Baronet; and if he do not, I should like to hear what he would propose. Then, may I ask the League also, what they will do? Will they dissolve and retire into private life? Even if the leaders were so disposed, may we not apprehend that others will rise up and agitate some other questions? I think that when such opinions are once broached, you will find others go far beyond them; and that you will find that the right hon. Baronet has only fanned the flame of agitation without extinguishing it. We are to have, it would seem, "free trade." But it appears to me to be a "one-sided" free trade, for, if I understand it rightly, it means this, that all foreign nations are to have the power of inundating our shores with their products, but we shall have no corresponding advantage in return. The manufacturers of the country will find it difficult to compete with foreigners, unless they reduce wages. Already we are successfully competed with in foreign markets by the Germans, Swiss, and French, in cottons, silks, hosiery, cutlery, and many other trades; and unless we reduce wages here, I do not see how we can compete with the foreigners, when they have the great advantage of this proposed measure, and our home market opened to them in addition. We are told that the price of provisions has nothing to do with the rate of wages, yet we know how large an ingredient in wages the price of food must be; and it is impossible to see how competition can be carried on with the continental artisans, under the new measure, unless wages be reduced. It will undoubtedly come to this fact, that the workman of England will have to compete with the workman of all other nations; and we shall then see whether you are conferring so great a benefit upon him by giving him cheap provisions. But you may depend upon it, that the further you advance towards this description of free trade, the more complicated will your position become. Much stress was laid by the right hon. Baronet on the alleged withdrawal of protection from the manufacturing interests. But if any interest can stand such withdrawal of protection, it is that interest. 557 Look at the superior position of the manufacturer as compared with the agriculturist. How much better adapted for economizing labour is the mill than the farm! One roof covers his throng of people—all are to be observed at one glance—each has his allotted place—each his appointed task; the energies of all are taxed to the utmost, for the revolution of the wheel allows no cessation of attention. What cares the manufacturer about the weather? What matters it to him whether the sun shines or the shower falls? Can all this be said of the farmer? Can he look over his farm at one glance? Is he subjected to no vicissitudes of weather? Can he be sure of reaping what he has sown? Can his labourers work their twelve hours throughout the year as the manufacturer's? Is not the position of the manufacturer infinitely more favourable than his? Yet the manufacturer is afraid to reduce the hours of labour, for fear of foreign competition. I much doubt if manufactures and agriculture, though dependent on each other, are governed by the same rules, or the same principles. But this I know, that the agriculturist, in the race for competition which he will have to enter upon, must, if protection be withdrawn, tax his labourers' energy to the utmost. But if I carry the comparison still further, what an advantage does the manufacturer possess over the agriculturist in respect to their burdens? I hold in my hand a return from one of the largest cotton manufactories, in which I find that the work turned off in one year amounts to no less than 170,000l., the wages paid thereon being upwards of 30,000l., and the burdens amount to only about 530l.; too trifling to be talked of. How trifling also appears the alleged compensation proposed by the right hon. Baronet in favour of the agricultural interests! The consolidation of the highways, and the payment of medical officers, are too trivial to be mentioned. And as to a miserable sum of 300,000l. or 400,000l. spread over the country, I really believe that the agriculturists would have been much better pleased if the right hon. Baronet had given them nothing at all. There is one article which comes not strictly into the discussion of this question, but is closely connected with it—I mean Sugar. A very short time since, in 1844 and 1845, the Government held out to the West India Colonies a protection of 10s. over free-labour sugar; and the West Indians were credulous enough to believe 558 that it would be continued them for four or five years; but before that experiment was tried—before any of the free-labour sugar had been introduced into the country, from causes which can be sufficiently explained, but which I will not now enter upon—the Government tell us that the colonists can stand little more competition. Will not the experiment be repeated next year? Shall we not most likely be told in 1848 that the West Indian colonists would derive a direct benefit from competition with the sugars of Cuba and Brazil? If you ask the agriculturist, indeed, to sell his corn at the cheapest rate, with what justice can you compel him to buy his sugar at the dearest? But when we have carried out the free-trade principles of the Government, of what use will be our Colonies? Why not have tried the experiment of free trade with them first of all? Treat them in all respects as integral parts of the Empire. Extend to them the principle of your Canadian Corn Bill—permit them to import their corn, grain, meal, and maize, and all other produce, and I will vote with you. Give them some greater benefit than you now propose, and you will draw the bonds of union closer, and knit them more firmly to the mother country. But if you give the foreigner a decided preference over them, for the contiguity of situation effects this — you make your Colonies at once a burden upon you, and you not only furnish hon. Members opposite, who wish to repudiate them altogether, with a strong argument, but you give them a direct interest to free themselves. But if these principles are to be carried out in this country, the manufacturers must no longer have a monopoly of the Colonies. You must allow them to have free trade also. You must get rid of their differential duties. You must allow your Colonies to be independent of you, and to form commercial connexions elsewhere, and you must suffer them to burst asunder the ties which a union of interests would otherwise have tended to cement. The free-trade measure of the right hon. Baronet has been called a "system of equivalents." We are told, that it is to stimulate our commercial prosperity, and that it is to set an example to the world of what is called patriotic disinterestedness. Whether the results will be what are anticipated by its author, I doubt. I fear the manufacturing activity of the country has been stimulated already too much. The increase of factories, according to Mr. Horner, is sufficiently alarming. 559 The progress of events will prove whether the measures now introduced are wise or not; but I fully believe that they will prove to us that we are justified in the stand we are now making against them; as I feel certain that we are contending for the best interests of the country—for the benefit of the commercial, the colonial, and especially the working interests of the Empire, in advocating protection for every branch of British industry.
§ Amendment having been proposed,
§ SIR W. HEATHCOTE
Sir, in asking permission to second the Amendment which has just been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, I trust I shall be allowed to approach the subject under discussion without allusion to any topics of an exciting character. I wish to avoid such topics at all times, but more particularly now, when there are not wanting many persons to style the authorship of the proposed measures an act of political dishonesty. I ask the House, and I ask my right hon. Friend, to believe I disclaim the use of such weapons. It is true that I think the project visionary and illusory; that I think the right hon. Baronet has based its present necessity on grounds insufficient when taken separately, and inconsistent and destructive of each other when combined; and moreover, that in his anxiety to produce great, and, he supposes, valuable results, he has overlooked the evil of disturbing a settlement which appeared to be fixed, upon the good faith—at least on the deliberate opinion—of the present House of Commons, led by himself; and that he has not sufficiently appreciated the shock to which confidence in public men is exposed when their course of action is suddenly changed, with no apparent change of circumstances, in matters concerning which the public mind has long been exercised, and opinions have been unequivocally expressed. But to suppose that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government pretended, at any former period, to entertain a conviction he did not feel, or that he has now any other view but to promote what he deems the best interests of his country, appears to me to be a gratuitous assumption, of which I cannot avail myself. I must give to the supporters of the Government measure all the advantage which is implied in conceding to them the integrity and good intentions of its propounder; but I must oppose that measure as being mischievous in itself, and without justification in reason, or from experience. 560 The plan of the Government professes to be a large, comprehensive, and impartial scheme of what is called free trade. If it really were so, if it were not only large and comprehensive, but also perfectly impartial, I should still object to it, as a step in a downward path, and one that must undoubtedly lead to evil. I am not afraid to avow that, in my opinion, the legislation of the last twenty years in a similar direction, has produced evils far beyond what have been observed, the amount of which has been hidden, and the poison neutralized only by the enormous growth of your colonial trade—which has continued as yet to be governed on the antagonist principle; but which you are now seeking to undermine. But the scheme has not even the merit of impartiality: it is not impartial even in appearance, because it does not profess to take from all branches of our native industry the same amount of protection; it is still less so in reality, because while different branches would be so differently affected by the abstraction of an amount of protection nominally equal, as to justify some discrimination, such discrimination has, in fact, been made, sometimes without sufficiently meeting the necessity, and sometimes in an inverse ratio to its magnitude. The withdrawal of protection from our native industry will affect its different departments in proportion to the necessity of manual labour in their respective operations; and to that department in which manual labour is most necessary, and machinery is least available, no protection at all is to be awarded. There are manufactures into which machinery enters so largely, that we are able to undersell the foreigner in his own markets. These want no protection. There are others which will be exposed to ruinous competition if left without greater protection than you propose to give to them; and finally, there is agriculture, which, needing it more than any manufacture, is to be left by you without any protection at all. But, Sir, this unfairness appears to me to be the key to the right understanding of the whole. Disguise it as you will with large words, call it a great and comprehensive review of the whole commercial policy of England; still the simple fact remains, that it has originated in deference to a cry against agricultural protection alone, and that the main feature of the plan is sedulous care to make the destruction of that protection complete. Whether it ought to be so destroyed, is, as the right hon. Baronet said, a question 561 partly of justice and partly of policy. Now, in considering the justice of the measure, we must contrast the condition of the British farmer with that of his countrymen engaged in other pursuits, and also with the foreign agriculturists. You find him living in a country where money is plentiful, and its circulation rapid, and where, consequently, the money price of every thing he wants is extravagantly high. You find him subject to a direct taxation of peculiar and unequal severity for the numerous heads of local assessment which in other countries are defrayed from the general stock of the State. You find him subject to the Income Tax, which is now fixed for three years on the basis which the measures now under discussion propose so materially to affect. You find him embarrassed in his dealings by the operation of the Stamp Laws, and subject to all the indirect taxation of the Excise and Customs; and, finally, you find that the very nature of his business is such, that the labour of man, enhanced in price by nearly all the previous considerations, is necessary to it in a proportion unknown to manufactures—that returns for capital invested in it must always be slow, and yielding, not as in manufactures a greater comparative profit on every enlargement of the amount employed, but the contrary. But at this part of the case it is enough to glance at present, and to show how difficult it will be to adjust any measure of compensation. If it is ever to be considered as a question of compensation, no one can say—the right hon. Baronet has never pretended to say — that his proposed changes will be adequate in that view. The real question is, whether an enlarged view of national policy does not require us to stimulate national, in which I include colonial production? It would be easy to maintain the affirmative by a reference to the lucid statements, the cogent arguments, the glowing language with which it has heretofore been maintained in this House by those who now oppose it. I will not avail myself of this resource. I do not desire to produce effect by contrast, nor am I willing to suppose that those powerful speeches are forgotten by those who heard them. I am sure that I cannot efface from my own mind the effect which they produced. I cannot treat lightly the prospect of dependence on foreigners, which was once thought so dangerous; nor can I set at nought the experience which has taught us that the provision for our own people has been abundant, cheap, and regular in 562 proportion to the encouragement which has been given to the growth of corn at home—that at this present moment the British farmer, subject to treble the taxation of fifty years ago, is enabled, under a system of encouragement, to supply nearly double the population at a price somewhat lower than at that day; and, finally, that at the very moment of the supposed emergency which drove the right hon. Gentleman to his present course, he has himself shown us that England alone, of all the countries of Europe, was well supplied; and that had she been otherwise, all those countries were prepared to close their ports. But, Sir, if doubts for the future were really pressing on the Government, they might have opened a door for supplies, which could not have been closed by the jealousy or apprehensions of foreign Governments. They might have depended upon our own Colonies. When the Canadian Corn Bill was introduced, I felt no difficulty in supporting it. I should feel no difficulty now in supporting a similar measure with respect to the Colonies of Australia. But it is not in this scheme that boons to the Colonies are to be found. On the contrary, you withdraw or diminish all that you have already given. For the first time, in our history you avow, or at least you act upon, an anti-colonial policy. You disregard those mighty foundations of your maritime power which Napoleon would have thought cheaply purchased at the price of half the Continent which he had conquered; and by the withdrawal of the substantial advantages which bind them to your distant authority, you will yourselves take the first step towards severing the connexion. With these views of the general scope and bearing of the measure, I cannot consent to forego the opportunity of voting against it as a whole, nor enter into the terms on which this or that interest may be expected to capitulate. There remains one consideration of a practical character, and apart from the merits of the case, which I have no doubt has weight with some Gentlemen on this side of the House, in inducing them to support this measure, although they may wish that it had never been introduced—I mean the doubt whether the existence of the Ministry may not be compromised by the division among their supporters. Sir, I have no disposition to underrate the importance of this consideration; I am not one of those, if such there be, who are careless whether the right hon. Baronet and his Colleagues are replaced on that bench by 563 the noble Lord and the Friends who surround him. I have hitherto given to my right hon. Friend my support founded upon a general agreement in his course of government; and it is not because I now differ from him, even on an important point, that I shall be led away into a tranference of my support to those with whom on other subjects I have little in common, and who, on the very point concerning which I differ from my right hon. Friend, are found to coincide with him. But, Sir, I see no reason, and I recognise no right by which I should be withheld, from combining with this view a vote against the present measures of the government. My right hon. Friend, at the beginning of the Session, justly claimed for himself the credit of having resumed power, not for personal objects, but for the sake of carrying out measures which he considered to be great and patriotic. But he must concede to his supporters the right to scrutinize those measures, and to satisfy themselves whether they deserve such a character; and if he refuses them that freedom—if, on their disagreement with him, he determines to abandon the reins of government, which they do not seek to take out of his hands—on him, and not on them, be the responsibility of any mischief which may follow. I thank the House for the patience with which they have heard me, and will detain them no longer than to say, that I cordially second the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol.
§ MR. W. LASCELLES
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just concluded his address seemed to think that the country had attained the prosperity which had been its lot, entirely in consequence of the restrictions on trade which had been so long imposed upon it. He owned that the hon. Gentleman seemed to him to have read very incorrectly the history of the Empire. In his view, ever since the commencement of the time when restrictive policy began to be applied, they were visited with a series of fluctuations in the price of food which could not be otherwise than detrimental to the country. Previous to the passing of the Reform Bill the principles of free trade were not considered as belonging exclusively to any party. Mr. Huskisson was in a Tory Cabinet supported in his measures by the Whigs; and he must deny that upon the reconstruction of the Conservative party, after the Reform Bill, its commercial principles were those founded on a restrictive policy. He, for one, had never considered 564 such a policy as the test of the Conservative party. On the eve of the general election he had considered it necessary to assert that no such principles as those of restriction were necessarily those entertained by the Conservative party; and with this view he had voted with the noble Lord opposite in 1821, when he brought forward his Budget, and he would have supported him had he been able lately to form a Cabinet. He had watched the course which Government had taken with respect to this matter very closely; and when hon. Gentlemen spoke of the danger which would accrue from the Government proposition, he replied that the very first act of the Government implied and involved the very principles now on the eve of being carried out. He had thought it impossible to listen to the speeches with which the Tariff had been prefaced, and not have seen that they inculcated the full principles of free trade. And there was proof that these speeches were so understood by hon. Gentlemen on his side the House; or why, in every successive Session of Parliament, were so many questions put to the right hon. Baronet, implying that, from the principles which he had asserted, the questioners believed that he was about to alter the Corn Laws, and requesting to know whether or not he actually and really meant that. An answer was given, which they were obliged to deem satisfactory. The right hon. Baronet told them that he had no intention of repealing the Corn Laws at the time; but that he did not regard the Corn question as one on which a Minister, responsible for the welfare of the nation, was for ever to pledge himself. Now, that was the full amount of the charge which could in fairness be brought against the right hon. Baronet. He was willing to do both the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment the justice to acknowledge, that they had not followed the course which had been taken with respect to this subject out of doors. They had rather address themselves to the actual merits of the case, than the personal topics mixed up with it. The hon. Seconder of the Amendment had told them that the country had prospered in consequence of the Corn Laws. Now, let them look at what had been the immediate effects of relaxation, wherever the principle had been carried out. He did not merely rely on the result of the measures of the right hon. Baronet, but he would take as instances of the good effect of commercial relaxation, the cases of silk, of sugar, of wool—in short, with 565 respect to all the articles which they could possibly bring to mind; and the fact which the advocates of a protective policy would have to refute was this—that the result of all experience, without one single exception, had confirmed every theory which the wisest men had uttered upon the subject. To this rule, he repeated, there was no exception. He did not believe that when it was applied to agriculture, there would be an exception in that case any more than in others. There might be some suffering and distress before the sound system was established; but that constituted no reason why the change to it should any longer be deferred. He had a very strong feeling on this subject. Painful as it was to do anything to break those party ties which so often cemented private friendship, he could not help expressing the satisfaction that he felt in reflecting that he had laboured to place the right hon. Baronet in the position in which he stood, in the full confidence that he would apply his great knowledge, his undoubted powers, to the satisfactory settlement of the question before them. That right hon. Gentleman had acted as he anticipated; and without wishing for a moment to diminish the merits of those hon. Gentlemen opposite who had so long, so ably, and so consistently argued against commercial restriction, still he did think that, practically speaking, the right hon. Baronet had done more than any one else for the—to his mind satisfactory—adjustment of this great question.
said, having been a supporter of the right hon. Baronet, from 1830 to the present period; having given a steady support to all the measures of the present Government, agricultural and financial, and to the whole of their Irish policy; it was with no inconsiderable regret that he felt himself compelled, not only to oppose the measure now before them, but to state also that he could place no further confidence in the right hon. Gentleman's Administration. He had waited to hear the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, and he had waited to learn the measures proposed by him before he had deserted his ranks. He thought the course which had been taken out of the House, in condemning the right hon. Baronet behind his back, and without a hearing, was unfair and unmanly. He thought it was an unconstitutional course, that attempts should have been made to pledge Members of Parliament before the measure was known; and if he had submitted to such a demand, he should have 566 felt hinself degraded in his own eyes and those of the constituency he represented. He would further say, that he considered it unconstitutional that an association, sitting in London, should be issuing their circulars and mandates to the counties to send up delegates to interfere with the functions of Members of that House. For himself he would only say, that no course of that sort would ever influence his conduct. He thought the course which had been taken of attempting to pledge Members to consent to no alteration in the Corn Laws, was also an unwise one, because, however strong his own opinion might be, that no such necessity existed, after the letter of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) and the resignation of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), it must have been clear to any one who knew anything of public affairs, that they stood in an entirely altered position; and a course which might have been taken previously with a fair prospect of success, could not after that be pursued. Would any one in either House of Parliament stand up, after what had occurred, and say that they were prepared to form a Government on the principle of no alteration whatever in the present Corn Laws? Yet that was the test which had been submitted to Members at the county meetings. He had thought the only thing to be done was to wait and hear what the measure was, to see whether it was worthy of their acceptance; and to do the best they could, under the altered circumstances of the case, for the agricultural interests. But he had not expected that the right hon. Baronet could have proposed such a measure as the one before them. He was ready to admit the difficulty of the position of the right hon. Baronet, when he had once made up his mind to make any alteration. He was free also to admit, that whatever had been the proposal, it would have been met with probably equal opposition from many, and even from most, of the agricultural Members. But he thought the right hon. Baronet might have obviated that difficulty in a great measure if he had taken a course which would have opened the eyes of the agriculturists to their real position; and which, until such a course was taken, they would not be aware of. If the right hon. Baronet had declined to return to power until the Government had been offered to the Duke of Richmond—and every one knew what must have been the result—that would have brought matters to a crisis at once, the agriculturists would have seen 567 their difficulty, and some measure more favourable might have been carried by the right hon. Baronet. As it was, it appeared to him the course that had been taken had been the one to drive the right hon. Baronet to an extensive measure. But could he (Sir R. Peel) be surprised that the agriculturists had taken the line of no alteration in the Corn Laws: they were only following the advice given them formerly by the right hon. Baronet himself, who, in 1839, when the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) was in office, advised them to make their stand on the principle of no change in the then law. On the faith of these declarations the Table of the House was loaded with petitions for no change in the then law. Was there, he would ask, less scarcity in 1839 than now? He could not have expected that the right hon. Baronet, who in 1839 had advised them to stand by the existing law; who in 1841 had so damaged the fixed duty, as they had been told by a noble Marquess in another place, that they were forced to abandon that system of protection; and who in 1842 professed to propose an adjustment of the question: he did not expect that the right hon. Baronet could have come to Parliament—he who had objected to an 8s. duty, which was to be permanent—to propose a 4s. duty, which was to end in total repeal, accompanied, too, by such a miserable compensation. What was the inference which he drew from all this? He would not accuse the right hon. Baronet of a want of political integrity: he did not believe such to be the case—he believed he had been actuated by no dishonest or dishonourable motives; but he would say, that, looking back to all these circumstances, he had shown himself to be devoid of that political foresight which entitled a public man to the confidence of his party. What the right Baronet had formerly said to the right hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Macaulay), was now applicable to himself. He had said to that right hon. Member—Out of office you declared yourself in favour of those measures—in office you repeated the assurance that you were faithful to your principles. Will it suffice to answer, when your constituents require the fulfilment of your promises, 'I gave you no pledges—declarations in abundance I admit, but pledges I utterly disclaim?' They will remind you that they lifted you, through their favour, to the councils of the Empire. If their native tongue will not suffice, you have taught them, by reminding me of former reproaches, where they may find, in the passionate exclamation of Dido, the fit expression of their sorrow—568'Nusquam tuta fides.'You remain deaf to their entreaties—you have nothing but the miserable answer of Æneas after all his coquetting in the cavern—'Non hæc in fœdera veni.'I gave you no pledges.'This was something like the language of the right hon. Gentleman to his supporters the other night. If these measures were carried, they would be carried, not by the conviction of Members on that side of their wisdom or necessity; but because they saw the thing was inevitable, and they would rather see it carried by the right hon. Baronet than by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell); he (Lord Norreys) differed with them. If the proposal of Ministers had been in favour of any protection whatever, he might have been of that opinion; but so little difference was there between the two, that he was not sure whether they might not obtain better terms from the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), in the shape of a relief from burdens: nothing could be worse than the proposal of the right hon. Baronet. He regretted much the destruction of confidence in public men which must follow if Members changed their opinions because the Minister had changed his views. Would the right hon. Baronet, who had talked of reconciling an ancient monarchy and aristocracy with a reformed House of Commons, undertake that there should be no collision between the reformed House and the aristocratic branch of the Legislature? If this state of things occurred, and a small majority in favour of protection should be returned to the next Parliament, in what a position would the right hon. Baronet have placed the Crown? If confusion should arise, then the right hon. Baronet, who had risked and brought about that confusion without justification, and not they who opposed him, must be responsible. He had treated his supporters unfairly, as well as his opponents, whom he had turned out in 1841, when they offered far better terms to the agriculturists than the right hon. Baronet was now disposed to give.
§ MR. BAILIE COCHRANE
was compelled to differ from the opinion expressed by some hon. Gentlemen at recent meetings of the agricultural societies, and he could not agree with them that the Corn Laws involved a Christian and religious principle. On the contrary, looking through the whole history of the Corn Laws, he could not discover any principle at all, a principle being something immutable, not taking its colour from the impulse of the moment, and beyond the influence of the circumstance and the hour. So far from a 569 fixed principle, he found that for five centuries posterior to the Conquest importation was free; but agricultural protection, which dated from Henry VI., gradually increased until the Revolution, when a bounty of 5s. was given to exportation and importation — totally forbidden until the price of wheat was 54s.—was subject to a duty of 8s. between that price and 80s. This, with occasional variations, remained in operation until Lord North's Act, in 1773, reduced the protection to 44s.; but in 1791 the agricultural was again the predominant interest, and greatly favoured until 1815, when the duty amounted to a prohibition. Then followed the Act of 1822, and afterwards Mr. Grant's Resolutions in 1828; in 1842 the present measure was passed, which he for one supported, and which it was now proposed entirely to overthrow. Where then was the lurking-place of this principle, if it did exist? Through what strange scenes and changes had it passed! If there was a Corn Law faith, it admitted of every diversity of heresy. If he might be permitted the opinion, he thought the agriculturists were saying too much, when they asserted a Corn Law principle. He would rather adopt the language of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, and term the Corn Laws an accident or an expedient, subject, as all expedients must be, to the influence of time and circumstances. There was another point on which he (Mr. Cochrane) differed from the agriculturists, in the opinion which they expressed that this Parliament ought not to meddle with the present Corn Law without making an appeal to the people. On this very point Mr. Pitt, in 1798, on the question of the Legislative Union, expressed himself in the following terms:—If this principle of the incompetency of Parliament be admitted, or fi it be contended that Parliament has no authority to discuss or decide upon this measure, you will be driven to the necessity of recognizing a principle the most dangerous ever adopted in a State—the principle that Parliament cannot adopt any new measure of great importance without an appeal to the constituent body. This idea may be traced to that gross perversion of the principles of all political society, which supposes that there rests continually a sovereignty in abeyance, on the part of the people, to be called forth whenever it suits the interest of party or of faction.Why, when a Parliament elected for three years passed the Septennial Bill, and another, the great majority of whose members were elected on the cry of opposition to Catholic Emancipation, passed the Emancipation Bill by a majority of 178, it would 570 be difficult to define the limit of Parliamentary competency. To adopt such a principle as that laid down by the hon. Gentleman would be to turn the House into an assembly of delegates. This being a deliberative and legislative Assembly, it is presumed that hon. Gentlemen are in some measure influenced by arguments and deliberation; and he could not think that its character would be raised if hon. Members were never to give an opinion without a recorded permission. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had been accused of gross inconsistency. But when he looked back to the histories of other public men, he did not find any greater consistency. Hon. Gentlemen quoted from Hansard, but Hansard was an arsenal from which all sides might select their arms. One hon. Gentleman would quote Mr. Huskisson in 1814, another, Mr. Huskisson in 1827 or 1828. Mr. Canning, when in 1827 he proposed his Corn Law Resolutions, stated that if he had been in the House in 1815, he should have suggested that measure. Why, Lord Ashburton, the now protector of protection, in 1820 presented a petition from the merchants and traders of the city of Londan, praying for total free trade. Facies non omnibus una. There was scarcely one public man who had devoted his attention to the Corn Laws who had not been compelled to change his opinion; and what did this prove? That all public men were dishonest, and that public virtue had no existence? This be thought, on whichever side of the argument, would be an unfair assumption; it rather proved that the question was one full of difficulties, ever varying with the seasons and the times; that there might be some truth in Mr. Sydney Smith's dictum, "whoever talks of an unalterable law, is an unalterable fool;" that events in politics were not like equal quantities in mathematics, always the same, or like the great abstract truths of morality, eternal and invariable in their nature. He was one of those who did lament those harsh necessities which hurried men on from change to change; but to lament was not to prevent, and for God's sake let them look at the state of the world as it is and was, not as it should be. Let them look at the movements which had taken place within the last sixteen years; the development of industries, the progress of invention, the extended intercourse—America within the last six years brought within twelve days, China within two months, goods conveyed forty 571 miles an hour, letters sent from Penzance to Caithness for one penny. With all this movement, could the mind of the Legislator alone remain unchanged? And then let them regard the great fact of the population doubled within 40 years, and increasing half a million annually — increasing through the expansion of that trade which broke the alliance between Napoleon and Alexander, and which had extended our colonial intercourse to the farther quarters of the globe. Above all, could they ever forget that the Reform Bill had passed? That reform which the hon. Baronet the Member for Cornwall truly styled a revolution. The consequences of that measure never could die—and who were the Ministers who passed it? Why, among others, the noble Duke at the head of the agricultural societies, a noble Lord who had seceded, and a noble Earl who, it was supposed, would secede from Her Majesty's Government. These were the Ministers who compelled the Crown and the aristocracy to yield to clamour; and these noble Lords, who threatened "to swamp" the House of Peers, now stand up in defence of the landed interest of this nation. In the present state of the country, he (Mr. Cochrane) thought that the best security for its tranquillity and the general happiness would be found in a strong Government—a Government strong in the confidence of the nation, and respected abroad. He believed that the country had confidence in the present Government. This was proved by the fact, that during the three days' reign of the noble Lord the Member for the city of London, not the English funds alone but the French and Austrian funds fell; and that there should be no question of the cause of this declension, they rose again as soon as the right hon. Gentleman reassumed office. Now, if not England alone, but Europe generally, had, by the financial thermometer, proved the confidence reposed in Her Majesty's Government, might not the opinions of hon. Gentleman be coloured by this circumstance? Might they not be disposed to place greater confidence in the right hon. Gentleman than in the noble Lord? But above all, might they not mistrust the noble Lord, when he mistrusted himself, and returned back to Edinburgh, adding one other to the Chronicles of the Canongate? In every constitutional country he thought a responsible Government was essential, and that a party not strong enough to form a Government should disband 572 itself, as not carrying with it the sympathies of the nation. The question in politics must at all times be, what can you do? The speech of the noble Lord the Member for Oxfordshire (Lord Norreys) hit this mark, and it was the best he had heard on the protection side; he plainly said, "What are you able to accomplish? You talk of 'no surrender;' but the noble Duke at the head of the Agricultural Association, with his military experience, will tell you the reply to that is 'no master;' and the flag which you talk of nailing to the mast will only serve to show the portion of the wreck." If the right hon. Gentleman had come down to the House and had proposed to sacrifice the Corn Law to popular clamour, he, whatever change had been effected in his own feelings, might have declined to support the measure; or even had he, remembering that the Roman sibyl demanded a greater price for her volumes the longer the purchase was delayed, talked about concession, and endeavoured to anticipate future necessities by a partial sacrifice of conviction, he would have protested against the motives; but the right hon. Gentleman, on the contrary, openly avowed the change in his opinions, and founded his present measures on the success of his former policy. And let hon. Members imagine any person, if such could be found, unshackled by prejudices of party feelings, shown, as from an eminence, the vast resources, the commercial enterprise, the extended industries of this great country; let him be told that all this greatness had grown up with free institutions, which, like the waters which roll around our shores, separate us from Continental Powers—institutions, the admiration of every country, and which no country had yet successfully imitated; let him be told, that of the Ministers who achieved this greatness, the majority had been in favour of relaxation of commercial restrictions; that this had been the Tory policy—it was that of Lord North, of Mr. Pitt, Mr. Huskisson, Mr. Canning—the language of Mr. Pitt, when he proposed a commercial treaty with France in 1787, might have been used by the right hon. Gentleman on introducing his measure the other night; let this same person be told that every step taken towards the relaxation of protecting duties had been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the welfare, the morality, and the general happiness of the country, and that this same statesman who had achieved these great ends promised 573 results still greater, a still increasing prosperity, by continuing the same course of policy—should they accuse such a person of a too sanguine credulity, and an overwrought imagination, if he believed that free commerce claimed kindred with free institutions. When the measure of 1842 was passed, he said that he thought a total repeal was preferable to a state of uncertainty, and that the farmers suffered more from constant doubt than they could do from a sacrifice of protection. Well, he would appeal to any agriculturist whether, since that period, there had been any confidence in the present law? On all sides it was heard that the Corn Laws were doomed. Men differed as to the period of their continuance; some said two, some five, others ten years; but that they must sooner or later go, all men were agreed. Now was this a state of things which should have continued? Hon. Gentlemen might say that this was because the country had no confidence in the Government; but the truth was, there was a great change of opinion in the country. All the meetings which had been held were meetings of landlords; and, in spite of this agitation, the price of land was rising. In Scotland, the farmers told him they cared nothing for the Corn Laws. It was very true they had nineteen-year leases; but he believed that if leases were more general in England, it would affect English farmers as little. At all events, that was his conviction. He knew that he was liable to misconstruction; but he thought, if it was a base act to make a sacrifice of opinion, it was an act of still greater cowardice not to follow conviction through the fear of misconstruction. In party feeling there was rarely any juste milieu; the people were generally in extremes, and in times of excitement a Minister was always declared to be either the father of his country or a traitor. So in ancient Rome, the Senate debated whether to pronounce Adrian a god or a tyrant. He did not believe the right hon. Baronet either one or the other; but he did believe him anxious to do his best for the country in very difficult emergencies; and, inspired with this belief, he would recall to hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House the occurrences of 1830, when they turned the right hon. Gentleman out of office by a coalition with the Opposition, and the consequences were eleven years of Whig rule. Sir (said the hon. Gentleman) I vote for this measure, because I have confidence in the financial policy of the right hon. Gentleman. 574 It is precisely the principle of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, who votes against the measure, because he has no confidence in the right hon. Baronet. He is following at an humble, and at how far humbler distance, the opinion of Mr. Canning, who said, in 1802—A way with the cant of measures not men, of the idle supposition that it is the harness and not the horses which drag the chariot along.I vote for this measure, because I prefer legislation to agitation; moreover, because I am a sincere advocate for protection. Yes, Sir, for protection not to one class, to one interest, however important, but protection to all classes, to all interests, foreign and domestic—protection in hours of darkness and trouble, which, I pray God, may be far from us, but which, we cannot conceal from ourselves, may depend on the life of one man in France, or on party cry in America—protection when another northern confederacy may threaten our shores, and hostile fleets threaten our colonial empire—the protection of a strong and vigorous Administration; but, above all, I vote for this measure because, in the beautiful language of the prayer which we hear each day, I would set aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, and lend my humble but most sincere endeavours to any settlement which those whose peculiar province it is to rule the destinies of this great country may judge conducive to the comfort and welfare of the poorer but not less loyal classes of my fellow subjects.
§ MR. DEEDES
was perfectly aware, that in rising to address the House on so important a subject, and at so early a period of the debate, he was laying himself open to the charge of great presumption; but when that importance was duly considered, not with reference only to his constituents, but with regard to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects, he could assure the House that nothing but an imperative sense of duty compelled him to offer himself to the notice of the House, a portion of whose liberal indulgence he hoped to share—such as they were wont to bestow on those who, like himself, laboured under the disadvantage of addressing them for the first time. He was much tempted on the night when the right hon. Baronet propounded his measures to the House to have offered his sentiments on the subject; but he was restrained from so doing, partly because it appeared to him that the merits of the subject should not be entered into, but principally because he was desirous of removing from 575 himself the imputation of being supposed to have formed a hasty and premature judgment on a most important question, and to have arrived at conclusions which maturer consideration would not have warranted him in doing. He was glad now that he had abstained upon that occasion, because he had since an opportunity (and a most gratifying one it was to him) of meeting in his own county a very large body of his constituents, and of hearing their opinions upon this important subject. Although his own individual opinion might not of itself be of any weight, yet when it was fortified by the unanimous opinion of a large body of practical men, met together for the purpose of forming a deliberate judgment upon a question with which they were amply qualified to deal; he hoped that the opinion which he was now in their name, and in his own, about to express, would be received more favourably than if he were to speak it only for himself. He would take this opportunity of assuring the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley), who was kind enough upon a former evening to give a caution to those who sat on the Ministerial side of the House, as to the mode in which they intended to employ the intervening time before this debate commenced; and to take care how they stirred up the angry passions of the people, and had recourse to agitation; he could assure that hon. Gentleman that at the meeting to which he had alluded, those warnings had been most carefully regarded; and that if the hon. Gentleman himself had been present, he would have seen that his friendly advice had been followed to the utmost. No conduct could be more decorous; no angry feeling was allowed to be embarked in the consideration of the great question which engaged the attention of the meeting. The same hon. Member told the House that he had not been in the habit of attending the meetings of the League, and he took shame to himself for not having done so. With the feeling regarding agitation which the hon. Gentleman then expressed, he could not but regret that the hon. Gentleman had not more frequently attended those meetings, because he thought that the example of the hon. Gentleman might have had influence enough to have suppressed much of that angry and violent language which had been used there, and which, while it aroused the passions of the people, did not tend to elicit the truth connected with the subject under discussion. He had described that subject to be one of 576 great and paramount importance; and he ventured to believe that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cobden), who was one of the strongest opponents of the Corn Laws, would consider that it was so. Why, the question involved nothing more or less than whether they should wipe from the Statute Book those legislative enactments for the protection of native industry, which the wisdom of their forefathers originally placed there, and which had been continued by the united wisdom of men of different political opinions, all equally anxious, no one could doubt, for the welfare of this great country. And let it not be forgotten that, under the operation of these very laws, this country had arrived at that eminence in the scale of nations which had so long been her glory. It appeared to have been reserved for those who guided the councils of the nation at the present moment to have made the discovery that those laws, which we had been in the habit of considering right, and wise, and prudent, and safe, were quite the reverse; that they ought to be expunged from the Statute Book; and that, on the contrary, we were bound only to legislate in such a manner as should open the door to foreigners, and enable them to compete with us in our markets, and drive the corn of this country out of that market. If the extent of the change which the House was now called upon to make was considered, it might be supposed that, for some reason or other, laws of this description were only to be revised and altered once in a hundred years at least. It might be supposed that within the last hundred years nothing had been done; but that now, circumstances had so changed, as to call for and justify an entire revolution with respect to these laws. No one would think it possible, that only in 1842, these measures were revised, and received the deliberate sanction of both Houses of Parliament, and that at that time the principle of protection was avowed and acknowledged. What might be said by those who should hereafter search the pages of history, to account for this change, when they found that the Gentlemen who, in 1842, sanctioned the laws which were now found upon the Statute Book, were the same Gentlemen who, in 1846, were desirous to strike them out of the Statute Book, he could not tell. It would be for those who advised that measure to justify the change; and as he believed they acted honestly, he doubted not, in their own convictions, they were doing what they believed to be right, 577 and what they could justify. He was the last man to oppose the doctrine that public men were not to be allowed to change their opinions upon great and public matters; but it must be done with care and caution—it must be done in such a manner as not to shake public confidence in them. Either on this or any other public subject, he desired to avoid imputing motives to any man. He would assure the right hon. Baronet, that on this as well as on every other occasion, whether in public or in private, he had never believed that he had been actuated, in any course of policy he might have adopted, by other than conscientious motives. In early life, he had always been in the habit of looking up to the right hon. Baronet as his political leader; but he had never hesitated to oppose the measures brought forward by the right hon. Baronet of which he could not approve. So long ago as the Emancipation Bill, in 1829, he, as a member of Convocation, not being able to approve of the course which the right hon. Baronet then took, had felt it his painful duty, along with others, to resist the right hon. Baronet's return as one of the Members for the University of Oxford. In the last Session of Parliament he opposed, most reluctantly, his measure with reference to Maynooth; and he mentioned this only to take the opportunity of saying that, though he differed from the right hon. Baronet on these great public questions, he had never doubted for one moment that the right hon. Baronet was actuated by honest and proper motives. On the first night of the Session, the right hon. Baronet had stated the fears which he entertained, together with the rest of Her Majesty's Ministers on the subject of the failure of the potato crop. He made the utmost possible allowance for the feelings that actuated the right hon. Baronet at that time. He much feared that we did not now know nearly the half the suffering that was impending upon the unfortunate poor in Ireland. He quite believed it; and he, for one, should have been ready and willing to have assented to any measure that might have removed, for a time, the restrictions on foreign corn, if it had been considered necessary for the relief of their suffering fellow subjects in Ireland. And he believed there was not a member of any agricultural protection society—however much abused those institutions might be—who would not cheerfully have joined in that measure, to have rendered such meed of relief as he was able to do, towards 578 those who suffered so severely. But he could not go further with the right hon. Baronet. Giving him credit for those feelings, he did not think it necessarily followed that the Corn Law of 1842 was therefore to be altered. That measure had exceeded the most sanguine expectations of its framers; under that measure, the producer had received no more than a fair profit for the article he brought to market, and the consumer had not been called on to pay an extravagant price. The right hon. Baronet had instanced, also, the thriving state of the country during the last three years. But it must not be forgotten, that during those three years the country had been under the operation of that amended and revised law of 1842, which was brought in by the right hon. Baronet himself. And yet the right hon. Baronet called upon them to expunge that law. He could see no reasons for doing so; and therefore, anxious as he might be to support the right hon. Baronet on general quessions, he could not give a vote in favour of the proposed alteration, contrary to the best judgment he was able to form. The right hon. Baronet had expressed a hope that our manufactures would be taken in exchange for foreign corn; but the right hon. Baronet had admitted, at the same time, that, up to the present moment, the reverse had been the case. He asked, then, with the greatest confidence, was not this measure of the right hon. Baronet an experiment to be tried upon the native industry of his country? And if it was so—fraught as he believed such an experiment to be with danger to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects—supported as it might be by arguments said to be irresistible from all sides of the House, still he would not yield his judgment, and give way where he believed there was danger to be anticipated. He could not but fear that, if the measure the right hon. Baronet now proposed became the law of the land, the day was not far distant when this country must be dependent upon foreign produce for a supply of the first necessary of life. He should deprecate exceedingly the possibility of such a contingency; and the very argument which the right hon. Baronet had used on the first night of the Session with reference to the supply of potatoes to be obtained from abroad, served to strengthen the conclusion at which he (Mr. Deedes) had arrived. For he had said that in looking round to see whence could be had a supply of potatoes, to replace the extensive failure 579 in Ireland, he had found that Belgium, Sweden, and other potato-growing countries had placed restrictions upon the exportation of the article, and would not allow it to come in aid of our failing crops. Could it be doubted that, under similar circumstances, foreign nations would, for their own sakes, adopt a similar course? He required no further argument than that to induce him to withhold his support from the right hon. Baronet. He was aware the right hon. Baronet had said he did not believe there would be a material diminution in the price of corn. But he asked if the gentlemen of the League held that doctrine; did they intend that there should be no reduction in the price of corn? Did not they say, we want cheap corn because we expect the people of this country, when they can buy their food at a little cost, to lay out the surplus in the purchase of our manufactures? There was one point connected with this subject which had been so often alluded to, especially at meetings of the League, that he was desirous to address a few words to the House upon it; but he had better, perhaps, read an extract from a letter which he had received from a friend on the subject, because that would better explain his views: he referred to the consideration of the measure before the House as a landlord's question. The extract was as follows:—Argument for free trade in corn will be urged on the ground that, whatever necessity there may be for purposes of revenue to continue duties on less important commodities, articles of subsistence are the last that should be taxed. Granted. Give the cultivator fair play. Exempt him from taxation, and he will readily meet the world in his own field of industry. The bounty of Providence, the principle of fertility, will always ensure an ample profit to his industry and skill. But the question before the country is not whether articles of subsistence ought to be taxed. They are taxed, and that to an enormous amount. The question is, whether this taxation shall bear entirely on the producer, or whether it shall be partly distributed among the consumers, by the operation of the present system of Corn Law? The price of every other article comprises not only the cost of production, and a profit on that cost, but also whatever tax or duty may have been imposed on it by the State. Why should the produce of land be an exception to this rule? The answer will be that, so long as the producer obtains a price sufficient to give him a profit, he is not prejudiced by the alleged taxation—he may fairly bear it; and the weight cannot justly be transferred to the consumer, especially with respect to an article which is the first necessary of life, and the price of which so materially affects the poorest classes. Land, however highly taxed, yields this profit, as is proved by the existence of a further surplus—namely, rent. A Corn Law, therefore, makes the consumer pay the landlord's rent; and the whole question 580 is a landlord's question, and nothing else. Rejoinder:—Rent is not a direct object in this question; it is incidental to it, and nothing beyond that. The relation of landlord and tenant is that of joint capitalists in the production of corn, &c. The occupier finds moveable capital, labour, seed, horses, implements; the owner finds fixed capital, dwelling-house, barns, stables, dairies, granaries, cart and waggon-sheds, cattle-lodges, piggeries, fences, gates, &c. On the poorest soils which pay for cultivation, the landlord receives little if anything more than his proportion of profit on his fixed capital, deducting land-tax, quit rents, &c. Are these less fertile soils to be cultivated? Can the nation afford to lose them? That is the question. If they are to be retained by adequate prices, then those prices will give an increased profit to lands of superior quality, through all the degrees from the lowest to the highest. House-rent is an incident to the great and main question whether the vast breadth of inferior and highly-taxed soils is to be abandoned, under the discouragement of inadequate price occasioned by foreign competition of comparatively untaxed corn raised on superior soils abroad at a far less cost.Now, he entirely coincided in that view which his friend had taken of this question. He thought the proposition of the right hon. Baronet might have the effect of throwing the poorer soils of this country out of cultivation. He had detained the House, perhaps, too long; and he would not now pass those measures in strict review which might be called an off-set to the measure which the right hon. Baronet had proposed. Whenever they were introduced, he would give them his best attention; and he thought many of them were very good, but he did not consider that they ought to have been added to a revision of the Corn Laws. Entertaining these views generally—dreading, above all things, to see this country at any time dependent on foreign nations during the scarcity of so important an article as the bread by which we lived—fearing, also, that if we had to purchase corn from foreign countries, the specie of this country must go out to pay for it, and, consequently, there would be a reduction of that specie in the Bank of England which enabled other banks to have a larger issue—and dreading the consequences of such a paper restriction on the country—looking at this, and bearing in mind the language of the right hon. Baronet and his Colleagues in 1842 on this question, he could not allow himself, against his own convictions, to follow him and vote for the measure before the House. He should sit down with a fervent prayer that it would please Divine Providence, who had hitherto exalted this nation, still to guide its destiny so as to make it an example of good government at home, and fairness, and moderation, 581 and justice in its dealings with foreign nations.
§ SIR J. WALSH
observed, that the Members for agricultural counties must naturally be desirous of addressing the House on this subject: they had every motive which could urge them to do so, and they had every claim which justice could give them upon the patient and forbearing attention of the House. It must be allowed that they were the representatives of a great and important interest. It must, too, be admitted that they are the organs of wide-spread opinions; and if those opinions had lost some of their weight in the minds of the right hon. Baronet and his colleagues, they were still the opinions of a large and influential portion of the community. They were further entitled to a hearing, because, on the present occasion, they appeared to defend themselves from charges and imputations of a personal character, which had been recklessly and unjustifiably levelled at them, through the length and breadth of the land, and that, too, by hon. Gentlemen who had hitherto refrained from taking part in this discussion. Those who had so studiously preserved a stubborn silence, as to excite a remark the other evening, had held up the landed proprietors, in all parts of the country, as the corrupt and sordid advocates of an odious and selfish monopoly. They had been represented by those hon. Gentlemen as actuated by no other motive, and impelled by no other aim, than that of maintaining and upholding their rents as landlords, in opposition to the best interests of the great masses of the community. They had, moreover, to present themselves to the House, on that occasion, under the great disadvantage of being deprived of those upon whose assistance they had hitherto calculated, and under whose leadership they had hitherto marched. They certainly had, by the sudden change of the right hon. Baronet, lost the most powerful advocate of their cause, and upon whom on former occasions they were accustomed entirely to rely. The right hon. Baronet had accompanied this measure with others that were termed measures of compensation. He had forgotten, however, in the enumeration, to allude to one, which appeared to him (Sir J. Walsh) of far more importance than any he had stated. It was this—that by his policy he had imposed upon the agricultural Members the duty, and taught them the lesson of self-reliance. Hereafter they must be prepared to fight 582 their own battles, to defend their own opinions, and to vindicate their own characters. He begged to say, that he denied in the strongest and most emphatic terms that the landed proprietors considered this as a question of rent—of rent only. But before he addressed himself to that part of the question, he would say, that if they were to argue this question on that ground, and consider it merely on the narrow basis of rent, he would even in that case assert that the question was one of the very greatest importance, not solely to those interested in rent, but to the community at large, and deserving the most careful consideration of the House. What, he asked, was the amount of the landed rental of this country? It appeared by a Return which had been made on the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, in 1843, that the amount assessed for Income Tax was 45,750,000l. as the rental of Great Britain alone, exclusive of the rental of Ireland, from which no return was made. He was unable to state precisely what was the rental of Ireland; but he could not be in error in assuming that it must be from 15,000,000l. to 20,000,000l. Taking this, then, as a narrow question of rent, and admitting that the preservation of rent was the motive which solely actuated the landed proprietors, it must also be admitted that a question involving no less a sum than 60,000,000l. a year—a large integral portion of the wealth of the nation—more than double the amount of the interest of the national debt, exceeding the amount of the whole export trade of the country—demanded respect and consideration as deeply affecting the prosperity of the nation? How was that wealth distributed? When hon. Gentlemen used the words "landlords" and "rent" in their addresses throughout the country, nothing else was suggested to the minds of their hearers but the owners of great territorial possessions, such as the Duke of Northumberland, or the Duke of Devonshire, or the Duke of Bedford—noblemen who had half a county under their sway—or some of the great landed gentry, who by the antiquity of their families, and the extent of their estates, might be regarded as the rivals of the highest and greatest of the Peerage. Those who presented such portraitures to the public, entertained most mistaken views on this question. There were whole counties in England in which there was scarcely one large mass of property collected together worthy to be called an estate, but in which, 583 on the contrary, the property was subdivided in every way—in which property was owned by every class of individuals—in great part by yeomen, who had inherited the land from their forefathers, owned small plots of land, and cultivated the farms on which they lived. Another most numerous class of landlords were small retired tradesmen, who, with that love of rural life which was almost a natural instinct with Englishmen, had invested all the savings of a life of industry and successful enterprise in land. Mr. M'Culloch, an authority of great weight, estimated the number of landed proprietors in this country at 200,000. There were then 200,000 landed proprietors, without considering their families or dependents, who were directly interested in the question of rent. He said, that even on that ground this question was not to be considered as one concerning the interest of a small and narrow class. If it were a class interest it involved the fortunes of a great portion of the population of this country. But when they considered the pecuniary amount involved in it—its collateral bearings, and wide ramifications—the property that by various engagements, by marriage and other settlements, was bound up in it—it was a question not to be separated from that of the national prosperity itself. But then this was considering the question as one of rent, and rent alone. That was the view to which hon. Gentlemen opposite assumed that they restricted it, and to which the agriculturists refused to restrict it. They said this was a question which, from its nature, must involve the interests of the tenant-farmers and the agricultural labourers. The right hon. Gentleman who brought forward this measure introduced and supported it, on the ground that the general impulse which the relaxation of protecting duties would give to the industry of the country, and the greater facilities which it would afford to the farmers in purchasing articles which they made use of in their occupations—that the greater cheapness of all these articles would be an equivalent for the loss sustained by the withdrawal of protection. That was the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, and he wished he could be as well convinced that the right hon. Gentleman was correct, as he was assured that he was sincere in making that statement. But the right hon. Gentleman assumed that the profits of the agriculturists would not be diminished. If the profits of agriculture were not diminished, 584 then neither would rents, or the wages of the labourer; for rents depended not upon any particular price of corn, but upon the amount of the profits of agriculture. The agriculturists took a less cheering view of the subject. They considered that the competition to which the farmer would be exposed from foreigners would beat down his profits; that he would have no chance of contending successfully against that competition; and that a great reduction of the profits of agriculture would be the result. The necessary consequences must be, that the tenant-farmers and agricultural labourers would all suffer. Either of these results was possible. Let it be granted that the right hon. Gentleman's hopes and promises might be fulfilled, or that what he, on the contrary, feared might come to pass—either was a possible result; but that which he contended was an impossible result—that which was an absurdity—that which was in contradiction to every sound doctrine of political economy and to the dictates of common sense, was, that the tenant-farmers and agricultural labourers were not to suffer, and that the whole loss of those changes would fall on the landlord's head. That, he said, was what he considered as utterly impossible. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were extremely fond of arrogating to themselves the sole knowledge of the doctrines and principles of political economy, and of assuming that they alone were acquainted with the writings of Adam Smith, of Chalmers, of Torrens, of Ricardo, and M'Culloch—that political economy was, in fact, a sealed book to the agriculturists; but he humbly said to those hon. Gentlemen, that the theory of rent was one of the best-grounded theories in political economy, on which the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had given in the letter that he read, a practical commentary. That theory, which was simple and plain, assumed very justly that the most fertile land was the first taken into cultivation, and as the wants of the community increased the less fertile land was cultivated. Rent, therefore, was only the difference of value between the best and worst land in cultivation, and its amount was at once an index to the general welfare and to the continual national improvement. It was an important corollary from this doctrine, that the application of additional capital to raise additional produce from old land, was in principle and results the same. Whether they applied 1,000l. in extracting additional 585 produce from the land already enclosed, or in enclosing inferior land to have that amount of produce, the consequence was exactly similar. What then must be the result of pouring foreign corn into the market? If it lessened the profit of the agriculturist, this process would be reversed. The advantage that was gained by the profits from the superior land was an encouragement to the application of capital to inferior land—an inducement to the employment of industry by the taking of the less fertile soils into cultivation; and the contrary operation would be—the necessary consequence of pouring foreign corn into the markets would be—to diminish the profits of those engaged in agriculture—to diminish employment for the labourer, by interfering with the tenant-farmer, who, no longer able to employ capital with profit, must withdraw it from the cultivation of the land. The whole of the agricultural interest would thus participate in the depression that would be caused. Nothing could be more plain or nothing a more legitimate deduction from the theory of rent than this—that where, supposing in the Lothians, the rent of land was reduced from 4l. to 2l. an acre, that which reduced the rent so much would absorb the whole profits of the rent in a less cultivated district, where the rent, perhaps, was only 1l. an acre, and in doing so would deprive the labourer of employment, and the farmer of his income. But then it had been assumed that the Legislature had been guilty of a gross fraud upon the farmer—that when there was a protecting duty of 80s., the farmers also calculated on receiving the price of 80s.—that when the protecting duty was reduced to 70s., they again calculated upon receiving that price—that the farmer had made his calculation upon the acts of the Legislature, and in doing so had been perpetually deceived. He totally denied that that was a true representation of the case. The farmers were much too intelligent persons to have ever made such calculations. They knew that the introduction of foreign corn was not the only cause of fluctuations in price—that the trade in corn was in its very nature fluctuating—that the natural variety and diversity of seasons made it so—that Providence itself had so ordained it—and that all the legislation in the world could not make it regular and unchanging—that the price of corn must be affected by the alterations in the circulating medium — that it must be dependent upon changes in the atmosphere — on the condition 586 of manufacturers — on the state of the community: all these constituted ingredients in the calculations of the farmer, and by these he knew at all times that the price of the article he produced must be affected. All these were causes which the farmer calculated upon; but what he said was this — "In consequence of all these causes, I know that my trade, in the natures of things, must always be a fluctuating trade. I know that I may be exposed to loss, perhaps to ruin, from the variation of the seasons, and other causes which no human foresight could have averted or changed. But when my trade is in itself liable to such great fluctuations, I do ask you to protect me against that additional cause of fluctuation—that competition with the foreigner, which I shall be totally unable to support, and which, with other causes, must inevitably sink my trade to the lowest possible point of depression." There was another very important consideration for this House to deal with in passing this measure, and it was this—what were the evils which it was called upon to remedy? What was the state of things now subsisting, and which for a long time had subsisted in this country, which called for the application of an experiment that its best advocates must own to be, in some degree at least, a hazardous and perilous one? The right hon. Baronet (Sir. R. Peel) relied on the experience—the short and limited, and as he (Sir J. Walsh) thought, the inconclusive experience of the last three years. In reviewing that great question they might be permitted to take rather a wider scope, to go further back, and ask what had been the results of the protective system during the last thirty years? Since 1815, although no doubt the Corn Law had been subjected to several changes and modifications, yet upon the whole the principle had been one of a high valid protective duty. And what had been accomplished under that system of protection? From 1815 to 1845 the population of this country had increased from somewhere about 13,000,000 to something over 19,000,000; and with this augmentation of 6,000,000 of people, what had been the history of our commerce and manufactures in that period? Hon. Gentlemen opposite were constantly telling them that protective laws had the effect of restricting commerce—that it was thereby confined and fettered, that it was prevented from expanding as it would otherwise have done, and that it had not attained its natural development. But 587 if they looked at the facts, they would see that in no country in the world, and at no period in the world's history, had commerce and manufactures been developed with such extraordinary and surprising rapidity, as had all our great staple manufactures in the course of the last thirty years. Whether they turned to the cotton, the woollen, or the iron manufacture, they would discover that whilst there were different rates of progress, there was an immense advance in all. In the face of, and in addition to, all this, they found that our great additional population was maintained and supported, with an occasional contribution of grain, indeed, from foreign countries, but still to no great extent; and the price of corn was considerably reduced from the price it bore at the commencement of this period. It was impossible to deny these great results. It was impossible to deny that they spoke strongly in favour of a system which had produced a state of prosperity and of progressive advance, unparalleled in the annals of the world. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said, "It is true that your agriculture has been extremely progressive. You have made great advances; you have been enabled to nourish those six additional millions of people; but you have now arrived at the extreme verge; you cannot improve any more; we must now look to other sources for the nourishment of the population, for you cannot add any more quarters of wheat to the quarters of wheat you have already raised." Why, so far from this being the case, there never was a period in which agriculture was more ready to take a great stride in advance, than at the present moment. There never was a period in which capital was more ready to seek investment in agriculture, if it received security, than at the present moment. The great improvements which had of late been effected, the discoveries of Mr. Smith, of Deanston, the improvements in the methods of tillage and drainage, the various information respecting agriculture which had been circulated by means of that most useful society, the Royal Agricultural Society of England, in the most distant parts of the country, and in places where improvement had hitherto been unknown, had created a spirit and desire for further improvement which only required the security which legislation could give, to make the most rapid strides. So far from agriculture in this country having reached its utmost limit, and being unable to provide for the wants of an additional population, he believed from 588 the bottom of his soul that it was now only in its infancy, and that we should see the greatest improvement if we did but persevere in that course which experience showed had already effected so much good. One subject which had been very much discussed in that House, and upon which the agricultural interest were wont formerly to rest a considerable portion of the strength of their case, was the "peculiar burdens" which affected land. Now, for some time past hon. Gentlemen opposite had taken upon themselves to controvert altogether that position. They had taken upon themselves to deny that there were any peculiar burdens affecting land. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had endeavoured to establish that as a fact at least twelve years ago; and he had been followed by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Ward). Now he was of opinion that both those hon. Gentlemen had been led into very considerable errors in reference to this subject. Their argument he conceived to be this:—They said, "You state that the local taxation falls entirely on the agriculturists; but when we look into the statistical accounts and examine the official documents which bear upon this question, we find that so far from this being the case, a great deal of this taxation falls upon other species of real property—upon houses, upon mines, and other descriptions of property, beside land. Therefore yours is not that exclusive burden which you pretend it is." The agriculturists replied, "We never did pretend that it was an 'exclusive' burden, but we say it is a burden which falls with peculiar weight upon the agricultural interest. It presses us down more than it presses down manufacturers and people engaged in trade." His noble Friend the Member for South Lancashire (Lord Francis Egerton), in moving the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, remarked very justly that agriculture was itself a manufacture—that it was a manufacture of the raw produce. Now in this manufacture of raw produce we must compare ourselves with the producers of other saleable commodities. Houses were not producing commodities; but land was, as his noble Friend said, a producing machine. They must, therefore, compare it with trade and manufactures; and in comparison with trade and manufactures he contended that agriculture did bear a very heavy burden, from which trade and manufactures were altogether exempt. Let them take an illustration. Let them suppose the metropolitan 589 police rate was estimated at 100,000l. a year, and that by some very unjust distribution the shoemakers only paid the whole expense of the police. The shoemakers would naturally turn to the tailors, cabinet-makers, and other trades, and say, "We labour under a very great disadvantage. The metropolitan police force is for the benefit of the whole town, and you tax us with the whole maintenance and support of it. Moreover, we find that the shoemakers of Reading, Northampton, Birmingham, and other places, who are not subject to this tax, can therefore make their shoes cheaper than we can, and send them to London and undersell us." Now that would be very nearly the case of the agriculturists, as regarded the other trades and manufactures of this country. The repeal of the Corn Law appeared to be advocated by two great parties: by those who, like the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, contended that, whilst repeal would be beneficial to commerce and manufactures, it would not be injurious to the profits of agriculture; and by those who were prepared to embrace it as a positive good, even though it might be purchased by the sacrifice of the whole agricultural interest. Now he conceived that it was impossible that either of the leaders of the two great parties in this House would be prepared to advocate total repeal of the Corn Law upon this principle. They must both be prepared to advocate it upon the principle that it might be adopted without injury to agriculture; for he was sure that no statesman who had been raised to the position of directing the councils of the country, could possibly adopt so reckless a principle as that the law should be repealed, though ruin might be the result. The question was, then, what were the grounds of their belief that this measure might be adopted without injury to the agricultural interest? It was upon this that the real merits of the question rested; and he could not but come to the conclusion that the present was a 'leap in the dark'; that, notwithstanding all the investigation of this subject, the examination of reports from Mr. Jacob, or returns from our consuls abroad, and the information which had been supplied to this House, the subject was in itself one of such vast extent, and its result so problematical, that it was impossible to come to any other conclusion than that it was a hazardous and perilous experiment, the results of which must be necessarily unknown. If such a great customer as 590 England went into the market, how many quarters of the world would corn come from that had never yet supplied us with any? There was Spain, for instance, the agriculture of which had of late years partaken of that depression which, in consequence of the unfortunate state of affairs there, had become general; but it was most probable that, if Spain again enjoyed a settled government, there would be a very great importation of wheat from that country. Then there was all that portion of the north of Africa which once supplied the Roman empire with grain. He had great hesitation in mentioning any personal observation of his own; but he could not help stating the result of some inquiries which he made when at Hamburgh in 1843. He took a good deal of trouble in inquiring into this subject among merchants on whose information he thought he might rely; and they assured him that it was perfectly practicable to purchase a very large quantity—indeed any quantity—of wheat at 36s. a quarter. He also made particular inquiries respecting the amount of freight, having observed that in all the returns of Mr. Jacob and others the freight was generally estimated at about 4s. or 5s. a quarter; and he was assured that from the port of Hamburgh at that time, when there was a great competition going on between the shipping of the State of Hamburgh, Denmark, and Hanover, it was possible to send corn to London or Hull in the Dutch galliots at so low a rate as 1s. per quarter. Now these facts he gave merely as the result of the information he acquired on the spot. He would not undertake to guarantee their accuracy; but he believed them to be correct; and if they should be borne out, he believed that a much greater depression in the price of corn would take place in this country in consequence of the right hon. Baronet's measure, than had ever yet been experienced. The right hon. Gentleman said he considered the state of Ireland as the primary cause at least of the sudden resolution he had come to with respect to the Corn Law. The state of Ireland was one which he was not disposed to treat with anything that approached to levity. He was too well acquainted with that country not to be aware of the appalling consequences which would flow from a great failure in the potato crop; and he was perfectly ready to admit that there was no practicable measure which ought not to be adopted to alleviate or guard against such a calamity; but he could not understand 591 why a calamity which, however fearful, must be of a temporary nature, should be made the ground for passing such a measure as that now under consideration. He did not think, even if the consequences which the right hon. Baronet apprehended were inevitable, that an entire change in the system of Corn Law would necessarily follow any precautionary measures that might be taken. He did not consider that the present state of Ireland afforded a justification for any permanent alteration of the law; on the contrary, he was sure that the general state of Ireland was the strongest argument in favour of the maintenance of the present Corn Law. Every argument by which the Corn Law was defended applied with added force to Ireland. Ireland was a country purely agricultural. It was a country, the vast population of which—a denser population in proportion to the square mile than the population of this country—was entirely dependent upon agriculture. The trade in agricultural produce between England and Ireland was one of the great links and bonds of union between the two countries. There were two links and bonds of union; one was the trade in agricultural produce, the other the Protestant Church of Ireland. They were going to destroy the one: let them take care that they defended the other. The right hon. Baronet based the adoption of his measure upon his experience of the last three years. He was sure, however, that public opinion, and that posterity, whose suffrages the right hon. Gentleman was so nobly desirous of obtaining, would consider that there was another cause which had been in operation in England for some years past, which had the most powerful effect in producing this result. He thought that to the organisation, the efforts, and the funds of the Anti-Corn-Law League, the public would be induced to ascribe in a great measure the commercial revolution which this House was now called upon to sanction. During the last twenty years that was the second of those associations—the second of those great joint-stock companies in agitation, which had produced such important effects on the policy and destiny of this country. Let them read the history of the first, and then solve him this problem: how many more of those associations would it take to crush the independence of Parliament—to subvert the stability of the Government, or to effect the dismemberment of the Empire? That was the evil which some day or other, by some Minister 592 or other, must be grappled with. It was a system which could not long co-exist with stable, regular government—which in its nature must be destructive of the independence and utility of representative government. He was opposed to this measure, then, because he believed it a dangerous experiment on the resources of the country; he was opposed to it doubly because he believed it had been very much brought about through the influence of that association which he considered every lover of order and regular government was bound to oppose. He did not oppose it upon any ground of what was called mere class interest, nor because he thought it a question of rent, or that the rents of landlords were particularly concerned in it; but he opposed it because he was convinced that if they made a mistake in this matter—if the right hon. Gentleman's calculations should prove erroneous, the result of that mistake would not be a sacrifice of the interests of a class, but the destruction of the prosperity of the Empire.
MR. A. J. B. HOPE
wished to say a few words upon the measure, not in reference to its being a question of the Corn Laws, or a question of free trade; but simply on the ground of whether or not the present Parliament was morally, as well as legally, capable of dealing with it. Under what circumstances had the present Parliament been elected five years ago? The right hon. Baronet had been at that period—in the year 1841—at the "head of Her Majesty's Opposition." He had led the struggle against free trade, rightly or wrongly, at the time when the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell), as a last effort of the Whig Government (that Government which had then ruled England since 1830, and had in the natural course of events become effete), had brought forward his free-trade scheme; the right hon. Baronet had opposed him on that occasion, and compelled the noble Lord to appeal to the country. The country had responded to that appeal, and returned them, the House of Commons of 1841, as a protectionist Parliament to crush free trade; and the House of Commons had chosen the right hon. Baronet as the leader of that party. And now, in 1846, they were called upon to pass the very same measure—nay, a far stronger and more sweeping measure than that which their constituents had returned them to oppose and put down. Rightly or wrongly, that had taken place; and by 593 what measure of political expediency could such a change be justified? To be sure, the right hon. Baronet had been elected by the party as their leader in 1841, and he still continued their leader; but he should remember that neither he himself, nor the noble Member for London, nor the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden), nor any other leader of party, was such by divine hereditary right. He was leader of his party simply and solely as being in the minds of his followers the best exponent of their principles; and if his principles and theirs remained the same, he retained his position; if not, it should be no matter of surprise to the right hon. Baronet, or any other, if the members of his party, finding that their leader had deserted the principles on which they had elected him, should retire from his side and choose each his own leader, or take each a line for himself; and let him remember that the evils, all the misgovernment that must result from such a course, would fall upon himself, and not upon those who had been compelled to trust solely to themselves. That was the real state of the case. The right hon. Baronet now came forward in this Parliament, and with the same glowing eloquence, to advocate those very principles which he had trampled under foot in the last Parliament, in 1841, and in the early debates in the same year in the present Parliament. On last Tuesday week, they had been all present there to know the changes to be proposed by the right hon. Baronet, and what the grounds were which led him to those changes. And what had been the argument by which the right hon. Baronet supported his measures of free trade? It was forsooth, that it was consistent with the principles of true Conservative policy. But what did the right hon. Baronet mean by true Conservative policy? Toryism was a tangible thing; Whiggism was a tangible thing; protection was a tangible thing; free trade was a tangible thing: in all those things there was meaning; but what meaning in the world was there in that strange new word, "Conservatism"—that word which had arisen since 1832, at the time when the old Tory party, split up in divisions, had found a difficulty in coming together under one banner? What was this "Conservatism," which was not animated by the spirit of Toryism, nor of Whiggism—no, but by "true Conservative policy?" It was no more than an empty sound—the last departing ghost of Conservatism, which should long ago have 594 been sent to the catacombe of all departed hoaxes. So stood the case with the Conservative Government — that Government which was composed of men from the broken ranks of the old Tory party, and which now came down to the House, in 1846, to advocate utter free trade, because it was consistent with "the principles of true Conservative government." That might be true Conservative policy, but it was a policy which would not conserve the affections of the right hon. Baronet's own party. There was a Minister once very powerful; it was in the days before the House of Commons had become what it now was; when the power of England was exercised by the Crown, and that Minister swayed the Crown as the Ministers in these days swayed Parliament. One little expression which had escaped that Minister had caused his fall. The power of Wolsey had not long survived his expresssion, Ego et rex meus; and the right hon. Baronet's influence, perhaps, might not long survive the use of his favourite phrase, "I and my party." The hon. Gentlemen who had been elected to seats in that House on strong protectionist principles were so much expected to follow their leader, that they had been brought down to the House of Commons, as they had been on last Tuesday week, without even the common courtesy being accorded them which they had received formerly, when measures of comparatively minor importance were to be proposed—namely, of giving them some slight intimation of what the measure was that was to be brought under the consideration of Parliament. It was not so long since such courtesy had been observed towards them. He himself was one of those Members who, in 1841, had known something about what was to take place before the Address. But a total change in the whole commercial system of the Empire, as though it was a mere bubble—a mere fleabite — was brought forward without their having received any previous notice or inkling of what they were to expect. Such was true Conservative policy—policy which would have been rather strange in the new Parliament, but which was now carried safely into execution. Thus this great revolution in that commercial system by which England had been sustained, was to be brought forward in the last moment of an almost effete Parliament, which had existed now nearly five years. Perhaps that revolution, affecting as it would the entire modern state of society, 595 the commerce, trade, and manufactures, by which not only the greatness of England but of the whole world was acquired, would be more serious in its results than any revolution of the Constitution or of the Government could be. A revolution of that sort was to be brought forward in that way, and hon. Members were expected under such circumstances to support it. Notwithstanding the philosophical views which had been put forward in his speech by the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. B. Cochrane), he must say, that protectionist policy had been the policy of England for centuries. If the measure now under consideration were to pass that House, it would be sent in the natural process of legislation to the House of Lords; and the question for its adoption in that august assemblage would be put by the Lord Chancellor from the Woolsack—yes, from the Woolsack, that mute but immemorial emblem of the attachment to England to the principle of protection. The Woolsack had been placed in the House of Lords in the reign of Edward III., and there it had remained for ages to remind the Members of that branch of the Legislature of the highest and most important of their functions, and to serve as a memento (so to speak) of what description of policy the people of England were desirous that they, their hereditary Legislators, should pursue. But whatever difference of opinion might exist as to the strange change which had come over the policy of our rulers in the 19th century, he could not understand how there could be any diversity of sentiment with respect to this fact, that those who were the great movers in these strange revolutions had pursued towards their party, and indeed he would say towards the House in general, a rather contemptuous and most assuredly unprecedented course. This measure of 1846 formed a just crowning point to that strange heterogenous mass of legislation, the Maynooth grant, the Irish Colleges, and those other measures which constituted the political life of the Parliament of 1841. But the right hon. Baronet might say there was no other course open to him. He thought, however, that the right hon. Baronet might have said, as upon former occasions, that there were three courses open to him. The right hon. Baronet might have treated the question as he had done; he might have dissolved Parliament; or, better than either, he might have come boldly forward at the time the noble Member for London had, 596 with great gallantry, advocated free trade. If the right hon. Baronet had then come forward, and said to the noble Lord, "For a long time I have supported protection, you have supported free trade. I am satisfied now, that all my life I was wrong; therefore, to you who are right, I give up the Government of the country, and tender you my warmest and hearty support." That would have been honest, and whatever their private views might have been, they could not have helped praising such a course as heroic and magnanimous on the part of the right hon. Baronet, and he would have won golden opinions for himself even on that (the Ministerial) side. But still he would have done better if he had let hon. Gentleman opposite, as he had a right to do, bring forward those measures, and reap the honour and credit of their own policy. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side had a right to demand that those measures of legislation, which for many years they had toiled after and spent their lives in procuring, should be passed by them; that they should have the honour and credit of carrying them. That would have been but common justice to them. But another course had been adopted by the Conservative protectionist Government of 1841. A free trade was proposed by them, and was to be carried through the House by the cry of cheap bread. His vote therefore would be given as a protest against a course of policy which could add no lustre to the very best system of abstract legislation.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
felt himself called upon to explain and vindicate the course which he was about to take with reference to the question then before the House. He was in a position different from that of any Member who had yet spoken. He disapproved of the measure proposed, and yet he intended to support it by his vote. He could not honestly say that he was convinced by the arguments and facts which had convinced the right hon. Baronet, and induced him to give up his former opinions. The basis of induction seemed to him too narrow for so broad a superstructure. The facts themselves were not very conclusive: they were, many of them, to be explained by special causes peculiar to themselves, independent of general principles; and whatever they were, he could not think that, if all the à priori arguments of political economists, and all the inductions from previous observations, had for thirty years failed to make an impression on the 597 mind of the right hon. Baronet, the narrow experience of the last three years, on a few small experiments, was a very intelligible or satisfactory ground for so sudden and so great a change of opinion. He was not one who had ever rested his defence of the Corn Laws, nor did he think it had ever been mainly rested, upon the hypothesis that the rate of wages depended upon the price of corn; and, therefore, any facts which tended to contradict it could not weigh much with him in his opinion upon the general question. He did not mean to assert, that the price of all labour depended upon the price of corn; still less that it varied up and down in exact accordance with all its fluctuations. In skilled labour, no doubt, that element entered but slightly into the question of wages: the small number in possession of it facilitated combination, and limited the supply, so that wages were artificially kept up; but it would be difficult to persuade him, that in unskilled labour, whether at the hand-loom or in the field, where competition was unlimited, and wages were driven down to the lowest point, the price of subsistence did not enter most largely into the question of wages; and he would appeal to any man, whether, in his own experience, such was not the case. The correspondence was not always immediate, nor mathematically exact; but such a sympathy, as it were, did exist, and in the long run, in such cases, was sure to show itself. Why, every political economist acknowledged it, and every fact proved it. Why, else, were the wages of the worst-paid labourers in England, higher than those of the same labourers upon the Continent? There could not be less competition for their services than there was in some parts of England; and yet Mr. Senior, in his Report to the Poor Law Commissioners, acknowledged most distinctly, and proved, the fact. The proportion between the demand and supply of any kind of labour, might for a time obstruct the operation of that tendency, and in skilled labour, as he said before, its effect was not so visible; but no experience of three years could justify the denial of its existence. While, however, he felt it was impossible to admit the validity of the right hon. Baronet's observations upon that point, as warranting his change of opinion, he fairly acknowledged that he thought some of his friends, in their defence of the Corn Laws, had rested too much upon it. It was good, as diminishing the importance to the labourer of cheaper bread; it was not good, 598 as proving that it would be an evil to him. Again, he could not think with the right hon. Baronet, that the high prices of certain articles, on the importation of which the duties had been lowered in the last three years, were so conclusive an evidence of the effect of relaxation of protection, as he had stated it, sufficient to create a revolution in opinions so long matured. They had undoubtedly been contemporaneous with certain relaxations in the Tariff; but he could not think that those relaxations were the main causes of high price, or that they were evidence of the permanent effect. There were many circumstances to explain the fact. The very ebbs and flows to which, as it were by a law, all mercantile prosperity seemed to be subject, were almost sufficient of themselves. Good harvests, return of confidence, accumulation of capital, railroad enterprise, occurred at once to the mind of every man. These were all special causes, giving an unusual value to all kinds of produce, raising the price of every article, and defeating the natural effect of increased competition. Surely the right hon. Baronet did not mean to assert, that the natural effect of competition—the permanent result of increased supply, was to raise prices? Was this the new reading of political economy? Was it the object of the clamourer upon the Corn Laws to have a smaller rather than a bigger loaf? He could not, therefore, pretend conversion; he could not close his eyes to the fact, that in removing all protection from domestic agriculture, they were about to make a most hazardous, an almost unprecedented experiment. Let them look to commercial Holland, to monarchical France and Belgium, with their mixed interests, or to republican America, they would find no country which had yet been rash enough to leave her agriculture exposed to the unmitigated effect of occasional glut from foreign import, from which it especially suffered, and from which it had so little power to protect itself. He was now thinking of the case of the tenant-farmer. Although he was not indifferent to the importance of the considerations which had been so well pressed upon the House by the hon. Baronet who sat near him, to the importance of the expenditure of 45,000,000l., which might be considered as constituting the landed rental of the country, and which might be seriously affected by the removal of all protection; yet still, as far as the landlords themselves were concerned, 599 he would not plead for them. They might suffer some inconvenience; but they would survive the change, and their property might ultimately recover, and rapidly improve its value. But the farmer was in a situation peculiarly exposed and helpless. Whether he had a lease or not, he was practically nearly as much tied to the soil. He had buried his capital in the soil, or he could not remove it without tremendous sacrifice. Unlike the merchant or the manufacturer, he could not divert, or expand, or contract his operations. He was, as it were, tied to the stake, and must abide the issue of evils, without the power of adapting himself to their changing character. He must raise in the main the same kind of products, and in the same quantity, only striving to increase it. He could not cut off in one year a part of his expenses, or limit his cultivation. He must cultivate the same fields, and always as well as he could. If he neglected any part of his farm, the burden would be heavier upon him the following year. He had no option. From the nature of his occupation, he was not in general the man to have any money lying idle, available for his outgoings, independent of the produce of his farm. What then was his case under a depreciation of the price of his produce? Landlords might help him. They might, in their liberality, make an abatement or an adjustment; but did not every one know, that in spite of such liberality (and liberality of course was not universal) such abatements always limped slowly after the necessity for them? Was not that the case in all engagements of a similar nature? On the first application did not the landlord doubt and hesitate, not knowing how much of lowered prices was to be attributed to permanent causes, and how much to such fluctuations as every tenant was expected to be prepared for? When he did make abatements, was he not apt to say, "I cannot bear the whole loss, though I will share it with you?" and meanwhile, was not the farmer's capital wasting away, and did he not attempt to economize by spending less in labour, less in every way upon his farm; and did not every such economy diminish his chance of recovering his condition; and had he before him, in many cases, any other prospect under falling prices than total ruin? In this process the labourer goes along with him; for, with declining prosperity, unfortunately, the number of labourers is generally the first article to be diminished, though with accelerated ruin 600 to the employer. Such, whatever the theory might be—however it might appear plausible enough to assert in abstract reasoning, that the question of a Corn Law was a matter of no interest to the farmer, but only concerned the landlord—such was the practical effect. It might be theoretically true: it was practically false. All experience proved it. The decline of prices since the war had left the landlords comparatively untouched: he did not believe many estates had changed hands in consequence; but farmer after farmer, generation after generation of tenants, had given way before it, and the labouring classes had largely suffered with them. This had been the practical result of declining prices before, and such must it be again. Seeing, then, that the reasons which had been assigned by his right hon. Friend for this great change in his long-nurtured opinions, had failed to convince him, and that he yet retained his opinions in favour of protection to agriculture, and looked upon the experiment of a perfectly open trade in corn as in itself inexpedient, and full of hazard, he had yet to explain why still he was prepared to give his vote in favour of the measure proposed. He would frankly state his reason. He felt that the country must be governed; he saw that all those who could govern it, had abandoned the principle of protection; he felt that the principle of protection, however sound, as he thought it, and defensible by argument, yet could not stand when unsupported by the authority of great names, and by those who were looked to as the representatives of enlightened opinion; and, under these circumstances, he could not blind himself to the fact, that the principle of protection was doomed—that, in fact, repeal of the Corn Laws was what the French call "un fait accompli," and the only question was one of time, of a few days, a few weeks, or possibly a few months—months of bitterness, of struggle, of convulsion, of danger, and injury to every interest, including that which protection is designed specially to serve. Why, is it not the fact, that every man living, who has ever sat in Her Majesty's Councils, with the exception of two noble Dukes, has either sanctioned or acquiesced in the abandonment of the protective system? Was it possible, then, for any reasonable man to doubt of its fate? Let Gentlemen, let his Friends, argue, and vote, and agitate, as they pleased, the conclusion must be the same. The only question was, in fact, when and how it was to 601 be? Such being his view of the facts, he could not hesitate as to his course. He believed the experiment to be hazardous: he believed it could not be tried without severe distress to many; but being fully convinced, under the circumstances, it was inevitable, he believed acquiescence in it at once to be the least evil of the two. While he thought it perilous, while he found it was unprecedented, he did not look upon it, he must admit, with all the apprehensions, with all the despondence, which possessed some of his hon. Friends. He was not of those who anticipated that millions of acres would be thrown out of cultivation, or millions of labourers out of employment. He had seen the price of corn decline, since the war, from 110s. and 120s. to 55s. He remembered when it was held by high authorities that little short of the former prices would keep land in cultivation; and he now heard the latter, a reduction of full 50 per cent. considered a tolerably remunerating price. He had not seen the ultimate effect of this large reduction of price in diminished or deteriorated cultivation. On the contrary, large inclosures had, during that period, taken place: the land was now, on the whole, better cultivated than it was, and more hands employed. He could not, therefore, share in all the apprehensions of his hon. Friends as to the result of a further reduction of some 10s. or 12s., which would be the probable average result of the measure now before them. With these feelings, therefore, not sharing in all the apprehensions of the opponents of the measure, though not convinced of its safety and expedience by the arguments and three years' experience of the right hon. Baronet; conceiving that it was only a question of time, and that a short one, and that further delay and struggle would only be injurious to every interest that he was bound to protect, without altering the result; having great confidence in the elasticity of British industry and capital under every trial; and feeling that the question of protection, being one not of faith or morals, was one in which he was perfectly at liberty to take any course which he thought most expedient for the welfare of the country, under its varying circumstances—he should feel no hesitation, though he had not disguised his reluctance, in giving his vote in favour of the measure proposed.
LORD J. RUSSELL
I believe, Sir, that, I am the first Member who has risen on this side of the House on the important 602 —the very important—question now before us; and, while I shall give my vote on the same side with the noble Lord who has just addressed the House, I can say that I shall do it with better heart and hope than that noble Lord has exhibited as to the task we are about to undertake. I will not attempt to underrate the importance of this question. Hon. Gentlemen whom we have heard speak on the opposite side of the House, and who object to the propositions made to us by Her Majesty's Ministers, seem to consider that they have said what is quite conclusive when they say that for centuries a system of protection has been the system of legislation adopted in our public policy. I am not at all terrified, Sir, by that annunciation. We know that for centuries the system of religious disabilities was the system of legislation adopted in this country; we know that for centuries the want of security for the liberty of the person was the legislative system adopted in this country; but happily we have lived to acknowledge the great benefits which have flowed from the destruction of those systems; and I hope that we are now at the commencement of the destruction of another system which has been most injurious to the country. We shall hereafter all feel proud that we have participated in laying the foundation for a new and a better order of things. It appears, Sir, that the question with respect to the Corn Laws, which in former years was almost exclusively confined to the particular question of corn, has of late—especially in meetings and discussions in the country—been widened to the whole principle of protection; and those who defend the present Corn Laws, and who wish to maintain them—avoiding all appearance of selfishness or legislation for a particular class—have said that they wish all native industry to be protected; but the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment this night, seemed to confess, at least he was sensible, that protection to all native industry was a mere plausible word—that it rested on no solid foundation, because, he asked, how could protection be found for many great interests in the country? The great cotton manufactures of this country, the great woollen manufactures, the great linen manufactures of this country, are sent abroad to compete in markets at a great distance from us: they are sent to the markets of America and of Asia, to compete with the fabrics of other countries; we therefore want no protection for them in Sussex or in 603 Lincolnshire. If that be the case, and if the great branches of our industry want no protection, they are not benefited by the trifling and the trumpery protection which remains on your Statute Book, and they are not benefited by that protection which seems to give to one particular class of industry an advantage. The great general argument of all writers on political economy with regard to protection, applies to each particular industry. In the first place, it interferes with the due current of trade on behalf of one particular class; in the next place, it lays a tax upon the rest of the community for the benefit of that particular class; and in the third place, this particular object is not attained, and the very classes it seeks to benefit lose by this pretended protection. Indeed, these propositions have now been so clearly proved, that they have become axioms in political science. I was induced the other day, in consequence of the praise bestowed upon it by the hon. Member for Norfolk, to read a pamphlet, in answer to another pamphlet, published by Messrs. Malton and Trimmer, written by Mr. Halesworth, who says that every quarter of corn is raised 17s. in price by the protection afforded by the Corn Laws. If this be so—though I believe it in fact to be a great exaggeration—if corn and bread be thus raised in price, an enormous amount of protection is given to agriculture. Suppose the fact were so, if 20,000,000 quarters were raised 17s. a quarter, a tax of no less than 17,000,000l. a year would be paid by the people of this country for this protection to agriculture. I believe that this statement is much exaggerated, but still the great principle is correct: it does raise the price; and while we give protection, as it is afforded by the present law, we give, what I will not call an advantage, but an apparent advantage, to a particular class, which is injurious to the whole community. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampshire, who seconded the Amendment in terms which were so temperate and so unobjectionable, stated that a difference ought to be made between those in whose occupations more manual labour is employed, and those in whose occupations there is less manual labour, and in which machinery is more employed. Now I do not see the foundation for any such distinction. Suppose 5,000,000 are employed in a trade in which machinery is used, and others are employed in a trade where there is little machinery, that is not a good 604 ground why one should receive the protection of the Legislature, and why the other should not enjoy that protection. Well, then, Sir, if it be the case that the system of protection be in itself an evil, as the great writers have laid it down, the question comes to be, "What course ought we to take to get rid of this protection?" And here I must say, that the writers who have written most ably on this subject—I refer to Adam Smith and to Ricardo, and to Lord Grenville and Mr. Huskisson as statesmen—all speak of using caution; but they have not pointed out in what way we are to get rid of this protection, how we are to eradicate this vice from our system. On this subject they have thrown little light, possibly because there was little which a theoretical writer could throw upon it. I confess that I agree with the noble Lord who last spoke, that a great transition cannot be made without incurring the risk at least of considerable suffering. Circumstances may be so prosperous that we may avoid it; but I do not wish to risk the prediction that if we get rid of protection, though we promote eventually the welfare of the country, we shall not for a time incur a considerable sacrifice. I think that this admission has been made by all who have thought upon the subject. Some may speak of a panic; others, as landlords, of the difficulties of making arrangements as far as different classes are concerned; but all will admit that there is a material, a considerable, danger of some loss of capital, and of some diminution of profits. I come then to the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the First Minister of the Crown, proposes to treat this question. I agree with the noble Lord, that I do not think he has laid his grounds broadly and extensively enough in point of time. It appears to me that there are measures to which the right hon. Gentleman might have alluded. He could have had no difficulty in referring to them, because I believe he was a Member of the Cabinet by which those measures were introduced. I allude to the measures of Mr. Huskisson, which in many cases substituted a moderate for a high duty, and did away generally with prohibitory duties. I will not make any statement of figures, but I will say, generally, that I think the duty on silk having been made a moderate duty from prohibition in 1825 or 1826, in 1837 and 1838 we found the import of raw silk had increased more than 100 per cent.; with respect to French gloves, with 605 regard to which there was a great alarm, the increase in the articles of hides and skins necessary to make gloves, was 57 per cent. in the course of about ten years after those duties were reduced; with regard to wool, the reduction to 1d. a pound produced a great increase in the price of the article, an article the produce of the British agriculturists; the French wool being introduced at that low duty, the exports increased to a very great extent; and I think the tod of wool rose from 25s. to nearly 40s. I think these are instances among many that may be quoted from the history of the last and the present centuries, showing the benefit of at least reducing duties. But, then, the right hon. Gentleman has proposed a plan which goes beyond the mere reduction of duties to a moderate amount, thereby increasing the import; he has proposed, with regard to the duties on corn, that after three years they shall altogether cease. Now, I am of opinion, that if the right hon. Gentleman had undertaken this task in 1842 in a different spirit, and had made a far greater reduction in the duties on corn than he then made, it would have been better for the agriculturists as a body, and better for the country in general; but as matters stand now, I am ready to say, seeing the contest that is going on—seeing the struggle that would go on if you attempted any intermediate step either of a sliding scale over a few shillings or a small fixed duty—I am prepared to say, as indeed I have already said in public, that I think the abolition of the duty is the most expedient course for Government to propose to Parliament. Considering the plan of the right hon. Gentleman as a great measure, as a measure that is to lay the foundation of a completely new principle with regard to our commercial legislation, that principle being neither to foster one trade nor the other, neither to attempt to promote agriculture nor manufactures, but to leave them "to flourish or to fade" according to the energies and skill of the people of this country; and believing that is the sound principle, I am prepared to give every support I can to the plan brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman. But, Sir, I think it incumbent upon me to say, with regard to the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced it, that of having a new system of Corn Duties for three years, that the opinion I had formed in December has been more and more strengthened by everything I have 606 heard since the right hon. Gentleman made his plan public in this House. I hear from all parts, from Devonshire, from Roxburghshire, from various parts of Scotland, and from various of the midland counties of England, that the farmers who have been consulted upon this subject say everywhere—"If we are to have the system of free trade instead of the system of protection, let us know at once what that system is to be; we would rather have the duties immediately repealed, than take the chance of this new Corn Law which you propose, as breaking our fall, and as intended for our benefit." Sir, I think there is great reason in that. In the first place, I think the tenant-farmer will be better able to arrange with his landlord as to the particular sums that he will have to pay, if he knows at once what the state of the law is, and has not to wait till February, 1849, to take the chance of what may then happen. In the next place, I think there is some danger to the farmer—but it is according, of course, to what the seasons may be—that in 1848, if the price is low, there may be a very considerable accumulation of corn; and that a glut which would not happen if trade were then free, may happen if there is a sudden reduction from 10s. to 1s. in the beginning of 1849, not owing to the price of corn, but owing to your previous legislation. In the next place, I have always thought, that if there be a danger of competition to the English farmer, the danger will be far greater after the lapse of two or three years, than it is at the present moment. It so happens, that, in the present year, we know, owing to the bad harvest in some of the countries in Europe, there is very little stock of corn remaining at Dantzic or Hamburgh, or those parts of the Continent from which corn is usually introduced; and there is no reason to suppose that there is any great stock in the United States: there is, therefore, no apprehension on the part of the farmer. I think the way in which the immediate prospect of the duty being reduced to 4s. has been encountered in the market—for, I believe, the price of corn has generally rather risen than otherwise—is a proof that there is no great danger at the present moment. If there be any danger to encounter, it is when, both on the Continent of Europe and in the United States, preparations are made, the ground has been cultivated, and the seed has been sown, with a view to send in large supplies to the English market, and then at that 607 very moment the duty is to cease. It is as if the right hon. Gontleman were to furnish the farmer with a great coat, provided he wore it only in the summer, and were to make it a condition that he should take it off when Christmas arrived. The provision, I think, may expose the agricultural interest of this country to a danger which it would not otherwise encounter. But I would put it to the right hon. Baronet whether he will not reconsider that part of his plan? The right hon. Baronet has frequently alleged, when bringing forward subjects of this importance, that it was almost impossible to know the exact effect of the duties proposed, until they had been by himself stated in this House, and the opinions of those who would be most affected by them taken and collected. It does appear to me, as far as I have heard, that with respect to this, which the right hon. Baronet intended, no doubt, as an advantage to the cultivator of the soil, the general opinion is, that it would not be that advantage. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this part of his plan. But, as I have already said, I wish the plan of the right hon. Gentleman to succeed; I wish to see his measure with respect to corn successful in this and the other House of Parliament; and no vote of mine shall tend in the least to endanger a measure of such a character. If, therefore, when we come into Committee, the right hon. Gentleman tells me that he has considered the representations made from various parts of the country, but that, upon the whole, he considers the delay of three years, and the duty to be imposed in the mean time, an essential part of his plan, I, for my part, shall go out with the right hon. Gentleman upon it. I have stated thus much with regard to the plan as it affects corn; it is not necessary that I should say much with regard to other parts of the plan which the right hon. Gentleman explained to the House. With regard to sugar, it will not be necessary for me at this time to make any observation whatever. With regard to manufactures, I should say, generally, that if the corn duties are to be abolished, the taking away protection from manufactures, unless where there is an impost which gives a considerable revenue, is a clear duty to the agricultural body. I think you are bound to show them that you abandon protection altogether as a principle—as a principle vicious in itself, and injurious to the country—and not that you are about to subject 608 them to any peculiar experiment, which is so hazardous that you will not subject other parties to the same experiment. I own I doubt if, in some other instances, the right hon. Gentleman has acted upon that principle; but, however, that will be matter of detail when we come to consider the various duties. But there is another part of the subject which I certainly cannot approach with any great satisfaction, from the difficulty of treating it. The right hon. Gentleman has proposed to give certain relief with respect to local burdens, and especially with respect to the expense of prisons and of prosecutions. I think those amendments in the law are, upon their own grounds, just; I think they are improvements in the existing law. I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman say that they were offered as compensation; and I do not think any compensation of that kind could properly be offered. But I confess I do not feel sure, that with respect to the general burdens of the country, the landed interest, the owners and the occupiers of land, may not have more than the share that properly belongs to them. It is a point upon which I feel difficulty; because, although my opinion certainly was, that they were thus unduly burdened, I found that whenever a proposition was made—when my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Ward), making a statement adverse to that opinion, asked for a Committee, none were so ready as the agricultural Gentlemen to oppose inquiry, and to declare that they would not submit the question to investigation. An hon. Gentleman, the Member for Radnorshire, gave us rather along comparison or analogy; he said, that if the shoemakers of this metropolis were ordered alone to pay the police rate, they might well state that they could not sell their shoes so cheap as other persons could sell the different articles they produced; and they might complain of the unjust burdens imposed upon them, and that might be so; but if the shoemakers happened to form a majority in this House, and if the shoemakers were to say, "We will not have this subject inquired into, we will not let you know whether we do pay more than you or not for the police," I own I should very much suspect those shoemakers of thinking that their case would not prove so right when it came to be sifted as it was plausible in appearance. But there is another difficulty in this question. When, about a year and a half or two years ago, there was a very large surplus 609 of about 3,500,000l. in the Exchequer (or indeed more, for there were increased estimates afterwards), I suggested that it might be worth the while of the agricultural interest, if they could at all perceive what was coming on, to have their case as to burdens investigated, with a view to obtaining relief with regard to some taxes—I mentioned the malt tax, for instance, which I thought pressed heavily upon them—but they would not hear of such a proposition; they said, "Protection must be kept just as it is." When the right hon. Baronet came to distribute those 3,500,000l., he distributed them no doubt advantageously to many interests of the country, very advantageously to the trade of the country, but with no peculiar regard to the agricultural interest; and I for one felt no sympathy for them. I could not vote that they ought to have even the 250,000l. which the hon. Member for Somersetshire proposed they should have granted to them, because I thought, as long as they clung to this protection, and insisted upon what I considered an unfair advantage against their fellow countrymen, they had no claim for having a peculiar relaxation of burdens. But, as the right hon. Baronet now proposes the matter, he really would have little more surplus to give. I do not know that he has fairly so much as the 500,000l. or 600,000l. which he estimates. I confess freely that if I had had to propose a scheme upon the subject, it might have differed from the right hon. Baronet's scheme, but that there would not have been any more very material relief. For the right hon. Baronet has this alternative—to take what there is of surplus in the Exchequer, to endeavour to lay burdens more equally which are now unequal, or to propose an increase of taxation for the purpose of taking off burdens which press more severely on the landed interest. Now, that increase of taxation, I think, would be a most inexpedient course; I believe it would expose the landed interest to very great unpopularity; I believe nothing they could gain in point of money would be equal to the odium which would attach to them, if it was to be said that the taxes of the country were to be increased in order to provide a compensation for the abolition of the Corn Laws. For these reasons, therefore, I say at once that I concur in the general scheme of the right hon. Gentleman. I wish that the repeal had been immediate instead of deferred; but in the present state of affairs, seeing 610 the attachment that there is on the part of a large portion of the community to this protective system, I think the advantage so great of getting rid of that system, as respects corn, in three years, and of almost every other protection giving way immediately afterwards, unless it be really some case which will bear argument, that I am unwilling to disturb in any way the settlement of this question. But I cannot for-bear taking notice of one remark, which fell from the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Lascelles) with regard to these plans proposed by the First Minister of the Crown. The hon. Member said, that without meaning anything (I am sure he did not) discourteous to those who sit here, he thought the right hon. Gentleman more able to carry these measures successfully than we were likely to be. Now, that is an observation which compels me to state that I do think that measures of the same kind would have been successfully carried, if the right hon. Gentleman and those who sit with him had supported plans brought forward by those who are his political opponents in the manner in which we support plans brought forward by ours. This matter of free trade and protection, as it had been very justly stated, I think, by the hon. Member himself, is not properly one of those questions which come within the domain of party. When Mr. Huskisson brought forward his plan, many of those who sat on his own side of the House were opposed to him; many of us who sat opposite to him gave him our support. Plans of moderating duties, and introducing a tendency towards free trade, are not properly Whig plans; they are not exclusively Tory plans. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, when Home Secretary, as I have always understood, and as he himself has stated, acted most cordially with Mr. Huskisson in the promotion of those measures. But when the Whig party were in power, and Lord Althorp attempted a reduction of the timber duties, he was met by a party opposition. In 1830, when we all of us who were then in office, two Secretaries of State, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Presidents of the Board of Trade and the Board of Control, voted with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) for going into Committee to consider the Corn Laws, with a view, as we all stated, of proposing a moderate duty, we were met by a party opposition, which prevented us going into Committee. In 1841, when we came forward as a Government to propose 611 reductions with regard to corn, and sugar, and timber, we were met by a united party, containing many Members who represented commercial places—many who, I believe, if they had not been bound by a party tie, would have acted according to their convictions that it would be for the benefit of their constituents that more free principles of commerce should be adopted. The hon. Member for Wakefield is an hon. exception to that remark. He voted, I believe—he frequently has—with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, when he proposed those Motions for the repeal of the Corn Laws, of which he is now about to see the triumph; and I congratulate my hon. Friend on that prospect. But I think it is to be lamented that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and those who with him had learned sound principles of commercial freedom; who had been colleagues and friends of Mr. Huskisson; who could not be ignorant of those principles by which the trade of nations ought to be governed; who did not share in those principles which I think totally unsound and erroneous which have been expressed by the Opposition to-night—it is to be lamented that they did unite in party votes in order to defeat plans founded on those sound principles. My opinion is, that if that had not been the ground of opposition, if the Government of that day had been defeated in any other manner, and those measures had been allowed to pass, much of the sufferings of 1842 and 1843 would have been avoided; the right hon. Gentleman would have avoided for himself much of the invective and the reproach now cast upon him, as having bctrayed somebody or other when he has been, if not consistent with the course which he took in 1841, true to the interests of his country. But, Sir, when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield tells me that the right hon. Gentleman opposite will be more successful in carrying these plans than we should, I say again that it is by our aid, and in consequence of the conduct that we shall pursue, that the measure will attain its success. I think myself bound to say so in justice to those who act with me. And if the right hon. Gentleman has the glory of adopting plans of commercial freedom which will benefit his country, which will enable the poor man to get a better reward for his labour, which will increase the demand for all the productions of this country, and which, after these questions are settled, will, I hope, open the way to the moral improvement 612 of the people of this country, hitherto prevented by their want of adequate means of comfort—if the right hon. Gentleman has the glory of carrying a measure fraught with such large and beneficial results, let ours be the solid satisfaction that, out of office, we have associated together for the purpose of aiding and assisting the triumph of the Minister of the Crown.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
said, that nine gentlemen in succession had risen on the same side of the House, and almost in the same quarter of it; and notwithstanding the kindliness of his noble Friend's nature (Lord J. Russell) who had just sat down, he probably felt some pleasure at seeing them firing into each other's vessels, with an occasional broadside into their Admiral. Till the noble Lord rose, he could not help asking himself, what had become of all the Members on the opposite side? Where was the wild Quixotism of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Bright); the erratic chivalry of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden); and the calmer gallantry of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers)? He was, perhaps, reclining under his laurels; but why was it, he asked, that it had been left exclusively to hon. Members sitting on that side of the House, to take so prominent a part in the present debate? His noble Friend had at length come to the rescue. He hoped that he should not be tempted, in the course of the few observations he should make, to say anything unkind, or provoke any angry feeling in a debate which, up to the present time, had been conducted with a singular disregard of all party or personal acrimony; but yet he could not help repeating that he thought his noble Friend must have felt some pleasure when he found a party so divided against itself. The noble Lord began by announcing three distinct propositions, on which he said all political economists were agreed; the noble Lord did no more than merely enunciate them—he trusted to the ready faith of the House in receiving them on his authority—he did not attempt, in his speech, to prove them—he left them to stand on their own intrinsic merit and truth: they were not, he repeated, enforced by any argument of the noble Lord. The noble Lord, also, referred to the statement made in the able, eloquent, and temperate speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire (Sir W. Heathcote). The noble Lord referred to that speech indeed, but did not attempt to controvert it. He alluded to 613 that part of his hon. Friend's speech on the special disadvantages of the employment of capital in agricultural pursuits as compared with its employment in manufactures—the one, dependent on men and seasons: the other, on a steam-engine. Now, the noble Lord had left this statement untouched, denying only the claims of agricultural labour to any special consideration. It was, therefore, opinion against opinion. He had heard the speech of his noble Friend the Member for Liverpool — he had heard his noble Friend say he would vote against the Amendment; but he should certainly never have been able to discover a clue, from his speech, as to his vote, if he had not announced the side upon which he intended to give his vote. For, in fact, that declaration was a direct contradiction to the whole of his speech. He had not heard a more conclusive speech in favour of his (Sir R. Inglis's) views, and could hardly wish a single word or sentiment altered in it, but that one declaration of the vote. He had stated, that he would not promote any bad feeling; he would keep his word, and would enter upon that more quiet part of the subject to which, with the permission of the House, he would draw their attention for a few minutes. His view of the principle upon which a Legislature should proceed in treating such subjects as these, was to endeavour to procure the best supply of the food of man at the most moderate and equable price. He repeated the expression, most equable as well as moderate. It should not be forgotten in all these discussions, that the general system of protection had prevailed, and was recognised by Parliament for a generation. Now, the question he would put was, whether there were any country in Europe in which production had been maintained at prices so nearly equable? He would not deny, that in this country there had been great variation in the price of production; but what he said was, that, proportionately to other countries, the variations in the price of food had been considerably less in this. It ought to be remembered that the supply of corn in a great measure depended on the providential arrangement of the seasons, in wet weather and in dry, not exclusively on the force of a steam-engine; there must therefore be necessarily a great variation in the produce, and a great variation in the price. The proposition which he wished to set forth was, that in no country in Europe had the variation in the price of produce been so small. The largest variation that occurred 614 in the price of produce in England had been 140 per cent.—a very large amount he admitted; but the amount was the largest taken on an average of twenty-four years between 1815 and 1838, as he found it in a Paper laid before that House in 1840. But what was the variation in other countries? Take two great sea-ports, Bourdeaux and Rotterdam for instance:—In Bourdeaux, the variation was nearly twice as great as in England; in Bourdeaux, the variation of price, instead of 140 per cent., as in England, was 260; and in Rotterdam, more than double that of England, or 295 per cent. But what had been the variations in producing countries? In Prussia Proper, it was 212 per cent.; in Brandenburgh, 248; in Saxony, 269; in Westphalia, 334, more than double the variation of England; and in the Rhenish provinces also the variation was double that of England. Surely, when called upon to disturb a system by which corn was obtained at such comparatively equable prices, the advocates of the change ought to have a basis of calculation more solid and extensive than the calculation of the three last years. They should advance some argument much more conclusive than the apprehension of the famine now alleged to be impending, grievous as that apprehension might be, if there were a prospect of its being realized. The famine, or apprehension of it, was, however, limited to an insufficient supply of one article of food, and which article of food could, if not supplied from other parts of the world, be very well dispensed with by the substitution of another and higher description of product. He remembered some years ago reading a very able article in a paper called the Scotsman, respecting the evil of bringing up the people of any country to live on the cheapest possible food, because in that case, the writer argued, the population had nothing on which they could fall back. He admitted that having brought up the people of Ireland—4,000,000 of them at least—on potatoes, they could not supply them with anything cheaper as the fruit of their own labour. But he thought that such a crisis—a great crisis, as the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government called it—might be met by extraordinary energy and exertion of the supreme Government. It was not by the introduction of potatoes they could be relieved; because, as the right hon. Baronet himself said, in the remarkable speech which he delivered to the 615 House, all the countries which produced potatoes had prohibited their exportation. In Sweden, Belgium, and Holland, the distress was so great, that no potatoes could be obtained from those places. But did that apply to the inferior kinds of grain, or did it apply to the superior kinds? He thought the right hon. Baronet had told them that both Turkey and Egypt had refused to permit any exportation of the higher kinds of grain from those countries. But the Irish people might have the supply they wanted by the importation of the inferior kinds of grain, and which would yet be superior to their ordinary food. It has been said that a sort of remuneration or compensation, to the amount of some 500,000l., in about twenty items, was to be made to the agricultural interest. Now, without denying the expediency of some of the changes thus proposed, he felt that they were altogether inadequate as compensations for the protection to be withdrawn. On every account, and irrespective of the present question, he (Sir R. Inglis) would have been much better pleased had the scheme given to the landed interest the real compensation, of shifting a portion, perhaps 2,000,000l. of the poor rates, which now pressed so heavily on that interest, on the Consolidated Fund. That would have gone far to realize the original intention of the Legislature, that men should contribute to the poor rates according to their ability. At present, the larger proportion of the income of the country did not contribute to the payment of the poor rates. All lands were taxed to a very considerable amount indeed. He had been told that if he agreed to a Committee to inquire into the burdens upon land, the contrary would be proved; but it was a well-known fact, beyond all dispute, that the landed property did contribute largely to the poor, and that funded property did not pay one sixpence towards the poor rates. And if that were so, would not the transfer of the payment of a certain proportion of the poor's rates to the the Consolidated Fund be an equitable transfer? But when they talked of the landed proprietors as exclusively interested in the change now proposed, he could not help adverting to another interest which appeared to have been disregarded in the proposal now under the consideration of the House. He meant the interest of the owners of rent-charge in lieu of tithe, which had been established, much against his wishes, some years ago. He 616 would admit, for the sake of argument, though he denied it in fact, that the amount of home produce might in future be the same under the new system as it was under the existing protections; and he would take, for the sake of illustration only, such quantities and such prices as might most eaily be calculated in debate. Take, for example, fifty quarters of corn at 50s.—that gave at that moment 125l. a-year. If the proposal were carried into effect—if the price of corn should fall—here again he took an imaginary case—to 25s., it was obvious that the amount of tithe-rent paid in that case would be just half, or 75l. In reference to the solemn contract made six or seven years ago, not a single word had been said, though the injustice of now altering the law was apparent. He was quite aware that it would be easy to prove from Hansard, or from country newspapers, instances of inconsistency in those who now advocated the measure; but that would be utterly superfluous, since many advocates of the measure admitted in the strongest terms such inconsistency—"Habemus confitentes reos." He would not reproach his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) with having changed the opinions which he entertained in his youth. He changed those opinions in his manhood; and he was sure that no one who knew anything of the character of his noble Friend, would accuse him of having been influenced in such changes by any low or sordid motives. He thought it as needless to say that he did not accuse his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government of being actuated or influenced by any low or sordid motives; he was as convinced as he could be of the principles of any man, that his right hon. Friend had been influenced in his change by motives of the most pure and hon. kind. He said this, not merely from his knowledge of the character of his right hon. Friend, but from what must strike any man who admitted that such changes could not take place without a motive. Any man must see that his right hon. Friend, so far from being influenced by any conceivable motive except that which arose from conviction, had almost every conceivable motive for continuing in the course which he had previously pursued, and from which he had deflected. He was at the head of the largest majority which had sat in that House since 1834. It was a party which, he ventured to say, he might have looked upon with some 617 satisfaction—a party which certainly looked up to him with entire confidence. He only regretted that that party had not been earlier made acquainted with his right hon. Friend's intentions. He understood the cheer of his hon. and gallant Friend behind him (Col. Sibthorp), and must say, that it was his humble but sincere conviction that nothing but the strongest and most imperious sense of duty could have induced his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government to come forward with the proposition which had now been laid on the Table of the House. He hoped his right hon. Friend would forgive him when he said, that exactly in proportion as they had reposed confidence in his former opinions, they were entitled to discuss his claims to statesmanship in his present conduct. If the proposal which he now advanced were the true proposal—if his right hon. Friend were a great statesman now, all his former proposals must have been invalid, and all his past conduct must be considered unstatesmanlike; and in all his former policy he was insensible to the real wants and necessities of the country. He only expressed his own deliberate convictions when he used this language. He hoped he should not give offence; but it was impossible to give credit to any man for such an entire change of opinion, without in some degree impeaching the correctness and fitness of the right hon. Baronet to guide the destinies of this great country. It was not merely that his conduct to-night was inconsistent with that of preceding years; but the suddenness of the change from one line of conduct to another had been so great and striking, that they could not feel sure but there might be another change. If the noble Lord opposite supported the proposition of the hon. Member for Sheffield on the Irish Church, he well knew that noble Lord would endeavour to carry out that proposal to the full extent which the hon. Member for Sheffield could desire. But if his noble Friend were to say, on the other hand, that he would support the national Church, and a national Church system of education, he had as little doubt, as it was possible for any man to have, that his noble Friend would be induced by no consideration to swerve from that pledge. He felt bound to express his full confidence in the honour and integrity of his noble Friend; more particularly because he knew that some of those with whom he (Sir R. Inglis) generally acted, in and out of this House, regarded the noble Lord as something like 618 an ogre. Some of the party to which he (Sir R. Inglis) belonged, thought there was nothing so bad as might not be apprehended from him. All that he could say was, that he would much rather trust an enemy who told him at once what he meant to do, than—he was afraid he must say—[a pause]—he stopped for his own sake [Laughter]. He heard that laugh, and well knew with what pleasure hon. Gentlemen opposite must regard the breaking up of the once great and once united party on this side of the House. His hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield had, in the earlier part of the evening, made some observations upon the conduct of an hon. Member on that side of the House, and upon the conduct of hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the justice of which he (Sir R. Inglis) could not concur. If the measure were carried at all, let it be carried by those who were for years its advocates, and not by those who, till the last three months, had been, all their lives, its opponents. His right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) cheered that observation. He understood that cheer. It meant that his right hon. Friend had so wished, and had so desired to act: but had failed, and had accordingly resumed the Government—only when no one else would take it. He (Sir R. H. Inglis) would not admit that there was no other course than that which the Government had adopted. In their sudden change of opinion, principle, and policy, the judgment of the country ought again to be taken. An alteration in the whole system of England, grounded upon an experience of three years, was accompanied by a fatal subversion of confidence in some of its chief public men. The noble Lord's opinions, on the contrary, were at least four years old; in truth, much more, and were known to all men. In 1839, the noble Lord voted for a Committee, and on the 10th of last June he voted on the proposition of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. At that time he gave all the world reason to believe, that if by any circumstances the destinies of this country were placed in his hands, he would do his utmost to carry out those principles. For his part, he could only deplore the course that had been taken by the Government, and endeavour to give it all the resistance in his power. He asked himself when, and on what ground, and by whom, was the present question brought forward? The answer was—in a time of profound peace and universal prosperity. Look to Ireland—Ireland not as in 1798 619 with a secret organization of 300,000 armed men ready for rebellion: not as three years since, when overrun with monster-meetings. Look at England—in a state of prosperity unexampled; and advancing in this prosperity under the very system of protection which was repudiated by the authors of the present measure. There never was a year in which every branch of industry flourished so vigorously as in 1845. The old maxim Quieta non movere might be paralleled in English, "Let well alone:"—why should we take physic and die? Then again, on what ground was this great change enforced? Why, that in one division of the Empire, there had been a great failure in one main article of food, the potato crop of Ireland. But, in the first place, all men admitted that other crops had been abundant there and here; and, as to this particular crop, in a document laid on the Table of the House, which he now took up in his hand, it appeared, that there was in the district to which the return applied, a large increase in the crop of last year over the preceding year. In the whole of the district, consisting of twelve parishes, the produce in each parish was, as contrasted with that of the preceding year, as follows: In one parish, 16 bushels this year instead of 10; in another, 18 instead of 10; 14 instead of 10; 14 instead of 10; 18 instead of 10; 18 instead of 10; 14 instead of 10; 14 instead of 10; and 14 instead of 10. In every instance, in short, the produce had been much greater this year than last. A private account which he had received, confirmed the conclusion. While, then, he admitted that the destruction by disease was indeed great; he concluded, that the produce had been so large, that the proportion of loss to the average crop was far less than at first sight appeared. Influenced by these and by the considerations he had mentioned, under all the circumstances of the case, and considering when and on what grounds the measure was brought forward, in which there was certainly no just reason for the change, he announced his determination of voting now as he had hitherto done, against the principle of this measure, and would give his cordial support to the Amendment of his hon. Friend.
§ MAJOR FITZMAURICE
said, that under the tree of British protection every species of industry had flourished in this country, and the result of free trade would be, that it would throw a large mass of land out of cultivation in exact proportion 620 to the quantity of foreign corn imported from abroad, which was grown there at a cheaper rate than in this country. Taking the case of Poland, for instance, he had the authority of a person who had resided there for twelve years, for saying that wheat grown in Poland might be landed in the London market under 30s. a quarter. They were told that America would afford a great market for British manufacturers, and he sincerely hoped it would prove so; but suppose America did not choose to take British manufactures in exchange for corn, but should insist on having gold, in what a condition would this country be then placed! He would ask the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government whether he did not know that nearly three-fourths of the whole shipping which came into the port of London laden with corn during the last quarter, returned in ballast, or, in other words, they returned with gold for their corn? The right hon. Baronet took great credit to himself for the measure which he had brought forward; but that merit was entirely due to the Members for Stockport and Wolverhampton, and their friends. Though no one was more opposed than himself to the policy of the hon. Member for Stockport, yet no man was more willing to give credit where it was due; and if the proposed measure proved satisfactory to the country, he thought there was no situation which the country could offer too high for the services of that hon. Member. In what manner was the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton and the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport met, in 1844, by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government? That right hon. Baronet then said that it might be very pleasing to indulge in the theories of modern philosophy and political economy; but when they had endangered and destroyed the happiness of a nation, they had then obtained but a very sorry return for their pains. He, indeed, feared that they now would have but a sorry return. It appeared to him that a most beneficial change might have been made in the Corn Law by the trifling alteration of taking the averages by weight instead of by measure. They would then have had bread and wheat of corresponding prices; whereas now the case was quite the reverse. The effect of this alteration, too, would have been to destroy the great monopolists in Mark-lane. Nothing could be worse than these eternal changes: they not only interfered with the regular process 621 of farming, but also with the regulation of labour throughout the year. How could they expect the farmer to lay out his capital in cultivation and improvement, when they were changing the law every six months? What would be the use for him to go down to Buckinghamshire, and to tell the farmers, "The alteration in the Corn Law will not of itself ruin you, nor the changes in the Tariff will not in themselves destroy you,"—if there should be a variety of measures all tending to and uniting in one point of ruin to the farmer? What mattered it to a man whether he was stung to death by a thousand noodles, or killed by one thrust of a sword. And, for his part, he preferred the bold, manly system of the hon. Member for Stockport, to the mincemeat, ladylike interference of the right hon. Baronet. When the farmer found himself deserted by those who once pretended to be his friends—when he found himself handed over to the tender mercies of the hon. Gentleman on the Opposition side by the right hon. Baronet, who was placed in the situation in which he now stood mainly by the farmer's exertions, could they feel surprised that under these circumstances the farmer should turn round, and in the bitterness of his disappointment exclaim:—Blow, blow, thou wintry wind,Thou art not so unkindAs man's ingratitude?
§ MR. S. HERBERT
If I were called upon to cite authority in confirmation of my opinions, and in favour of the expediency and justice of the course which Her Majesty's Ministers are prepared to adopt, I think, of all the speeches I have heard this evening, I should select the two last speeches of my two hon. Friends as those which furnish the strongest arguments against the conclusions which they announce as their convictions, and against the course which they intend to take on the present question. An attempt has been made to show, in a speech mixed up with much hostile feeling and prejudice against the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, that there are no circumstances existing in this country which call for legislative interference—still less that there are grounds for interference to stop the usual course of law—that nothing has occurred either in this country or in Ireland which could have justified all parties in stepping out of their previous course, and announcing a great change of opinions—a change of opinions forced upon them by different circumstances, which no man by 622 possibility could have contemplated. I wish I could agree with my hon. Friend that there was not in Ireland any such cause for interference—that there was no cause for anxiety, none to justify any extreme step taken by the Government, none to justify Ministers in proposing to change the laws which regulate the importation of food. The hon. Gentleman tells us—and he selects one electoral district in illustration—that there was a larger crop than the average sowed in Ireland; and therefore the loss was not so great as the increase which the unusual fertility of the fields produced. [A VOICE: Those are potatoes.] Yes, but potatoes are a prime article of food in Ireland; and it is impossible to disconnect the failure of the potato crop from this question of food. It is not necessary for me to expatiate, upon the misery of a population depending upon that kind of food exclusively. We have this year a signal instance of the state to which a population may be reduced when it depends for subsistence on food which is not susceptible of keeping from one harvest to another; but is it the case, that there is this year an unusual fertility in Ireland? The Commissioners, referring to the opinion that upon the whole the potato crop this year was a very large one, said—We regret to add, that we have been unable to obtain any proof of this; on the contrary, we have seen that the crop was small, and we have it in evidence that it is below the average; but we have also seen it to be heavy, and we therefore conclude that it may, perhaps, be an average crop.From first to last I must say, that the reports which the Government has received from the constabulary and from the stipendiary magistrates were most creditable to their judgment in this respect; that as they never gave in to the panic at first, they never gave in to the fool's paradise at last. They never gave in to the statement that there were no sound potatoes left. They never misinformed the Government in that respect, and they never in that reaction of the public mind—to which perhaps they are more subject in Ireland than in other parts of the Empire—fled to the other extreme and told the Government that no danger was to be apprehended. So far as the failure of the crop in Ireland is concerned, I wish I stood here in the position of being obliged to state that the reports by which we have been guided are fallacious, our judgment erroneous, our precautions unnecessary. On the contrary, I fear that any inquiry you may institute will give a fearful and 623 melancholy corroboration of the facts on which we have acted, and that our judgment will be proved true in a manner and to an extent which none, I am sure, will regret more sincerely than the very Gentlemen who now deny the fact. But the evil exists here also. In England and in Scotland, potatoes are a staple article of food. In the west of England, their use has increased almost as much as in Ireland. No man has put more strongly than the noble Lord the Member for London, the paradoxes of a scarcity of food with cheapness, owing to the inferiority of what is produced. Potatoes, in the face of scarcity, are sold cheap, the holders fearing their loss through decay. So the averages of corn were depressed last season by the inferior quality of the grain. I do not stand on a point of consistency when I frankly avow that I think the law of 1842 has failed; that the first time it was tested by adverse circumstances it failed, and signally failed. We have dear bread and low averages—dear bread and a high duty. We have bread as dear as in 1839 under the old law, the duty higher than under the old law. The prices of wheat in November ranged as high as in 1839; but the mass of the wheat being of inferior quality, sold at the lower prices, and depressed the averages. Bad wheat does not make bad bread, but less bread; you must buy more wheat to get farina to make the same quantity of bread. But we had bread at 9½d. and 10d.; a fixed duty of 14s. For short harvests the law of 1842 would have worked; for it was a mitigation of the principle of protection. Hon. Gentlemen forget that the whole object of the Corn Law enacted in 1815 was to effect the transition from the high prices of war to the low prices of peace. How did every statesman who ever touched the question deal with it? Was it to increase protection? No; but to diminish it; to carry out the principle in the same spirit in which it originated. Seeing the existing state of matters, seeing the law had failed of its purpose—that food was deficient in quantity and inferior in quality — that the deficiency was common to the whole of Europe—that in consequence of that deficiency other countries had opened their ports for importations of grain—while Turkey, Egypt, and others, had closed theirs against exportations of grain—that other countries on which we had depended for supplies had become competitors against 624 us for the purchase of grain; under these circumstances I thought, with others in Her Majesty's Government, that it was necessary to take steps for meeting the difficulties under which the country was labouring. I am glad to hear from the hon. Member for Somerset that he was not one who was adverse to opening the ports—that he was not prepared to oppose such a measure if its necessity were absolutely shown. I regret, even now, that the course we then contemplated was not adopted. I think that in cases of public emergency, promptness and vigour ought to be exercised. I thought, under these circumstances, that if the Government at once took upon itself the responsibility of these measures, the battle would have been half won. I knew this, moreover, and say what Gentlemen may in this House, they will not persuade me to the contrary—that the gentry and the agriculturists of England were not men to set up their pecuniary or other interests in opposition to the public advantage. My noble Friend the Member for Liverpool (to whose speech, though it has been claimed by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, I also may lay claim, because I think it proves the accuracy of our anticipations of the results of free trade), expressed with some earnestness his regret that this measure should have been proposed by the Government of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel). I have no hesitation in saying, that I held the same opinion, and that I strongly advocated the necessity of this measure being entrusted to other hands than ours. The noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) has spoken in terms of some bitterness of past differences on this subject. But those differences did not relate to the question of protection or no protection, but to the relative advantages of a fixed duty and a sliding scale. The noble Lord, too, is a recent convert to entire free trade; but I think that, as latterly he has, from his party connexions, been so much mixed up with the cause, he had a better right than we had to bring forward this measure, and I, for one, should have been heartily glad if he had undertaken its conduct. I regretted to hear the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) use an expression—whether inadvertently or not I am uncertain—intimating that if we had offered to support him, as he is about to support us, he should have been able to carry this measure. I observed that the expression to which I refer was received with a cheer by hon. Gentleman 625 on the other side, as if they thought there was a wide difference between the conduct of the two great parties in this House on the question now under discussion; and I must say that I think no distinction could be made more unfair than that which is thus attempted to be drawn. The noble Lord said, in allusion to the speech of the hon. Member for Wakefield, who questioned the power of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) to carry this measure, that if we had offered him the same support as he is prepared to give us, he should have been as well able as we are to pass this proposition. [Lord J. RUSSELL: I alluded to the year 1841, not to anything that has occurred recently.] Then I have misunderstood the noble Lord; for I must still maintain, that in 1841 there was no question between us, but only a question of degree; but I must say, that the support we volunteered to him in December last was spontaneously and cordially tendered. We stated to the noble Lord the grounds on which we felt that a private concert between the leaders of parties would have been resented by the House of Commons as an infringement of their right of free deliberation. The noble Lord admitted the truth and soundness of those arguments; but I will say, for my right hon. Friend and myself, that no support could have been more frankly offered, or would have been more cordially and heartily given, than that which we tendered to him. But I return, Sir, to the subject. When I hear assertions as to the effect the measure suggested by Her Majesty's Government is to produce upon the agricultural interest in this country, I wish hon. Members would show us how we are to be ruined by a more extended commerce, and tell us from what countries the abundant supplies of wheat they anticipate are to be imported. I heard an hon. Gentleman say, a short time since, that wheat could be imported into London from Poland at 30s. per quarter. Such a thing certainly has not yet happened. If you go to Dantzic you may buy Polish wheat; but I doubt whether you would get it at anything like so cheap a rate as the hon. Member anticipates. I am afraid, if he enters into any contract of that description, that ruin will fall upon himself rather than upon the agricultural interest. In Dantzic, which is practically the cheapest market in Europe, the prices of wheat are now as high as they are in London; and whenever there is, in that place, the slightest demand for wheat, the 626 price rises rapidly. And when the hon. Member for the University of Oxford talks of the fluctuations of price, it must be remembered that in these producing countries, the fluctuations in price arise from two different causes: from the nature of their harvests, and from our demand. One place from which a very large supply of corn is expected, which might, as I once supposed, interfere materially with our own produce, is Odessa. I have made inquiries as to the state of the markets there, and I find that the average price in 1838, 1839, and 1840, (for it is fallacious to quote single years,) was 34s. a quarter: that was with a demand for wheat here. At Malta, which is supplied with Odessa wheat, the average price over a large number of years is about 32s. or 33s.; and the cost of the transit of that wheat to this country would bring it to a price at which it could scarcely enter into competition with our own, especially when you recollect how inferior it is in quality. I confess, with the noble Lord who last spoke, that I do not think the transition can be made without risk or sacrifice. Take what course you may, if you wish to get rid of protection, and to take that which I believe is the course you ought to take for the country's welfare, you must incur some temporary sacrifice. This is an admission made by all parties who have considered the subject. But do not overrate the amount. You will find it impossible that any greatly increased quantity of corn can be brought here from Dantzic or Odessa to compete successfully with our home produce; and those are the two great continental ports from which importations are expected. Spain, where corn can be produced cheaper perhaps than in any other, receives large importations from America. From there, again, great apprehensions are also entertained of extensive importations of corn; but how does the case stand? I find that in Ohio, the largest and most fertile State in the Union, the population increases much more rapidly than the production. The population has increased from 45,000 in 1800, to nearly 2,000,000 at the present time. For the last fifty years, the total exports of flour and wheat from the United States, have been gradually diminishing; for the last four years, the diminution has been still greater. Gentlemen opposite have given up the clap-trap cry of cheap bread; and on our side, it is time that we should allay the apprehensions which exist on this subject; that we should 627 prevent the agriculturists of this country from being scared from their propriety by alarms which are founded in delusion. I found, in considering the present circumstances of the country, that a state of things existed which promised a succession of high prices for one, two, or more years. I saw that a great change of opinion had taken place in the public mind on this question. I found that a great change had taken place even in the opinions of the agriculturists themselves; and that among the tenant-farmers there was an impression, which I have heard them express in strong language, that this is a landlord's question. An hon. Gentleman who has spoken to-night, has said he considers that any depreciation in the value of produce must be divided between the landlords and the tenants—that it must affect the rent of the one as well as the profits of the other. But is that the case? What is rent, but the difference between the not return and the net profit of the farmer? It is the surplus after the farm is reimbursed. That, at any rate, is the opinion of the tenants; they say that they have taken leases on what was called Act of Parliament prices, but that, somehow or other, the market price was below the Act of Parliament price, and the landlord got the benefit of the difference. Sir, I felt that if these opinions were prevalent among farmers holding large quantities of land, it would be impossible to maintain the existing system. The supporters of that system said, "Let us be quit of that which is so uncertain—which depends on Parliamentary majorities, the caprices of Members of Parliament, the turns of public affairs; let us trust to our own skill, capital, and industry, and then we shall have nothing to complain of. At all events, it will be better than a state of uncertainty." These were the opinions of the occupying tenants; and as to the feelings of the labourers, I appeal to every agricultural Gentleman whether they are firm supporters of the Corn Laws. Sir, a meeting took place at a village called Goatacre, in my county—a meeting which has been alluded to in a different sense by different parties in this House. Now, I am not prepared to deny—indeed, I think on the face of the resolutions agreed to at that meeting, it is obvious—that those resolutions were not drawn up by working men, that the proceedings were preorganized and contrived by others. But this I am bound to state, that the statements of those working men as to the difficulties 628 they labour under were correct. I live in the midst of a population as to whom I scarcely know how they exist. That is a question which has disturbed more men's minds than mine. Sir, hon. Gentlemen, my Colleagues in the representation of my county, have thought, and thought painfully, on these things. The labourers say, "We don't care what change you make, we defy you to make our condition worse." I am not one of those who would say, as hon. Gentlemen opposite would, that this state of things is the effect of the protective system. But, at the same time, although that system may not have been the cause of these things, it does not follow that its removal may not help to better them. I will read to the House a letter I received to-day from a man of great intelligence, who farms upon what is called "the system of high farming," who manures his land highly, and is thoroughly master of the subject:—I am quite sure that if the Wiltshire hills were farmed as they ought to be, and as under the proposed measure I hope they will be, you would not find a labourer unemployed in the whole county. Light-land farmers attach too much importance to their wheat-crops; they grow corn on too large a proportion of their farm, and do not consume half enough on their land by stock—viz., they ought to produce more beef, mutton, and pork, and less grain. I can, Sir, give you an example how far good and high farming permanently improves the soil. There was a common field in Berkshire which was occupied by several persons, one of whom was a baker, who had three acres in different parts of the field. He used to fatten a great many pigs, which made much very rich manure; this he applied very liberally to his land; and although it is ten years since the field was divided, yet the baker's acres may be discovered at this day by the most casual observer, from their increased and surpassing fertility—thus proving not only the advantages of this high system of cultivation, but the necessity of a long tenure to enable the farmer to obtain such a full return as his energy and capital so well merit. By compliance with the conditions I have above mentioned, the landlords' rentals will not be decreased, but their tenants will be prosperous and their labourers employed at good wages. Another argument which is used by the opponents of free trade, is, 'the reduction which it will cause in the wages of the agricultural labourer'—founding this opinion on the fallacy that the price of labour varies with the price of wheat. Now, my own experience fully controverts this statement; for, since I have been in Wiltshire, I have sold wheat as high as 78s. and as low as 40s. per quarter, and have only paid two rates of wages, i.e. 9s. and 8s. per week, a variation by no means commensurate with that of the proposed standard; and I cannot but think, if the condition I have spoken of before, were complied with that the increased demand for labour arising from the safer employment of more capital on our farms, and the general better cultivation of them, will more than counterbalance the slight difference in wages which 629 so large a variation in the price of wheat may have caused.There has been much misapprehension on this subject of wages, because hon. Gentlemen will draw deductions from what falls under their own eye, rather than from a general view. It is incontestable, in the manufacturing districts, and we have lately had additional proofs of it, that so far from wages fluctuating with the price of food, the price of food rises while wages fall. In some parts of the agricultural districts, again, when a fall in the price of wheat takes place, wages will fall, though not to the same extent; and when the price of wheat rises, wages do not rise in proportion. Well, Sir, seeing these changes of opinion among the very class who profess to support those laws, I first thought that they were not maintainable; but, still more, I considered that these laws ought not to be maintained, because, being no longer willingly accepted by the community, they became in their eyes most unjust. That this was a time for making the change with the least prospect of the infliction of suffering, was an additional reason why it should take place. But I confess other reasons more cogent than these, than a desire for the extension of commerce, or the temporary necessity for meeting scarcity; I felt that it was more consistent with honour—["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen may have a difference of opinion from myself on these subjects. I was speaking not of the honour of the Government, nor of my own personal honour. I hold that, as far as my personal honour is concerned, I did that which was consistent with the conduct of an honest man. After much doubt on this question, reluctantly, slowly, I changed my opinions. I did not make light of party engagements; I saw these evils; I knew of the intimidation that would arise; I knew of the threats that would be held out; of the punishment by which I should be visited by my constituents, because I had chosen, in the exercise of my duty, to follow the dictates of my conscience, rather than of personal interest. I speak in no tone of bravado; for if such a punishment were to be inflicted on me, it would be to me a matter of the deepest mortification; but I counted the cost of these things. I knew that my duty to the country required that I should not stand here as the delegate of a mere local interest, to make a scramble with other delegates to get as much as I could from the general pickings; I thought that such a position it 630 would be disgraceful in me to hold, and one which my constituents never dreamt of imposing on me, and, thereupon I acted as I have done. So much, Sir, for my personal honour. The honour I spoke of was that of the landed interest only. I say, now is the time to concede with honour, when there is no appearance that your concession is extorted by violence. There is no danger from agitation at your doors. Arguments you have had which I confess have great weight in my mind; but the amount of the agitation of the League, led, though it has been, by men of the greatest ability, has been much overrated. Like the armies we see paraded on the stage, the same men come round and round many times over. The agitation of the League has not been that of masses, such as we have seen in the case of former agitations. It has been an agitation not of force, but of reason. If you do not now yield to reason, to that agitation, some day, force may be added; and then you will yield, not as now, with honour, but with loss of station, influence, and character. I now come to a ground I wish to touch upon, and which I frankly avow to you is with me a stronger motive than all why we should set ourselves free from the continuance of this law. The public mind is not in the state it was in in 1815. At that time these matters were little understood; the heads of the party who brought forward this question, Lord Liverpool and the men of that time were in advance of the public mind, and they brought it forward as an exception to a recognised principle. It has been so dealt with ever since. That is now acknowledged. In 1841, when the noble Lord opposite brought forward his Budget, I frankly avowed my complete adhesion to the principles of free trade; but I objected to the mode of their application to corn. I objected to the machinery, as well as the rapidity with which they would be applied; but the soundness of the principles we never denied. But now the public mind is enlarged upon the subject. You have men of all classes, of all shades, and of all colours, and engaged in all domestic pursuits, beginning to think that one part of the community has a benefit over another, and at the expense of another. Then, if we are to stand upon such ground as that, we stand upon a mine, upon a rotten footing, and we cannot maintain it. Talk of party—the hon. Gentleman says that the party is broken up. I do not admit that this party, Conservative party or Tory party— 631 call it by what name you will—is bound together by no greater object than a Customs' duty upon the importation of foreign corn. Look at the history of these laws. Was it party intention? We have had Corn Laws ever since the reign of Charles II.; and since that time they have been constantly changed, and constantly suspended. I could show you cases when the duty was no higher than 6d. a quarter—when the laws were suspended, and the ports were opened, was party therefore in each case weakened, broken up, dissolved? But it has been said, that Corn Laws are part of our Constitution. Sir, if I am right in thinking that they impose a burden on one part of the community for the benefit of another, then I say they are contrary to the whole spirit of our Constitution. I am not one of those who wish to see the Constitution of this country rendered more democratic than it is. I cannot think that the public mind wishes it to be more democratic than it is. I think late events have rather shown that the mantles of despotic kings who disgraced the world, have fallen upon democratic rather than upon temperate and mixed Governments. I have no faith in Governments guided by uncontrolled popular passions. I have no wish to see the aristocratic element weakened in our Constitution; and it is upon that account I say, do not peril it on a question in which your motives may be impugned, when once you are convinced, as I am, that these laws are not for the good of the community. I say that, with that opinion, no earthly power can induce me to rise from this bench to defend them. They may say that the country Gentlemen are a party having great power and influence; that that power and influence have been given to us to be exercised for the public good; but that we have used it for the increase of our incomes. I do not say that these laws were passed for that purpose, I am sure that they were not; but at the same time I cannot deny that they have had that effect and I should sit with shame upon my face were I to hear such an accusation made, and were I unable to refute it. Hon. Members must recollect that great changes have taken place in the last fifty years in the social constitution of this country; that the manufacturing power has increased to an enormous degree. You may dislike the effect of it—you may think it congregates together great masses of men—that you have less security for their morality 632 and welfare; but depend upon it, it is a power you cannot check nor control; it has become a permanent element in our society; it has great wealth, and offers great employment; it is a source of that commerce which has maintained our colonial empire, and given us the dominion we possess throughout the world; it is now, as it has always been, the great source of our maritime power, and you must also recollect that if you intend to maintain this great Empire, and think, as I do, that it is possible to carry its free institutions, and temperate liberties, and reformed faith to other parts of the globe, it is by these humble means, these manufactures, these woollens, and linens, that under Providence you are enabled to do it; it is by extending your commerce that you are able to penetrate into every part of the world, to civilize, and to teach. You must recollect, too, that men who give you these benefits—who contribute so largely to our prosperity—are entitled also to a full share of the advantages of the State. My noble Friend who opened the discussion at the meeting of Parliament, in one of those eloquent and graceful speeches so characteristic of him, pointed out how much it is the interest of commerce and manufacture to have peace, security, and the maintenance of those institutions, by which they are most likely to be secured. You must recollect that those gentlemen whose pursuits depend so much upon public tranquillity, are the best auxiliaries you can have for maintaining those things under which this Empire has so long flourished—those institutions which do not depend upon Customs' duties, which have grown with the growth of this country, which require to be constantly amended, but with a tender and reverential hand. I wish to see the two interests of agriculture and manufacture united. If they have been separated, it has been by the fault of legislation, it is not a fault of their own; but I wish to see those two knitted together. I believe the proposals of the Government have a tendency to cement the two. I believe that the proposals of the Government, being involved in a large and comprehensive scheme, will produce a change in such a way as to produce little loss or suffering to the interests affected: and I believe further, that when the country shall have maturely considered them, and when the constituencies more exclusively agricultural shall have calmly considered them, they will think that those 633 proposals offer a means of throwing off that protection which they no longer require; that they have the means of attaching to themselves large masses of men who have been taught by circumstances to be almost hostile to them; that they may follow their pursuits without doubt and uncertainty, and the loss attendant upon them from which they have hitherto suffered. I should lament, moreover, to see the class to which you and I belong; to which by birth, by habit, by prejudice if you will, I am attached; and which I consider to have one of the noblest spheres of usefulness that exists in private life in any country in the world—I mean the class of English country gentlemen—debased in any way, or lose its natural influence; and I know no way in which that influence can be so weakened as by your maintenance of a law, from which, in my conscience, I believe you derive no advantage whatsoever, but which I consider to be unjust and impolitic, and which must lower you in public estimation, by giving to those who watch your proceedings false, but, I admit, most injurious notions as to the motives by which you are actuated. You have now an opportunity of repairing the greatest error ever committed by any body of men. I may assert that the gentry of this country have been distinguished from those of all other countries in the world as having never been the advocates of disgraceful immunities. While other aristocracies have been the sycophants of courts, they have borne the chief burdens of the State; they have given to the State their service and their blood and their treasure, and from them have sprung some of the most eminent men in the field, the Church, and the walks of science, this country has ever produced. I am anxious that this character should be maintained. Hon. Gentlemen laughed just now; but I do think that the law of 1815 was in principle, at any rate, a great error. It may have been necessary as an expedient: as such only was it enacted. We offer you the means of repairing it. I trust you will accept it. For myself, my own mind has for some time been firmly made up to it. I believe the measures we propose will be for the interest of all classes of the community. I have confidence in their success in this House—I have confidence in the results that will follow from them; and I leave them in your hands, with the earnest and sincere prayer to you that without previous 634 bias, without party or resentful feeling, and believing that they are for the interest of yourselves as well as of the community at large, you will not acquit the Government, but sanction the measures which they have proposed to you for the public good, and for the public good alone.
§ Debate adjourned. House adjourned at one o'clock.