§ On the Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate,
§ MR. COLQUHOUN
said, he was going to ask the permission of the House to make a personal explanation, painful at all times, but which it was incumbent on him to make after the observations of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, who, he was ready to admit, had no wish to misrepresent his opinions, although the right hon. Gentleman had greatly misunderstood them. It would be in the recollection of the House that the right hon. Baronet had stated that he had once held opinions similar to those entertained, and, he believed, most conscientiously entertained, by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton—namely, that he wished for a total repeal of the Corn Laws, and that he 757 had passed from that opinion to those in favour of high protective duties, which he at present entertained. He could assure the right hon. Baronet that he was mistaken both as to the opinions he (Mr. Colquhoun) had formerly held, and those he at present held. With regard to his former opinions, no doubt the hon. Member for Durham would think him very ignorant, when he frankly avowed that with regard to the question of the Corn Laws he had ever felt it to be one of extreme difficulty. It was of all questions of political economy that which was so mixed up with many great interests of the country, that he felt perplexed in his decision, and he was unable by the exercise of his own judgment to arrive at a satisfactory knowledge of all its bearings; on the contrary, he confessed he had regarded it for many years with great doubt and anxiety. In 1841, when he was excluded from Parliament, the question of the Corn Laws came prominently before that House, and assumed a very important position. He had then given the question a careful consideration, and whatever opinions he had arrived at, he was perfectly prepared now to defend them, reviewing, as he had then done, all the bearings of the question, and fixing decisively the conclusions at which he had now arrived. But as to his having held at a former period opinions similar to those of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, this was incorrect; though it was said somewhat ingeniously by the right hon. Baronet that he had found his name in the division in 1838 with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton; and as he (Mr. Colquhoun) had voted for the Committee, he must have entertained these opinions. Now, did the right hon. Baronet forget that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, in his concluding speech, had stated that he moved for the Committee, in order to sweep into the division persons who did not agree with him, and who thought that a fixed duty was the best mode of settling the question? The same Motion was renewed in 1839; and with regard to the Motion of 1838 he would observe that he found in the same division with himself the name of the hon. Member for Sheffield, who was also the advocate of a fixed duty. But in 1839 they had precisely the same Motion made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, for which he (Mr. Colquhoun) had voted; but he would add that the noble Lord the Member for London, the avowed and most resolute champion for 758 a fixed duty, voted for it; the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton, whose sincerity in the opinions he entertained in favour of a fixed duty, no one would question, voted for it; and so did also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth, whose integrity and straightforwardness no one could deny. He (Mr. Colquhoun) therefore certainly could not be charged as entertaining the opinions of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, because, being the advocate of a fixed duty, he had voted for the Committee. He happened lately to find a newspaper, in which his opinions were stated as he had delivered them to the constituents he then represented in that House—the borough of Kilmarnock. Now, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, whom he saw in his place, would bear him out, that on the question of free trade that constituency was sufficiently liberal; and as he was then asking their votes, it was obvious that, knowing their opinions, he must have been anxious to express opinions as liberal as he possibly could. That was the common tactique of an election. In July, 1837, he was on that occasion asked by an elector of Rutherglen, "Are you prepared to support the total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws?" and his (Mr. Colquhoun's) reply was, "that he was not prepared to do so—that he had no objection to see a reduced duty imposed upon corn; but he was quite sure that it was not for the interests of the manufacturing classes, or any class of the community, that confusion should be thrown into the agricultural class; that both classes should go together, and he was not disposed to advocate a measure detrimental to the interests of both, as he thought the total repeal of the Corn Laws would be." True, he had then added that upon so difficult and perplexing a question the application of a fixed duty would be the most desirable way of settling the question; and his motive for holding that opinion was, that protection was necessary for the welfare of agriculture. That was his deliberate opinion; and he believed they never could continue protection in that country unless they obtained for it not only the support of the agricultural class, great and influential as it was, but unless they carried with them the sympathy and judgment of a large portion of the manufacturing and mercantile classes; and he founded that on his experience of that class with whom chiefly he had been connected since his entrance into public life. And when he 759 heard the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State dispose of the sliding-scale so easily — when his right hon. Friend told them that the sliding-scale would not slide even before they had had the experience of a bad harvest, he could not help thinking that perhaps his (Mr. Colquhoun's) earlier views of a fixed duty were better than those views which he had entertained subsequently, and which he had derived chiefly from the able speeches of his right hon. Friend and the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. So much for his past experience. The right hon. Baronet had thrown out a hint that it might be convenient to raise the question now before the House, by a proposition that protection was absolutely required for all the industry of this country. If that Motion were made, it was one which with his commercial views he frankly confessed he could not support. He believed that the views of Mr. Huskisson on that point were those of a wise and practical statesman. His views were, that they were bound to relax commercial restrictions so far as was possible, consistently with the safety of the other interests of the country. In every possible mode in which they could remove commercial restrictions and extend the trade of the country, that mode ought to be adopted; and he still maintained his opinions formerly avowed, that the right hon. Baronet, in following the steps of Mr. Huskisson, had acted rightly, and deserved, as he had secured, his support. He had not changed those opinions. When the noble Lord the Member for London referred to the authority of Mr. Huskisson, and had stated that he was rather surprised the right hon. Baronet had not cited the authority of Mr. Huskisson, the noble Lord would permit him to say that he thought in that the right hon. Baronet had shown the admirable logic he always used. That authority, great as it undoubtedly was, would not have availed him, because the opinions of Mr. Huskisson were not on his side. The system of Mr. Huskisson was this: he found that in this country they had for a long series of years levied heavy protecting and prohibitory duties upon foreign goods; and perceiving what branches of manufacture there were which could especially dispense with that protection, nay, which were rather embarrassed by it, Mr. Huskisson withdrew it from these branches; and in this respect, following his example, the right hon. Baronet now proposed to withdraw 760 wholly from these branches the protection which they at present enjoyed. But Mr. Huskisson never applied these principles to agriculture. Perhaps he might be told, that if he had lived at the present day he would have done so. They might say so, but there was no proof of this: the authority of Mr. Huskisson did not apply to those articles which were connected with the cultivation of the soil, and which he had studiously omitted. He confessed that he saw a reason in policy both for the forbearance of Mr. Huskisson in the one case, and for the steps which he adopted in the other. That reason had been glanced at by the hon. Member for Hampshire, who had touched the argument for the removal of protection on certain manufactures, and retaining it on the products of the soil. And he appealed to the noble Lord's judgment, whether there was not a distinction at once palpable and undeniable? The noble Lord had quoted Adam Smith; but the doctrine of that great economist was, that it was not only the right but the policy of States to impose duties on foreign commodities equivalent to the taxes which were laid upon their own. That was a principle which the noble Lord would not contest. How did that dictum apply to the present case? There was an enormous amount of taxation imposed on the people of this country, which was peculiar, because it arose from a great national debt. There was a further amount of local taxation. They were in the habit of levying duties on foreign products as equivalent to those taxes. Why had they removed some branches of their manufactures from that category of protection? Because these manufactures had, in the very nature of their industry, a natural and adequate protection. No man could look at Lancashire, Warwickshire, or Staffordshire, without being struck by perceiving, that in the mineral treasures of those counties we had natural advantages against which few other countries in the world could successfully contend. Under your very feet, over the soil on which they stood, the coal and iron with which these districts abounded, gave our manufactures a large protection without the imposition of duties on foreign articles. The textile fabrics of this country need not therefore, in many of their branches, fear competition with the foreigner; but agriculture stood on a different footing. The farmers of England had to contend with seasons more variable and more severe than those of any other coun- 761 try in Europe; and not only had they no corresponding advantages as compared with the manufacturers, but they were also subjected to great disadvantages. The right hon. Baronet was, therefore, right in abstaining from quoting the authority of Mr. Huskisson. The right hon. Gentleman referred the House to the experience of the last three years, and he rested his case on that experience. The noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Lord Sandon) said, and said very truly, that he thought three years too narrow a basis for such a superstructure. He (Mr. Colquhoun) went farther, and maintained that not only was the basis too narrow, but that no superstructure could be raised on it at all. It might be right to take away protection from agriculture, but not upon grounds which were not tenable in argument. Look at the argument with regard to the price of produce. The right hon. Baronet said, that he had removed the duties on the importation of animal food and live stock three years ago, and the consequence had been a great increase in the price of meat. Now, if that argument were good for anything, it would be an argument against the reduction of duty; because the avowed object of the right hon. Baronet was to cheapen food, and the result had been to enhance the price. But the truth was—and he appealed to the observation of the right hon. Baronet—when they examined how it was that the price of food had risen during the last three years, the House would perceive that it arose from causes which were not applicable to the argument, and, which, so far as they could be appealed to, rather told against the right hon. Baronet's views. One cause of the enhanced price was the agricultural panic which ensued upon the proposition of the right hon. Baronet's Tariff. The farmers believed that they were going to be flooded with oxen, sheep, and pigs; and they thought they would never find a market again in this country for their cattle. They, therefore, sold their stock at very low prices, and the effect of that was naturally, for years afterwards, to limit the supply. There were also some natural causes to be added to these. In one year there was a failure of the green crops, and in the year 1844 there was a failure of the hay and grass crops, and also the murrain, all of which tended to raise and exaggerate the price of animal food. But there was another cause of high price more satisfactory than these; 762 one which, without disparaging the right hon. Gentleman's efforts, or depreciating the effect of his Tariff, was much more beneficial. It was a cause more powerful in its action than the Tariff, which, by stimulating employment, enabled the labouring classes to command more butchers' meat, and raised its price. ["Hear."] He perfectly understood that cheer. He must remark, however, that the Tariff, or commercial changes which had already taken place, had no connexion at all with these circumstances. No one could argue that the great development of railways, and the enormous employment that had been afforded to the labouring population by the capital embarked in these speculations, depended upon commercial legislation here. The causes that led to these results were the spontaneous exertions of the industry of the country, aided by the course pursued by the Government in leaving these matters alone, and permitting the capital of the country to develop its own resources. But this course was contrary to the opinions of a great free-trade Member of this House. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Morrison) had frequently told them that they ought to interfere in railway speculation, and limit its profits. The hon. Member was a free trader, and he had again and again urged upon the House the necessity of interfering with the employment of capital in making railways. That House had, he thought, wisely, abstained from such interference, and had their reward in the development of industry and prosperity which prevailed. If there were one individual more than any other, to whom the country was indebted for this state of things, that individual was a Gentleman not to be found upon the Treasury benches. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Hudson), had not only been the architect of his own fortune; he could also claim the honour of having developed the industry of the country, by the application of his own great talents and skill to this subject. It was this cause above all others, which had in these three years enhanced the price of food. The argument of prices, therefore, was not one to which the right hon. Baronet could justly refer. He now turned to another point in his statement. The right hon. Gentleman had dwelt upon the subject of wages, and he argued that there was no connexion between wages and the price of provisions. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State, when he addressed the House the other night, 763 had thought proper to allude to the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury, which he had delivered in 1839. That speech referred to the question as to how labour was to be affected by a repeal of the Corn Laws. He must say to his right hon. Friend, with all respect for his great talents, his allusion to the speech made by the First Minister of the Crown in 1839, was not discreet, because in that same speech the right hon. Gentleman argued in his forcible and eloquent language that if they repealed the Corn Laws it would bring such injury upon the agriculture of the country as would unquestionably shake the stability of all the capital engaged in agriculture—that it would limit the employment of labour, and injure agricultural capital, as well as manufacturing industry. He might remark here, that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department disposed very shortly of all these and other arguments which he had previously used in favour of protection. He said, "I have changed my opinion, and there is an end of it." But there was not an end of it. His right hon. Friend must not forget the laws by which the words of men of genius—whether orators or poets — are bound with them. His right hon. Friend's words could not thus pass away. They were winged shafts which pierced many minds. They remained after the occasion which produced them passed away. His right hon. Friend must remember that the words which he had used adhered to the memory, moulded men's sentiments, guided public opinion. He must recollect that the armour of proof which he had laid aside, and the lance which he had wielded, and with which he had pierced many an incumbered opponent, remained weighty and entire. Greatly did he wish that his right hon. Friend were again on this side to wield them—that he were here to lead their ranks, and guide them by his prowess. But if not, they retained at least his arms; these lay at their feet, strewed all around them, an arsenal of power.Tuque tuis armis, nos te poteremur, Achille!But to return to the connexion of the price of provisions with wages. His right hon. Friend had said, and with truth, that wages followed the price of provisions at slow intervals. He gave his right hon. Friend the full benefit of that argument. Undoubtedly if they could maintain wages at the same rate whilst there 764 was a reduction in the price of food by a repeal of the Corn Laws, the labouring classes of this country would, for a few years, be greatly advantaged by the change; but whilst he admitted that fact, he appealed to his opponents to admit with him the converse of this argument. If by any repeal of the Corn Law, they limited suddenly the employment of the people in this country, and that the market for labour became glutted by the number of labourers thrown upon it, then however they might reduce the price of provisions, wages would fall as rapidly, and the condition of the population would, not be improved, but deteriorated. Let them look to the case of Ireland, where there was cheap food, but with deficient employment, low wages, and a truly wretched population. If the arguments which had been urged year after year in that House by his right hon. Friend were good—if it were true that some of the land would be thrown out of cultivation by a repeal of the Corn Laws, the effect of that change would be, undoubtedly, a fall in the price of provisions; but they might rest assured that wages would fall also, and become still lower than they were then. The population would suffer deeply even while provisions were cheapened, and the effect would certainly prove anything but advantageous to their labourers. He could not help reminding the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) that he had made the same admission himself; for he recollected the hon. Member telling the House that the effect of the Corn Laws was to keep in cultivation some soils which otherwise would have been thrown out of culture. If that position were sound—if they were by this change about to curtail the sources of labour, and to glut the labour market, then, great as might be the fall of prices in provisions, greater still would be the fall of wages, and, as a natural consequence, great suffering would be inflicted upon the agricultural as well as the manufacturing industry of the country. He would now adopt the views expressed by the hon. Member for Durham. He would proceed to admit the statement of the free traders. They said that agriculture would not be injured, and that trade would be augmented by a repeal of the Corn Laws; they told him that he ought to infer from this that the wages and the condition of the labouring classes would be improved. He admitted their premises, but he said it was impossible that he could assent to their 765 conclusions. He did not think that any one, however sanguine, would say that he expected so great a development of trade in consequence of repeal as had arisen during the last century in this country from various causes; and yet, with all these developments of trade, he would ask, had wages risen? That was a question which he should wish to have carefully considered He saw the hon. Member for Birmingham opposite, and he trusted he might be allowed to quote his authority upon the subject. That hon. Member (Mr. Muntz) had informed him of the rate of wages of those in his own employment. It appeared that formerly he used to sell an article for 36s., which he now sold for 6s. The labourer received one-fifth of the price. The labour for performing this work used to cost 7s. and 12s.; it now only cost 1s. 2d. As his right hon. Friend had spoken of the improvement of the labouring classes, he could not help referring to Mr. Horner's Report, published in 1841. The extract he was referring to was taken from the statements of manufacturers, culled from their own books, and given upon their own authority. In fine yarns' spinning the fall that took place from the year 1838 to 1841 was 31 per cent., and the reduction in the wages of the spinner was 29 per cent., and in those of other workers 13 pet cent. He would also quote the words of Mr. Wilson, a gentleman who was a great ironmaster in Scotland:—"Iron has fallen from 1841 25 per cent., and wages are only reduced 15 per cent., and cannot be lowered further in consequence of the duty that exists upon the importation of foreign corn." Was it not obvious, then, that Mr. Wilson expected, when the Corn Laws were repealed, that he would be able in the iron trade to lower his wages? Mr. Greg, who at one time represented Manchester, said, "By better education and more sober habits, together with cheaper food, the people will, no doubt, be enabled to live in greater comfort, and from considerably smaller earnings." So that it could not be doubted for one moment that even the free traders themselves must believe that if this Bill were carried, the wages of labour would be reduced. He did not blame the manufacturers, under the circumstances in which they were placed; for they were pressed by competition, and driven to economise and abridge their own expenses. Supported by the power of their machinery, they would be necessarily able to limit the wages of labour. Most assuredly, if the sole effect of the re- 766 peal of the Corn Laws were to reduce the price of food—if he did not see counteracting evils to spring from it—he should consider the measure to be one of great good. But, he said, if they told the working classes of this country that after the Corn Laws were repealed, they would have the same wages as before, they met those classes with delusions, the effects of which would be found by bitter experience, and the results of which would react upon themselves. The hon. Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. S. O'Brien), in his eloquent and able speech the other night, had touched upon this point. That hon. Member had been commented on as indulging in incendiary language, and as exciting the working classes by incendiary appeals. He did not think that his statement was of that character—he was certain that it was not the intention of the hon. Gentleman so to express himself. He would, however, be careful to say nothing that could bear such an interpretation. So far from attacking the manufacturers by branding them as cruel men, who were grinding the faces of the poor, he looked at them as one great source of the wealth and prosperity of England. Living, as he did, near to a large manufacturing town, and knowing the value of manufactures in reference to his own property, he could look at them in no other light, and must at once admit that agriculture and manufactures "waxed and waned" together, and were mutually dependent; and if the effect of these measures should be to draw the landlords of this country and the manufacturing capitalists into kinder views in regard to each other's acts, thus far they would unquestionably confer a great benefit, in which he should sincerely rejoice. He believed that they did not understand each other correctly. He believed that among many manufacturers there existed a most kind and generous feeling towards those whom they employed: he only wished them to believe it equally true that the agriculturists had similar dispositions for the improvement of the condition of the labouring population. But the powers of both parties was limited—limited by causes over which they had little control. Whatever they could do in that House, he did not believe that they would be able to raise the wages, or greatly to improve the financial condition, of the people. He regretted to have heard the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell) announce to the labouring classes, that he had every hope that this commercial measure 767 would improve their condition. It might do something to stimulate trade; it might have the effect of developing the manufacturing capabilities of the country; it might add to the number of their factories, and to the range of manufacturing capital; but he was greatly afraid that the pressure, on the one hand, from competition from abroad, and on the other, the pressure from the labouring people at home, loaded by their own numbers, would have the effect of depressing their wages far below the amount which humanity would award, to a standard scanty and sinking, and involving the operative in still heavier sufferings. He thought that the meaning of the appeal of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, who said, very ably and truly, that the science of national wealth was very different from that statesmanship which secured the national weal, was obvious—that they might have great wealth and affluence among the upper and middle classes, but that the condition of the labourer might be lowered instead of raised, unless they took some direct steps—not through their commercial code, but by the adoption of specific measures for the amelioration of the people. Yet when they asked the rigid disciples of political economy to join them in any of these measures—when the noble Lord the late Member for Dorsetshire (Lord Ashley) sought to limit the hours of labour for the poorer classes, they reviled and scoffed at his Motion. When the hon. Member for the University of Oxford asked them to apply sound religious instruction to the people—to tend them by the appointment of men who would watch over their moral good, and thus ensure, by the only effectual remedy, their social comfort—who would visit their homes, and endeavour to raise them in their own moral opinion, and in the habits of purer thought, he was met on the part of these same Gentlemen by an instant refusal. He greatly feared, that even if by the application of this commercial change they were to confer a brief advantage on manufactures, they would still continue in the same condition which had been described by the right hon. Baronet in 1842, of which he now ventured to say to them, that beneath their feet was a volcano of passion, ignorance, and misery, which they might look on with unconcern, but which, if they did not assuage in time, would shake the security upon which the capital of the country was built—that security without which credit was but a name. Free traders 768 told them that in a year of deficient harvest the labourer could not purchase manufactures, and that manufactures in such seasons declined. They imagined that these evils would cease after the Corn Laws were repealed. They were in error. After this measure was passed, they would still be as dependent on the seasons as they were at present: when the harvest was abundant, trade would be brisk; and when it was defective, trade would languish. He held in his hand a circular of Messrs. Ferguson and Taylor, commission merchants in Manchester, in which the same opinions were contained. The hon. Gentleman said that he would bring in corn from abroad to remove the difficulty. But if he looked at the working of the system, he would find a more correct explanation. The hon. Member for Stockport had correctly stated the amount of exchangeable produce drawn from English soil; the same calculation had been made by Mr. M'Culloch. Put it at 200,000,000l., or at 250,000,000l.; now a bad harvest, such as that of 1838, took 4½ per cent. from the produce of England. In 1839, the deficiency was calculated at 8½ per cent. That is to say, the exchangeable produce of the soil failed to the extent of from 8,000,000l. to 16,000,000l. in each of these years. But if there were a deficiency to the extent of 8,000,000l. or 16,000,000l., it was clear that the foreign demand—great as they might choose to reckon it—could not make up for the failure that had occurred in their own produce. Rate their foreign demand as high as they pleased—assume that, after the repeal of the Corn Laws, they gained as much by the development of trade as they expected, still the manufacturers would apportion their supply to the aggregate demand of the home and foreign market; and if there was a failure in either of these, they would have the same languor of trade, the same dulness of prices, and the same difficulties among the labouring population. A deficient harvest would still, as now, produce a deficient demand, and a deficient demand would entail difficulties on the manufacturers, and depression on the labourers. He therefore frankly confessed he could not join with those who anticipated from commercial relaxation a great development of the prosperity of this country. On the one hand, while he did not think it possible to escape the difficulties which pressed on them whenever there was a deficient 769 harvest, on the other hand, the change proposed might bring on the country serious difficulties of another kind. What would be the effect on their colonial markets? At present the foreign trade of the country varied from 50,000,000l. to 60,000,000l. What amount of that went to their colonial market? It had risen now to 15,000,000l.; but did not every Gentleman see that the protection of sugar and other colonial produce was not likely long to survive the repeal of the protection on wheat? Did not hon. Gentleman proclaim that that was the hope which they entertained? And did they not look to those benches to assist them in the measure? If they were to remove all those protections which benefited their Colonies, could they keep the colonial market as a preserve for their manufactures? Would the West Indians and the East Indians endure that they should be obliged to take the English manufactures, when they could get manufactures cheaper from America? Did not the House remember the argument of the right hon. Member for Taunton, when he said that, in relaxing the colonial duties, they must take care they did not lose the colonial market? But there was another and a heavier blow which must be inflicted, because if the effect of this measure was to limit agriculture, then it would limit the demand in the home market, and the measure would produce precisely what was produced in the years 1838 and 1839, when with a deficient harvest from natural causes they had a diminished trade. They might produce—he feared they would produce—like results from the measures which they now proposed. But there was a part of that measure which struck him as above all others untenable and unsound. He would ask the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, whether he would go down to his constituents, and take that commercial code in his hand, and say—"Here is the law which we passed in 1846, and which I offer you as a complete, admirable, finished law of free trade?" Would the hon. Gentleman do that? He would not; because he found protection staring him in the face throughout various parts of this code. He found protection upon lace, upon hats, upon silks, upon china, upon earthenware, and upon metals. Then, if they left protection on these articles, on what principle did they do it? The right hon. Baronet must have a reason; there was no pressure upon him from that side of the House; he must sup- 770 pose that there was none upon the other; from the agriculturists there could be no demand for keeping up the protection on silk, or upon hats, or lace, or metals, or china and earthenware. The right hon. Baronet must have preserved this, because he thought those branches of manufacture not strong enongh to stand without some protection. But if they left protection at all, why take it away from that article which had been called a manufacture, but which was certainly the most delicate in the processes of its production of any If they were about to leave protection on the hardier article, why take it off the weaker? The hon. Members for Durham and Stockport had stated at public meetings that they should like to go down to Buckinghamshire, and show how they could cultivate a farm, after the repeal of the Corn Laws, on the most approved principles, in perfect freedom of trade. He heartily wished the hon. Gentlemen would make the experiment. He would engage that some of his hon. Friends connected with Buckinghamshire should give them one of the best farms in that county on a lease, a lease that should be as long as they pleased—as long as they were in Scotland, for nineteen years, at the lowest rent and most moderate charge; but on one condition, that they should show their ledgers at the end of their lease: then, if there was a break, a power of terminating the lease at the end of seven years, he strongly suspected the hon. Gentlemen would avail themselves of it. He believed the hon. Member for Durham would then be inclined to adopt the quotation made by the noble Lord the Member for South Lancashire on a former evening, and give it a free, though, as he would find to his cost, a very literal translation—Claudite jam rivos, pueri; sat prata biberunt;which, according to the hon. Gentleman's translation, would be, "Close your purses, men of Manchester, for the fields of Buckingham have drained mine." He suspected the hon. Gentleman would find, by his practical experience, the difference between the manufacture of the soil and that of the loom; that capital applied to the cultivation of the land differed widely in its results from capital applied to textile fabrics. The hon. Gentleman in his factory could take his own time, make his own temperature, raise it by his thermometer to 100 degrees, sink it at pleasure to 60; defy all changes of the weather; calculate with cer- 771 tainty on his returns; with perfect accuracy superintend his workmen, and apply machinery to their assistance. But in cultivating the soil, the hon. Gentleman would find that, with the best possible management, an ungenial spring might blight his hopes, a tardy summer, or, as they had had this year, a wet summer and a rainy autumn; he might have the murrain among his cattle, or rot in his potatoes; those were natural causes from which the farmers suffered, from which the manufacturers were exempt, which would teach the hon. Gentleman, in his capacity of a farmer, how different a thing it was to be engaged in the cultivation of the soil; and that if any men looked for quick and large returns on their capital, they must engage, not in farming, but in factories. He, therefore, asked the House, in common justice, if they left a protection upon some of the fabrics of the country, not to take it away from that manufacture which was the most difficult in its process, and the most uncertain in its results. Before he sat down, he was anxious to answer an appeal that had been made to him by the right hon. Baronet. The right hon. Baronet had appealed to him (Mr. Colquhoun) to say whether his opposition was founded solely upon the present measure, or whether it proceeded from a distrust of his policy upon other grounds. He would answer in all frankness that appeal. He had no hesitation in saying, that though he opposed the measure on the grounds he alleged, there were parts of the plan to which he gave his cordial assent. But he had also no hesitation in saying, that he did entertain a general distrust of the policy pursued by the right hon. Gentleman. He did not mean to assert that it might have been possible for any one to have maintained, in the difficult circumstances of the country, and against very plausible arguments, urged from the other side of the House, a high rate of protection to agriculture. That rate, like everything else, would probably have been restricted to the most moderate amount, to that which was proved to be sufficient for the protection of domestic industry. But he confessed he should have liked to have seen, on a great question such as this, a continuation, on the part of the right hon. Baronet, of those able arguments which, with all the weight of authority, station, and talent, he could have urged against the views of those opposed to him. He spoke in the absence of the hon. Member for Stockport—which, 772 if he rightly learned the cause, he sincerely deplored—but he should say nothing that he would not equally say in his presence; in the hon. Member for Stockport the right hon. Baronet had found, since his accession to power, a most able, earnest, and eloquent opponent of the Corn Laws. A reference was made by the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. B. Cochrane) to the Reform Bill; he did not take the same views of that measure as the hon. Member. But great as their difference might be on this subject, he did not believe, never had believed, that the difficulties of the country would have been lightened, if they had excluded from political power the great section of the mercantile and manufacturing classes. But while he held this view, he equally contended, that in acquiescing in the principle of the Reform Bill, they must meet it in the spirit in which alone it could be dealt with. It was obvious to every one that they could maintain no institution now, unless they could support it on a principle that would bear discussion; unless they could maintain it by open, constant, rational argument; unless they could appeal in its support, not to sectional interests, but to the general interest of the nation. He might be wrong in his view of the question of protection to agriculture; he held that it could be justified by plain argument, and a regard for the national interests; but every body must have seen, that since the right hon. Baronet had sat upon that bench, the principle of agricultural protection had never received from him an open or earnest defence. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, no later than 1844, had taunted them with this; he said the speech of the right hon. Baronet on that occasion was a dexterous evasion of the question, and that they had better take care, lest after such dexterous evasions the question would be surrendered. This was the fault he had to find with the right hon. Baronet, that he did not sustain the argument, he did not meet the question; nor did the right hon. Baronet meet other questions, or maintain other institutions, by an open avowal of the principles upon which he rested them, or by that strong, sustained, and vigorous defence necessary in the present day, if he would support those institutions of which he was the professed champion. It was in default of such a defence that this question had been carried—carried through a large section of the public mind; carried—for there was no denying the fact—by 773 the hon. Member for Stockport, by open discussion, by strong, earnest, and able appeals to popular opinion. But if he wished to see defended the great institutions of the country—institutions more vital even than the law which they were then discussing—how, he would ask, were they to be maintained? They must be maintained, if at all, in the face of an inquiring, thinking, judging community, by earnest and unequivocal avowals of the principles on which their support was based. But he found no such course taken on any one of these great questions then pending, by the right hon. Baronet. On no one of the great institutions now endangered did he find the right hon. Baronet adopt that line of defence. He had no personal antipathy to the right hon. Baronet; he entertained towards Members of his Cabinet the sincerest regard—a regard won on their side by acts of friendship and years of kindness; met on his, by the only return which he could offer them—a grateful and undiminished attachment. It was not from inclination that he opposed Her Majesty's Government; but he frankly avowed that the course taken by the right hon. Baronet did meet his opposition—an opposition which he could see no prospect of being abated or removed. As long as the right hon. Baronet remained at the head of the Government—with his talent, with his skill—but with his evasion of discussion, his declining to meet the principles upon which their institutions were either attacked or defended; so long as he remained the master spirit and presiding genius of the Cabinet, so long he could tender the Government no adhesion, he could offer them no confidence. The vote that he should give, therefore, on the Motion before the House, was not given wholly on commercial grounds, strong though these appeared to him to be, but on grounds of general policy. He wished to see the institutions of this great country preserved; and, confident that they could not be maintained in the face of the public, and on the principles of the Reform Bill, except by that discussion from which the right hon. Baronet shrank, and which the hon. Member for Stockport had on this question wisely sought; on these different but concurrent grounds he should give his decided and unhesitating vote for the Amendment of his hon. Friend.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS WYNN
said, that in voting with those whom he had been in the habit of supporting, he felt himself separated upon this question, which had very 774 much divided men's opinions, from several of those whom he most esteemed and regarded; and he had to lament that he had differed in opinion from a most respectable meeting of a part of his constituents; but this was a misfortune to which any man who intended to act independently and conscientiously was at all times liable. He had had the good fortune, for nearly half a century, uniformly to experience a generous confidence from his constituents, although they might differ on particular questions; and in acting as he did on this occasion, he believed that he was consulting what he deemed the interests of the country, rather than those of a particular body. His own inclinations would have led him to support any measure calculated for the protection of agriculture; but manufactures and agriculture were inseparable, and you could not act for the one without at the same time affecting the other. He had early learnt to consider the benefit of leaving questions of this kind to the Government, rather than to individuals. He was aware that it had been the policy of this country to pass laws for the protection of agriculture and manufactures; but this was not an argument which had much weight with him. Much as he respected the institutions and legislation of our forefathers, there was one point upon which he paid them very little respect, and that was, the point of commercial regulations. If he looked at the Statute Book, what did he see? A spirit of meddling with every detail, founded on the supposition that those things which were best managed by the individuals concerned, could be better provided for by the Legislature. Looking at the regulations relative to agriculture, he found them limiting the quantity of land which should be devoted to pasture or to tillage; and in reference to articles, he found, amongst other things, that the prices of wine were to be limited by the Lord Treasurer, the Lord Chancellor, and the two Chief Justices. If this practice were revived, he doubted not that a Committee would be appointed to sit for that purpose at the Cabinet dinners which were held every Wednesday. It was also enacted, that every vessel which engaged in the wine trade, should, upon every voyage, bring over a certain number of bow staves. The law required that for every tun of wine which was imported, there should be brought over ten bow staves. Thus the law did not leave the supply to be regulated by the demand, but laid down a com- 775 pulsory interference with trade. Many hon. Gentlemen would remember the discussion after discussion which took place before a free trade was allowed even between the different portions of our own Empire. Many discussions were had in that House, at different periods, before an importation of Irish cattle was allowed into England; which, it was declared in debate, no man could support unless he had an Irish interest or an Irish understanding. The House would also bear in recollection that it was not till towards the close of the reign of James I. that the assumed power of the Crown to grant monopolies was put an end to: it was not till then that an Act of Parliament was passed to put a stop to that practice; but the principle was not fairly acted upon until the time of Mr. Pitt, who introduced a more generous policy. Look at the propositions relative to Ireland which he brought forward—propositions, in drawing up which he was assisted by one of whom he could never speak but with the utmost affection and reverence: he alluded to the late Lord Grenville. The measure was strongly opposed, and it failed upon its first introduction; but afterwards it succeeded, and the policy was carried further at the time of the Union, when, most wisely, our shores were completely thrown open to the produce of Ireland. On the same principle, Mr. Pitt concluded his commercial Treaty with France, in the year 1787; and of both these great measures the good policy was now generally admitted; and he knew that the efforts then made by Mr. Pitt and Lord Grenville, were by Lord Grenville regarded to the last moments of his life as that part of his policy which he dwelt and reflected upon with the greatest pride and satisfaction. The only principle on which legislation on the subject should proceed, was contained in the short answer which had been given by the French merchants, when asked by Colbert what best could be done to advance their trade and to serve their commerce. Their answer (and it ought never to be forgotten by statesmen) was, "Pray, let us alone." When the Corn Law of 1815 was in progress through the House, he (Mr. Wynn) had voted against it in every stage; and since that time he had ever been happy to support every relaxation of the prohibitory system when introduced. He regretted that the relaxing principle had not been carried further; still he had felt the weight of the objection urged, that protection ought not to be taken from the agricultural interest at the mo- 776 ment they were maintaining it to the manufacturer. He admitted that that argument had considerable weight; for unfairness must always produce discontent. He thought that much relief had been given to the merchant and manufacturer by the establishment of the warehousing system; in conjunction with which, however, the sliding-scale of corn duties had existed. There was one part of that scale to which he had ever felt very considerable objection—that was, that it was based on the system of striking average prices. There never was any foundation for the averages which had guided the duty upon corn. In every article, and especially in corn, there were different qualities at different prices; and a man might as well talk of the average price of wine as of the average price of corn—in short, an average price might as well be formed from "imperial Tokay" as from "humble port." But how was the question of protection now brought forward? It was not now brought forward as an insulated measure, bearing upon one interest; but as part of a comprehensive system which extended to every point, to every trade, and to every manufacture. But it had been said, "Why, on this principle, ought any duties whatever to be paid? Why is ten per cent. to be levied at all, if this principle be good?" The answer was obvious. Duties were necessary for other purposes than protection; they were necessary for the purposes of revenue to carry on the service of the State. It had been said, that the principle of this measure being good, it ought to have been carried further, and carried to a greater degree of freedom in our commercial legislation. He should himself have been better pleased if it had been carried further; but he was willing to believe that it was not at present practicable. He believed that it was carried as far as it could be carried safely at present, and they must wait to see the effect it would produce. The hon. Member who spoke last had said, that the question was different with respect to the taking off duty on corn, and abolishing protection on manufactures and trade; that these two modes of employing capital rested upon a different basis; that while corn rested upon the seasons, trade and manufactures rested upon the constant produce of the soil peculiar to England, which afforded a greater supply of iron and of coal. Now, his opinion was, that both these branches of production rested upon our possessing a greater supply of that 777 which was the main support, not of particular trades and particular manufactures, but of agriculture also, namely, of capital and of enterprise which did not exist elsewhere. It was said, that agriculture could not be assisted in the same degree by means of machinery as manufactures were. He could only say that, as far as his own observation extended, he differed entirely from that opinion. He believed that the application of capital by the employment of machinery was daily taking place for the improvement of agriculture. What had been done in the great article of draining? The principal proprietors were manufacturing on their estates tiles for the purpose of draining, which they sold to their tenants and others in their neighbourhood at prime cost, not with a view to any immediate gain, but for the ultimate improvement of their property. That was a course which he believed was not likely to stop; his hope was, that the application of capital in such a direction would proceed until it had developed the agricultural resources of the country to their greatest extent. But then it was said, that it was humiliating to, and might be unsafe for, this country to be dependent for subsistence upon foreign countries, which it was affirmed would be the consequence of abolishing protection to agriculture. That, however, was an apprehension which he did not entertain. He believed that so long as it answered the interest of foreign countries to supply this country with the superabundance of their corn, they would be as anxious to encourage our buying it as we should be to obtain it from them. He remembered, during the war between Holland and Spain, the Dutch merchants were blamed for supplying the Spaniards, who were their great enemies, with their commodities; and when one of those merchants was reproached for his want of loyalty, and asked why he acted thus, his answer was, "It is my trade;" and he added, "Let me be told that there is a want of sulphur in the regions below, I should be ready to take my ship to the mouth of Acheron itself to convey a cargo of it, provided I had sufficient insurance to cover the hazard of singeing my sails." This was the principle which governed men and nations in their intercourse with each other. There were many hon. Gentlemen present who, perhaps, would remember that during the French war, even the highest antijacobins of them all never objected to take a glass or a bottle of French claret, from the fear that by consuming that arti- 778 cle they should be affording assistance to the revenue of their national enemies. To encourage trade and the intercourse of nation with nation, must be the policy of every country; and could anybody believe that an extensive coast, whether of the continent of Europe or America, could be shut against our claims if we wanted the articles of those countries, and had the wealth to get them? He was convinced that it could not. He hoped to see the policy which was at present directed to further measures of this description, carried to a still greater extent; and, persuaded of the wisdom of that policy, and with a view to advance it, he should give the present measure of Her Majesty's Government his most hearty support.
§ MR. G. J. HEATHCOTE
hoped the House would allow him to say a very few words upon the very important question which was before them, and as he promised to occupy but a very little of their time, he trusted he would be favoured with their indulgent attention. In addressing himself to the question, he hoped he would, as much as possible, look at measures, and only treat of men in their public capacity, He did not appear there to attack the inconsistencies of others—he only appeared to maintain his own consistency; but in spite of all that might be said upon that subject—in spite of the levity and indifference with which some appeared to treat the question, he trusted that an adherence to professions, a plain straightforward attachment to principles, had still some value in the eyes of the people of this country. When the noble Lord the Member for London brought forward measures which he (Mr. Heathcote) believed would work great injury to agriculturists, although he was a general supporter of the noble Lord, he gave those measures his most decided opposition; and when measures more extensive, and ten thousand times more mischievous, were introduced by right hon. Gentlemen, he would give them every opposition in his power. In adverting to the question, would the House permit him to recall their attention back to what was the state of things at the end of last autumn? There never before was a time when there was such an appearance of well-being and prosperity in the country. Manufactures of all kinds were in a most flourishing condition, and even agriculture was beginning to recover from the deep wound which the policy of the right hon. Baronet in 1842 had inflicted. Well, at that time the Go- 779 vernment came forward with a measure which he denounced as one of the most rash and most hazardous experiments which had ever been tried in any age or any country; and it had been accompanied with the greatest change of opinion which had ever been known in the annals of political tergiversation. There they had a Government placed in power for the express purpose of maintaining the Corn Laws, professing their strong determination to do so, making speeches and declarations, such as had been read by his noble Friend the Member for Lincolnshire last night, in a House elected upon the Corn Law question, and pledged to its maintenance, coming forward with a plan for the almost immediate extinction of those laws; a Government, which turned their political opponents out of power because they came forward with a proposal of an 8s. duty, now came forward with virtually a 4s. duty, which was to cease and determine in three years. And they were told this was an equitable adjustment of the question. But how stood the case? They proposed to take from agriculture the whole protection it enjoyed at the end of three years: but when they turned to manufactures, they found a general protection of 10 per cent. retained upon nearly every species of article. They had heard from a very high authority, that they should buy in the cheapest, and sell in the dearest market; but the agriculturist was to sell his corn at free trade prices, but when he went into the market for any article of clothing, he was to find the price enhanced upon him by a protecting duty of 10 per cent. retained on behalf of the manufacturing interest. There was a still stronger contrast in the compensations, as they were called, that were to be proposed. For some time past they hcd heard noblemen and gentlemen crying out, "Oh, we must withhold our opinion until we hear the proposition—some comprehensive scheme of compensation to the landed interest will be proposed—we must listen before we condemn." And what was the case now? A more miserable compensation never was offered for a great injury. He would not go into the question of the Law of Settlement, nor do more than merely allude to the amalgamation of the roads; setting them aside, what was the compensation offered? Why, Government would lend the landed interest money on good security. He believed that that interest, or any other, would find no difficulty in getting money 780 if they had security to offer. And what was the next great compensation offered them? Why, a reduction upon clover and on onion seed, and some trifles, on which he could not speak with anything like gravity. But look at the risk of the rash experiment to which they were to be subjected, and compare it with the wholly illusory compensation with which it was accompanied. He believed that such an experiment had never before been tried in any country; it was contrary to the experience of all time in this country or in any other country similarly situated. The right hon. Baronet had told them to throw not only their consistency but their experience to the winds; but he demurred to all that, and would join issue with him, and ask him whether the three years which he had chosen to rely upon would bear him out? He (Mr. Heathcote) admitted that those years had been years of prosperity, and that crime had decreased. But all that prosperity and decrease of crime arose in consequence of the increased employment afforded to the nation by the new roads required for locomotive travelling; and he believed they were indebted a hundred times more to his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Hudson) for that prosperity, than to the Corn Law measure of the right hon. Baronet of 1842. There had been manufacturing prosperity, and the right hon. Baronet had ascribed it to low prices. He said that prosperity had existed with both high and low prices. In 1839, they were told by the then hon. Member for Kendal, who was also chairman of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, that the country was in a state of prosperity, but which statement threw him up to the chin in hot water; and every one would recollect the prices were then above 80s. What had been the state of the agricultural interest during the last year? The right hon. Baronet would remember that a deputation consisting of farmers from nearly half the counties in England waited upon him complaining of distress; also, what took place in 1842 and 1843, immediately upon the Tariff, which created great alarm, and certainly great distress existed. Meat fell very considerably, and wheat was reduced 20s. a quarter: he had never known greater distress and difficulty than prevailed throughout the farming interest at that period. But was there nothing else to be considered besides the pecuniary loss which had been sustained? Were the feelings of men to be thrown out of all consideration? 781 Was it nothing that feelings of distrust should be raised—that a want of confidence in all public men should be created? He would tell the right hon. Baronet that there would yet be a fearful reaction in consequence of the feelings created by his measures. He said that that which it was now proposed to do was contrary to the experience of all times; nay, it was even contrary to the practice of all nations similarly situated with themselves. The right hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) had alluded the other night to what had taken place in the year 1815, as if that was the first time that there had ever been a Corn Bill in this country: why, they had had a Corn Law for two hundred years in England. But then when the right hon. Gentleman said that that Corn Bill was an error—then he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, and he said also, that he thought it was an error, because it forced up the prices until they became an absolute prohibition. That was a great error. He thought, with the right hon. Gentleman, that it was a great error; but a much greater error than that committed in 1815, by forcing up the prices too high, would be, in 1846, to seek to abolish them altogether. As to foreign countries, they all had a Corn Law: they were to be found in monarchical Europe and republican America. The experiment had, indeed, been once tried in Holland of doing without a Corn Law; and political economists were fond of pointing out a country in which a good system prevailed. There, however, the experiment which had been tried had failed; it had failed for some years, and they had in Holland been obliged to reenact a Corn Law; and that, too, a Corn Law with a sliding-scale. That was the only analogous case they could discover, and there it was admitted to be a total failure. Was there, then, a strong case of public necessity to justify the measure? Was there such a state of feeling as prevailed at the time of passing the Reform Bill; or at the period when the Catholic measure was in agitation? Was there any such strong demonstrations of public feeling? No such thing. And then as to foreign nations, they would not hear of this: they would have no reciprocal treaty with England. As England relaxed, they become more stringent; as England took off its armour, they covered themselves with the panoply of protection; and they too seized upon the vantage ground which this country so unwisely abandoned. Then 782 look at home, and derive experience from the events that had occurred, and of which they must be apprised. He did not desire to refer to what might cause the slightest irritation in the mind of any one; but let them, he said, look to the history of the last five or six years in this country, with reference to the elections that had taken place in this country; and he said that whether they looked to the general election in 1841, or to the elections subsequent to it, they would see in these, in each and in all, a complete history of the triumph of protection; and with this the unexpected and in some cases the extraordinary failures of some gentlemen who came forward as supporters of free trade. [An hon. MEMBER: There was the election for the West Riding of Yorkshire.] As to the West Riding of Yorkshire, he said that the excellencies of his noble Friend (Lord Morpeth) as a candidate, made that an exception to the general rule. He said, moreover, that there it was the effect rather than the cause; besides, when it took place the right hon. Baronet had made his declarations on this subject; and after that declaration had divided the party of the protectionists it was not likely that they would come forward in his support. To the free traders, he said, "You have not succeeded in the great towns; you have failed in Birmingham, in Wigan, in Sunderland; you had not even the show of hands in your favour." His noble Friend the Member for London had alluded to, and admitted, these facts in his address to the city of London. What then was the state of things that existed at present? There could be no doubt but that a large portion of the people made the demand for an appeal being made to the constituency; and was there not, he asked, great reason and great justice in that demand. In 1841 they had an election; and then the cause to be decided was between free trade and protection. The electors decided for protection, and now the Parliament that they had elected was going to decide for free trade. Even, he said, if that were the case, they must, in the course of a short time, go back to their constituents: in the course of a year or two this was inevitable. He did say, then, that when he looked to the whole state of the case, he must come to the conclusion—whether he regarded that which took place abroad amongst foreigners, or whether he turned his views to home, and considered the state of public opinion—that upon no one principle could he be 783 led to believe that free trade would be useful to them; nor could he consider the question itself as finally settled until they found foreign nations altering their tariffs, or that they had made three-fifths of the constituents of England alter their opinions. As to famine, or the alleged famine, he must say that it appeared to him to be rather a pretext than a reason for the present course of proceeding. Upon this point he wished to state his opinions particularly. He should be most happy, in case it was necessary, to relieve or alleviate the distress existing in Ireland; he should be most happy in that case to give his assent to any measure calculated to effect that object. That was a sentiment, he was sure, that not only prevailed generally in that House, but he could say, it was that also entertained by his constituents; for, at a very large meeting of them which was held a few days ago, and at which were present as steady protectionists as were to be found in any part of the country, he had told them that if any measure were proposed, calculated to relieve the distress in Ireland, he should be happy to give it his support; and so far was that declaration from being ill received, that it was greeted with cheers and applause. He said, then, that if measures were to be brought in for the relief of Ireland, why not bring in measures that would give relief at once? Hunger would not wait—starvation could not pause for discussion; nor were its pangs to be soothed by long debates. Nothing could be more delusive than that the distress of Ireland now was to be mitigated by a repeal of the Corn Bill, which was not to come into operation for three years. If there were local distress, provide for it a local remedy; but let them not, because there was local distress—let them not, because there was a temporary evil, alter a general law which regulated a great and mighty Empire. If they would not continue their Corn Laws for England, then, he said, maintain them for Ireland. England had many sources of wealth—Ireland had but two, her agricultural produce and her linen trade, both hitherto highly protected. Continue, he said, both, for the sake of Ireland; and do not buy corn from Denmark, and linen from Germany, instead of purchasing both, as they ought to do, from their fellow citizens in Ireland. As to the mooted question of there being a famine in England at this moment, he said it was contradicted by the price of food. He asked any man if he could call 56s. a 784 famine price? When the right hon. Baronet introduced his Bill in 1842, he said, that the object of it was to keep the prices between 54s. and 58s., and on the very day he brought forward these measures the price was 56s. Immediately after harvest corn sold at a low price, and (as we understood the honourable Gentleman) his answer to the objection that the averages were affected by the low prices, was, that light grain was sold both by weight and measure—a fact that must diminish the effect, if it did not destroy the argument of the right hon. Baronet. They had, he knew, famine in the newspapers—they had famine in the speeches of Cabinet Ministers; but they found abundance in the markets. The cry of famine was a pretext; but it was not the reason for these changes. He wished now to be permitted, for a few moments, to address himself to the abstract question. He thought before that House determined upon abolishing the Corn Laws, they should see whether the present Corn Law did not furnish every check that they could desire—whether it had not aided in maintaining a steady, equable price; in preventing the extreme either of low price, which would ruin the agriculturists, and also preventing the scarcity of famine, which they must incur if they trusted entirely to foreign nations. Now, if they took off all restrictions, they would always have too much corn or too little. In bad years, at home and abroad, they would find foreign nations keep their surplus to themselves. The English people would then have to go without the corn of foreigners, and they would be exposed to scarcity and famine. On the other hand, if there were good harvests at home and abroad, there would be a surplus and a glut. In point of fact the surplus would be different from that which had taken place hitherto, because foreign nations did not grow for the English market in consequence of the extreme uncertainty of the sliding-scale. That was his argument. [Cheers from Members on the Opposition benches.] He agreed with hon. Members who cheered him, that there was uncertainty attached to it. The foreigner did not know what the duty might be, for instead of 20s. duty it might be 1s.; but the moment that there was a certainty, then they would grow much more largely for our markets. Then also they should be the only nation without a Corn Law; and as all other nations would have one, then all the corn in the world would come to this country. Hon. Gentle- 785 men said that would be "abundance." He was, he could tell them, for "abundance and plenty;" but he was not for "superfluity" and a "glut." What he called "agricultural distress" was with them a cheap price of food. What they called a "manufacturing distress," he might term "a cheap price of clothing." Did they mean that both were good? ["Hear, hear," from Members on the Opposition benches.] Then the distress of the two halves was, according to them, a great benefit for the whole. He had now to observe upon the speeches made by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester, and the hon. Member for Winchester (Sir J. Graham and Mr. S. Herbert); the one said the prices would not be lower than they were at present; and the other, that he did not know where the foreign corn was to come from. He would tell them where it would come from. He did not now go into the question of America, but he could tell them that corn would come from the north of Europe. They could procure corn just as easily from Hamburgh as from Boston; from Denmark as from Lincolnshire or Yorkshire. The hon. Member for Boston said, that it could be brought much cheaper from Hamburgh than from Boston; for let them remember that they had a monopoly of their coasting trade. Let them, he said, recollect, too, that the nations in the north of Europe took but a small portion of their manufactures; that they could undersell the United States; and then they would be placed in this situation, that they would be buying corn from nations that did not want to take their manufactures, and sending their manufactures to nations whose corn would be undersold by other parties. Now, when they were about to make a great experiment in this great agricultural country, let them see what were the prices that existed in the north of Europe. He might be here permitted to allude to a table of prices which had been referred to by him four years ago, and that could not be contradicted. That was a table of prices of corn in Denmark; they were not picked out a single year, they were kept in Denmark, and not made up for a particular purpose. That table he did not bring forward at any protection meeting, because he wished to state it in the presence of those who could contradict it, if it were possible to be contradicted. That was a table of the prices of Danish corn for twenty-five years—that was from 1815 to 1840. That table gave 786 an average price of 28s.; and the average for the last seven years was 25s. They would recollect that the point he made at present was, that when they had a good harvest at home they would have a glut and a superfluity. Now, he found that for seven consecutive years the price of corn was 18s.—the lowest price in these tables was 16s.; but for seven years in Denmark the price was only 18s.* But then hon. Gentlemen might say that Denmark was a small country, and that they could not send any great quantity of corn from it. He believed that the price that prevailed in Denmark was the same as that which would be found to prevail in the whole of the north of Europe. By a Parliamentary Paper laid before that House, he found a return given of the lowest prices and highest prices in the north of Europe; and to this point he begged to draw the attention of the Vice President of the Board of Trade. He found there the lowest prices stated to be, in Prussia Proper, 16s.; in Holland, Brandenburgh, and Pomerania, 17s.; in Silesia, 18s.; in Saxony, 22s.; in Dresden and St. Petersburgh, 22s.; in Riga, 20s. He asked them whether they were prepared to look at the state of things that would arise when an immensity of foreign corn would be brought in and sold at these* The following is the table referred to by the hon. Member.
787 prices? They had been told that when the times were bad a corn law was of no use. It was not correct to say that, for when they referred to the year 1822—a year of great agricultural distress—when the price of wheat in England was 44s., in Denmark it was 19s. If they were then badly off, how much worse might they have been if it were not for the Corn Laws? Again, in 1835, when the price here was 39s., it was in Denmark only 19s. If they had not a Corn Law, and prices fell from 57s. and 58s. to 34s. or 35s., he asked them how they were to arrange with the farmers as to the payment of rents, or what rents were they to determine upon? He felt, however, that he had too long trespassed upon the attention of the House. He thanked them for the very kind manner in which they had listened to him; but, looking to the measures now before them, he said that those who proposed them, had taken upon themselves a very great and very grave responsibility, and little less would be the responsibility of those who suggested it. Whatever they did, he should continue in the same course he had ever pursued. If he succeeded in throwing out the Bill, he should consider that he had done the country good service. And if he could not do that, then he had the consolation of reflecting that he had acted upon principle; that he had broken no pledges; that he had kept to the professssions he had made; and acted in accordance with the wishes of his constituents, and for the best interests of his country.
An Account of the Price of Wheat in Denmark and in England, compiled from the Consular Returns presented to Parliament in 1841. Ordered to be printed April 7, 1843:— ENGLAND. DENMARK. 1815 65s. 36s. 1816 78s. 36s. 1817 96s. 57s. 1818 86s. 43s. 1819 74s. 33s. 1820 67s. 26s. 1821 56s. * 18s. * 1822 44s. 19s. 1823 53s. 20s. 1824 63s. 16s. 1825 68s. 17s. 1826 58s. 18s. 1827 58s. 21s. 1828 60s. 27s. 1829 66s. 39s. 1830 64s. 34s. 1831 66s. 39s. 1832 58s. 32s. 1833 52s. 20s. 1834 46s. 18s. 1835 39s. 19s. 1836 48s. 25s. 1837 55s. 25s. 1838 64s. 36s. 1839 70s. 38s. * Average, 57s. Average, 18s.
§ MR. WYKEHAM MARTIN
After the pointed observations which my hon. Friend, who has just sat down, made, both in the commencement and in the close of his speech, with respect to tergiversation, I feel it necessary, as one of those who have hitherto supported protection, both in this House and elsewhere, and who now am about to support Her Majesty's Government, to trouble the House with a few words of explanation. I feel, however, that I have a much smaller amount of explanation to make than most of those who are similarly circumstanced, because it has been as a temporary system, and not as a permanent one, that I have supported it. It has always been my opinion that a time would come, when, by a gradual subsidence of prices here, and by a rise of prices abroad, we should arrive at a point at which the transition from a system of protection to one of free importation, could be safely made. I have always maintained, that 788 when that time should come, the transition ought to take place. I will freely avow that that time has come sooner than I expected:—and this avowal is all that is necessary to reconcile the whole of my political conduct—to account for my supporting protection formerly, and for my not supporting it now. Sir, I am glad that I caught your eye at this moment, for it happens that the few materials I have prepared to lay before the House have reference to the subject of this concluding part of the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down. He has mentioned very low prices of grain as prevailing in the ports of the north of Europe, from which we derive our supplies. But in the very figures with which he accompanied his statement, he has given indications of the reason of those low prices. He has given the parallel prices in the English market, and it will at once be seen, by those very prices, that there was no demand from this country. He stated that those countries did not grow corn for the English market; but, if I am at all correctly informed, the very reverse is the case. They are not caters of wheat—they live upon rye—and it is for the English market that they grow wheat. When there is no demand from us, there is no demand at all; and it is not uncommon, under those circumstances, for wheat to be sold for little more than half the cost price. The remunerating price at Warsaw is stated by Mr. Jacob to be 28s. a quarter; and he was informed by one of the Ministers of Poland, that it was sometimes sold for 14s. 9d., being very little more than half its cost. I think it of the utmost importance that we should form an accurate estimate of the price at which corn is likely to be brought into the country. I think, it is the very point upon which the whole of this discussion turns; and therefore I have occupied the whole of my leisure, in the interval which has been allowed us, in refreshing my memory as to the information which was laid before us in 1842, and in obtaining the best fresh information to which I had access. In estimating the probable price of corn, we shall not arrive at a correct conclusion by taking the average of a long series of years, because in this will be included the years in which there is no demand from this country. Neither shall we do so by taking an average of the different ports from which the importation is made, as I have usually seen the calculation made in the treatises I have met with on the corn trade. It is 789 the last bushel we have to buy that regulates the price of the whole quantity. It is the price of the most expensive market to which we are driven for the supply of our necessities. And this will probably be Dantzic, for I think my hon. Friend (Mr. Heathcote) was right when be said that America would be undersold by the North of Europe. It was calculated, in the discussions of 1842, that American corn was, on the average, dearer than European by at least 2s. a quarter. Now, the remunerating price of wheat at Warsaw is stated by Mr. Jacob to be 28s. a quarter; and the charges of bringing it to England, he states to be 20s. more, making together 48s. a quarter. And this estimate is remarkably confirmed by the experience of the Channel Islands. It will be in the recollection of the House that the Channel Islands have the privilege of exporting their own produce to this country duty free, and of importing from foreign countries corn for their own consumption without payment of duty. I have referred to a return of the prices for the last four years; and I find that the price has been, on the average of those four years, 48s. at Guernsey, and 50s. at Jersey; in the one case, the very sum named by Mr. Jacob, and in the other 2s. more. Now, the natural tendency of an increased demand is to raise the price, and I do not believe that we shall ever see wheat sold in this country, on an average of ten years, at a price much, if at all, below 50s. a quarter. We have an effective demand for all the corn which we grow, and for all that we have hitherto procured from all parts of the world, at a price which may be called 55s. or 56s. Nothing can knock down that price but a very large and a very sudden increase of the quantity. It is not because a man buys a quarter of corn in Denmark for 26s. that he will sell it, if the price be 56s. in Mark-lane, for anything short of that sum. It, therefore, becomes of the last importance that we should form an accurate judgment upon this point, whether it is or not probable that foreigners will be able to inundate the market with a large quantity of cheap corn in a short time. Now hon. Members must not be led away by the supposition that they have to compete with a set of intelligent farmers on the other side of the water, who set to work by their capital intelligent and industrious labourers: such is not the state of society in the north of Europe, from whence we derive our supplies. The mode in which the cultivation of the soil 790 is carried on in Russia, Poland, Prussia, and the north of Germany, is accurately de scribed by Mr. Jones, the Tithe Commissioner, in his valuable work on rent, and also by Mr. Jacob, in his two reports of 1826 and 1827. The system is that which is termed by Mr. Jones that of labourrents:—the landowner retains in his own hand the bulk of his estate; the remainder he gives out to his semi-barbarous serfs, in quantities of forty or fifty acres, on condition that they work three days in the week for him, and the other for themselves. Is this a state of things in which anything like energy is to be expected? Mr. Jacob gives this description of the population of Poland:—The labouring classes too, being assured of a supply of the bare necessaries of life, are little disposed to any great changes in their mode of work, or any exertion of strength or skill beyond that to which they have been accustomed. They have been, and perhaps not without some reason, always represented as indolent, unskilful, filthy, and drunken, and averse to the improvement which their wiser and better superiors have attempted to introduce.In fact they are so brutalized, and in so low a moral and intellectual state, that when they were released from the condition adstricti glebæ, and made free men in Livonia and Esthonia, and part of Prussia, the measure was so unpopular with them, from the fear that they would no longer be maintained in sickness and old age, by their former lords, that they rose tumultuously against the edict, and freedom was absolutely forced upon them at the point of the bayonet. Then again we are told of the unlimited fertility of the country. The account given by Mr. Jacob is this:—With that description of persons [those qualified to judge], including the chiefs of several departments of the Government, the prevailing opinion was, that the average produce of wheat was not more than 14 bushels; of rye, 10; of barley, 14; of oats and of buckwheat, from 8 to 10 to the acre. Although the southern parts of Sandomir and Cracow yielded rather more, yet their corn, being celebrated for its excellent quality rather than for its much greater produce, and extending to but a small proportion of the whole corn of these provinces, it was not calculated that it would have the effect of raising the average of the whole kingdom in any sensible degree above the rate here stated.Of Sandomir, Mr. Jacob says—The wheat grown here is that which is known in London by the name of Dantzic white wheat; it is of the most excellent quality—very white and heavy. I did not learn that the average growth was much beyond, if it reached, 20 bushels to the acre; though I heard individual instances of a greater quantity being yielded in good years. The district is about sixty miles in length, but not 791 broad." "This tract of country, which appeared to me so fertile.… does not, including the territory of the republic, in extent amount to one-sixtieth of the present kingdom of Poland.But wheat cannot be grown continually without manure to renovate the soil. Now there are no cattle in the country to furnish manure. Mr. Jacob gives this table of the proportion of acres to the cattle, for we cannot say of cattle to the acre:
He also gives the quantities on an estate in the province of Lublin, which is said to be one of the best managed in the kingdom of Poland:—
Prussian Maritime Provinces. Polish Province of Plock. Acres. Acres. Horses and colts 1 to 42 1 to 106 Oxen, cows, & calves 1 to 18 1 to 24 Sheep and lambs 1 to 10 1 to 24 Swine 1 to 35 1 to 52
And as to capital, a statement is given of a plan that was arranged with a view to relieving the embarrassment which generally prevailed amongst the proprietors, by what was termed a land-bank. But it is said all these things will come by degrees. Now, it must be remembered that the progress of agricultural improvement is extremely slow. It is not with the agriculturists as it is with the manufacturers. They live at a distance from each other, and have few opportunities of communication. It is a long time before it can be ascertained whether an experiment is really successful. If it appears to succeed, it may owe its success to a favourable season. If it appeal's to fail, it may be an unfavourable season that has caused its failure. The manufacturers are collected in one spot. Every new invention is at once known to all; and it is known immediately and certainly whether an experiment has succeeded or failed. The spirit of rivalry is constantly in operation, and improvement proceeds with great rapidity. The inhabitants of the country districts are also very averse to change; they like to go on in the old ways; and even in this country it often takes a generation before an improvement is fully introduced. How much more slow is the progress likely to be in a semi-barbarous state, like that which I have been attempting to describe? We were once in the same condition ourselves; and I believe that it will take those nations at least as long as it has taken ourselves to emerge from that state—and it 792 will be in the knowledge of many hon. Members that a man was adjudged in our courts to be a serf or villein so late as the reign of James I. As to the probability of an increased supply from those nations, taking them in the state in which they are at present, there are Returns before the House which were furnished by the consuls at the different ports for the debates of 1842, by which it appears that the whole quantity likely to be furnished by them, including probable increase, is 2,225,000 quarters. Now, it will be seen, that our annual average importation, for the last four years, has been a fraction more than 1,900,000 quarters; and this quantity is within very little more than 300,000 quarters of the greatest amount at which the probable yearly supply from all quarters had been estimated. There are some persons who urge against the proposition of the Government the apprehension of a large influx of corn from America; but I cannot see any ground for such an opinion. By the Consul's returns for 1842, it happened that, taking a series of ten years, the price of wheat was for either three or four years of the ten, higher at New York than in London. And by a return which has just been placed in our hands, it appears that the price at New York was 40s. a quarter on the first of last November. It has also been stated that corn can be grown in Michigan for 15s., and even 14s. a quarter, and conveyed from thence to this country at a very low rate. I have been informed by a gentleman of eminence who is connected with Canada, and upon whose information I can implicitly rely, that there was a large crop last year, and that the price for which it was actually sold in Michigan was 24s. a quarter. It was also observed by Lord Ashburton very recently at a protection meeting in Hampshire, that American corn can at this time come here through Canada at a duty of 4s., and yet with a price of perhaps 70s. for corn of good quality, none is coming. A remarkable fact was also mentioned the other night in the able statement of the Secretary at War—namely, that the export of corn from the United States has been decreasing for the last 50 years. Now I would ask, if it be true that corn can be grown so cheaply in the back settlements of America, and conveyed so cheaply to this country, how is it that it can bear so high a price at New York and the more populous districts of the Union? Surely the American dollar is as effective a stimulus to exertion as the English sove- 793 reign; and if they could really supply us so cheaply, they could supply at the same rate their own countrymen. I am more disposed to rest my judgment—and I think that this House ought also to base its decision—upon established facts such as I have brought forward, and the reasonings deduced from them, than upon the estimates of mercantile men, however eminent they may be. There is nothing so little to be trusted as an estimate. However carefully it may be made, there are a thousand lets and hindrances which prevent the accomplishment of that which seems most plausible on paper, and upon these grounds I feel as little disposed to anticipate a ruinous influx of cheap corn from America, as I do from the north of Europe. Sir, it is also said that, even if we adopt the measure which has been proposed, wisely as I think—unwisely as is thought by many of my Friends—by Her Majesty's Government; there will be no reciprocity—foreigners will not follow our example. I believe that it is for the interest of our agriculture, now that the transition can be made with safety, that it should be placed on a natural, instead of an artificial basis. I believe that it is also the interest of our commerce so soon as the change can be made without a ruinous derangement of existing interests, but more particularly of the labour market, that it should be placed on a sound and healthy footing, whether foreign nations choose to follow our example or not. And if this country, which is confessedly at the head of the commerce of the world, shall lead the way in the adoption of sound principles—if, having done so she shall flourish, as I believe she will, with a vigour which she has never yet known; then at length will foreign nations, seeing that this is the way to commercial greatness, imitate our example, and follow in our steps. It is true that this will not take place immediately: it may be twenty, or it may be thirty years; and many of us who are here may not see the day. But what are twenty or thirty years in the march of a nation? We are not legislating for ourselves, but for our children, and our children's children. And I for one shall not grudge—I shall not shrink from—any reasonable amount of temporary sacrifice to lay the foundation of a great and an enduring prosperity.
1 cow or ox to 26¾ acres. 1 sheep or lamb to 19 1 horse to 156 1 pig to 146
§ MR. T. BARING
said, upon the subject under discussion, and upon some others, he regretted to say he had the misfortune of differing from friends upon whose sound 794 judgment he had the greatest reliance, and for whose integrity and purity of motive he had the strongest respect. He also had the misfortune, on the present occasion, to differ from the Members of a Government whose policy he had hitherto followed, and for whose talents, knowledge, and administrative powers, he had the highest admiration; and in whose patriotism and stern sense of duty, even in the course which they were now following—a course which appeared to him mistaken and inconsistent—he was anxious to express his firm belief. It was, therefore, with pain that he should give the vote which he meant to give on this question. But feeling, and allowing the sincerity of the Government, he could not change his mind to give a different vote, unless he saw strong grounds for changing his opinion; and with every deference for the authority of the right hon. Baronet, whose change had carried to his (Mr. Baring's) mind motives for deliberate consideration, he must say that the grounds upon which the right hon. Baronet had rested his change of opinion and policy appeared to him totally inconclusive. Had they been called upon to change their policy upon the general reasons hitherto given, he should have found, he thought, an answer to them in the views which the right hon. Baronet formerly had so strongly and clearly expressed on the propriety of caution and discretion in introducing great changes of the nature of that now propounded. But when that change rested upon two such grounds as the success that had attended the modification of the commercial system during the last three years, and the danger which must result from the total failure of the harvest—he must say, that having examined both these grounds to the best of his judgment, though he saw in them many reasons for the continuance of a system of gradual relaxation of commercial restriction, and grounds founded upon the necessities of the country for a temporary measure, yet he must say they all appeared to him inadequate to justify those who had believed in the soundness of the right hon. Baronet's previous policy, in deserting that policy. Even if he could believe that the prosperity of the last three years could be attributed to the relaxation of the Tariff, still this would be an argument for a cautious, deliberate, and gradual relaxation, and not for so great a change as was now proposed. The very argument made use of by the right hon. Baronet, with respect to the introduction 795 of foreign cattle, showed the danger which would result from apprehensions that might arise, however ill-founded. And when a reason for the present change was sought in the increased consumption of articles the duty on which was lowered by the Tariff, he must be permitted to say that there had been an equal increase in articles the duty on which had not been changed by the Tariff. He did not object to those changes in the Tariff; he approved of the great majority; but they were carrying the argument in a wrong direction when it was said that the prosperity of the last three years mainly depended on those changes. They were told that the great cheapness of bread had been the cause of this prosperity; but he thought that the prosperity would have been much lessened if there were a less demand for labour; as he thought the increased prosperity had arisen from the greater demand for labour caused by internal improvements, and from the activity of trade. He believed that the rate of wages was regulated by the supply and demand for labour. There was a high remuneration for labour in America, where food was cheap, and a low remuneration in Poland, where food was also cheap. It appeared, then, that there was no positive connexion between the two; but if they diminished the demand for labour with an increasing population, the result would be, that the rate of wages, with the increased competition of labour, must be regulated by the prices of food. He could not bow, therefore, to the opinion that the last three years of prosperity, gratifying as it had been, creditable as it was to Her Majesty's Government, and satisfactory as it had been to the country, could justify this great experiment in an agricultural country, which shook the confidence of all interested in the agriculture of the country, and opened a future which no one could define. The next ground given for the intended change was the result of the harvest in this country and in Ireland. No one could view the possible calamity in Ireland without sympathy and alarm. It appeared, however, to him that the reports as to the disease in the potato crop might be exaggerated; the growth of potatoes and oats was unusually large, and he had hoped that the supply would be large also; but when Her Majesty's Government stated their apprehensions that such a supply could not be relied on, he was sure that they did not overstate the case when they said that they looked to Ireland with appre- 796 hension. Still this was a special case, requiring a special remedy: it was not from such accidental circumstances that they ought to make a total change in their system. By this measure, the property and the income of the persons to whom the distressed parties ought to look for employment and benevolence would be reduced. He did regret to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department say he thought no Minister of the Crown would be justified in affording relief to the starving population of Ireland unless he acceded to a repeal of the Corn Laws. When had this country ever shown itself backward in affording relief? He had heard calumnies against a Saxon Parliament and a Saxon nation; but he had never heard such a calumny as that they would suspend all relief till a great commercial change should be perfected. The right hon. Baronet had said it would require a bold man to do it; it would require only a patriotic Minister. If he had made a proposal for relief, without accompanying it with an alteration of the Corn Laws, he would have found a Parliament to back him. The noble Lord the Member for the city of London had last Session moved for a return of the quantity of corn in bond, and it was shown to be only 450,000 quarters; but though the stock of bonded corn might be small, our real supply rested on our stacks and granaries; and even if there were alarm because the quantity in bond did not exceed 450,000 quarters, there was this satisfaction, that it had now increased to a million. When, however, alarm was excited, every party was anxious to exaggerate the evil arising from the smallness of the supply. He believed that the crop of barley and oats was peculiarly abundant; the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department made that a crime in the present sliding-scale which its proposer looked upon as its great merit—it prevented fraud; and because the present sliding-scale did prevent fraud, he believed that the speculators said they must resort to another sliding-scale—to the sliding-scale of Ministerial nerve and Ministerial consistency. Then they were told that the ports of England would be swept to supply foreign States; but under 100,000 quarters had been sent to Belgium and Holland, whilst there had been a great addition to our store here. Then they were told also that there would not be a sound potato by Christmas; and that the supply of corn would be diverted 797 to Belgium and Holland, which had been wholly erroneous. It was said also that the whole of the rice was purchased at Liverpool at a high price; and the right hon. Gentleman, would be happy to hear that there had now been a fall of 25 or 30 per cent. No one, however, had attempted to allay the fears that had been excited, and which all had set in motion. That portion of the public press which was against the Government and the Corn Laws—against everybody and everything, had declared that starvation was at their doors. The gentlemen of the Anti-Corn-Law League made it their theme; and the noble Lord the Member for London had given a sanction to the alarm, because; on the ground of that alarm he had written his letter, to make at once a clean conscience and a united party by confessing his previous errors. Yet, on reviewing what had taken place, he must think the great want of the country had been the want of a Ministry, and that the most appalling scarcity had been the scarcity of statesmen ready to sit at the same Council table. He was the more inclined to that opinion, when he recollected that the right hon. Baronet, in introducing his commercial changes, had said, that looking to the state of the manufacturing districts, the prosperity which had lasted during the first nine months of the year was liable to sudden and immediate change; and when also he had referred to a circular which seemed to have made a great impression upon the right hon. Baronet's mind, and which had made a similar impression upon his (Mr. Baring's) mind, the right hon. Baronet had read an extract which showed that there had been great anxiety at the end of last year through fear of a depression in the trade of Manchester. He (Mr. Baring) need not read the paragraph, because what fell from the right hon. Baronet must be fresh in the memory of all; but the tendency of it was to show that there was great alarm lest the prosperity which had prevailed should experience a check. The right hon. Baronet had only wished to state that there was great anxiety ou the subject; but when he (Mr. Baring) wished to account for that anxiety he might be allowed to read an extract also. It was from the circular of Messrs. Gibson and Ord, most respectable merchants of Manchester, dated the 22nd of January. The circular stated that the alarming accounts respecting the failure and disease of the potato crop had caused such excitement that meetings were held all over 798 the three kingdoms to devise means for mitigating the impending evil, and to petition Government to open the ports; that this excitement acted upon the money market; and that circumstance, together with the railway crisis, which all prudent men had looked upon as inevitable, had deranged the general trade of the country, the evil being completed by the unexpected announcement of the resignation of Ministers; that experience had shown that the first cause of alarm was greatly exaggerated; that subsequent returns proved that the average yield of the corn crops was not much deficient, while there was at the same time a supply from the surplus of the preceding year; and that though there had been extensive loss in the potato crop, the public mind was relieved from great anxiety on that point, which result they attributed to the wisdom of the advisers of the Crown, who had withstood the overpowering demands that had been made to them to open the ports, the sudden compliance with which would unquestionably have led to great embarrassment. With respect to the policy of the Corn Laws, they said—The apprehension of a present scarcity prepared the minds of all men for it, and our position with regard to food imperatively demands that provision, to the utmost possible extent, should be made against a calamity which has often come upon us, and may again, when the ports of Europe may be closed against us. To the United States, in such contingencies, we must mainly look for our supply. But while we admit this, we do not advocate the total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. To such a measure is opposed the conviction that it would be unjust towards the landed interest, and produce such a revolution in our monetary and commercial affairs as would be most pernicious to the industry of the country. But we recommend a moderate fixed duty, with a gradual reduction until it is entirely abrogated.When he quoted this document, proceeding from parties who were opposed to the present Corn Laws, and preferred a fixed duty; who stated that the aspect of affairs was much exaggerated, and there was no cause for opening the ports, it should be remembered that he quoted a document to which the right hon. Gentleman himself had given the stamp of his approbation; perhaps, also, it was one which offered some explanation, though none other had been given, of the opposition of the right hon. Gentleman's Colleagues to his proposal for opening the ports. In his humble opinion nothing could have been more injurious than opening the ports. If the previous apprehensions were such that everything in our ports that could be 799 bought was eagerly purchased, the further alarm of such a measure must have had the effect of shutting foreign ports against us. In his opinion, therefore, nothing could be more ill-timed than such a measure. He confessed, therefore, he saw no ground, either on account of the effect of our previous legislation, nor of the existing circumstances of the country, to call for such sudden and sweeping measures as the one now before the House. He must, therefore, look at the measure by itself, and judge of it by present circumstances. He feared the right hon. Gentleman did not entertain so strongly as formerly his opinions of the great importance of a surplus revenue over the expenditure. It seemed to him, without going into the financial statements which were not yet before them, that when the right hon. Baronet was proposing an augmented charge on the Consolidated Fund of half a million, and making additions to the military and naval service, while at the same time he was diminishing the revenue by the remission of taxation, unless he calculated upon a greatly increased revenue from corn, he was risking, by a calculation on the continuance of the great prosperity which had existed for the last few years, that permanent surplus revenue which he believed to be essential to the credit and welfare of the country. He was anxious to state that he was not one of those who thought that protection ought to be indiscriminately applied to all articles, or permanently maintained upon any. It was the necessity of the case, which, in his opinion, alone justified protection. A protective duty, like a revenue duty, was, per se, an evil, which necessity alone could justify. At the same time he could not agree that protection should be regulated by one uniform system; that because free trade was desirable in one case, it should be applied to every one. Each interest must be looked at upon its own special case, and with reference to the capital invested, and the labour employed in it. He believed that where by legislative authority protection had been enjoyed for a long time, the principle of Adam Smith, which was applied by Lord John Russell, sometime ago, to land as well as to manufactures, was the one which should be adopted, namely, that the advance towards freedom of trade required slow gradations and a great deal of circumspection. That was his own opinion. As regarded the Corn Law of 1842, he did not look upon it as a final measure; he did not look for finality in any legislation, and 800 least of all in commercial legislation, which must be changed with the change of circumstances. But there was an understanding that if that law worked well with regard to the objects it was proposed for, and according to the calculations the made, it was not to be changed by its authors. He would not go into details of the working of the system. He adhered to the opinion expressed last June by the right hon. Baronet, and which was quoted the other night, whun he said—I shall go further and say, that in my opinion it is expedient, by safe, gradual, and cautious measures, to base our laws relating to the trade in corn on the sound principles which regulate our commercial policy in respect of every other branch of industry.In that he entirely concurred; and if the right hon. Baronet had adopted these safe, gradual, and cautious measures, the right hon. Baronet should have had his cordial support. But he could not understand why the improvement now going on in the cultivation of land to so great an extent, should be checked by the uncertainty that would be the result of it. It was impossible to say what would be the result of it. No one could state what the price of corn would be. In his humble opinion, therefore, there was great danger in this sudden change, for it was to affect an interest without their knowing how it would affect it—to shake confidence without substituting anything more suitable, and to put everything in motion without their knowing where or when the motion was to cease. And what were the advantages? He believed it would be found that our supply had kept pace with our increasing population, and that the price of wheat had fallen as our population had increased. In fact, it was inevitably the case that where there was a fertile soil and room for expansion, food was produced in greater proportion than the population. The Western States of America proved this. The Secretary at War had quoted the large increase of population in Ohio, as a proof that that increase precluded the power of supply of food for other parts; but he had not added, that, notwithstanding this increase of population, the exports from Ohio of agricultural produce were greater last year than in any previous year. But he should go a little further, and let him look to Illinois and Indiana. He always regarded with doubt statistical data as to the production of the soil, knowing the difficulty of obtaining exact information 801 upon the subject; but he held in his hand a statement of the relative increase of population and agricultural production in Illinois and Indiana in the years 1844 and 1845. In Illinois the population was estimated in 1844 at about 600,000, and in 1845, at 700,000; whilst the produce of wheat was in 1844, 3,380,000 bushels; and in 1845, 6,500,000 bushels. In Indiana the population was in 1844, 750,000, and in 1845, 850,000; whilst the production of wheat was estimated in 1844 at 5,419,000 bushels, and in 1845 at 8,000,000 bushels; and the estimate, in both States, of other articles of agricultural produce, such as oats and Indian corn, also proved a great increase. Thus it would be seen that the increase of produce was greater than the increase of population. While, therefore, he thought that in abundant harvests we should have wheat cheaper here, he thought that if we depended for our supply on foreign countries we should be liable to those fluctuations which would produce a great rise in prices. It seemed to him that equality of prices of corn was best maintained when, relying mainly on our own internal production, the supply was spread over the great surface of our territory, came through a variety of channels to a number of markets, and was beyond the control of speculation and combination, or the monopoly of capital. And it might be shown that in articles in which the trade was free, the fluctuations in price had been as great or greater than in wheat. Take, for instance, an article which, next to food, was of the greatest importance in this country, though it came from all quarters of the globe, though the cultivation of it spread over such an immense extent of territory, and enjoyed freedom of trade—he meant cotton—it was not exempt from these fluctuations of prices. He would take three years, 1836, 1837, 1838, to show the great and rapid fluctuations in labour on which the duty had been almost nominal, and with the trade in which neither monopoly nor protection interfered. He found that at the commencement of 1836, the price of fair upland cotton in Liverpool was 9½d., at the end of March it had risen to 11⅜d., after various fluctuations it fell in December of that year to 10¼d. In the course of 1837, it fell from 10¼d. to 5⅞d., and again at the close of the year had risen to 8d., and in the course of 1838 it fell to 6½d., and recovered to about 7½d., thus exhibiting a series of violent fluctuations, and in one single year 802 a variation in the value of the article of nearly 50 per cent. It was sometimes said the rate of freight would serve as a sufficient protection to the home grower. Now, what was the case in this respect? He believed there would be no permanent rise in freight on account of the alteration. The usual rate of freight was, from Odessa, 9s.; Hamburgh, 2s.; the Baltic, 4s.; New York, 6s.; and varying in the territories of the United States, between New York and New Orleans, from 6s. to 10s. and 11s., and the additional charge to London, over Liverpool, from the United States was about 2s. But that which came from the home producers had also to pay freight. The freight from Norfolk was 1s. 6d.; from Lynn, 1s. 9d.; from Boston, 2s., &c.; so the British grower at Boston had to pay the same freight as the shipper at Hamburgh. He had to apologize to the House for occupying so much time; but they were aware, without going into further details, that the question stood in a different position now than last year. There were now three opinions upon the subject: first, the opinion of those who approved of the continuance of the present protection—the agriculturists; secondly, the opinions of those who wished for entire free trade in corn, and a total abolition of all duties; and, thirdly, a very strong feeling—shared in by a considerable number of persons connected with the commercial and trading circles—favourable to the principle of a small fixed duty. It was not for him to offer an opinion upon the various claims to consideration which these opinions required; but he would say, that if ever there was a time when a compromise was desirable, it was at the present time. If ever there could be a satisfactory settlement made by compromise, it was now. His interest and his wish was to see tranquillity pervade the Empire by a final settlement of a question involving such important interests. He believed public character would receive a great shock by many of the votes about to be recorded in that House; and he believed that confidence in the wisdom, sagacity, and political consistency of its leaders would also be materially shaken. That confidence, without which no Ministry could long exist nor party prevail, and without which the House would lose public esteem and respect, would, he believed, suffer; but though so great a national blessing as the final and satisfactory adjustment of the Corn Law question was to be purchased at such a cost, it 803 would be a consolation to him if a settlement was really obtained. But then no settlement could be satisfactory that was not founded upon conciliation and concession. It must not be the triumph of one party, and the defeat of another. It must not be the carrying out of the extreme views of either. It must be an amicable arrangement, or, if not, it must, on the contrary, be a victory so complete as to deprive of all power the opposite contending party. Then, he would ask, was it a wise, a politic, a statesman-like thing, that a great interest like the landed interest should be left in that House without confidence in any Government; that they should feel their interests injured, and their existence jeopardized; that they were betrayed by one party, and trampled upon by another? Was this the statesman-like settlement for which the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord had been throwing the Government from one to the other? Was it wise that the landed interest should be allowed to brood over its discontent, and seek relief, not perhaps by a renewal of protection, but with the aid of others, by some change in our system of taxation or of currency, which would be inconsistent with the integrity of our Empire, with national credit or with public faith. He believed that if an arbiter could come into that House, unaffected by party feeling, and neither attached to the protectionists nor to the League, he would say the question ought to be settled by mutual concession. This was what he desired to see; but if it could not be so, he should feel it his duty to vote for the Amendment—not to mark his dissatisfaction with the general policy of the Government, nor to put himself in general opposition to them, but because, as one who was in favour of all safe and gradual concessions to free trade, he thought it necessary and politic to maintain adequate protection for our native agriculture.
§ VISCOUNT MORPETH
If the question had been a less important one, and the moment less critical, I might perhaps have hesitated, at so short a period after I had resumed my seat within this House, to present myself again to its notice, especially when I rise for the purpose of taking that view of the question, which, in my humble judgment, at least, has received almost all the illustration of which it is capable, from every thing that the most consummate ability, the most industrious research, and the most protracted discussion could bring to bear 804 upon it, not to mention the still more Useful assistance it has lately received from official countenance, and from many illustrious adhesions. The hon. Member who has just sat down was, we know, the friend of free trade in the abstract; but after his speech of to-night, it would be difficult to discover that he is a friend to it either in abstract or detail. He professes himself, indeed, to be favourably disposed to some gradual and cautious relaxation of restrictive duties, but he has not told us how far he would go, or where he would stop; and I imagine that, with reference to the great interest which has been specially brought forward in the course of this debate, the large agricultural interest of this country, if there be anyone course more than another to which they profess to object, it is to make it the subject of constant, gradual experiments, being for ever tampered with, and never let alone. The hon. Member has told us that the great want in the preceding autumn—upon the circumstances connected with which much of the Ministerial proposition is sustained and has been founded—was the want of a Ministry. Now, I certainly think that want is most sensibly felt by that great and important party in the State and in the country of which the hon. Gentleman himself is an ornament. We hear of their being backed by the voice of the country; we hear of their contesting successfully every vacant seat; but still it seems to be as lamentable as it is unaccountable, that they are without leaders and without a head. If this be not the case—when they have displayed the full force of their numbers, when they have made the echo of their own opinions heard throughout the country—I suppose we may expect to see a successful and stable Government formed upon the principle of undiminished protection to agriculture? Indeed the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Baring) has told us that the present time would be eminently suitable for a compromise. I don't know whether he came here entrusted with any message—I don't know whether he came here the bearer of any overture to propose a Ministry founded on the principle of compromise. If his compromise, indeed, were founded upon the commercial circular he read himself, I think he would find that he would depart very little from the actual line of conduct of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel). But I apprehend that it is now universally felt, both in the country and in this House, that the time for compromise is gone by. A compromise, 805 indeed, was once offered by the party, and by the leaders of the party with whom I have the pride and satisfaction of acting. And the hon. Member cannot forget that the party which is now so glad to hail him and to cheer him as an honourable auxiliary, summarily and immediately rejected all notions of the kind. I feel, Sir, that the best atonement I can have for offering myself to the attention of the House, on this long-discussed and wide-stretching question — which, as I before said, has already received almost all the illustration of which it is capable—will be, first, to compress what I have to offer into a very moderate compass; and next, to confine my remarks to what may seem more special and peculiar in my own opportunities and position with respect to this subject. Since I had the honour of occupying a seat in this House, I have been a traveller on the North American Continent; I have, for an uninterrupted period of two years, lived in the heart of a purely agricultural district; and I have lost and regained my seat as the Representative of the West Riding of Yorkshire. That last circumstance is naturally the freshest and the uppermost in my own mind, as well as far the weightiest in itself: but I feel that it speaks sufficiently and intelligibly enough for itself; that, brought about as it has been, circumstanced as it has been, timed as it has been, it tells its own moral, and conveys its own meaning. If my predecessor in the seat I have now recovered, in the opening debate of the present Parliament, justly adduced his own return as a most significant reply to the inquiry submitted to the country with respect to the Budget of 1841, I feel that I may still more triumphantly appeal to my own recovery of that seat as the most significant and signal verdict that could be given upon the measure which now, under happier auspices, has been submitted to the country in the year 1846. There is only one further circumstance which seems to me to require a remark with reference to the bearing of the late election in Yorkshire upon the question now before the House. As we all know, the project of the right hon. Baronet concerns an infinite variety of articles besides corn and provisions. The scheme has justly earned the title of "comprehensive;" and it meddles almost as much with manufactures as it does with agriculture. ["No, no."] It certainly meddles quite as much with many leading branches of manufacture as with agriculture—at least as much as it can. The abo- 806 lition of protection with regard to manufactures is, like that upon corn, entire, but, unlike that on corn, it is immediate. I was about to say, that the constituency by whose choice and approval I have been honoured, represents, as is well known, a great variety both of manufacturing and agricultural pursuits. It comprises the largest woollen, the largest worsted, and the largest steel manufacture in the Empire; and it embraces, I believe, the largest linen manufacture in England. It comprises, besides, very extensive iron and cotton manufactures. Now, as I have just said, the withdrawal of protection from the articles manufactured by these individuals is immediate and complete; and with respect to some of them it is by no means clear that the withdrawal of protection will be merely nominal. I may mention, for instance, that the cutlery of Sheffield—the knives, the scissors, and the razors, for the manufacture of which that town has acquired such just celebrity—has been frequently imitated on the continent of Europe; that the Sheffield mark has been forged upon the articles, and that, having been introduced into this country, they have been able to undersell the genuine Sheffield manufacture. So also with respect to the article of woollen manufacture called "low cloths." I am told that this manufacture, which prevails very extensively in the West Riding of Yorkshire, will probably encounter formidable competition from the low cloths of Belgium. But, however, that may be, not one of those interests, all of them directly affected, some of them liable to real risk from the withdrawal of protection—not one of those interests, during the interval of a fortnight which was specially exacted for the consideration of the measure by the friends of protection, nor even under the excitement of some rather vehement appeals which were made in the principal cities of the district, nor when the representatives of these manufacturing interests were assembled in great numbers before the hustings at Wakefield—not one of them uttered a single murmur, or a whisper of disapproval, or a wish for the continuance of protection. "Competition may come," they said, "but we are prepared to meet it;" and, as I was expressly told, "all we wish for is a fair field, and no favour." Let me ask, then, why that interest which so often plumes itself on being the most important, the most noble, the most English in the country, does not take a leaf out of the book of these begrudged manufacturers, and con- 807 sent to be no longer the only department of our national industry which does not scorn unfair odds, and strive to keep its own? I may now refer to my residence in the agricultural districts, and the impression it made upon my mind. I have not to learn, for the first time, that the landowners protest for themselves—and in most cases I am willing to believe persuade themselves—that they do not take the course they have taken on this question with any exclusive regard to their own interests. They may feel it a comfortable reserve that those interests would not be injured; but there they consider themselves on a par with the manufacturers and Leaguers, to whom—and not unfairly—they impute some regard to their own interest as inducing them to engage in the warfare they are now waging against the Corn Laws. The landowner, however, persuades himself that he is not induced to take so strenuous a part in favour of maintaining the Corn Laws for his own interest exclusively, but for the interest of his tenants, his dependants, of the agricultural labourers especially. It is through their breast that he is aimed at, and it is through their wounds that he himself shall bleed. Now, valuable as I admit the services of the labourers in agriculture to be, and immense as I think the obligation is both upon the part of individuals and of the State to cherish them, yet in a community to which trade and manufactures are contributing so amply and so constantly, that it is entirely false to say of any one of the great interests into which it is divided that in it exclusively, or even principally, resides the spring of our national wealth, or the muscle of our national strength—I think it neither more nor less than an act of positive injustice to all of them, to select any one as a special object to be fostered and favoured, or, as they are not ashamed to term it, "protected." But in the next place—and I rely on this ground with the greater hope and the greater confidence, because I know the great influence and the wide ramifications of the agricultural interest, and because I respect, though I cannot recommend even an excess of sympathy for the agricultural labourer, for his disposition to look up to his superiors, to wear their colours, as we were told by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire—for his proneness to be led, and for his actual wants and privations, yet I question whether the "protection" which you wish to preserve for him is not miscalled and misplaced, and whether among the many victims of a mis- 808 taken system there are any more deeply or permanently injured than the tenant-farmer and the agricultural labourer. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire presented us with a picturesque and pathetic picture of an interview between a landlord and his farmer, whom he represented as suddenly turned out of his holding because he could not afford to give an equal rent with some entrprising and intelligent member of the Anti-Corn-Law League. [Mr. S. O'BRIEN: Oh, no!] I think the hon. Member represented a person with more capital, more energy, more intelligence than a tenant-farmer. [MR. S. O'BRIEN: Not necessarily a Leaguer.] I should be very sorry to misrepresent the hon. Member; but I am sure either he or some one else—[Mr. S. O'BRIEN: That may be]—referred to the hon. Member for Stockport in relation to some special operations in agriculture; and I may have combined that allusion with the graphic sketch of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, which he cannot wonder made a deep impression on my mind. But the concurrence which the hon. Member described is nothing which might not happen any day in the week in any past year of protection with a landlord who did not give a lease, and who did not feel any scruple or compunction at dealing summarily with his tenant; at all events the only novelty which the hon. Member represented as likely to ensue from the abolition of protection was, that the acre would bear six quarters of wheat where it had hitherto borne three. But I will put out of consideration for a moment, in looking at the effect which the abolition of protection would have upon the agricultural labourer, that truth which is now universally and not less justly recognized, that the interests of all classes must really be identical; for this, after all, may only come to a sort of begging the question, when every one may say, "This is for my interest, therefore it is for yours, so let it be done." Still it will hardly be disputed that the real interests of agriculture must depend upon the general well-being of the community, and upon the effective demand of the working classes. Now, has not that effective demand always existed in a far greater degree in years when corn was cheap than when corn was dear? The hon. Member for Huntingdon says, cheapness of bread will do no good unless you have a good demand for labour; that if you have a small demand for labour you will be worse off, whatever may be the cheapness of bread. But has it not been 809 universally found to be the fact, as far as any of our living memories can bear us out, that with cheapness of bread there has come increasing demand for labour? ("No, no.") Hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side, in talking of the "three years' experience" of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, are apt to say, that the prosperity and the activity of those years are not to be imputed to the working of his Tariff, but to various other causes, and especially to the activity displayed upon railways. But when was the activity displayed, and so advantageously displayed, upon railways called forth? Was it in cheap years, or was it in dear years? The hon. Member for Rutland, in his speech to-night, said, that the year 1839 was a year of great prosperity to the manufacturers; and he quoted, I believe, a speech made in this House by the late lamented Member for Kendal, bearing witness to the then existing prosperity of many branches of manufactures; but it must be remembered that the year 1839 was the beginning of that cycle of dear years which was accompanied with such disastrous effects almost to every branch of employment and industry. What do I find in a statistical report drawn up upon the state of the woollen districts of Yorkshire in that very year, 1839, which we are now told was one of prosperity to the manufacturers of this country? It is said—On a careful comparison of the wages in the district in the respective periods of 1833 to 1835, and 1839 to 1841, from the testimony of mill-owners and the information of weavers and spinners, the amount of employment was at least two-fifths less than in the average of the preceding cheap period; and combining the two elements of a depreciated rate of wages and diminished amount of employment, it would appear that, estimating the fall of wages at 20 per cent., and the diminution of employment at 33, the real deduction in the wages of the operatives is about nine-twentieths, or nearly one-half—a fact which, coupled with the enormous rise in the price of flour and butchers' meat, painfully indicates the privations which the operative class is now enduring.Why, it is as plain as testimony and experience can make it, that when corn is dear, the effective demand of the working classes—even of the agricultural classes themselves—must be proportionably diminished. I want you to put this in the most selfish, most exclusive light you can, and imagine the farmer or the miller saying, "Never mind, let them buy fewer coats, fewer stockings, fewer shoes; let them get fewer bales of wool from Australia or Saxony, fewer bags of cotton from Ala- 810 bama, even fewer hides from my brother grazier; but to me, the farmer and the miller, they must come for their daily bread; they must bring grist to my mill;" why, then, I say, that not only does it appear, that in dear years the active demand of the working classes generally must be diminished; not only will they be able to buy less, which will tell upon the landowner and the farmer and the miller, but also to eat less—which will tell upon themselves; but what is the result of this "protection" to the agricultural labourer himself? How is he benefited by the bolstering up of agriculture? What share has he in the spolia opima of legislative protection? The noble Lord who spoke so creditably on the last evening of this debate, advised us to look into our own neighbourhoods if we would judge of the effect of protection. The noble Member for Liverpool told us that wages varied with the price of provisions; but it was proved by the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, that they never varied in anything like the same proportion, and never rose or fell in proportion to the price of provisions? In my own neighbourhood and district, in the memory of the living race, wages have never varied at all; they have always, as in Northamptonshire, I am happy to say, been as high as 12s. a week, and more in harvest. Then, if the agricultural labourer receives fixed wages of 12s. a week, without their ever varying according to the price of corn, does it not follow that when, instead of paying 1s. 8d. for his stone of flour, he has to pay, as he does now, 2s. 6d., then his weekly earnings, his yearly income, his command over the comforts and necessaries of life, must be very materially abridged? At the rate of 12s. a week, he earns 31l. a year; and a difference of 10d. in the stone of flour, taking his family at six in number, and their average consumption at half a stone per head, makes a difference to him of 2s. 6d. a week, a difference of 6l. 10s. a year—a whole fifth of his income. Now, I put it to the House, whether we, the rich men, the Gentlemen of two meals, whom the hon. Member for Northamptonshire instanced, should not think a whole fifth of our income a very grievous addition to the Income Tax? It must be more so in proportion to the man who, by the sweat of his brow, only earns 31l. a year. I have had access to a table—though I fear the time has almost come in the discussion of this question, when we should have done with the pro- 811 duction of tables and papers—but I have had access to a paper, drawn up, not with a, view to the discussion of the Corn Laws, but for statistical inquiry in the small town near which I reside; and this table shows the proportionate expenditure in the article of food in three families—in a tradesman's family, in a professional man's family, and in a working man's family. I find that six persons being allowed for in each, and when flour of the second quality was 2s. 6d. a stone, the yearly bill of the tradesman's family for flour was 12l. 13s., being 15 per cent. of his whole expenditure for food on the year. The annual bill of the professional man's family for flour was 18l. 8s., being 10 per cent of his whole expenditure for food; while the expenditure of the working man's family, conducted with the greatest regard to economy, was 13l. 4s., being a per centage, not of 15 per cent., as in the tradesman's family—not of 10 per cent., as in the case of the professional man, but of 48 per cent. of his total charge for food. Now, is it not apparent how much more heavily and sorely such a deduction from the amount he has to lay out on his food must press on the labouring man than on the classes immediately above him, and if on the classes immediately above him, of course in a far greater degree than on the wealthier classes of society. But, again, I find that the professional man, living in an economical manner, spends upon all the articles of food he consumes, taking his whole bill for food in the year, about one-third of his total income; the food of the tradesman takes about one-half of his total income; while, in the case of the working man, it takes three-fourths of his total income. What he actually spends in food is 73 per cent., and there only remains to him 27 per cent. of his earnings for the rent of his house, for schooling for his children, and for procuring shoes and those necessary articles of clothing which he and his family require. And, therefore, I put it to the House, does not the increase of 2s. 6d. upon his weekly bill for flour strip him, in a most extensive sense, of the command of other necessaries and luxuries of life, of the means of bettering his own and his family's condition, and of giving education to his children? I have sometimes thought that the whole logic of this question is so compendious in its form, and so self-evident in its bearings, that it has only to be stated, and that a simple syllogism might do the work of a speech, 812 viz., there is not more than a sufficient quantity of food grown in this country for our present supply — I think he will be a hardy man who denies that — there is an addition, it is computed, of 1,000 children a day, or 365,000 a year, to our present population; then I also make bold to assert that there is not, year by year, an addition of 365,000 quarters of wheat to our native-grown produce; then does it not result that it is most important to procure an additional supply from abroad, and, as many purchasers are very poor, that this ought to be obtained at the cheapest rate possible? I should like to know where is the fallacy in this syllogism—for while I will not impute to the agricultural body that they have a less conscientious sense of duty, or are less accessible to humanity than those that I think take the side of humanity and duty in this matter, yet I maintain that if they cannot detect a flaw in this broad chain of facts—the large supply of mouths in this country, the corresponding deficiency of native-grown wheat, and the importance of getting all we can at the cheapest rate from abroad—I say, if they cannot upset this brief deduction, then in spite of their natural impulses and in spite of their early prepossessions, they cannot persevere in this system of restriction without infatuation, and I almost say without cruelty. I do not agree with those who impute it as blame to Her Majesty's Government that the operation of the sliding-scale powerfully affected the Ministerial nerves, or that they were appalled by the events of last autumn. An hon. Gentleman has said, "How preposterous it is to grant a full remission of the Corn Laws, under the necessity of giving an additional supply of food to Ireland;" and he asks, "Has the House ever shown any reluctance to grant relief to Ireland? Whatever its Saxon disposition may be, has it ever shown reluctance to grant the people of Ireland relief?" No, it has not; but I ask is it fair to put an additional tax upon the generosity of England because she shows a readiness to fly to the relief of Ireland? This I hold to be a flagrant contravention of the maxim "Be just before you are generous." Be generous, I say, to the people of Ireland; but be just to the collective community of England. The hon. Member for Huntingdon says "You are not to apply a permanent remedy to a temporary evil;" but I say the the mischief and the evil that have arisen, may arise every year; and are we 813 always to be mocked with this delusion of sliding-scales that do not slide, and of restrictive laws that, according to the recurring caprice of the seasons, must be constantly modified or repealed. It is no reproach to the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) that he has been influenced in the course he has adopted by the state of the seasons. If he did find that his anticipations were deceived, and his calculations baffled by circumstances over which he had control, he might have been ashamed for changing his mind; but can any one he reproached with being baffled with that which he could neither counteract nor control? I can see no disparagement of free trade—it is rather a confirmation of the truth and justice of the principles on which it rests—that it does follow the laws of nature, and bends to the rules that guide the seasons in their course. You might justly apply, without exaggeration, to free trade those striking lines that the poet applied to the Roman Emperor who was befriended in the battle-field by the tempest. I shall endeavour to quote my Latin better than the hon. Member for Newcastle—and it is an argument in favour of free trade that it should be enforced by the blight, the scarcity, and the pestilence!Tibi mittit ab antrisÆolus armatas hyemes; tibi militat æther,Et conjurati veniunt ad classica venti.It is no disparagement to free trade, but rather a confirmation of all that is just in it, that the stars in their courses do not act against it, but in its favour. With respect to this argument of the weather, I believe it has been found by all those who have given their special attention to its variations, that the same circumstances of cold or hot, wet or dry seasons, will be found to prevail very generally over a large portion of the world—for instance, over most of Europe at the same time, and to affect the produce of such portions accordingly; but, on the other hand, seasons of such a marked nature will generally be compensed by seasons of an opposite character in the remaining parts of the globe, probably on the North American continent. Hon. Members will remember that the summer of 1842 was distinguished by a warm and even temperature. I was on the continent of North America at that time, when we enjoyed a succession of the most favourable weather; and much as I had heard of the hot summers of America, I rarely felt what could be called a hot day. We also recollect that last summer we had very damp and variable weather, and we might have read 814 in the papers every day of the constant heat and fine weather in America, and we even heard of persons that actually died of the heat; and what is the inference from all this? That the variations of the weather seem almost to obey the same laws of balance as the returns of light and darkness, so that when any season of a markedly unfavourable character occurs here, when we are assailed with unseasonable cold, and when we are drenched with summer rain, we may derive comfort from the reflection that if we do but repeal our Corn Laws, if we do but open our ports, the rays which have been denied to us are ripening their distant harvests; and just at the very moment when we want it, the superfluity of their crops and the stores of their garners will be wafted to us to atone for and to adjust our deficiencies. But with reference to the continent of America, I do not wish to allude so much to any statistical deductions which my residence there may have enabled me to make, because they have been the subject of frequent discussion, and may be calculated as easily and appreciated almost as easily at any distance as on the spot; but I confess I have felt sometimes that the real sight, the actual presence, the faithful eyes, do drive a truth home nearer to one's conviction than can be done by a laborious process of calculation. I have felt this when in the actual view of those wide prairies which show by their unfenced solitudes that they are without an inhabitant, but by their even surface and waving grass, that they invite the plough over every inch of them—of those endless forests which show by the evidence of all that is going on upon their fringes, that as soon as the axe shall ring among them—as soon as the log-cutter shall have his house, and the thin column of smoke shall ascend among the tress, future crops of wheat and maize will speedily spring up and follow each other in due succession—of that Valley of the Mississippi, which the accomplished traveller De Tocqueville has described as the most magnificent abode ever formed by nature for the race of man—of the basin of our own St. Lawrence, which, I believe, contains more fresh water than all the rest of the world besides—I have felt that, while I knew the distance of transit would prevent those extraordinary imports which the panics of the protectionists have sometimes conjured up before their eyes—that as it must still be a long time before this same Valley of the Mississippi will contain the 815 2,000,000,000 of inhabitants for which it is said to be adapted—as it must be some time before the powers of production in that country are reached by the spread of population, it is a pity that we should not make available these unparalleled facilities for the growth and transport of provisions for the supply of our own isle, which is calculated to produce a glut of almost every article except that not unimportant one of food and provisions. But, as I intimated, it is not so much the statistics as the social and political impressions which I derived from my visit which I wish for one moment to mention to the House before I cease to trespass on their attention. Much that I witnessed there—much that I heard there, and more that has reached me since, has certainly not tended to give me a very favourable impression of the orderly working, of the pacific and moderate tendency, or of the scrupulous adherence to good faith, to be derived from a constitution of pure and unchecked democracy; and I did not return home with any increased repugnance ["Hear."]—I mean to say, any diminished attachment to the aristocratical and monarchical element in our own Constitution. But both then and since, there and here, I have felt the perfect conviction that we could not confront the example of general ease, comfort, and abundance which pervades the whole bulk of the American people. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire talked of a man of two meals. This reminds me of the story which is well known, at least on the other side of the water, of an Irishman who refused to write home that he had meat three times a day, because nobody would believe him; but I say we cannot confront the American example, we cannot confront the growing convictions, aspirings, and reasonings of our own people—we cannot confront the master tendencies of the age, the country, and the world at large in which we live, if we do not consent to administer and work out our aristocratic institutions in rather more of a democratic spirit. [A laugh.] Notwithstanding that implied dissent, I contend that no aristocracy resting upon exclusive privileges—which happily ours does not—can now be tolerated for an instant. I contend, further, that no aristocracy which props itself upon special interests will escape their certain downfall; that no aristocracy, not even one so long descended and so highly illustrated as our own, can consist with Corn Laws, which when the pressure of famine comes should prove prohibitory. This will be too 816 hard a strain upon any title-deeds and parchments—no matter what is their date or their antiquity. I do not impute to the aristocratic body, or agricultural body, or to any of their members, that they have any disposition to promote any interest that may affect them individually, or to espouse measures merely for selfish benefit, at the expense of the rest of the community; still they are interests and associations, not of individuals, but of a class which they have been in the habit of keeping prominently in their mind and view; there are sympathies and feelings which belong to what is termed the esprit de corps; there is a concealed and even a refined degree of selfishness which almost merges into generosity, and which easily mistakes itself for it, when we think that a body with whom we have long identified ourselves are likely to be outnumbered, and are liable to be assailed—in these circumstances, even monopoly itself, as it nears its downfall, although it is not entitled to the attribute of self-sacrifice, will be invested with the grace of martyrdom; just as in the case of a scene on the stage, we are apt to feel sympathy with a culprit who is detected, and who stands at bay. But it cannot promote the general interests of the country, or a healthy tone in a system, to indulge in practice, at least, any such misplaced and morbid sympathy. It is the part of true patriotism, no less than of sound philosophy, to put the universal in preference to the particular—to raise yourself above a clique, and be for the people. I would therefore conjure those who belong to the real aristocracy of the country, who are connected with it either by hereditary associations or landed possessions, to raise themselves above any of their special interests, and bear their part in the consideration of this great question. I grudge the other side the adherence of the names of the Marquess of Granby and Viscount Clive, for I feel that our aristocracy have hitherto marched with our whole progress, and identified themselves with the successive glories of our national history. Let them not refuse to bear their part in a settlement which, if not adjusted with them, must be adjusted in spite of them. Let them remember that they are but a part—if they will, a distinguished and prominent part. I believe they may make it continue what it has for the most part been, a respected and honoured part, in our system of national polity; but this system comprehends, besides themselves, the multiplied energies of trade and industry— 817 the sober-thinking and staid determination of the large middle class; the hard-working industry and urgent privations of the immense working class—the powerful agency of an active and enlightened press, and all the busy stir and progress of an inquiring, pushing, advancing age. Let them throw in their lot together; let them consider this and other kindred subjects as a great whole, and make it as much their pride as it is their safety to be the leaders, and not the laggers, in the onward march of the united British people.
§ MR. MILNES GASKELL
said, he rose, in the performance of a most painful duty, to oppose a Government which he had long cordially followed; and although the office he had lately held was not one that gave him any claim to explain the grounds on which he had quitted it, he felt sure that he should receive the indulgence of the House during the few observations which he had to make. There was no Member of the House of Commons, however humble might be his position, who had not a public duty to discharge, which must be paramount to all other considerations—a public character to maintain—a constituency to represent and serve—and the interests of this great Empire to promote to the best of his judgment and ability. During the fourteen years that he (Mr. Gaskell) had had the honour of a seat in Parliament, he had given a constant support to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. He might now, perhaps, without presumption, call him his right hon. Friend, as his official connexion with him had ceased. [Sir R. PEEL: Hear, hear.] During those fourteen years, he had been proud to follow the right hon. Baronet. He had been proud to follow him in Opposition—he had been proud of his connexion with his Government—and he would gladly have made many and painful sacrifices to have been enabled to support him now; but he had felt, when this proposition had been first brought forward, that without some overwhelming proof of its necessity, it would be impossible for him (Mr. Gaskell) to run counter to implied engagements and recorded votes. And, notwithstanding the speech of his right hon. Friend the Secretary at War, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, he must say, that he had still to learn what new circumstances had arisen, what sufficient reasons had been alleged, to justify that House, which had been elected to maintain agricultural protection, 818 in consenting, not to a suspension of the Corn Law, but to a total departure from the principles by which it had hitherto been guided. He was not about to enter into the general question. There were many other Gentlemen who were far more conversant with the subject than he could be; and he was at that moment in a state of indisposition which would be an effectual security to the House that he should not long detain it. He was only desirous to explain, as shortly and clearly as he could, the grounds on which he had himself acted. He could not forget, that during the last four Parliaments he had uniformly opposed every proposition which had been made by the noble Lord the Member for London, by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and by others, for the repeal of the Corn Laws. He had done this under the guidance of those public men in whom his confidence had been placed. He had never been one of those who had entertained extreme opinions upon this subject. He had been favourable to a moderate protection: he had always been of opinion that the Legislature of this country was bound to afford a moderate protection to the agricultural interest, and that the agricultural interest had a right to claim it. He retained this opinion still: he had been confirmed in it by the authority, at one time or another of their career (for it was very difficult to follow changes of opinion upon the Corn Laws), of almost every public man of eminence in our time—by that of Mr. Canning, of Mr. Huskisson, and of the late Lord Grey—by that of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) and the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell), till within a very recent period—by that of Lord Stanley and Lord Ashburton now; and he (Mr. Gaskell) must be forgiven if he said, that the arguments which he had heard advanced in former years by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had left too deep an impression upon his mind to be outweighed by those which he had now adduced. He, for one, was not able, like the Secretary of State, to dispose of arguments and of speeches which had so long carried conviction to his mind, in one single sentence. But he (Mr. Gaskell) had other objections to the measure besides objections to the abrogation of protection. He was strongly of opinion that the Gentlemen upon those (the Ministerial) benches ought not to be its proposers, and that the present House of Commons ought not to sanction it. He knew, indeed, that the right hon. Baronet at the head of 819 the Government had been actuated by the best and highest motives in the course which he had pursued. It was impossible that he could be actuated by any other. Why, look at the sacrifice that he had made! The right hon. Baronet had made two great sacrifices: one in 1829, and the other now. But this sacrifice was much greater than the first. In 1829, he had lost the representation of the University of Oxford, and the confidence of a portion of his party, which had been afterwards so cordially restored to him. But now, he had broken up this noble party; he had sacrificed this party to his convictions—the great party which he had drawn around him, and which had been once his pride. But it was not so much the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman, as the coincidence of so sudden and total a change of opinion on the part of so many other Members of that House, which had produced the feelings of distrust and of irritation which pervaded the public mind. Could any man doubt that the majority of the present House of Commons had been returned to maintain the principle of protection? He was not speaking of individual exceptions like his hon. Friend whom he saw opposite, the Member for Wakefield (Mr. W. Lascelles), but he spoke of the great majority of those around him; and he owned it appeared to him to be impossible for those Gentlemen, without the strongest, the most cogent, and the most conclusive reasons, to concur in the proposition of Her Majesty's Government. He was convinced that, even supposing this measure to be in itself desirable, the injury which would accrue to public interests from its being passed under such circumstances, would more than countervail any advantage that could be derived from it. It was true, they might have given no formal pledges to their constituents; but why had they not done so? Why was it that the gentlemen of England had been always preferred to delegates? Because as yet they had been always trusted. For himself, he could most truly say that, highly as he valued the privilege of being a Representative of the people, deeply as he prized the confidence of his constituents—and he rejoiced to think that by no act of his was he ever likely to forfeit it—he would far rather resign his seat in Parliament to-morrow, than be fettered by any distinct or positive pledges as to the course that he should pursue. Yes, but there were implied engagements which onght not to be lightly broken; and they 820 were bound to represent the sentiments of their constituents, not on mere isolated questions of policy that might arise, but on the great principles upon which they were founded. Such, at least, was his reading of the Constitution; and he thought a laxer view of representative responsibility was ill calculated to inspire confidence in their proceedings. His right hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) had told them, the other night, that they were not to stand in that House as the ambassadors or the delegates of local parties. Let his right hon. Friend take care that, by the course which he was now pursuing, and by the manner in which he was pursuing it, he and those who thought with him, were not doing more to establish and to extend the principle of delegation than had ever before been done by public men in the history of this country. There was another doctrine, too, by which it had been sought to justify this course in another place, and which, considering the quarter from which it came—a quarter commanding respect and deference on the part of nine-tenths of the people of England—appeared to him (Mr. Gaskell) to be fraught with still greater danger: he meant the doctrine, that if the head of a Government proposed measures from which his Colleagues in the service of the Crown dissented, those measures must be acquiesced in, lest the Government should be broken up. He had never heard any doctrine broached either in that House or elsewhere, which had filled him with greater apprehension and alarm. He had listened with the deepest pain to the speech of his noble Friend the Member for Liverpool, and to that of another hon. Gentleman, the Member for Inverness. He owned it appeared to him that such a doctrine was utterly fatal to the independence of public men, utterly inconsistent with the functions of a deliberative assembly; that it tended to merge the citizen of a free State in a mere passive and unresisting agent, and that it was at total variance with the spirit of English institutions. One other point he wished to press on the attention of the House. If the Representatives of agricultural districts, if Gentlemen who had been returned to Parliament to vote against the 8s. duty of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), showed so little sympathy with their constituents; if they showed a disposition to surrender at the first summons that was made to them—a disposition to barter the social blessings of which they had formerly heard so much, 821 for considerations of political convenience—he (Mr. Gaskell) ventured to predict that the agricultural body would soon be called upon to struggle against other changes—changes more fatal to the Constitution, though less injurious to themselves. And was it not in human nature that those men should respond to such a call with far less alacrity, with far less interest in the maintenance of their country's institutions, than they had hitherto evinced? It was no light thing to shake the confidence of the people in their Representatives—it was no light thing to reverse great systems of policy without notice and without appeal—it was no light thing to proclaim to the people of England that their Representatives thought enlisting under one banner at the hustings, and then fighting under another in the House of Commons, was no act of injustice to the constituent body, and no act of discredit to themselves. He (Mr. Gaskell) had given this subject a long, an anxious, and a most painful consideration. He had taken into account the calls of his own personal conviction on the one hand, and the too obvious consequences of party disunion on the other. He had not been unmindful of party obligations—of the deference which men were naturally disposed to pay towards those whom they had long followed; but though it was with deep and undissembled pain that he felt compelled to differ from the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), it was without the least hesitation, and with a clear and undoubting conscience, that he should support the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that considering the various emotions to which this question had given rise, he naturally approached it with some degree of anxiety; although feeling in his heart that when the present passions and animosities should have passed away, posterity would wonder at the extraordinary sensation which the present proposition of the Government had produced. He approached the consideration of this question without having any personal feeling—he had no opinion to explain away—he had no peculiar reasons to assign, for in his present convictions he had nothing to defend, but he found every thing to assail. A remark made by the hon. Gentleman who had just down, certainly appeared to him to call for some observations by those who entertained some feelings for the independence of Parliament. It might be a very proper thing for Gentlemen who had 822 given pledges to their constituents—no matter how few these might be—in obedience to those commands, which were sometimes intimated through those constituents, to give up their seats; but it was for Parliament to consider whether or not those things which they had seen of late showed much improvement on former practices, either as regarded the morality of public men, or as regarded the credit of that House in public estimation. He recollected hon. Gentlemen saying they gave no pledge—that they were not delegates. He should like to know what was the meaning of not being a delegate, but a representative, but that during the term of service in Parliament one must be guided by his own personal convictions? He, in his own person, represented a large constituency. The phrase might be unfortunate, but he did represent a large constituency, which, on many occasions and within the last few years, had had opportunities and reasons for disputing many of the votes he had given. But had he yielded to the pressure—had he yielded his seat—then the cry on the other side would have been, "You are no longer a representative, but a delegate." He had seen some strange departures from that House of late, and still more strange fillings up. In plain simple language, he had seen that Gentlemen had resigned, not at the command of what was properly called a constituency, but in conformity with what used to be the practice under the close borough system. ["Name."] He hoped hon. Gentlemen would not compel him to name names; for it did so happen, that he could name not only the constituencies, but the constituents. On this occasion he thought he should best consult good taste by not doing so. They who spoke of the independence of Parliament, should not provoke the scrutiny of those who could put their finger upon what he ventured to call the sore places of the Constitution. One remark he should make, but not in any spirit of animosity, either to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Peel), or to the noble Lord on that side (Lord J. Russell). But he thought it matter of great importance for those who should hereafter wield the destinies of this country to remember that their opinions were to be formed from close and painful considerations of that philosophy (the word had been used) upon which the science of legislation rested, and which was too often sneered at by those who called themselves practical statesmen. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. 823 Peel), with all his great capacity and long experience, had waited till the year 1845 before he announced his change of opinion on the subject before the House. It was equally wonderful that the noble Lord on that side of the House (Lord J. Russell) should have waited for precisely the same year to announce, under the same circumstances, his change of opinion. He (Mr. Roebuck) could not suppose that the noble Lord had been actuated by any but the purest motives. He gave the right hon. Gentleman credit for the same. But while he thus freed their honour from imputations, he must be pardoned for saying that their proceedings were a satire on their understandings. They had changed upon a ground which ought, at any time, to have afforded one of the most important elements for the determination of the question. The change of seasons, the vicissitudes of temperature, the event of a bad harvest, were considerations pressed upon practical statesmen by those philosophers who had preceded the practical statesman in taking a just view of the matter, by about half a century. The reason assigned by the proposer of the measure for changing the law was a good one; but it was a reason which, when he first made up his mind on the subject, ought to have entered into his calculation. It was the political sagacity of the Gentlemen opposite he was disparaging, not their personal honour. But because those right hon. Gentlemen had changed their opinions, was that House to be frightened from its propriety by threats of a great party being broken up? The question was not whether a great party was about to be broken up, but what did the exigencies of the country require? And in that spirit he approached this subject, careless alike of the party opposite, or that on his own side. Was anything about to happen which was likely to do injury to the people of England, to the labourer or the capitalist? If so, put an end to it. Do not come here, night after night, uselessly venting abuse on the right hon. Gentleman opposite—abuse, which though wrapped in phrases expressive of passionate emotion, could be considered as no other than the ebullition of party disappointment. To come then to the question: he was glad that the Amendment put it at once on the right ground. It was not simply, "shall we or shall we not alter the Corn Laws?" It was a declaration, that those who supported the Amendment were against entering at all into the question of the fitness 824 of continuing protection. That was the Parliamentary meaning of the Amendment. He readily met the hon. Member on that ground, and would take up the question—"Are we to have, or are we not to have protection—in what way are we to have it—and whom are we to protect?" The party opposite claimed protection to agriculture. Now, what was protection? He was extremely anxious this question should be reduced to the narrowest compass; for, by indulging in plausible generalities, the question was apt to escape them. He would take the illustration of the hon. Member for Rutland, who said—If you withdraw protection from agriculture, the necessary consequence will be that all the corn in the world will come into England, and the difference in the price of corn under a non-protective and under a protective system will be the difference between 19s. and 57s.Now, let it be understood: was it meant to be said that, by the passing of a law to prevent the importation of corn, the price was raised from 19s. to 57s., and that the community at large were compelled to pay that increased price? If so, the difference between 19s. and 57s. on every quarter of corn consumed in the country, was the price paid for protection, and was, in fact, an addition by so much to the expense of providing food for the people. That, then, was the meaning of protection to agriculture—that the food of the people should be produced at a higher price; and the more they exaggerated the danger to the agricultural population from non-protection, the larger they made the sum paid for the protection granted to that peculiar class. Now, he said not that that sum, though admittedly a large one, was a reason why protection should not be granted. But he was anxious to know, not only why they should protect, but whom they should protect? The agricultural class, it was said. But he wanted to know who were the agricultural class. It might be said, the labourer, the tenant-farmer, and the landlord. All these had different interests; and though they were united in one name—the agricultural interest—their interests depended upon totally different circumstances. All of a sudden, the Gentlemen opposite, and particularly the noble Member for Northamptonshire, had become the friends of the labouring class. They professed extreme anxiety that wages should not fall. They were not speaking of the landlords. Oh, they did not care at all about the rent! They were not speaking 825 as tenant-farmers; but they were most peculiarly and sensitively alive to the interest of the labourers, and dreaded nothing so much in the world as that wages should fall. And the wages of labour they contended would be seriously affected by enabling the poor man to obtain his quarter of corn for 19s. instead of 59s. But the wages of labour were not dependent on the quantity of produce in the country; it depended on entirely different circumstances—namely, the demand for the labour, or the amount of the capital invested in its employment, and the number of labourers that could be brought into the market. The amount of food in the country could not be increased without increasing the purchasing power of the labourer, and enabling him to obtain, by his wages, a larger quantity of the means of life. To prove that the introduction of cheap corn would ruin the agricultural interest, meaning thereby the labourers in agriculture, they must show that it would do one of two things—either that it would increase the number of labourers, or that it would diminish the fund which gave employment for their labour. But nothing had yet been shown to make it probable that this interference would produce any such effect. He had not heard it contended, either here or elsewhere, that the contemplated change would either diminish the fund for the employment of labour, or that the number of labourers would be thereby increased. Such being the case, it was evident that the money rate of wages would not be diminished; and if the quantity of provisions was augmented, the purchasing power of those who were receiving wages would be increased. How, then, could it be said, that the labouring classes would be injured by the proposed change? But, said the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. S. O'Brien), this was peculiarly a tenant-farmer's question, and was not a question affecting the landlords. Now, they all knew that the tenant-farmer acted like any other capitalist, and employed his capital to obtain a profitable return. The moment his profits were reduced below the current amount of profits, he naturally transferred his capital to other modes of employment, in which he might obtain the ordinary return. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire sympathized very greatly with the tenant-farmer, and pathetically lamented that, by the oppression of the law, a man should be compelled to leave the home of his fathers, and quit the ham- 826 let where the graves of his sires for generations were to be found; but no such sympathy was evinced for the poor labourer when vast schemes of emigration were planned, or when destitution compelled him to emigrate from his home, and wander forth from his native village to seek a livelihood in a foreign land. Though it might be a painful thing for the tenant farmer not to be able to retain his farm, still it was matter of paramount importance that there should be ample freedom given for the application of capital to land. He agreed with the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, that if this Bill should pass, it would give increased energy, increased capital, and increased returns; and that the land would produce six quarters, where it now only produced three. He could not understand how the agriculturists could anticipate as an evil that the price of corn would be lowered, and yet maintain that this was not a poor man's question. The noble Lord who had just spoken, had shown that almost the whole of the poor man's earnings was absorbed in the purchase of food, and that very little remained to him beyond what he paid for his subsistence. The agricultural labourer was not a person who had two meals a day. He had very seldom one good one. Such a blessing was unknown to him. But that was not so much the case with the manufacturing labourer. He was well fed, well clothed, and well housed; and by the protection of that House, his health was taken care of in the houses where he worked. On the other hand, the agricultural labourer was exposed to all the inclemencies of the climate; he was ill-clothed and ill-lodged. In the same breath that the hon. Member for Northamptonshire talked of the sufferings of the poor, he was keeping cheap food from them. Let it go forth to the country, that protection meant the keeping up the price of food from 19s. to 59s. the quarter. If it did not mean that, what, he should like to know did it mean? The landed interests had raised the price of food. For what purpose had they done so? In order to put money into their own pockets at the expense of the people. One of the methods resorted to was, by setting the labourers and the tenant-farmers at variance with each other. [Colonel SIBTHORP: No.] The hon. and gallant Member said no; but the hon. Member for Rutlandshire had expressed his apprehension that corn would sink from 57s. to 19s. a quarter; that England would, as 827 it were, be flooded with corn; and that all the miseries consequent upon a depraved and degraded population would be entailed upon her. The advocates for protection might depend on it, that the people would see their object was personal and private. Notwithstanding, however, all the fears that had been expressed, he did not believe any great diminution in the price of wheat would follow upon the abolition of the duty, nor did he anticipate any sudden improvement in the condition of the labouring classes. What he did expect was, that by abolishing protective duties they gave a chance to the people of improving their condition, by increasing the market for the productions of English manufacturing skill and industry. So far from agreeing with the hon. Member for Huntingdon that increased fluctuation would be the result of multiplying the sources of supply, it struck him that one great national advantage of the change would be greater steadiness of price. At present they were subject to the vicissitudes of a single spot; under the new law they would go all over the globe for their supply. If Europe had a bad harvest, Providence might give a good one to America; if the harvest of America failed, Australia might supply the deficiency; and thus the monies and rate of fluctuation would diminish as the field from which they derived a supply was extended. He had been most anxious to guard himself against exaggerations on the one side, or on the other. He did not expect all the benefits which some anticipated from the change; and he was far from thinking that to the Corn Law were to be ascribed famine, disease, and death. He thought the passing of the measure ought to be accompanied with some great scheme of national education. Unless they took advantage of the opportunity, they might depend upon it, that however immediately benefited by the change, the population as it went on increasing would deteriorate until it reached its present condition. He congratulated them, in conclusion, that the leaders in that House appeared to be now given stedfastly to the performance of an act of justice; and he felt that he should not be doing an act of justice to his country, if he did not charge that House to take advantage of the great opportunity which they were now enabled to grasp, and when they had done something for the physical condition of the great body of the labouring classes, to make an effort to improve their moral and social condition, 828 and thereby to regain that character which they had lately lost—the character of true and honest reformers!
§ SIR H. DOUGLAS
moved the adjournment of the debate amid loud cries of "Adjourn," and "Go on." On the question of Adjournment being put,
MR. H. HINDE
said he was anxious, on the first night of the debate, to have expressed his opinion upon the measures brought forward by the right hon. Baronet. He would now take advantage of the question of adjournment which was before the House to speak on the main question, which he believed was perfectly in order. He had for a number of years enjoyed the honour of a seat in that House—he had represented one of the largest commercial constituencies in the kingdom—he had presented himself on five or six different occasions on the hustings before that constituency, to advocate the case of protection to native industry, not only as connected with agriculture, but with all other classes. He felt himself in this position, that though his constituency was a purely commercial one, his own sole connexion was with the agriculture of the country. In these circumstances he would not have felt himself justified in giving a vote for the continuance of protection to agriculture, if he had not felt the firm conviction that that protection was just, not to the agricultural classes alone, but to all classes of the community. He would in a few words endeavour to confine himself to the commercial view of the question. The question which they had heard repeated, usque ad nauseam, was this, that they ought to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market. That was said to be the maxim of common sense. With some qualifications he would admit that to be true; but if it were to be taken without qualification, he would say that it was the nostrum of unqualified nonsense. Unless they were sure of a certain and constant supply of food, its cheapness at one time would only aggravate the distress which the country would feel if from any circumstances, its price should be enhanced at another. The true policy of this, as well as of every other country, was to make their supply of food as free from the chances of uncertainty as possible—to increase as much as possible the home supply of food. But he noticed that when the right hon. Gentleman brought forward his measure, when he stated and combated the many arguments in favour of protection, that he omitted the very material argument which 829 he had often before urged, the necessity of our being independent for our supply of food of foreign nations. It was true that the noble Lord who moved the Address to the Throne did notice this argument, and he seemed to think that he had disposed of it by stating, that when we were at war with all Europe we never had a deficient supply of food. But did the noble Lord forget, that though we never had a deficient supply, still the prices were often excessive? For himself he was satisfied that if similar events were again to arrive, the price would again rise to 100s. the quarter. He believed that the immediate effect of the repeal of the Corn Laws would be to reduce the price of corn much lower than many hon. Gentlemen anticipated. The hon. Member for Radnorshire had stated, on the first night of the Session, that the freight of corn from Hamburgh to Hull was 1s. a quarter. He could state that the freight from the various ports of Europe to the port which he had the honour to represent was almost nominal. It might appear paradoxical, but it was true that ships coming from the various ports of Europe to Newcastle would bring corn over for no freight at all, and yet make a profit. It was well known that the principal trade of that port was an export trade in coals. Ships came there almost invariably loaded with ballast, and if they brought over corn, even if they carried it for nothing, they would save the dues which were imposed upon the discharging of ballast, and every sixpence of freight they got was so much clear profit, besides the saving on the ballast dues. He might be told, that at any rate this was a gain to the shipowner; but he would assure the House that they would now see all their ports crowded with foreign shipping, and that our ships would in vain maintain the struggle with them. He did not wish to limit the food of the country, but he believed that the plan of the right hon. Baronet was not the measure which ought to have been proposed. He had supported the Canada Corn Bill. He was prepared to go farther, and to extend the benefit of that measure to all our Colonies. By doing that they would have secured cheap prices to the people—they would have encouraged their own shipping, and they would have given prosperity to their Colonies. On the other hand, by the plan they had proposed, they would not only fail in their objects, but they were about to strike a severe blow at a trade which was beginning to increase. The noble Lord the Member for the West 830 Riding of Yorkshire had stated as one of the benefits to be derived from this measure, that when the seasons were unfortunate in one atmosphere, they would in all probability be favourable in another. But did not that condition apply to the Colonies of this country, which extended through every quarter of the globe? so that this inestimable blessing might be secured to them, without displacing their native industry, or trusting to the caprice of foreigners. There was one topic in connexion with this question, which had already been commented on by several Members, which he also would not refrain from noticing. The noble Lord the Member for Liverpool, and several hon. Members, had stated their objection to this measure in far more eloquent language than he could pretend to; but they concluded by saying, that they would rather support it, than damage the existence of Her Majesty's Government. Now, he would not yield to any of those hon. Members in personal respect both for the head of the Government, and for its other Members. But he could not take the same view which other hon. Gentlemen did of his duty, in respect of this question. He could not do so, even if his vote would be available for the purpose of supporting the Government. But was the noble Lord so blind, could he lend himself to so palpable a fallacy, as to suppose that any support which might now be given to the right hon. Gentleman, could long support that Gentleman in office, after they were separated from the party which had so long supported them. He would not cast such discredit upon the foresight of the right hon. Gentleman himself, as to suppose that he had the slightest idea of its being possible, after the present Session, for the present Government to continue in office. When this measure was carried, for carry it he would, he knew that by an inevitable necessity he must hand over his Government to those who had been the earliest promoters of the measure. He, for one, would rather see the Government of the country in the hands of the right hon. Baronet, than in the hands of the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentlemen to whom he had so long been opposed; but he must do justice to their honour, as he had done justice to the honour of the right hon. Baronet. He believed that their interest in the welfare of the country was equally sincere; but he believed they were equally mistaken with the right hon. Baronet. Of this he was convinced, that in voting against the pro- 831 position of the right hon. Gentleman, in forming one of a minority against him, though a minority of his usual supporters, he was not hastening the destined and inevitable destruction of the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman, he believed, owed no allegiance to his party more than his party owed to him; but without the assistance of that party he would never have been in power, and he ought not to use the power which they had given him in order to ensure their defeat. The right hon. Baronet hcd recently stated on the first night of the Session, that it was his intention to have called his party together, to have stated his views, if possible to have relieved himself from the cares of Government, and then left it to those to bring in the measures to whom they legitimately belonged. Had the right hon. Gentleman done this, no blame would have attached to him. But he stated that a great calamity had befallen this country, and that in Ireland there had been an alarming failure in the potato crop. Now, he believed there was no natural connexion between the remedies proposed, and the famine apprehended. They were doing nothing for the poor in Ireland, whose potatoes had failed, by bringing in cheap corn. The only remedy would have been to vote a grant of money to supply them with the means of subsistence. If the right hon. Gentleman had proposed this, he was sure the House and the country would have cheerfully responded to it. But what connexion was there between the failure of the potatoes, and the remedy proposed by the right hon. Gentleman? He did not wish to speak lightly of the calamities that were said to be hanging over the sister country, or of the measures of the Government; but he must say that that calamity, if it were to happen at all, would happen very soon; the remedy would not take effect for three years. What was there at all extraordinary in the condition of the country to call for such a measure as this? It was an error, a great error on the part of the present Government, that they had not that wisdom which was so essential to statesmen—that they had not, to use the language already quoted in the House, the sound discretion which consisted in knowing when to let well alone. They all knew the inscription on the tomb of the Italian:—"I was well, I wished to be better, and here I am;" and he much feared that this sentence would form the epitaph of the present Government.
§ Debate again adjourned.
§ House adjourned at a quarter to Two o'clock.