§ The Order of the Day having been read for resuming the Adjourned Debate,
The EARL of MARCH
rose and said: Sir, in addressing the House on this occasion, I can assure you it is not my intention to enter upon the subject at any great length, or to weary the House by going into any statistical details. That I con- 966 -ceive was most fully and unanswerably done by my hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles) on Friday night. I feel it would be presumptuous in me to attempt to add to arguments which I consider totally unanswerable. In the course of the debate of Friday night, the noble Lord the Member for Dungannon (Lord Northland), I must say, astonished me not a little. From the recent conversions that we have noticed, I do not think we ought to be very much surprised at the conversion of the noble Lord, though it has taken place at a somewhat more hasty notice than most of the other conversions. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government assured us that a period of three years elapsed before he was quite cured of his former protective notions. And the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War informed us that he was convinced of his error at the late harvest; but the noble Lord the Member for Dungannon, during a period of one month, has made two speeches in this House—one on one side of the question, and one on the other. It is not for me to say in what private cell that noble Lord immured himself for maturing his ideas. But this I must say, that the noble Lord does not appear to have attended much to this debate; for most certainly the arguments have been hitherto totally on one side only, and all in favour of protection. In the course of this debate, the hon. Member for Bridport made a statement in this House which requires some little notice from me. I could wish most humbly, but at the same time most strongly, to impress it upon the mind of that hon. Member (and I am sure there is no man of honour who can make any objection to my observation) that hon. Gentlemen should not make any statement in this House without first ascertaining that that statement is totally and entirely true. The hon. Member for Bridport stated, that a noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond), one who is a strong advocate for protection, was a Member of the Administration that passed the Reform Bill; and that he was one of the Administration which, in order to carry that measure, threatened to swamp the House of Lords. Now, although it is very true and perfectly correct that the noble Duke alluded to by the hon. Member was a Member of the Administration that passed the Reform Bill, yet may I not ask, was not Earl Grey the Prime Minister of that Administration, and was Earl Grey an 967 advocate of free trade? Not at all; he was directly adverse to it. The hon. Member seemed to imply that it was impossible for that noble Duke to have been a Member of the Administration which passed the Reform Bill, and, consistently with such opinions, to be now an advocate for protection to agriculture. I cannot for a moment conceive what connexion there is between maintaining the return of Members for Gatton and Old Sarum, and maintaining protection to agriculture. I conceive it is perfectly consistent with the advocacy of protection, at the same time to say that such places as Manchester and Birmingham ought to be represented in the House of Commons, in preference to such horoughs as Gatton and Old Sarum. The hon. Member for Bridport also said (as I have just stated) that the same noble Duke was a Member of the Administration that threatened the possibility of swamping the House of Lords. I wish the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department were now in his place, for I would have appealed to him whether that noble Duke, on the proposition being made in the Cabinet, did not immediately resign his office? He resigned his office distinctly, on the ground that he would not belong to an Administration that could entertain a proposition for swamping the House of Lords; and he expressly declared that he would oppose any such measure even if he stood alone in the Cabinet. If the right hon. Secretary were here, he would bear me out in this statement. I believe the noble Lord the Member for the city of London (Lord John Russell) would also bear me out in that statement. I come now to the question more immediately under the consideration of the House, and that is, whether the principle of protection to native industry shall be entirely and totally done away with? I conceive that such a measure would bring utter ruin upon this country. One of the reasons put forward by the Government for their conversion to the principle of doing away with protection is, that a famine is likely to take place in Ireland. No one can deplore such a calamity more than I do; at the same time I think it most strange, if free trade be such an advantage to Ireland, and be a remedy for the many evils which that country labours under—I say I think it most strange and extraordinary, that so many nights of this debate should have passed by without the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. O'Connell) getting 968 up in his place, and in the name and on the part of his country declaring it to be his persuasion that this measure was at last to give them some relief, and that the Government were going to render justice, though tardily, to that country. In the course of the present debate we have heard it said that the earth is only a machine, and that the landed proprietors are nothing more than master manufacturers. Now, if this be true, if the earth is a machine, and if the landlords are master manufacturers, then, I ask, why not protect them in the same way as you protect the master manufacturers? If you protect the one, you ought to protect the other. I maintain that protection is necessary to both. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has stated—and on this occasion I am not going to quote Hansard further than the volume for the present Session—he has stated that the landlords and farmers would lay out more capital upon their land, than they do now; that we do not know the great benefits that agriculture would derive from the application of science and chemistry in the preparation of manure; that we shall have the land better cultivated; and that agriculture is still in its infancy. Now, if the right hon. Baronet admits this, then I want to know how he can come to this House and state that we do not require the same protection as was given to the master manufacturers, when they were in a state of infancy? I maintain that the capitalists engaged in the production of corn are entitled to at least the same amount of protection as the capitalists engaged in the production of manufactures. If the capitalists engaged in the production of manufactures are entitled to protection on account of the capital engaged, and the number of workmen and operatives employed, this, to say the least of it, applies with equal force to agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for the Home Department, in a speech which he delivered the other night, alluding to the settlement of the question, gave it as his opinion, that with the feeling of the great bulk of the community on the subject, as it was at present, there was but one settlement of the question possible. Now in that opinion I entirely agree. I maintain that the great feeling of the community, at present, is decidedly in favour of protection. I maintain that the feeling of the country is opposed to the proposition brought in by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majes- 969 ty's Government. And if the right hon. Gentleman wants any proof of this, I have nothing to do but refer him to the election (though it is not yet over, but I understand there is no doubt about the result) for Gloucestershire, the election for East Sussex, the election for Dorsetshire, besides many other recent elections. [Dr. BOWRING: Why don't you refer him to the election for Chichester?] The hon. Member for Bolton mentions Chichester rather with a sneer. Now, I can tell him, with regard to the city of Chichester, that during the five days' canvass which my brother made in that town, he certainly did not find above twenty electors who were advocates of free trade. Now, if the hon. Member thinks there were others in that town, advocates of free trade, I ask him why they did not come forward when they had the opportunity afforded them, when the show of hands was in favour of the Gentleman who advocated free trade—and my brother required a poll? It was for the best of all possible reasons—they knew that they should be beaten. In the speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War made the other evening, he gave us what he called his "cogent reasons," and he seemed to lay great stress upon them; and one of them was the settlement of the question. But certainly his way of settling the question was, to my mind, as clumsy a way as anybody could devise: it was by throwing the Corn Laws over altogether. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster have not as yet given us their opinions. No doubt they have equally cogent and strong reasons for inducing them to support the measure brought in by Her Majesty's Government; but I must say, I am one of those who should very much like to hear what are the opinions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer — a great authority upon all these questions; and I should like to hear the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster upon this measure, and whether the two right hon. Gentlemen have exactly the same views of the question as those entertained by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War laid great stress in his speech on the great inconvenience of Members being made delegates in this House. "It is contrary," I think he said, "to the Constitution of the House; the Members are not delegates; they are free in this House, representing, it is true, the feelings of their constituents, 970 but they are not delegates." The noble Lord the late Member for Nottinghamshire, in his address here the other day, stated—"Neither they nor I were sent to Parliament, either as agents or delegates to advocate one set of measures in preference to others, but, as Members of a deliberative assembly, to legislate for the good of all, for the welfare of the nation." And in this part of his address I entirely agree; but does the noble Lord forget that when he was returned in 1841, he was elected purely on principles of protection? Because, what his pledges were, or whether he pledged himself or not, to his constituency in 1841, I have no idea; but he was sent to Parliament for the purpose of being a Member of a party of which the right hon. Baronet was supposed to be the head. That party, certainly, was opposed to the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for London; and that party did advocate strong protective principles at that time. I do not blame or impute any impure motives to the noble Lord and others who have altered their opinions along with him; but if they have changed their opinions so decidedly, I do not think it is any extraordinary thing on the part of their constituents to request them to give back the trust which was reposed in them when they were sent to Parliament. And the noble Lord and the other hon. Members who have changed along with him would have an excellent precedent for complying with such a request, in the right hon. Baronet now at the head of affairs, who, some time back, when he had seen reason to alter the views he had entertained on the Catholic question, resigned his post to the members of the University of Oxford. Now, what did the noble Lord the late Member for Nottinghamshire say to his constituents at Newark in 1841? Now, this is rather remarkable. He said, "Fellow countrymen, first let me congratulate you that the country has refused to be cajoled by the latest fabrication from the workshop of Whig trickery and delusion. The cry of 'cheap bread' is scouted from one end of England to the other. Even the boroughs have scorned to be caught by this party clap-trap, this fugitive humbug of a dying political faction." Now, I venture to say, that the noble Lord will not hold that language when he addresses his constituents again. The hon. Member for Dublin, the other night, quoted part of the right hon. Baronet's speech in 1839, as if it forward- 971 ed his views of the question, now that he, like many others, has become an advocate for free trade. I shall quote a portion of the very same speech. The right hon. Baronet on that occasion said:—"But, says the farmer, extend the same principle to everything else as well as to corn. Don't make me the sole victim of this excellent doctrine. Let me grow my own tobacco; let me manufacture and consume my own malt. Look at every article I wear—from the sole of my shoe to the crown of my hat—everything is taxed, and taxed for the purpose of protection to manufactures — my shoes, my buttons, my hat, my gloves, my silk handkerchief, my watch, and every article of manufactured linen. Whatever I require for domestic use is taxed. Gold and silver plate, paper, china, clocks, thread, pots, wax, wire—every letter of the alphabet presents some article of domestic manufacture protected by taxation from foreign competition. If it be right to buy corn in the cheapest market, it is right to buy everything else; and if the article I sell is to be exempt from protection, let the article I buy be exempt also." But you leave it on manufactures. ["No, no."] Yes, you do. What I say is, if you take it off one, take it off all. Nay more, suppose the farmer asks you to begin with the manufacturer before you visit him, will his request be an irrational one? But the right hon. Gentleman begins with the farmer before the manufacturer. Suppose he says, "I am a man of little education, of limited views, not a man of business, little versed in the principles of political economy, and not very clearly understanding the doctrines of free trade." I think very few people do. "Spare me for the present, and make the first experiment on my neighbour the manufacturer. He is educated, intelligent, a man of business, not attached to localities, sees all the evils of restrictive duties, and is ready to wave the advantage of protection. I the more earnestly implore you to deal first with the manufacturer, for I greatly fear, if you begin with me, that you will discover hereafter that the principles of free trade, though applicable to corn, are not applicable to manufactures; that there are insurmountable difficulties in discriminating between duties for protection and duties for revenue, and that you will finally tell me, that the welfare of manufactures and of agriculture is inseparably united, and that it will be for the manifest advantage of agriculture, that the 972 protecting duties on domestic manufactures should not be hastily withdrawn." Now, I have quoted this part of the right hon. Baronet's speech, not to taunt him with having altered his opinions, but because it it is put forward in language far better than I could use, and in advocacy of the cause which I now maintain. It is not my wish to sacrifice the interests of any class in this country; nor do I think that this question should be advocated as arraying one class against another. I think that the interests of agriculture and manufactures are inseparably united; I think that what is injurious to the one is injurious to the other; and, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department—for I find that it is impossible better to back our arguments, and that to assist us in making our speeches we cannot have better text-books than the speeches made by that right hon. Gentleman, and now that the right hon. Gentleman has discarded them all, he can have no objection to our making use of them—I say, I cannot give my assent to this proposal, because I conceive it to be founded on a principle neither just, necessary, nor true. I cannot, in my conscience, advocate a measure which I think so detrimental to all classes of the people.
§ MR. B. COCHRANE
explained. He claimed credit for never having made offensive personal allusions; and when he spoke of the noble Duke in conjunction with the Reform Bill, he had treated it as a mere matter of public history, not pretending to be acquainted with the secrets of the Cabinet. It was now stated that the noble Duke had resigned rather than consent to swamp the House of Lords; and he (Mr. B. Cochrane) gave him full credit for his conduct. No man had a greater respect for the personal character of the noble Duke than he had, and he never meant to make an attack upon it.
§ MR. M. GIBSON
intended to make only a comparatively few observations on a question in which he had taken much interest, and which importantly affected the prosperity and comfort of his constituents. To one part of the speech of the noble Lord who had just resumed his seat, he gave a most cordial concurrence: he referred to the passage where he stated that, if protection were not good for corn, it was not good for manufactures. He admitted that the noble Lord and his friends had a perfect and indisputable right to claim at the hands of Parliament, that if there were no legis- 973 lative encouragement to the growth of corn, there ought to be no legislative encouragement to the progress of manufactures. Those with whom he acted had invariably, in their petitions and resolutions, enounced one principle; and that was, the abolition of all protective duties, not only as applied to corn, but as affecting the manufactures in which they were engaged. He denied that the great portion of those who had been engaged in this free-trade movement had been animated by any peculiar animosity against any peculiarly protected class. Their object was, the abolition of all protection; and in that respect he should be happy to go with the noble Lord and his friends around him. But, after all, these were extrinsic topics. The immediate question before them was that of the Corn Laws. Anything that Ministers might have said upon former occasions, was but of small moment as compared to the question of whether it were right to abolish the Corn Law. He was told that this Parliament was elected to maintain protection, and that it could not, therefore, deal with the question of protection. Why? He maintained that it was because protection was the main question in 1841, that that Parliament was of all others the best fitted to decide upon that proposition. To say that because certain Gentlemen found it inconvenient to give particular votes, that, therefore, the Parliament was incapable of deciding on a great national question, was a proposition which could not be maintained for a moment. He doubted, indeed, whether, if they were to appeal to the country, the electors would return a more respectable set of Gentlemen than those he saw around him, or men upon whom they could safely place greater reliance. The country certainly would not have a better guarantee for the fidelity of those it might return, than it already possessed for the good faith of those whom it had already sent to Parliament. Why, what was the language of a Gentlemen now a candidate for the representation of Suffolk? He said, he left himself open to vote on the corn and on all other questions, as he should deem best for the interest of the country. This was one of the new protectionist candidates. How did they know but that he might be open to argument—determined to examine carefully, and to decide conscientiously? But how did the case, as to the Parliament being elected to support the right hon. Baronet and protection, really stand? He knew that appeals had been 974 made to constituencies on behalf of the right hon. Baronet on that ground; but it had been urged in manufacturing districts, that the right hon. Gentleman and his party would and could do more for free trade than the noble Lord and his friends on that side of the House. Indeed, it was brought as a reproach against him (Mr. M. Gibson), that he belonged to a party incapable of advancing the cause of free trade so much as lay in the power of the right hon. Baronet. The supporters of Sir George Murray in Manchester took that course; and the same thing was done in various other manufacturing towns. The fact was this, Gentlemen in the agricultural districts made a great mistake in taking "protection" for a party cry at the last election. And if there were any charge of deceiving and misleading persons out of that House, it rested on the Representatives of the agricultural interest. They it was who induced the tenant-farmers to believe that statesmen of reputation could be found who would undertake to all time the defence of agricultural monopoly; they allowed and encouraged the tenant-farmers to believe that Parliament would maintain those laws, although they had received repeated cautions that such a course was inconsistent with the statements made by the leaders of Parliament in that House. But hon. Gentlemen persevered in telling the farmers that there would be legislation to increase the value of corn. They made that mistake, and they were now suffering the consequences. In point of fact, the position under which Government took office was this: the right hon. Baronet had said, "Call me in, and I will prescribe." They had called him in; he had prescribed, and they were now labouring under the effect of the dose which he had given them. It was a searching dose—a drastic purge, no doubt; but hon. Gentlemen must be prepared for those strong and searching medicines when we had great national evils to deal with. But it was wasting time to dwell on those questions of Ministerial and personal consistency. He would, therefore, refer, with the view of replying to those statistical statements which had been adduced the other night by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Somersetshire. That hon. Gentleman had informed the House that the British farmer was unable to compete with the American and Polish agriculturist, because he had certain expenses in the cultivation of the soil to bear, which did not oppress those foreign agriculturists; 975 and the hon. Gentleman went on to give an instance of a farm in which the four-course system of husbandry was carried on, three parts being arable, and the fourth devoted to pasture. He stated that the labour employed on that farm cost from 30s. to 35s., and that the local taxes amounted to 4s. or 4s. 6d. per acre—both, taken together amounting to 37s. per acre. Then they were told that the average quantity grown was about four quarters per acre; and by this amount, were they to divide the 37s., they would get a product of a very little more than 9s. as the expenses of labour and local taxation on each quarter of wheat. The cost of production for labour and local taxes was then 9s. per quarter. Very well. What was the item which they complained of as constituting their disability to compete with foreigners? Was it rent? It must be. All other items were borne both by foreign and English farmers. Yet they said it was not rent—rent was out of the question—they repelled the idea of legislating to raise rent. The burdens borne, then, were simply the 8s. for labour and the 1s. for local taxation per quarter. Was it not so? Well, the right hon. Baronet, in his scheme, by leaving a permanent duty of 1s. per quarter, had clearly left them a protecting duty equal to the whole amount of their local taxation. Now, with regard to wages, he would ask them how much less than 8s. per quarter did labour cost in America? Why, it was notorious that labour was much more expensive there than here. In America, the labourer had nearly double the amount of wages. How, then, came it that this item of 9s. could be pleaded as a burden which disabled them from competing with the foreign agriculturists? Consider that the average freight of 8s. or 9s. per quarter from the United States more than covered all their expenses, labour and local taxation put together. Thus they were protected by the natural course of things to the full extent of the disability which they pleaded. But he contended that the foreign corn trade has as much right to be favoured as the pursuit of growing corn at home. It was no answer to their arguments to say, that the price of bread was enhanced by the avarice of millers and bakers; for that plea was clearly inconsistent with the one used by the same hon. Gentleman, that even supposing the price of bread to fall, wages would fall with it; if so, then it followed that bakers and millers, in enhancing the prices of bread, did really no harm to the consumer. 976 The fact seemed, however, to be, that the hon. Gentleman wished for one law to keep down the profits of the bakers, and another to increase the profits of the farmers. He contended that such was not a case upon which the protectionists could come down to the House, and claim restriction upon the foreign corn trade. But why was it that this extraordinary timidity existed on the subject of Corn Law repeal? If the Corn Laws were such an important element in the value of land, how was it that that value remained undisturbed now that these laws were about to be repealed? The conduct of capitalists in dealing with a commodity with respect to which a great change was expected, was the best of all guides as to the effect on the value of that commodity which that change would produce; and he believed that capitalists were as ready as ever to embark their money in land. He had been informed that in the county of Suffolk, since the period of the rumours of Corn Law repeal, no fewer than sixty-three farmers (and they had all been communicated with by a friend of his, whose tenants they were), had made agreements to renew their leases for long periods, without one having asked for a reduction of rent. Twenty of the number stated, that in the opinion of farmers a repeal of the Corn Laws would not involve the necessity of a reduction in rent. What, then, was the meaning of the alarm he heard on all sides expressed? Did the protectionists wish to cripple the advance of manufactures? Were they jealous of the progress of trade and commerce? He did not believe that they were; but their conduct would lead many to believe that they wished to raise themselves by depressing others. He believed, that that unworthy feeling did enter into many minds. He believed, that there was a jealousy of the advance of the mercantile and trading community. Why, let them look to their social system. Had they not attached to the possession of land social advantages and estimation, which they did not attach to trading and commercial pursuits? Had it not been their system to make the possession of land the test of fitness for the administration of the national affairs—the test of fitness for admission into the other House? for, though he admitted that Gentleman who had acquired great wealth and power by commercial pursuits had been raised to the peerage, still they were not admitted to the upper legislative assembly 977 until the possession of a landed estate had rendered them, in the estimation of the privileged classes, fit to be trusted. Was it not laid down, even on the passing of the Reform Bill, that one of the objects of the measure, so far as the distribution of the representation was concerned, was to give a predominent influence to the possessors of land? He contended, at any rate, that the possession of land gave the greatest legislative advantages; that the landed gentry had a monopoly of the Cabinet, and the principal offices and emoluments of the State; that it was the boast of their leaders that they could make and unmake Ministries; and the party that had such power could select for itself all the advantages of the State. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury told them, and told them truly, that their aristocracy was a territorial aristocracy. There was no doubt it was so; and if the Corn Laws were repealed to-morrow there would be only an increased competition for that property which conferred such immense boons on its possessors. If this change were long resisted, the inference would be irresistible, that the landed gentry wished to retain their functions for their private and political interests, and for their advancement in political power. "There is a portion of the question" (said the hon. Gentleman) "to which I wish particularly to allude. As the Corn Laws are to be totally abolished, I wish to ask why the change should not now take place? Why defer to a future day what justice requires, and what the emergencies of the country at the present moment especially call for? If there be any force of argument in the failure of the potato crop, and the deficiency of corn in the north of Europe; and that therefore it would be difficult to procure supplies of food for our population—if there be any force in that argument, it calls on the Legislature seriously to consider whether the emergencies of the country do not require an immediate measure of relief, and not one that is to have effect at a future time. I, for one, think the agricultural interest would be benefited by an immediate, rather than by a deferred, repeal of this law. I believe, that if you are to enter into competition with foreign agriculture, you had better take your competitors by surprise, than give them warning. The two courses are otherwise inconsistent. The present emergency is not an argument for doing something three years hence; for, if you admit the evil, you should at once apply the remedy. 978 The right hon. Secretary at War said, he was of opinion that the ports should have been opened two months ago. Well, then, the necessities of the country, as well as the interests of agriculture, urge the Government to take the step now at all events. You can never bring about a complete and pacific arrangement of the present question short of total and immediate abolition. While any part of the law is left on the Statute Book, you will have some agriculturists rallying round it in its defence. That will render necessary an army of observation on the other side; and in this way the conflict you deprecate will be perpetuated. I am as anxious as any man that the agitation should be got rid of to-morrow. So strong is the conviction out of doors, among those who support a repeal of the Corn Laws, that the question should be at once set at rest, that those who represent their opinions in this House will be bound to take its sense on this part of the question. The Corn Law question has found its way into this House in the face of unprecedented obstacles. It has found its way in the teeth of an adverse majority. It is here now, and it never would have been had it not been backed by the public opinion of the country. I believe that no course that any individual Member can take, can endanger the passing of this Bill. If it can be endangered by a Motion here, the other House would throw it out. The measure has not been brought to its present position by politicians in this House; it will be carried, if at all, by the voice of the country; and unless it rests on that substantial basis it will fail. I do not wish any measure to be carried on any other ground. And let me tell the hon. Gentlemen opposite, they cannot have a better barometer of public opinion than the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. Yes, if you want to know what the great mass of the people are thinking about, see what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. He is moving with public opinion; he has measured and justly appreciated public opinion; and when you talk of confidence in public men, you should remember that the only confidence worth having in statesmen is, that they will not set public opinion at defiance, or resist changes which inquiry has shown to be safe, and which are founded on a sound and true economy. Public confidence is not to be acquired by mere party manœuvring. The bulk of the commu- 979 nity is every day becoming more practical. The great meetings held at different parts of the country have not been engaged in discussing the merits of particular party leaders. They have not said that some men are not better to administer public affairs than others: but the public of late years have not so much looked to the distinctions of Whig and Tory as to the prospect of carrying great practical measures of reform. I do caution, from the bottom of my heart, the hon. Gentlemen opposite against prolonging this conflict with the manufacturing and labouring classes. They have taken a position which they cannot defend with credit, and which they will be compelled to abandon with disgrace; aye, and it may be with more than disgrace. Have a dissolution if yon will. The only effect will be the postponement of this measure. I do not object to a dissolution on any other ground than that I think it behoves Members who are now entrusted with the care of the national interests to deal with the present emergencies before an appeal is made to the people. I think we are not discharging our duties if we suffer any time to elapse before we provide for that awful deficiency which is staring us in the face, and from which the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department apprehends the most serious consequences. I once more call on you to consider that you have no right to lay down the conditions on which manufacturers and merchants shall carry on their trade. The merchants who import foreign corn should be as free from let or hindrance as you to cultivate your estates. I implore you not to press your antiquated feudal pretension, that you are entitled to say on what terms the trade of the country should be carried on. I call upon you to be satisfied with the quiet and peaceable enjoyment of your estates, and let trade and commerce flourish in freedom."
§ MR. HALSEY
said: If I could agree with the right hon. Member for Wilts that this was a mere fiscal question, involving only the consideration of Customs' Duties, I should have been well content to leave the discussion of the policy implicated in it, to those whose longer experience, whose greater talents, and more lucid eloquence, give them a better claim to the attention of this House; but as it is not on mere fiscal grounds that I shall oppose this measure; as imputations of legislating for a class have been thrown out against those 980 who advocate the system of protection, I trust this House will hold me excused if I do not give a silent vote. Some hon. Members on this side of the House, who have signified their intention of supporting the right hon. Baronet, have done so, not because their views are changed, or their opinions altered, but because they think it necessary that Her Majesty should have a strong Government, and because they have more confidence in the right hon. Baronet than in the noble Lord opposite. This might be a valid argument, if the strength of a Government depended merely on the number of its followers, without any reference to that which alone can give it energy or independence—I mean the free confidence of the public, a confidence which will never be bestowed where consistency is wanting. I do not stand here to impugn the motives of the right hon. Baronet; but I do say, that with all his high talents, with all his persuasive eloquence, it will be impossible for him to persuade the public that he has played a consistent part; and I look upon it as one of the worst of the many evil consequences which will follow the introduction of this measure, that there must be hereafter in the public mind such a total want of confidence in the professions of public men, as will not only lower the tone of public morality, but will, for years to come, deprive any future Administration of that which ought to constitute the main element of their strength. We have been often told, in the course of this debate, that hon. Members do not sit in this House as mere delegates of their constituents; but neither do they sit here as delegates of a Minister; and I do think that if anything could justify electors in demanding pledges of their Representatives, it would be what is now taking place in this House. Some hon. Members on this side of the House, who support the right hon. Baronet, have given some account of the considerations which led to their conversion—a conversion which a noble Lord has well characterized as miraculous. Will it be presuming too far, if I express a hope that the rest of these extempore proselytes will follow their example? I think they might give some instruction to the House, and a useful lesson, perhaps, to their constituents. The right hon. Baronet has told us, that his change of opinion was caused principally by the anticipation of a famine in Ireland, consequent upon the partial failure of the potato crop. I would not speak with levity, as, God knows, I do not think with 981 indifference, of what may concern the lives of thousands of my fellow countrymen; but I do not hesitate to say—and some of the right hon. Baronet's late Colleagues have held the same opinion — that I do not share the right hon. Baronet's apprehensions to the same extent; but even if the evil is as serious as the right hon. Baronet supposes, I maintain that, if we consider the general prosperity of the country—the great and growing demand for labour — and the unprecedentedly large quantity of food in our storehouses — a quantity unexampled at this season of the year—we may well be grateful that we are so well prepared to bear up against such a calamity. If the right hon. Baronet, under these apprehensions, had applied a temporary remedy to a mere temporary evil, and had then demanded of this House to be released from the responsibility he had thus incurred; though I might not have shared his apprehensions—though I might have doubted the wisdom of his remedy—yet I feel such a high sense of the great responsibility which attaches itself to his high office, that I should have come here prepared to support him, as I am now to oppose him. I will now advert in a few words to what has certainly some bearing on the present question — the proceedings of a body of men calling themselves the Anti-Corn-Law League. Although the right hon. Baronet has complacently informed this House that he has put an end to agitation, yet it is not the less a notorious fact, that these men have collected, or pretended to collect, large sums of money. They have sent agents into every county and borough in England; they have held large meetings, and made seditious speeches; they have tampered with the registrations, and interfered with the elections; and it is a well-known fact, that they posted no less than 25,000 letters at Manchester in one day, containing objections to the votes of electors in several counties. They were signed by men of straw, and were abandoned on the appearance of defence; but the consequence was, that some thousands of honest Englishmen were compelled to incur a great expenditure of time and money, or else to submit to be robbed of the dearest, the most constitutional privilege of an Englishman. I do not hesitate to say that these proceedings are not honest—they are not constitutional; and if they are legal, I trust that the Government will provide that they shall no longer be so. It has been the avowed in- 982 tention of these proceedings to influence the decisions of the House; and though I will not believe that they could have had such an effect, I must say that, at least, the measures of Her Majesty's Government are introduced at a most inopportune moment, because it leaves them open to the suspicion of being acted upon by such unworthy influence. I will not enter at length into the discussion on the policy of this motley measure—a measure which acknowledges free trade as its principle, and does not carry it out—which repudiates protection, and leaves it existing. There are, however, two or three articles upon which I will say a few words; the first of these is tobacco. It is well known that tobacco could be cultivated with great profit in most parts of the kingdom. Why, then, is the cultivation of it prohibited? Are we to throw open our barns to compete with the world, and to cultivate our land with our hands tied behind us? But we are told that the revenue derived from tobacco cannot be spared: will the right hon. Baronet inform this House what is the lowest amount of revenue which he considers sufficient to warrant a departure from principle, and to justify injustice? The right hon. Baronet proposes to reduce the duty on foreign hops by one-half; but I have looked in vain for a reduction in the Excise upon English hops. Does not the right hon. Baronet suppose that English malt, free from duty, would fatten our cattle as well and as cheaply as American maize? Then as to books—we could import English books printed abroad much cheaper than we can print them here; but there is a direct prohibition, which I confess I did not expect to find in a free-trade Tariff. Now, this is not a case of revenue, but a clear bonâ fide protection. How do you account for this? Can it be that the right hon. Baronet fears to carry out his own principles — that he dreads to disturb that hive of stinging bees, the "genus irritabile vatum?" I do not stand here to advocate free trade; but if we are to have free trade, it must be free trade in reality, and not in name only; and I say that, if protection is swept from the agriculturist, the manufacturer cannot expect to retain it. The right hon. Baronet has told us that he cannot calculate what the price of wheat will be; but if it should fall very considerably, as I believe it will, upon what basis does the right hon. Baronet propose to resettle the tithe commutation? The right hon. Baronet has 983 informed this House that he does not consider that the Revenue will be affected by his proposed changes. Now, without doubting his political sagacity, I think that he may be compelled to carry out his own principles—that he may be forced to perform one or two embarrassing acts of justice, which may affect the Revenue? How, then, would he supply that deficiency? Would he double or treble the Income Tax? Would he make that tax avowedly permanent? These are questions of some importance to the country. I shall now content myself by saying that I believe that this measure will be injurious to all, and ruinous to some, especially to the labourer and the artisan. I believe it will subvert the whole system of society, and thus endanger our most valued institutions. I think the time and circumstances unsuitable, and I think the proposer more unsuitable still; and I am sure that it does not even carry out the principles it professes. Upon these grounds, therefore, I shall give it an humble, but an honest opposition. And now, like the Macedonian of old, who appealed from Philip drunk to Philip sober, I would make my humble appeal from the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Councils, to the right hon. Baronet the consistent leader of Her Majesty's Opposition; and could I obtain an answer as candid as that which the Grecian courtier received, I should look to the result with equal confidence.
§ MR. DICKINSON
said, that he thought that the hon. Member who had just spoken would scarcely contend that tobacco could be profitably grown in this country, if the ports were open for the introduction of that article from all foreign countries, and yet he had blamed the right hon. Baronet for not permitting its cultivation on the free-trade principle. It was his opinion, that had the measure been introduced as a temporary means of relief, that the ports could never have been shut again, and then the right hon. Baronet would have been accused of taking advantage of a temporary want to remove those protective duties which he knew could never be restored. He, for one, believed the present proposal just and right, considering the difficulty of coming to any decision on the question which alone agitated the country; he feared it would be torn to pieces between the two great parties and combinations which pervaded it, and saw great danger to its best interests had the right hon. Baronet followed the advice tendered to him, and appealed to 984 the constituency. Although the question before them was certainly of importance, he did not consider it of such paramount greatness as it had been represented. As one of those persons who had been returned last year, on the interest of persons holding strong opinions with respect to free trade and the Corn Laws, he felt it his duty to state his present opinions, and how far they had been changed since that period. Several speeches had been made respecting this point, which he thought contained attacks on the heads of Her Majesty's Government not at all consistent with generosity or fair play. At the last election he made no statement as to his opinions on the Corn Laws. He thought that if possible such laws should be of a permanent nature, and that they involved too great a question to be allowed to remain in a state of continual disturbance. At the last election he perceived that changes must be made; but at the same time was opposed to any measure which would have the effect of leaving this country dependent on foreign nations for a regular supply of food. That reason had lost much of its weight with him since that period; for he now thought that it was of importance that our supply should come from as many countries as possible, and that it little mattered whether it came from America or Prussia. He had changed his views on the subject, and fairly confessed it; but he could not fear that very great injury would accrue to the labouring or middle classes of the country from the present measure, and was rather of opinion that it would tend to give an impetus to that supply of produce whereby our poorer classes were kept in employment. With reference to the opinions expressed by honourable Members in that House, as well as by correspondents of his own, respecting the time in which the Corn Laws should cease, the hon. Gentleman concluded by expressing his opinion that he, for one, believed that they should be removed at once, and thought such an immediate removal would be a very great improvement on the proposed measure, inasmuch as he believed, in that case, there would be less danger of unfair competition and speculation.
§ LORD C. CHURCHILL
believed the country would be reduced to a state of penury, and altogether coincided with the opinions which had been delivered on this question by one of the ablest men that ruled this country, and one of those opinions was based on thirty years' experience of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), and the 985 other on the experience of but a few months. The early opinions of the right hon. Baronet were certainly more in accordance with his own views, and therefore he was determined to oppose the measure.
§ SIR W. CLAY
said, the noble Lord the Member for West Sussex (the Earl of March) had described the present debate as one-sided. He thought this had partly arisen from the circumstance that, up to a recent period, the speeches of hon. Gentlemen on the other side consisted rather of attacks on the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues, than of arguments relating to their measure. In watching the course of this debate, he had been more than once reminded of the well-known anecdote of the country attorney, who, having no case, endorsed on the brief of the leading counsel, "No merits—abuse the plaintiff's attorney." Hon. Gentlemen seemed to forget that they were about to try an issue of importance, not only to this country, but to the world; for it really appeared that they thought they had done enough if they could show that the right hon. Gentleman's course was inconsistent with the policy he had once professed, and contradicted the principles which he had formerly advocated. Nothing, it seemed, was more amusing than personalities: that might be human nature, and assuredly it was the nature of the House of Commons. If in the library one chanced to hear a cheer unusually vehement and prolonged, one was sure to find on inquiry that some hon. Gentleman had said something unpleasant of some other hon. Gentleman. That might be all very amusing and very proper, but perhaps they had too much of it. They might be satisfied with the manner in which that debate had been conducted; but the world at large was not quite satisfied with it. People out of doors did not much admire that perpetual personal recrimination; and he ventured to say, that one single argument which would bear the shock of discussion—one solitary fact showing that the right hon. Gentleman ought not to take the course which he had taken — would have been worth, in the opinion of the public, all the torrents of invective which had been showered on his head. The fact was, that hon. Gentlemen had overdone the matter; they overstated their case, and proved too much against the right hon. Gentleman. For precisely in the degree they proved that he had broken up a noble party, and damaged himself irretrievably in the opinion of the public, precisely in that degree did they show that 986 the right hon. Gentleman could have been actuated by no personal motive, and that he had yielded only to an overwhelming sense of justice and necessity. The hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. W. Miles), however, had on Friday night descended fairly into the arena of discussion, and applied himself to the question before the House. He declared that the Amendment asserted the principle of protection, and undertook to defend the principle of protection to native industry by statistics, arguments, and references to blue books. The hon. Gentleman said, he would not defend protection to agriculture alone: he felt, probably, that to claim protection for agriculture, when protection on all the other great interests was given up, would be invidious; therefore, the hon. Gentleman said he would defend protection generally. It was quite true that the great interests would repudiate his assistance; they did not ask for protection. However, the hon. Gentleman, in a spirit of chivalrous self-devotion, had declared that he would retain protection for all the great interests. In the performance of that task he had not been very successful; but he had failed only where the greatest reasoning powers and the highest eloquence would equally have failed. He only proved himself unable to defend that which was incapable of defence. The hon. Gentleman began by drawing a very vivid picture of the prosperity of the whole country: blessings, he said, were showered down upon every member of the community. The hon. Gentleman argued that all these blessings had arisen under a system of protection; that this country had reached a height of greatness never before attained by any other, under that very system of protection which they were now about to abandon. It appeared to him that there was one important consideration absolutely fatal to the argument of the hon. Gentleman. It was true that we were prosperous; it was not true that we were living under a system of protection. So far from living under a system of uniform protection, nothing on earth could be more unequal. On some products, and those the most important, there was no protection at all; on others, a slight amount of protection was retained; on others a great deal. But what was still more important, for the last thirty years we had been abandoning the system; every measure, from the days of Huskisson, or even previously, for the last twenty or thirty years, had been an in- 987 fraction of the principle of protection. The system which we were about to abandon! Why, we had abandoned it. If the hon. Gentleman were consistent, he ought to tell us that we could not stop where we were, but that we must retrace our steps, and undo that which we had been doing. He should like to know which of all the great measures of the last thirty years the hon. Gentleman was prepared to advise us to repeal. Would the hon. Gentleman go back to the Corn Law of 1815? Would he restore the East India Company's monopoly — one great stronghold of protection? Would he alter Mr. Huskisson's measures relating to the shipping interest? Would he call upon us to retrace our steps with regard to the silk trade—to wool—to sugar—with respect even to that small matter which used greatly to interest a right hon. Gentleman, now no longer a Member of that House—the duty on apples, and restore protection to the market gardeners? Lastly, would the hon. Gentleman abrogate the Tariff measure of the right hon. Gentleman? If the hon. Gentleman were prepared to abrogate none of those measures—if he meant to say that they were good, and if he were not prepared to support their repeal, he must allow that they were good, he (Sir W. Clay) wished to know with what show of consistency—with what shadow of reason, he called on the House to proceed no further? Did the hon. Gentleman really think he would be obeyed in saying to the advancing tide of public opinion, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no further?" All à priori and inductive reasoning was in favour of the course which the right hon. Gentleman had proposed for their adoption. On what was the opinion, that we should proceed no further in a course already proved to be successful, grounded? Was it grounded on the abstract excellence of the principle of protection? What was that principle, stated, shortly? It was, everybody assisting everybody to pay a little more for everything than it was worth—everybody assisting everybody to misapply their time, capital, and skill—every one assisting every one else to do something that they could not do so well as some other person. If that were not a fair statement of the principle, what was the meaning of protection? If the individual sellers of manufactures could make an article as cheap and good, or cheaper and better, than their foreign rivals, they needed no protection. Protection, therefore, meant nothing more 988 than the several classes of the community protecting each other to misapply their time, capital, and skill. But if that was the abstract principle, what was the inference to be drawn from all experience? He looked in vain among the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite for the mention of a single instance in which measures of relaxation had failed of their beneficial results; he looked in vain for a statement of any great interest being injured by measures of a nature similar to the present; all the great interests of the country, such as the cotton, wool, and iron manufactures; all the interests on which the power and wealth of England were based, were essentially unprotected. He believed that the principles of free trade had taken a strong hold of the popular mind, and that the cry of protection to native industry was one that would have very litle effect for the future. The time was past when a mere shuffling of the cards—a robbing of Peter to pay Paul—putting the hand in one breeches pocket for the purpose of filling the other—losing a little by the way—would avail to content the intelligence of the community. It had come to be generally understood that there was no other process by which classes would be prosperous than by the exercise of those qualities by which individuals prospered—industry—ingenuity—frugality — perseverance. Adopt, then, more widely the principles of free trade, and afford to our manufacturers the means of competing with others. It was utterly impossible to protect them: all the great branches of manufacture exported a considerable portion of their produce; that portion could only bear such a price as would enable it to compete with the goods of our-rivals; and the price of the portion exported absolutely governed the price in the home market. If competition became so urgent that the price fell, and the fund from which the profits of the manufacturer and the wages of labour were furnished should be diminished; if it was absolutely inevitable that wages should fall, in order that the manufacturers might meet their foreign rivals—how was the necessity of lower wages to be met, but by a decrease in the price of provisions? The hon. Gentleman opposite had stated the main cause of the present prosperity to be the diffusion of money among the manufacturing interest, by the employment of capital in the construction of railroads. He wondered the hon. Gentleman did not discover that the real value of railroads was their opening 989 a fresh field for the profitable employment of capital, which was the precise object of the measure of the right hon. Baronet. The great difficulty under which England had laboured of late years was, to find a field for the employment of capital. A time was coming when all the field opened by railroads would be exhausted—when all the lines promising a profitable return would have been constructed; and no doubt disappointment and loss would attend many of those persons who had embarked their money in railroad speculation. Then the measure of the right hon. Gentleman would come as a valuable resource to fill up that void, and to furnish additional employment for the capital and labour of the country. The hon. Gentleman said, if this principle were to be carried out, it must be extended to our Colonies; and he (Sir W. Clay) believed that one of the best consequences of adopting the principle would be its extension to our Colonies. Nothing could be more to be deprecated than that we should attempt to continue our connection with the Colonies by a system of inflicting on each other mutual injury, compelling them to buy from us what they could obtain much more cheaply from other countries, and ourselves taking from them what we could obtain on more advantageous terms elsewhere. He wished to see an end put to this system, and would confide in ties created by community of origin, language, and character, to produce commercial intercourse and an interchange of capital which would unite the mother country with its Colonies, without having recourse to a precarious system of monopoly. With respect to our magnificent empire in India, there was nothing he should more regret than to see a new monopoly created there in the production of sugar; he believed it moreover to be unnecessary, for he had great faith in the results that would be produced by the application of British capital and labour to the cultivation of sugar in the vast and fertile Valley of the Ganges. Was it true that the landed interest would be injured by the measure of the right hon. Baronet? He had said more than once, and now upon perhaps the last occasion when the subject would be discussed in that House, he would repeat his solemn conviction, that if there were a single interest in the country more deeply concerned in the abrogation of the Corn Laws than another, it was the landed interest, for the reason, that there was no class 990 so deeply interested in the permanent well-being of the Empire. The manufacturer, at some sacrifice of capital, might take his wealth and skill to other countries; the skilful artisan might quit our shores; but the landowner must of necessity remain, and abide the fortunes of his country. It was because he thought the Corn Laws injurious to the prosperity of the country—injurious to that manufacturing and commercial prosperity which gave the chief value to the land, that he said the landed interest had a deeper and greater concern in their abolition. Would there be even temporary inconvenience to that interest? He believed that no more chimerical idea had ever invaded the minds of men than the imagination that the soil of England would be thrown out of cultivation—that there would be a serious depreciation in the value of land. It was said, there would be a competition by foreign countries which they could not meet; but from what foreign countries would it proceed? Not from France, Belgium, Spain, or Italy; but from a small portion of the north of Germany, and from Russia. Was it possible they could be seriously afraid of the competition of the serfs of Russia and Poland? The English farmer had the best markets in the world close to the very fields he ploughed, not for his corn alone, but markets for his green crop, for his hay and straw—he had abundant capital, and unlimited command of manure; for he had high prices for stock, which enabled him to obain the manure; and was it to be supposed that, with all these advantages, the cultivator of the British soil could not meet the serfs of Russia and Poland, who had none of these advantages, and were exposed also to the disadvantage of having to bring their corn hundreds of miles from the interior to the mouths of the rivers? Mr. Jacobs stated, that to bring wheat from the interior to Dantzic, cost from 6s. to 12s.; from the interior to Hamburgh, 3s. to 10s. But the chief supply would come from the Baltic ports; and from these ports the costs of transit to this country would be from 6s. to 8s. The total cost of transit of Polish corn, therefore, from the place of growth to this country, would on an average be little under 20s. the quarter. He (Sir W. Clay) had never contended that an exceedingly low price of corn would be a consequence of repealing the present law. The advantages he anticipated were of a different kind—greater steadiness of price, more employment for the industrious classes, 991 a more stable connexion between this and all other countries, a much more safe state of our monetary system. As regarded price only, he did not believe that, taking a series of years, it would be under 45s. He believed that the landed interest might rest perfectly secure: they were already in possession of a great natural monopoly; and they needed not a factitious and a legislative one. Hon. Members opposite must be sensible that they were fighting this battle without heart and without hope. ["Oh, oh!" "No!"] Why, he did not believe that one of them seriously thought they would be successful in the contest. It would be wise in them to meet free trade manfully, and act as public opinion required; and he believed that, in a pecuniary point of view, they had nothing to apprehend. Let the landlords lay out capital judiciously, or give leases, enabling those who held land under them to do so—let the tenant-farmers employ skill, industry, frugality, perseverance, science—and the agricultural interest had nothing to fear from the competition to which they were about to be subjected. He and those who thought with him might, perhaps, have been forgiven if they had indulged in a not unnatural, and, he trusted, not unworthy, exultation at seeing the measure they had so long advocated brought forward under auspices which ensured its triumphant success, by the very men by whom it had been so pertinaciously opposed; but the question was far too momentous to afford a fitting opportunity for personal or party triumph; and he would give his hearty support to a measure which he believed was calculated to confer great benefits upon the entire community, and to open to this country a prospect of greater prosperity than she had ever yet enjoyed.
§ MR. L. W. BUCK
, as the Representative of one of the most influential agricultural counties in the kingdom, was determined to give his decided vote against a measure which was well calculated to spread alarm and dismay in every agricultural district. He did not merely consider the proposed measure of the right hon. Baronet as one which should in its evil effects be solely confined to the agricultural interests, as it would also affect the industrious of every class in the country. It was unfortunately no longer a question with the country whether they were to have a fixed duty or the sliding-scale, as what was now being proposed should ultimate in total repeal; and which he was most firmly convinced would seriously affect the native industry of all 992 classes, particularly of the agricultural classes. How could English agricultural labourers stand in competition with Poland or Russia? How could they compete with the cheaper countries of Europe? It was out of the question. The enormous amount of capital now expending in the construction of railways might meet the present exigency, and prevent depression; but subsequently what could they expect but want and ruin? It had been stated the measure would benefit the poorer classes; but he had the most indubitable evidence to show that whenever wheat was high, poverty was low; but that when wheat was low, poverty was great. Let those who lived in the country, and who knew the practical working of agricultural pursuits, who knew what concerned the interests of the people, and who knew the thoughts of the people on the subject—let them fearlessly give their opinion; and it must be an opinion in opposition to the policy of the right hon. Baronet as regarded the Corn Laws; because it was a measure which, if carried out, would be to the injury of the labouring classes; and being persuaded of this, it was no wonder that the agricultural interests were alarmed. Were they to contrast the joy which had been depicted on every countenance when the late dissolution of the Ministry was known, with the gloom which now overspread them because of the present aspect of affairs; such a view would afford some criterion as to those internal feelings which were at work in contemplating a measure which was to annihilate those Acts of Parliament which had existed for hundreds of years, and which produced such prosperity by the protection they afforded to the landed interests. It was well known that the majorities which the right hon. Baronet had in former Sessions, were majorities founded upon one given principle; namely, that of protection. He did not heitate to say that from the year 1829 until the year 1835, the right hon. Baronet had not the confidence of the Conservative party. In 1835, however, he appealed to the Conservative Associations in the country; he identified himself with them; he told them that they were to work out their cause at the registrations—that there was the ground on which their battle should be fought; but although the right hon. Baronet had identified himself with those associations as closely and as strongly as possible, and when they secured to him the large majority of ninety, when they thought they had in him a great leader in which they could place the utmost, the most 993 implicit confidence, who could have imagined that the right hon. Baronet would have deserted the very interest which fixed him in power—who could have imagined that he would now become the supporter of principles even more liberal than those which were brought forward by a noble Lord? Or was it to be supposed that had it been known by the country that the right hon. Baronet would have proposed those liberal measures, such a large majority would have been returned to that House? Contrast the language of the right hon. Baronet in 1842 on the subject of grain, with his conduct now, when he came forward with this measure of free trade—a measure which he would venture to affirm, did it pass, would be the ruin of the renting farmers in the kingdom. Numbers reposed confidence in the statements of the right hon. Baronet in 1842, when he told the country that he did not wish wheat to be above 60s. or below 54s., and agriculturists acted on that intimation; but in the face of such declarations now the measure of free trade was propounded, and which, if it succeeded in that House, would greatly affect the amount of capital that had been sunk in land. Look at the moment the right hon. Baronet had taken to bring forward his free-trade measures—when Russia had shut her ports against us—at a time when there did not exist on the Continent one feeling of reciprocity towards this country. Such was the time taken to introduce a measure which he ventured to state would throw out of cultivation thousands of acres of land, and which would deprive of employment numbers of the labouring classes. That morning he had a conversation with a most respectable farmer, who resided in the neighbourhood of Exeter; he rented a farm of 500 acres of land, for which he paid 700l. a year. He asked that farmer, "What would be his position on the new arrangement?" His answer was very significant, "He would lose about a pound, and get about a shilling." He was asked another question, "What was the average expense in labour?" His reply was, "About 780l. a year." "And what do you intend to do, if the free-trade measure pass?" "Depend upon it," said the farmer, "the result will be that we shall be obliged to convert the arable land into pasture; and thus give up that most expensive part of farming, which was labour." He (Mr. Buck) was quite certain that would be too generally the result; and, therefore, he would ask what was to be done with 994 that mass of people who would be thus thrown out of employment? He did not think the Government should leave the country so much in the dark, and the Government should state precisely what they were about to do; and he did hope the right hon. Baronet would give the House some precise explanation about a measure which he (Mr. Buck) was convinced would inflict a serious injury—if it were allowed to pass—which he hoped it would not; and if its fate depended on his vote, it certainly should not. He was told that they were no longer to have protection. If that were to be so, then he would call on the Government to remove those burdens which were acknowledged, over and over again, to press on the land. As every possible assistance and facility were afforded to the manufacturing interests, he would call on the Government to pursue the same course towards the landed interest. Let the product of the land be, at least, as well protected as the other; for, depend upon it, one thing was certain, that the Government would not allay that spirit which at present existed in the country, unless they conceded every act of justice which was fairly due to the landed proprietors. It was his opinion that no Government should have yielded to the clamour of one of the most unconstitutional associations that ever existed; which had its emissaries travelling through the country, exciting the feelings of the people by drawing the most appalling pictures of famine and distress; and that at a moment when Providence had blessed all with abundance—from one extremity of the country to the other—with the exception of what occurred in Ireland as regarded the potato disease. The measure should have his decided negative. He believed it to be an unjust and injurious measure; and he hoped every Member at all connected with the landed interest would reflect well before he would give his support to Her Majesty's Government, on a question of such vital importance to the country.
§ LORD H. VANE
stated that he had invariably given his adhesion to the general principles of commercial policy proposed by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, and had supported some of his recent measures, in accordance with those principles. He did not wish to deny that the measure now proposed by the Government was very different from anything he had anticipated in 1841. He fairly confessed that, although he was convinced at that time of 995 the necessity of some reduction of the duties on agricultural produce, in common with other articles, he did not then think of advocating a total repeal of the protective duties. He thought, then, that there would be great danger of agricultural labourers being thrown out of employment, which, however, he did not now apprehend to the extent which some Gentlemen anticipated. He had thought, also, that a greater deterioration of the value of land would be occasioned by such a measure than he now considered likely to occur. He was, however, even now, of opinion that a low fixed duty would be a wise arrangement if the circumstances of the country admitted of it. He believed that a low fixed duty would be equally advantageous to all the great interests of the country—commercial, manufacturing, and agricultural; that it would have served as a temporary compromise, would have allayed discontent, and removed fears which might be unfounded, but which certainly were very extensively felt; and he again confessed that he regretted the abandonment of a fixed duty. He admitted that there were burdens which pressed heavily upon the land. He could not help thinking that the Poor Law pressed more heavily upon the land than upon other interests. Nor was he singular in that opinion; for it was one entertained by some of the most eminent political writers the country had produced. Mr. M'Culloch was decidedly of that opinion; and therefore, in order to meet these peculiar burdens, he (Lord H. Vane) should have abandoned a fixed duty with greater regret if the circumstances of the country admitted of its maintenance. He believed, however, that the time for compromise was now gone by. He did not believe that a settlement of the question could now be arrived at but by the adoption of such a measure as the right hon. Baronet now proposed. He thought the measure not without its imperfections. He did not anticipate from it all the good that was promised; neither, on the other hand, did he apprehend all the evil that was threatened. With regard to cheapness of food for the labouring classes, no doubt that was a primary object, and there was no Gentleman in that House who would not approve of that object, whatever might he his opinions of the merits in other respects of the measure by which it was to be accomplished. With regard to the artisan and the manufacturer, it would be difficult to maintain—and he did not believe 996 that any one did maintain—that this measure would not be beneficial to them. With respect to the agricultural labourer, he admitted the question was different; but, after the statements made by the right hon. the Secretary at War, as to the state of a great portion of the agricultural population in that important agricultural county, Wiltshire, his opinion was, that their condition would be little altered. He could not anticipate much amelioration in their circumstances; but he certainly did not look forward to much deterioration. If the agriculturist, by greater attention to tillage, brought his lands into a higher state of cultivation, there would be a greater demand for labour, and the pecuniary wages of labour would to a certain extent be raised in consequence. An hon. Member had described in eloquent terms the melancholy case of the tenant-farmer who had been so long attached to the soil, and who, at last, was to be driven from the profitable occupation of it by this measure. He did not see why the tenant-farmer should not avail himself of the same resources which the manufacturer had adopted with so much success, and improve his land by the application of skill and industry, and the use of those natural means of improvement from which he would derive greater benefit than from any artificial aid which legislation could afford. He had heard with great pleasure a sentiment uttered by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, which, although in perfect disagreement with arguments used by him on other occasions, he had, in the course of these discussions, pronounced emphatically, giving the weight of his sanction to the authority from which it was borrowed. The sentiment was, "Take care of the imports, and the exports will take care of themselves." If we adopted a wholesome system of commercial policy, we need fear no hostile tariffs; we should thereby throw down all the barriers that might have been raised against us, and our goods would find their way to other countries all over the globe, notwithstanding the obstacles which other nations might heretofore have thought fit to present to the admission of our manufactures. He would put it to his hon. Friends on the other side whether they could hope successfully to resist the combination of parties and of statesmen opposed to them. For his part, he believed that that protection which agriculture at present enjoyed, could not by any possibility be maintained. He confessed that his 997 opinions on the subject had undergone a change. But he believed that it would be unworthy of him to attempt to maintain his consistency when his views upon a subject of such great importance were altered, and especially in the present circumstances of the country. Entertaining these opinions, he would conclude by expressing a hope that this measure would have for its effect to dissipate many prejudices; to bring together hostile classes, and blend them into a united people; and that it would thereby conduce to the peace, the contentment, the happiness, and the glory of this great Empire.
SIR J. TYRRELL
could assure the House that, feeling as he did that this question had been debated to death by both sides of the House, and by the country, it was with the greatest reluctance that he ventured to trespass upon it for its indulgence; but he congratulated the House that at the expiration of the fifth night of the debate, the Anti-Corn-Law League should have thought proper to come to the rescue of their friends; and it was also a matter of congratulation to him that they had not been able, so far as he could ascertain, to add any new argument, or to state any new case that had not over and over again been brought forward in Covent Garden and the country. They added no arguments to those which had already made such an impression on the right hon. Baronet sitting near him. He would allude to what had been stated by the hon. Member for Manchester, with respect to his friend and his sixty-two farmers; and would state that they were not able to make a very satisfactory arrangement with their landlords, until the hon. Member for Manchester dared to assure them that the prices of corn would not be materially affected by the new arrangement. He rose, principally, to notice a statement of the noble Lord the Member for London, made in the early part of the debate; namely, in gloating over the fallen fortune of the great party that sat near him, the noble Lord was pleased to impute the most unfair motives to hon. Gentlemen who had resisted the Motion of the Member for Sheffield, for an inquiry into the peculiar burdens on land. He understood the noble Lord to say, that we doubted our own statistics, and sheltered ourselves under cases the most plausible. He thought it right that the House and the country should be aware of the real history of that case; and in those days of confession, of explanation, and of political tergiversation, that he also 998 should be permitted to offer his confession and his explanation. It was perfectly well understood in that House, that the Motion of the hon. Member for Sheffield was what is called a clap-trap Motion, The right hon. Baronet who then had the cenfidence of the party to which he alluded, felt the force of the Motion, adopted a course on that occasion, by calling thirty or forty Members of the agricultural interest together for the purpose of ascertaining what their views were with reference to the Motion to which he alluded. He thought it would be an act of bare justice in the right hon. Baronet at that side of the House fairly to state the case as it took place. The agricultural Members expressed their willingness to accede to the Motion, and said that there was nothing in it that they ought to shrink from, and that they were prepared for the most searching investigation; and they were highly complimented by the right hon. Baronet on their readiness to accede to the Motion. And then the House might fairly ask, "why not grant it?" The right hon. Baronet said he saw no advantage in assenting to it; that it was a clap-trap Motion, and would be only productive of wrangling about principles; that the interests of the country would be disturbed; and that expectations would be held out that were not likely to be realized; and on that ground he should meet it by a direct negative. It was under these circumstances that the Motion was resisted by the right hon. Baronet, who had been represented now as inflicting the greatest disadvantage on them by permitting them to state their own case; which case he (Sir J. Tyrrell) was not ashamed of. And the House and the country must admit that the case had been stated with the greatest ability by many hon. Members at his side of the House. The calculation of the right hon. Baronet and the rest of Her Majesty's Government was, that they might infuse opinion into the minds of their followers, and that the measure would pass through the House without any great disturbance of party. In entering on the arguments used in this case, it was impossible to avoid personal attacks and personal considerations, because the right hon. Baronet so far identified himself with the Government, that scarcely any other Member of the Cabinet was permitted to address the House. One would have thought that they were ready to offer explanations as well; but instead of that they had to complain that the right hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. S. Her- 999 bert) had thought fit, on two occasions, to lecture the country Gentlemen as to the course they ought to take. He could well understand the policy of putting forward that intelligent statesman. It was true the right hon. Member was always ready on such occasions, and he believed the House always gave the Member for Wiltshire credit for the most sincere and conscientious convictions. As in the army they put forward a deserter in the front rank, so he could quite undestand the policy of putting forward the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) to lecture them. It was said that this measure was offered as a great settlement; but without going into its details, it was quite unreasonable, on the face of it, to expect that they should be content to accept of worse terms than had been offered to them repeatedly by the hon. Member for Stockport. He regretted he did not see the hon. Gentleman in his place, and he regretted the supposed cause of his absence. So far from the present measure being a settlement of the question, many moons would not pass over before the noble Lord opposite would come forward on the question of the differential duties on sugar; and on what ground was it expected that he could be resisted? He thought it was a matter to be deplored that the noble Lord, who had so much credit with the House and the country, and the hon. Member for Stockport, should be seized with a kind of delirium tremens at the right hon. Baronet. The noble Lord, who took such high ground in Scotland, was obliged to get upon a molehill when he came to London, and shrunk from forming his Administration; and it was a matter of surprise and regret that the hon. Member for Stockport, who acted as a kind of crutch for the great leaders to lean upon, had shrunk from accepting office when an opportunity occurred for him to carry out his views. He regretted that the hon. Gentleman had lost that opportunity of carrying out his views, because they were more comprehensive than the views of the right hon. Gentleman, and were worthy of the strong mind which he possessed. He had prophesied that the sugar duties would fall. He was now about to enter into a grave subject, and would make another prophecy. Anything falling from him might perhaps have little force; still it was a most extraordinary prophecy. This prophecy was made ten years ago, by one of the most able and learned divines of this country—it was made by a doctor of 1000 divinity—by a man who had the respect and esteem and admiration of the right hon. Baronet who sat on that bench;—he meant the late Dr. Arnold. He was sure that, though they might smile at anything which fell from him—that however unworthy he might be to occupy the attention of the House—they would listen with respect to the opinion of Dr. Arnold. In that work of his lately published, there was an extraordinary prophecy with regard to the right hon. Baronet, and if the House would permit him, especially as he seldom read quotations, he would read this prophecy; and he regretted to say, there was too much reason to fear that the remaining portion of it would be fulfilled. Dr. Arnold, in November, 1836, says—I pray for strength of mind, for strength of mind for my children, for this reason, that they may be able at least to appreciate truth keenly. When a man does that honestly, things become comparatively easy, as, for instance, Peel has a strong idea about the currency—and a distinct impression about it, and therefore upon that ground I would trust him that he would not yield to clamour; but upon most other matters, the Church more especially, he seems to have no idea; therefore I would not trust him that he would not give up all to-morrow if the clamour were loud enough.The right hon. Baronet laid claim the other night to the approbation of posterity. Now, he wished the right hon. Baronet no harm; but he thought the sooner he had an opportunity, the sooner posterity had an opportunity, of forming an opinion of the merits of the right hon. Baronet, the better. He was of course speaking politically. He had no doubt posterity would do the right hon. Gentleman the most ample justice. But when the noble Lord opposite explained to them that the right hon. Baronet was conspiring with him to give over the agricultural interest and that great party into the hands of the noble Lord and the Anti-Corn-Law League, he was reminded of a passage in ancient history which he would take the liberty of citing. When Cassius contemplated the betrayal of Cæsar, he did not dare to do so till he had first gained over "the noble Brutus" to the cause; and so the right hon. Baronet would not have dared to propose this measure for the consideration of the House, till he had first gained the opinion of that great warrior, the Duke of Wellington. Be that as it might, it was his sincere conviction, that if the House of Commons proceeded to abolish the Corn Law, and if the House of Lords proceeded to register the verdict, in those times of 1001 democratic tendencies and waning authority, the ties between the lower, the middle, and the higher classes would be broken, and not that alone, but throughout that great portion of the British community, which had hitherto spread traditional barriers between democratic lawlessness and affectionate loyalty, would spread a fear for coronets, for aristocracies and hierarchies, which the steadiest trade in corn, and the happiest commercial relations between this country and America, would not be able to dispel.
was now as he had always been, a supporter of the repeal of the Corn Laws. An attempt had been made to connect the question of the sugar duties with the question before the House, both by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, and the hon. Member who had last spoken. It seemed to him to be the more convenient course to keep those questions separate; but he would say, he did not think there was any inconsistency in being a free trader in corn, and not being a free trader in sugar. He did not assert that without authority—that of Mr. M'Gregor, who said, that the sugar question was so mixed up with slavery and the Slave Trade, that it ought to be taken out of the category of free-trade measures. He did not hope to offer any new arguments on the question. He thought the arguments upon this question were worn threadbare. In the early part of the debate, many hon. Gentleman treated the question with a sort of funeral oration upon the Corn Laws, and stated the fearful and direful forebodings which they entertained as to the consequences likely to result from their abolition; in which apprehensions he for one could not anticipate. If the House would allow him, he would refer briefly to the progress of public opinion upon this subject within the last few years, showing that in a good cause it was never necessary to despair; but that measures founded upon just, sound, and comprehensive principles were sure, sooner or later, to succeed. In 1831, he had the honour to second the Motion in his place in that House for a total repeal of the Corn Laws. He then had the honour to make use of several of the arguments which had been of late so much employed, and were so deservedly popular at Manchester and other parts of the country. The Motion in 1831, was proposed by the hon. Member for Preston, Mr. Hunt; and what was the opinion of the House upon that occasion? Only one 1002 solitary hon. Member, Colonel Torrens, then Member for Bolton, was found to support the Motion in debate; and upon division the Motion was lost by a majority of 194 to 6. And who did they suppose moved the previous question. Why his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose; and he was supported, among others, by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Robert Peel, the noble Lord the Member for London, and every other Member now present in the House who was then it, except the hon. Member for East Somersetshire (Colonel Gore Langton). The hon. Member for Finsbury happened, from some cause or other, to be absent upon the occasion. The hon. Member did not oppose the Motion upon its merits, but merely that he thought the time had not arrived for it—and that if persevered in, it would interfere with the Reform Bill—and because he thought public opinion was not then ripe enough for it. But seeing what had since passed in the political world, was he not justified in congratulating the House and the country upon the extraordinary change that had come over the spirit of the dream, in the minds of almost all the most distinguished of public men on this most momentous question? He rejoiced at their conversion, and more particularly at the conversion of Sir R. Peel. He could not for one moment imagine that the right hon. Baronet was actuated by any but the most sincere conviction that the interests of the country required that the question should be settled. For his own part he entertained the same opinions as he had advocated ever since he entered that House twenty-six years since, and he thought the general interests of the country demanded that the Corn Laws should be repealed. He did not think it would be acting unfair to the agricultural interest to repeal them, or that they would do that injustice to the agriculturist which some hon. Member seemed to imagine. This, however, he would say, that the abolition of the Corn Laws, and the admission of foreign corn, without restriction, would be essentially conducive to the well-being, contentment and happiness of the struggling masses of this densely peopled country. He hoped the Government proposition, would be with such a large majority in that House, as would secure the passing of the measure triumphantly in another place, which the strict rules of that House forbade him from naming. In conclusion, he expressed his de- 1003 termination that no vote of his should be given to any Amendment brought forward by any party, with a view to endanger the safety of the measure before the House, but should give his warmest support to the proposition of Her Majesty's Government.
§ SIR R. PEEL
then rose and spoke as follows:—Mr. Speaker, Two matters of great importance have occupied the attention of the House during this protracted debate—the one, the manner in which a party should be conducted; the other, the measures by which an imminent public calamity shall be mitigated, and the principles by which the commercial policy of a great Empire shall for the future be governed. On the first point, the manner in which a party should be conducted, by far the greater part of this debate has turned. I do not undervalue its importance; but, great as it is, surely it is subordinate in the eyes of a people to that other question to which I have referred—the precautions to be taken against impending scarcity, and the principles by which your commercial policy shall hereafter be governed. On the party question I have little defence to make. Yes, Sir, these are I admit at once, the worst measures for party interests that could have brought forward. I admit also that it is unfortunate that the conduct of this measure, so far as the Corn Laws are concerned, should be committed to my hands. It would, no doubt, have been far preferable, that those should have the credit, if credit there be, for an adjustment of the Corn Laws, who have been uniform and consistent opponents of those laws. That which prevented myself and those who concurred with me from committing it at once to other hands, was the firm conviction under which we laboured, that a part of this Empire was threatened with a great calamity. I did firmly believe, I do firmly believe, that that there is impending over you a calamity that all will deplore. I did think that while there was that danger, and while I had the hopes of averting it, it would not be consistent with my duty to my Sovereign, or with the honour of a public man, to take that opportunity of shrinking from the heavy responsibilities which it imposed. While I retained the hope of acting with a united Administration, while I thought there was a prospect of bringing this question to a settlement, I determined to retain office and incur its responsibilities. When I was compelled to abandon that hope (my sense of the coming evil remaining the same), I took 1004 the earliest opportunity, consistent with a sense of duty and of public honour, of tendering my resignation to the Queen, and leaving Her Majesty the full opportunity of consulting other advisers. I offered no opinion as to the choice of a successor. That is almost the only act which is the personal act of the Sovereign; it is for the Sovereign to determine in whom Her confidence shall be placed. It was, indeed, my duty to ascertain, by the command of the Queen, whether those of my Colleagues who had dissented from me were either themselves prepared to form a Government, or to advise Her Majesty, if they themselves were not prepared, to commit to other hands the formation of a Government—a Government, I mean, to be composed of public men favourable to the maintenance of the existing Corn Law. Those from whom I differed, who had not concurred with me either as to the full extent of the danger to be apprehended, or as to the policy of altering the law, signified their opinion that it would not be for the public interests that they should form a Government; nor could they advise Her Majesty to resort to others for the formation of a Government founded on the maintenance of the existing Corn Law. Her Majesty determined to call upon the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) to undertake the duty of forming an Administration. My firm belief was, that the noble Lord would have undertaken that duty; my firm persuasion was—the noble Lord will excuse me for saying so—that he would have succeeded if he had undertaken it. During the long course of my opposition to the noble Lord, I cannot charge myself with having ever said anything disrespectful of him. We have acted against each other for many years, and I don't recollect anything that ever passed between us likely to engender hostile or acrimonious feelings. But I must say, the noble Lord did disappoint me when he did not at once undertake the formation of a Government on the principle of adjusting this question. When my tender of resignation had been accepted, and when the noble Lord had been sent for by the Queen, I considered myself at perfect liberty to act in a private capacity on my own personal sense of the public interests, and my own feelings of public duty. I knew all the difficulties with which any man would have to contend who undertook the conduct of the Government. I knew there must be a great dislocation of parties. In the firm persuasion 1005 that the noble Lord would accept the office of First Minister, I felt it incumbent upon me, under the special circumstances under which he would have undertaken office, to diminish the difficulties with which he might have to contend in attempting a final settlement of the Corn Laws. I resolved, therefore, to give the noble Lord such assurances of support as it was in my power to give. In the explanation which I offered the other night, I limited myself to a detail of the facts which had preceded my retirement from office. The noble Lord's explanation commenced from that period. Of that explanation I have no complaint whatever to make. It was perfectly fair and candid on the part of the noble Lord. But there are additions to it which I am desirous of supplying, in the hope of being enabled to demonstrate that I had no wish to defraud others of the credit of adjusting the Corn Laws. My resignation of office was accepted by Her Majesty on the 6th of December last. On the 8th December, I addressed to Her Majesty the following communication, for the express purpose of enabling Her Majesty, by the knowledge of my views and intentions with regard to the Corn Laws, to diminish the difficulties of my successor:—Whitehall, Dec. 8, 1845.Sir Robert Peel presents his humble duty to Your Majesty, and, influenced by no other motive than the desire to contribute, if possible, to the relief of Your Majesty from embarrassment, and to the protection of the public interests from injury, is induced to make to Your Majesty this confidential communication explanatory of Sir Robert Peel's position and intentions with regard to the great question which is now agitating the public mind.Your Majesty can, if you think fit, make this communication known to the Minister who, as successor to Sir Robert Peel, may be honoured by Your Majesty's confidence.On the 1st of November last, Sir Robert Peel advised his Colleagues, on account of the alarming accounts from Ireland, and many districts in this country, as to the failure of the potato crop from disease, and for the purpose of guarding against contingencies, which in his opinion were not improbable, humbly to recommend to Your Majesty that the duties on the import of foreign grain should be suspended for a limited period, either by Order in Council or by Legislative Enactment; Parliament, in either case, being summoned without delay.Sir Robert Peel foresaw that this suspension, fully justified by the tenor of the report to which he has referred, would compel, during the interval of suspension, the reconsideration of the Corn Laws.If the opinions of his Colleagues had then been in concurrence with his own, he was fully prepared to take the responsibility of suspension 1006 —and of the necessary consequence of suspension, a comprehensive review of the laws imposing restrictions on the import of foreign grain and other articles of food, with a view to their gradual diminution and ultimate removal.He was disposed to recommend that any new laws to be enacted should contain within themselves the principle of gradual reduction and final repeal.Sir Robert Peel is prepared to support, in a private capacity, measures which may be in general conformity with those which he advised as a Minister.It would be unbecoming in Sir Robert Peel to make any reference to the details of such measures.Your Majesty has been good enough to inform Sir Robert Peel that it is your intention to propose to Lord John Russell to undertake the formation of a Government.The principle on which Sir Robert Peel was prepared to recommend the reconsideration of the laws affecting the import of the main articles of food was in general accordance with that referred to in the concluding paragraph of Lord John Russell's letter to the electors of the city of London.Sir Robert Peel wished to accompany the removal of restriction on the admission of such articles with relief to the land from any charges that may be unduly onerous, and with such other provisions as, in the terms of Lord John Russell's letter, 'caution and even scrupulous forbearance may suggest.'Sir Robert Peel will support measures founded on that general principle, and will exercise any influence he may possess to promote their success.That was the assurance I conveyed to Her Majesty of my perfect readiness to support, if proposed by others, those measures which I had myself deemed necessary. I could not but foresee that in addition to all the other difficulties with which the noble Lord or any other Minister would have to contend, there would be some connected with the state of our revenue and expenditure. At the close of the present financial year there will probably be, as there has been in the years preceding, a considerable surplus of revenue after providing for the wants of the public service. In the coming year there must be increased estimates, reducing the future surplus, and I thought it right that my successor should not be exposed to the risk of an unfavourable contrast for which he could not be responsible. I added, therefore, to my assurance of support with respect to the Corn Laws this further assurance. It refers to points of great delicacy, but it is better to have no concealment or reserve.Sir Robert Peel feels it to be his duty to add that, should Your Majesty's future advisers, after consideration of the heavy demands made upon the army of this country for colonial service, of our relations with the United States, and of the 1007 bearing which steam navigation may have upon maritime warfare and the defence of the country, deem it advisable to propose an addition to the army and increased naval and military estimates, Sir Peel Robert will support the proposal—will do all that he can to prevent it from being considered as indicative of hostile or altered feelings towards France, and will assume, for the increase in question, any degree of responsibility, present or retrospective, which can fairly attach to him.Now, when it is charged on me, that I am robbing others of the credit which is justly due to them, I hope that this explanation of the course I pursued, when I was acting under the firmest persuasion that the adjustment of this question would be committed to others, may tend to prove that I was not desirous of robbing others of the credit of settling this question, or of trying to embarrass their course. There were further communications made, and in the course of those communications it was proposed to put me in possession of the particular mode in which the noble Lord intended to arrange this question. I thought that it would be better that I should not be made acquainted with such details. I thought that my knowledge of them, or any appearance of concert between the noble Lord and myself, would have had the tendency rather to prejudice than promote the adjustment of this question. I, therefore, declined to receive the communication of those details; but I think that the noble Lord must have been satisfied that, though I declined to concert particular measures with him, yet it was my intention to give to the noble Lord, in his attempt to adjust this question according to his own views of public policy, that same cordial support which it is his boast he now intends to give me. I believe that must have been the impression of the noble Lord—[Lord J. RUSSELL: Hear, hear!]—because, after the communications with me, the noble Lord undertook the formation of a Government; and I am sure that the noble Lord will admit that no act of mine caused the failure of the noble Lord's attempt, and that I was in no way concerned in the reasons which induced the noble Lord finally to abandon it. I made no inquiry as to the persons who should constitute the new Government; I had no personal objections of any kind. My conviction was, that this question ought to be adjusted. I was prepared to facilitate its adjustment by others by my vote, and by the exercise of whatever influence I could command. So much for my conduct towards political opponents—better enti- 1008 tled than myself to undertake the repeal of the Corn Laws.
Now, Sir, with respect to the course which I have pursued towards those who so long have given me their support. I admit to them that it is but natural that they should withhold from me their confidence. I admit that the course which I am pursuing is at variance with the principles on which party is ordinarily conducted. But I do ask of them, whether it be probable that I would sacrifice their favourable opinion and their support unless I was influenced by urgent considerations of public duty—unless I was deeply impressed with the necessity of taking these precautions, and advising these measures. Notwithstanding that which may have passed in this debate—notwithstanding the asperity with which some have spoken, I will do that party (which has hitherto supported me) the justice they deserve. No person can fill the situation I fill without being aware of the motives by which a great party is influenced. I must have an opportunity of knowing what are the personal objects of those around me; and this I will say, notwithstanding the threatened forfeiture of their confidence, that I do not believe (speaking generally of the great body of the party) that there ever existed a party influenced by more honourable and disinterested feelings.
While I admit that a natural consequence of the course I have pursued, is to offend, probably to alienate, a great party, I am not the less convinced that any other course would have been ultimately injurious even to party interests. I know what would have conciliated temporary confidence. It would have been to underrate the danger in Ireland, to invite a united combination for the maintenance of the existing Corn Law, to talk about hoisting the flag of protection for native industry, to insist that agricultural protection should be maintained in all its integrity—by such a course I should have been sure to animate and please a party, and to gain for a time their cordial approbation. But the month of May will not arrive without demonstrating that I should thereby have abandoned my duty to my country—to my Sovereign—ay, and to the Conservative party. I had, and have, the firm persuasion that the present temper of the public mind—the state of public feeling, and of public opinion, with respect to the Corn Laws—independent of all adventitious circumstances, make the defence of the 1009 Corn Laws a very difficult task. But with such a calamity as that which is impending in Ireland, it was utterly irreconcilable with my feelings to urge the landed interest to commit themselves to a conflict for the maintenance inviolate of a law which attaches at the present time a duty of 17s. to the quarter of wheat. What were the facts which came under the cognizance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, charged with the responsibility of providing for the public peace, and rescuing millions from the calamity of starvation? We were assured in one part of this Empire there are 4,000,000 of the Queen's subjects dependent on a certain article of food for subsistence. We knew that on that article of food no reliance could be placed. It was difficult to say what was the extent of the danger—what would be the progress of the disease, and what the amount of deficiency in the supply of that article of food. But, surely, you will make allowances for those who were charged with the heaviest responsibility, if their worst anticipations should be realized by the event. We saw, in the distance, the gaunt forms of famine, and of disease following in the train of famine. Was it not our duty to the country, ay, our duty to the party that supported us, to avert the odious charge of indifference and neglect of timely precautions? It is absolutely necessary, before you come to a final decision on this question, that you should understand this Irish case. You must do so. The reading of letters may be distasteful to you; but you shall have no ground for imputing it to me that I left you in ignorance of a danger which I believe to be imminent. I may have lost your confidence—I will not try to regain it at the expense of truth. I can conciliate no favour by the expression of regret for the course I have taken. So far from it, I declare, in the face of this House that the day of my public life, which I look back on with the greatest satisfaction and pride, is that 1st of November last, when I offered to take the responsibility of issuing an Order in Council to open the ports, and to trust to you for approval and indemnity. I wished then, that by the first packet which sailed after the 1st of November, the news might have gone forth that the ports were open. The primary object of such a measure, of course, would have been to increase the supply of food, and to take precautions against famine, although other collateral advantages 1010 might have flowed from it. Had we opened the ports, and had our anticipations proved to be incorrect—had the result shown that we had formed a false estimate of this danger—I believe that the generosity of Parliament would have protected us from censure. ["Hear, hear."] That would have been the case had our anticipations proved to be wrong; but what is the fact? During the latter part of December and January, there was a temporary suspension of alarm, after the opinions we had received from men eminent in science. I never shared in the sanguine hopes that there would be abundance of food, that the potato disease was exaggerated, and that we might safely trust to existing supplies. I felt that the time would arrive when the opinions of those individuals would be justified. And what is the fact? I will read to you some communications, not so much for the vindication of the Government as for the guidance of your own future course. It is not right that I should leave you in ignorance of the real facts of this case. ["Hear, hear."] It is true the present proposition is not a suspension of the duties, but it is a virtual suspension. It comprehends the removal of the duty on maize and rice, and the reduction of the duty to a nominal amount on barley and oats, and the reduction of the duty on wheat from 17s. to 4s. Before you decide on rejecting or delaying this measure, hear and consider the reports which the last few days have brought from Ireland. You seemed to discredit the reports of official authorities; and some, I regret to say, countenanced the notion that public men were base enough to act in concert for the purpose of exaggeration. I will now read, therefore, no reports from the Lord Lieutenant. I will read letters which the last two mails have brought from Ireland, from men from whose statements you cannot have the pretence of withholding confidence. I will first read a communication from Sir David Roche, who was for some time Member for the city of Limerick. He was one of those who at first thought the apprehension of famine to be greatly exaggerated, and that extraordinary precautions were unnecessary. This day has brought me this letter from him, dated Carass, near Limerick, Feb. 11:—No person was more disposed than I was to look with hope to that part of the potato crop in this country that appeared sound before Christmas. I thought it was quite safe and certain to 1011 keep in the usual way, and in my answer to the Lord Lieutenant's circular I stated that hope with great confidence, adding that the crop was so large, the sound portion would nearly feed the people." (This, then, is a disinterested authority.) "But I grieve to say, that every day convinces me of the error I was under; the potatoes that were apparently sound then, had more or less the disease in an incipient state, and the greater part is now obliged to be given to pigs and cattle, to save the owners from total loss. The Catholic clergy of several parishes have made this painful communication to me; my own experience as a landed proprietor and a practical farmer, holding in my possession large animal farms in three different parts of this county, and also in the county Clare, entirely corresponds with their statements. I don't think by the 1st of May next, that out of one hundred acres of potatoes on my land, sound seed will be left me for next year's crop.If the case is so bad with me, and it is nearly the same in the four districts I allude to, how much worse must it be with the poor, who have not the convenience and aid that large farming establishments, with substantial buildings, can command? In short, as one rides through the country, rotten potatoes are to be seen everywhere in large quantities by the side of the roads; pits, lately turned, in most cases much smaller than the heaps of rotten potatoes alongside them; and those in the pits are certain, if not quickly consumed, to share in the general decay.Such, Sir, is the state I may say of the entire country. No doubt for six or seven weeks, while the remains of the potatoes last, destitution will not be general; but I pray you, Sir, look to it in time.There were some of us who did look to it in time, and I wish that our advice had been acted on. That is the Report from the county of Limerick. I now come to the Queen's County. The following is a copy of a Report, received February 12, 1846:—Queen's County, Stradbally, Feb. 11, 1846.With reference to the potato disease, I beg to state that I was requested by Sir Edward Walsh and Sir A. Weldon, two magistrates of this district, to make a more searching inquiry into the state of the potatoes in the neighbourhood of the collieries than had hitherto been made. The instructions were, to make the examination by properties, and ruled forms were supplied by Sir A. Weldon, with such headings as he considered applicable to the case.On Monday morning, the 9th, I proceeded to Wolfhill, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Emerson, the clergyman of the parish, and commenced with the property of Mr. Hovenden. Mr. Hovenden himself being with us, we examined every house on the property, took down the number of each family, the quantity of potatoes planted, and the quantity (from actual inspection) now remaining on hands, with the quantity of oats or other grain now in the possession of the family. On Tuesday, we went over the property of Sir Charles Coote, adjoining Mr. Hovenden's, and also over Mr. Carter's, and, so far as time would admit, examined a few families on the property of Mrs. Kavanagh, of Gracefield. Our inquiries extended to about 190 1012 families altogether, and enable me with the most perfect accuracy to state the frightful extent to which the destruction of the potato crop has proceeded in that part of the country. Many families whom we visited, and who had planted sufficient for their ordinary wants, including the seed necessary for the ensuing season, have not had a potato of any kind for the last month.Observe, this is in the month of February, five months at least before there can be any supply from the natural bounty of Providence.Others have lost nearly all; and the few that still remain are totally unfit for human food. In every instance where we saw potatoes in pits in the fields we had them examined, and, with scarcely an exception, we found them to be a mass of putrefaction, perfectly disgusting, even to look at. We examined a few houses on the property of Sir Thomas Esmonde, where the land is of much better quality, but the result was in every case the same. There are literally no potatoes remaining in that part of the country.I understand the magistrates intend to meet on an early day, and make some representation, through the lieutenant of the county, on the above subject.W. W. HEMSWORTH,Sub-Inspector 1st Rate.I pass on to Waterford. There are letters received within the last two days; one from the Lord Lieutenant of that county—Lord Stuart de Decies. It is dated the 10th of February; I entreat the attention of the House to it. Lord Stuart de Decies is a person whose opinions must carry with them great authority. He says—His Excellency will find in these statements an announcement of the alarming fact, that in two districts alone of the Union in question there are even at this early period of the year, no less than 300 persons whose stores of provisions are upon the point of becoming exhausted. In the meanwhile the rot is represented as making daily progress amongst the potatoes, which until lately it was hoped might have been preserved in a state of partial soundness for some time longer; and there is every reason, therefore, to anticipate that the distress now prevailing in certain localities will very speedily cause its pressure to be felt by the labouring classes throughout the Union. With this prospect in view, the probability is, that a rise in the price of all kinds of grain may be expected to take place in the course of the ensuing spring and summer months, although foreign supplies were to be admitted immediately duty free, and thus the facilities of providing food for the people in exchange for their labour be removed beyond the means which landed proprietors have at the present moment within their reach for this purpose. It is in these circumstances that I would venture respectfully to submit, as far as the interests of the county of Waterford are involved, that much good might be effected in keeping down prices by the establishment of Government corn stores from which grain might be purchased at first cost price in such towns as Youghal, Dungarvan, Waterford, Carrick, Clonmel, and, perhaps, Lismore. In all but the last mentioned of 1013 these towns there is an adequate military force for the protection of such granaries, if established, and no part of the county would then be beyond twelve or fourteen miles distance from a depot, whence food on moderate terms might be drawn to those localities which stood in need of a supply.The next I read is from Kerry, dated the 9th of February, from a gentleman whose statements I believe are entitled to the highest respect—Mr. Thomas Dillon:—I regret to have to report, for the information of Government, that serious ravages have been made latterly on the potatoes by the disease which, for the last two months, was supposed at least not to be progressive. Having gone round my district within the last ten days, I have had opportunities not only of hearing, but of witnessing the destruction which has been committed, and which is gaining ground rapidly, contrary to the hopes which have been for some time cherished, as to excite the utmost alarm among all classes; and for my own part I feel almost confounded at the difficulty that must exist in procuring a sufficiency of good seed for the ensuing crop.Such is the report of Mr. Dillon, of Cahirciveen, resident magistrate. The House is aware that there has been sitting for some time past in Dublin a Commission, one of whose duties it has been to collect accurate information with respect to the extent of the deficiency in different localities. That Commission has lately made a report, which refers, I fear, to a period antecedent to that in which this disease has reappeared. I have here an official statement, from the highest authority, embracing almost every part of Ireland, every electoral district, with the exception of ninety-nine, having sent returns; and these are the facts reported by the Commissioners:—That in four electoral divisions the loss of potatoes has been nearly nine-tenths of the whole crop; in 93, between seven-tenths and eight-tenths; in 125, the loss approaches to seven-tenths of the whole crop; in 16, it approaches to six-tenths; in 596, nearly one-half of the crop is entirely destroyed; and in 582 divisions, nearly four-tenths of the crop are entirely destroyed.Here are requisitions made to us, and we are acting upon them, to establish stores of corn for the people, to be retailed at cost prices, or given in remuneration for labour. [An hon. MEMBER: It will be wanted for seed.] Yes; to get potatoes from foreign countries for the ensuing year is next to impossible. An eighth of the whole crop is required for seed; each acre of potatoes requires nearly a ton, three-fourths of a ton, at least, for seed; take the tonnage which it would require to bring in 10,000 tons of potatoes from any part of Europe where potatoes may still abound; it is impossible to supply the defi- 1014 ciency by foreign import. You must look for seed from the domestic supply—by making savings from the existing crop. And here is the danger, that when the pressure of famine is severe, the immediate craving of hunger will be supplied—the necessities of next year will be forgotten; the Government must interfere for the purpose of encouraging the saving of potatoes in sufficient quantities, in order to secure a supply of seed for next year. How are we to do this? By the substitution, I suppose, of some other articles of provision, to be given under wise regulations, for the purpose of preventing abuse. Suppose, now, that in April or May next, we shall be under the necessity of proposing votes of public money to cover past or future expenditure—will there be a cheerful acquiescence in those votes, if the Corn Law is to remain unaltered? We are now encouraging the resident proprietors, the clergy of the Established Church, and the clergy of the Roman Catholic persuasion, to make great exertions; we are telling them, "Individual charity in your localities must supply more than the Government can supply; you must give corn in exchange for seed potatoes, or for the sustenance of human life." Is it quite reasonable to make these demands on the private charity of those whose straitened means leave little disposable for charity, and at the same time to levy 17s. duty on the quarter of foreign wheat? Is the State to show no charity? For what is the duty to be levied? For Revenue? But we may have to spend public money in the purchase of corn—we may have to raise its price to the consumer by our unusual intervention. Surely it is a more becoming course to remit duty, than to buy heavily taxed corn! Shall we levy the 17s. for protection to domestic corn? What—when in 600 electoral divisions in Ireland only half the crop of potatoes has been saved, and in 600 more only three-fifths, while in some, nearly eight-tenths are gone? Do you believe that it would be for the credit and honour of the landed aristocracy of this country to say, "We throw upon the Government the responsibility of averting the evils of famine, but not one letter of the existing Corn Law shall be altered?" Would it be fidelity to the landed interest were I to counsel this? No; I believe that, whatever might have been the outward show of consistency, such a proposal would be the real "treachery" which you impute to me, because I have thought it for your interest, and the interests of all, to relieve 1015 ourselves from the odium of stipulating for these restrictions on food in such a moment of pressure. What would have been said? Why, the pressure in Holland and in Belgium is not half so severe as it will be in Ireland; and see what the Government in those two countries did at an early period of the autumn. In Belgium, the Executive Government took upon itself the responsibility of opening the ports to every description of provisions. The Government of Holland exercised the power which it had to do this by ordinance. Belgium is an agricultural country; the Chambers (the Lords and Commons of a neighbouring State) assembled; the Government asked for indemnity, and for the continuance of open ports. Without a moment's hesitation, by acclamation as it were, without one dissentient voice, the representatives of the landed interest in Belgium gave the Government indemnity, and continued the permission freely to import every article of food. What, under similar circumstances, has been the course taken by the Parliament of this country? What has been the course taken by Parliaments as deeply interested as we can be in the welfare of agriculture? There have been times before the present when there has been the apprehension of scarcity in this country; what has been the remedy? What has been the remedy that the heart of every man suggested? What has been the remedy that legislative wisdom took? Why, in every case, without exception, the removal for a time of the duties upon foreign corn. [Cheers.] [An hon. MEMBER: What was done at the end of the time?] I will come to that immediately. I rejoice in the cheer which I received from that quarter [looking to the Protection benches]; what is it but an assent—apparently a unanimous assent—["No!"] at any rate, a very general assent—that at a period of impending famine, the proper precaution to be taken is to encourage the free importation of food? I have a right to infer, that if that had been the proposal, namely, that existing duties upon corn and other articles of provision should be suspended for a time, that proposal would have met with general assent. Then, if that be so, I ask you to expedite the passing of this Bill: either do that, or move as an Amendment that the duties upon all articles of provision shall forthwith be suspended.
I will not omit the other consideration—the course to be taken after you have suspended the law; I am trying now to con- 1016 vince you that I should have been unfaithful and treacherous to the landed interest, and to the party that protect the landed interest, if I had concealed the real pressure of this Irish case, and had called forth party cheers by talking about "hoisting the flag of protection"—or "rousing the British lion"—or "adhering to the true blue colour"—or steadfast maintenance of the Corn Laws "in all their integrity." I am trying to convince you, by fair reasoning, that that is a course which would not have been consistent either with the public interest, or with the credit of the landed aristocracy. That is all I am asking you now to admit. If you answer me, "We will readily consent to suspend this law until next harvest," I am rejoiced to have that admission from three-fourths of those by whom I shall be opposed, that it would not be wise to stipulate that for the present no alteration should be made in the Corn Law, that no maize should be admitted, that no rice should be admitted, that no oats should be admitted, at a reduced rate of duty, and that the duty upon wheat should be maintained at 17s.; I am rejoiced that I have established, to the satisfaction of the great majority, that that would not have been a prudent or a defensible course. I say it would not, because at all periods of our history the natural precaution that has been taken has been the admission, free of duty, of foreign corn in times of scarcity. I must quote some of those instances. In 1756, there was the apprehension of famine; Parliament was assembled: the first step taken was to prohibit, unwisely, in my opinion, the exportation of corn; the second was, to permit importation duty free. In 1767, you were again threatened with scarcity: the first act of the Parliament was, to admit provisions duty free. In 1791, Parliament altered the Corn Laws—they established a new Corn Law; in 1793, there was the apprehension of scarcity; notwithstanding the new Corn Law, one of the very first Acts upon the Statute Book of 1793 is to remove, for a time, all duties upon the importation of foreign corn. In 1795, there was an apprehension, not of famine, but of scarcity, severely pressing upon some classes of the community; and in that year, and again in 1796, the same remedy was adopted—the removal of all duty upon foreign corn. In 1799, the same course was pursued, and free importation allowed. Why then, I ask, with all these precedents—when the danger, in the case of some at least, was less than it is at pre- 1017 sent—would it have been wise for a Government to counsel that we should pursue a different course, refuse facilities for importation, and determine upon maintaining the existing law? Sir, I believe that course would have involved the Government and the Parliament in the greatest discredit; and so far from assisting us in maintaining the existing law, my firm belief is, that that law would have been encumbered with a degree of odium which would have made the defence of it impossible. It was upon these grounds that I acted. Seeing what had been done in neighbouring countries, and what had been uniformly done by your own Parliament, not when corn was at 100s. or 80s., but in periods when it was under 60s.—seeing that the acknowledged remedy for scarcity was opening the ports for the admission of foreign corn, I advised the suspension of the Corn Laws. Do not answer me by saying, "There was at the period to which you refer, a different Corn Law—there was no sliding-scale — there was no admission of foreign corn at a low duty when the price was high." It was exactly the reverse of this; during the whole of that period, when corn was above 54s. in price, it was admitted at a duty of 6d.; the law made provision for the free importation of corn with even moderate prices. And why did Parliament interfere? It was in order that the high duty should not attach on a reduction of price. When corn was below 54s., there was a duty of from 2s. 6d. to 24s. 3d.; when it was above 54s., the duty was 6d.; by the natural operation of the law, therefore, corn was admitted when prices were high; but there was a fear that, from a sudden importation from neighbouring ports, corn might fall below 54s., and the high duty might attach. To prevent that, and to give a guarantee to the foreign importer that he should be certain for a period of six months to have his corn admitted at a duty of 6d., Parliament interposed, and gave him that guarantee. If, then, we had refused to interfere, what a contrast might have been drawn between us and those Parliaments! Would refusal have been, or would it now be, for the credit either of Parliament or of Government? I think not. We advised, therefore—at least I advised, and three of my Colleagues concurred with me—the immediate suspension of the law. The question is, what shall we do now? The law is not suspended—Parliament is sitting. It would be disrespectful towards Parliament for the Executive 1018 to take any step; it is impossible for the Executive, by an Order of Council, to do that which might have been done by an extreme exercise of authority, when Parliament was not sitting; it would not be constitutional to do it? It may be true that the best time has passed away; that the 1st of November was a better period for doing this than the present. Yes, but admitting that, the necessity for acting with decision on the 16th February is only increased. True, the supplies of foreign corn might have been more ample, had the ports been opened on the 1st November; but you have six months yet before you—and what course do you suggest? If any one dissents from that course which we propose, let him propose another. You must make your choice. You must either maintain the existing law, or make some proposal for increasing the facilities of procuring foreign articles of food.
And now I come to that second consideration from which I said I would not shrink. After the suspension of the existing law, and the admission of foreign importation for a period of several months, how do you propose to deal with the existing Corn Laws? That is the question which a Minister was bound to consider who advised the suspension of the Corn Laws. Now, my conviction is so strong that it would be utterly impossible, after establishing perfect freedom of trade in corn for a period of seven or eight months, to give a guarantee that the existing Corn Law should come into operation at the end of that period, that I could not encourage the delusive hope of such a result. I know it may be said, that after a temporary suspension of the law, the law itself would revive by its own operation, that there would be no necessity for any special enactment to restore its vigour. But I think it is an utter misapprehension of the state of public opinion to suppose it possible that after this country, for eight months, should have tasted of freedom in the trade in corn, you could revive, either by the tacit operation of the law itself, or by new and special enactment, the existing Corn Law. Surely, the fact of suspension would be a condemnation of the law. It would demonstrate that the law, which professed by the total reduction of duty on corn when it had reached a certain price to provide security against scarcity, had failed in one of its essential parts. Yet you insist on the revival of this law. Now let me ask, would you revive the existing Corn Law in all its 1019 provisions? Would you refuse the admission of maize at lower duties?—at present the duty on maize is almost prohibitory. Do not suppose that those who advised suspension overlooked the consideration of the consequences of suspension—of the bearing it would have upon the state of the Corn Laws, and the question of future protection. At the expiration of suspension will you revive the existing law, or will you propose a new and modified Corn Law? If the existing law, every manifest defect must be preserved. By that law, the duty on maize varies inversely not with the price of maize, but with the price of barley. We want maize—the price of barley is falling, but we can get no maize, because there is a prohibitory duty on maize in consequence of the low price of barley. Oh, say some, we will have a little alteration of the law, we will provide for the case of maize. Now, do not disregard public feeling in matters of this kind. It is not right that mere feeling should overbear the deliberate conviction of reason; but depend upon it, that when questions of food are concerned, public feeling cannot safely be disregarded. In the course of last Session notice was given that maize should be imported duty free, because it was for the interest of the farmer to have maize for food for cattle. Do you think it possible to devise a new Corn Law, the loading principle of which should be that maize should Come in duty free, because the admission of that article would enable the farmer to feed his cattle and pigs with it, but that there are certain other articles used for consumption by human beings—and in respect to them the law shall be maintained in all its force? Do you advise me to commit you to fight that battle? I am assuming now that the necessity for the suspension of the law has been established: that suspension having taken place, would you deliberately advise the Government, for the sake of the public interests, or for the sake of party interests, to give a pledge either that the existing Corn Law, at the expiration of that suspension should be revived unaltered—or that there should be some trumpery modification of it, for the special benefit of the feeders of pigs and cattle? Are you insensible to the real state of public opinion on this question? Are you insensible to the altered convictions of many of your own party? Could I safely rely upon your cordial and unanimous support, as a party, for the redemption of that pledge? Look to the change of opinion, not among poli- 1020 ticians, which you are apt to attribute to some interested or corrupt motives; but look to the opinions that have been expressed—to the sincerity of which conclusive proofs have been given by some of the most honourable men that ever sat upon these benches. Did my noble Friend Lord Ashley vacate his seat for the county of Dorset from any interested or corrupt motive? Did Mr. Sturt, or Mr. W. Patten, avow their change of opinion from any interested or corrupt motives? Did Mr. Tatton Egerton offer to vacate his seat for Cheshire, or Lord Henniker his seat for Suffolk, from any other than a real change of opinion—from a conviction that the time was come for the adjustment of the question of the Corn Laws? Did Mr. Dawnay vacate his seat from such motive? Did a young Member of this House, Mr. Charteris, glowing with as high and honourable a spirit as ever animated the breast of an English gentleman—distinguished for great acuteness—great intelligence—great promise of future eminence—did he abandon his seat for Gloucestershire, and withdraw from this stirring conflict from any interested or corrupt motive? Surely these are proofs that that Minister who should suspend the law, and give a guarantee of the revival of it when the period of suspension expired, would have enormous difficulties to contend with.
But let us observe the course of the present debate, the admissions and expressions of opinion of those who have been loudest in their condemnation of the Government. The first I notice is the hon. Member for Huntingdon. Well, I confess I was surprised to hear from a gentleman of the name of Baring, some of the opinions introduced by him in regard to commerce and the Corn Laws. Would that hon. Gentleman follow me in the maintenance of the existing Corn Law after the suspension of it? So far from it, the hon. Gentleman thinks that this is just the time for a compromise on the subject. He then would abandon me, if, after the suspension, I had undertaken a guarantee to revive the existing law. He says this is just the time for a compromise. If ever there was an unfortunate moment for a compromise, it is the present. What is the meaning of a compromise? Clearly, a new Corn Law. Now, what would be the security for the permanence of that new Corn Law? [Cheers from the Protection benches.] You cheer; but what says every hon. Gentleman who has appeared on the part of the 1021 agriculturists? That what the agriculturist chiefly wishes for is, permanence as to the Corn Law. Would a modified Corn Law give that assurance of permanence? Is there, in truth, any choice between maintenance of the existing Corn Law and its repeal?
I am reviewing the statements of Protectionists—of the enemies of the measures of the Government, and I am attempting to prove out of their own mouths, that it is hopeless to undertake to re-establish the present Corn Law, after its suspension. I confine myself to the stoutest advocates for protection. There is the Member for Roxburghshire: he was among the loudest in condemning the measure of the Government. The Member for Roxburghshire, by the way, has a curious notion of the relation between a country and its Minister, and between the Sovereign and the Minister of that Sovereign. The hon. Gentleman likened me to a hired advocate in a suit at law. He said I had thrown up my brief. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that a Minister takes an oath in the presence of the Sovereign to this effect, "that in all matters to be treated and debated in Council, he will, faithfully, openly, and truly, declare his mind and opinion according to his heart and conscience!" I apprehend that an obligation of this kind constitutes a material difference between the relation of a Minister to his Sovereign and a counsel to his client. The hon. Gentleman said I had been sent here to defend the old Corn Laws; that I had made a terrible breach in them in 1842; but that I was bound, at any rate, by every consideration of consistency and honour, to maintain the Corn Law of 1842. Now what reliance can I place on his support in maintaining that law? Before he closed his speech he admitted that in his own county, within the last three years, there have been such improvements in roads, such introduction of science into agriculture, such increased facilities for producing cheap corn, that in his opinion the time is come when the present Corn Laws must be altered. On hearing this, I said to the hon. Gentleman, "For whom are you counsel?" meaning that if any obligation was imposed on me to maintain the Corn Law of 1842, I could not quite understand how the hon. Gentleman could so readily abandon it. The hon. Gentleman was indignant at being supposed to be a counsel for any particular interest. "I counsel!" said he; "that is an imputation 1022 on my honour. I am counsel for the agriculturists—I am counsel for the commercial interests—I am counsel for the whole country—I am counsel for the interests of humanity." The hon. Gentleman, like Anarcharsis Cloots, at the bar of the French Convention, claims to be Attorney General to the human race. Now I do not desire functions quite so comprehensive. I ask only to be counsel for all the great interests of this country, regarding them as superior to party engagements, and to have the privilege in times of great public difficulty of giving that advice which, "in my heart and conscience," I believe to be the best for the public good.
I arrive next at the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme. The hon. Member informs me that hereafter, and for ever, he withdraws his confidence from me. He withdraws it upon this ground—that I have established no great principle in respect to the Corn Laws. If there ever was a man who had little reason to distrust a Minister for not establishing a principle, it is the hon. Gentleman himself. He has voted with the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. P. Villiers), and he has voted against him. He is an advocate for a fixed duty, and he has done all he could to maintain the sliding-scale. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has shared in my misfortune, and read the pamphlets of John Colquhoun, Esquire, of Killermont. I must say that his writings, as far as I can understand them, lean to the repeal of the Corn Laws. If, then, the hon. Gentleman has voted with the Member for Wolverhampton, and has voted against him—if he is a determined supporter of a fixed duty, and yet ever since 1842 has done all in his power to maintain the sliding-scale; and if my construction of his pamphlets be correct, and that he has been an advocate of repeal, I wonder how I should have fared with him if I had laid down a great principle. I wonder what the hon. Gentleman would have said if, after having carried suspension, I should have subsequently declared that at the end of that suspension the Government would stake its existence on the revival of the existing Corn Law? I venture to say there would not have been a more strenuous opponent of such a course than the hon. Gentleman; there never, at least, was a Gentleman so clamorous for the announcement of a principle who left himself so completely at single anchor, ready to vote for or against any proposal that might be made.
1023 I shall refer now to the opinions of a noble Lord who has not yet taken part in the present debate — the noble Lord the Member for Newark (Lord J. Manners). He has addressed a letter to his constituents on this subject. Would it be possible for the Government to rely upon that noble Lord's support, if they had taken the course I have mentioned, that of advising a renewal of the present Corn Law after its suspension? This is the noble Lord's opinion on the question of the Corn Laws:—The conclusion to which I have come is that sanctioned by the authority of the late Lord Spencer and other practical agriculturists, and may be stated in the emphatic words of the Agricultural Gazette:—'Upon the best of our unbiassed judgment, we humbly express a firm belief that both the advantages and the evils—in fact, the whole effect—of the expected change which the political journalists have bruited of late in our ears, has been absurdly magnified, as much by the ignorance as by the feelings and wishes of the combatants on both sides; and that of all the panic dreams that ever sat like a nightmare upon the energies of human enterprise, or cramped the sinews of a noble pursuit, the idea, in a densely inhabited country, where population is rapidly increasing, trade and commerce extending, industry and skill unequalled, and true science dawning, that human food is likely to become too cheap, and its production unprofitable, is the most unaccountable, and will be eventually found the most illusory and groundless.I do not know what course the noble Lord means to take with respect to the present measure. He calls fear of the repeal of the Corn Laws a panic dream, sitting like a night-mare on the energies of human enterprize; and yet he thinks the present Parliament ought not to enact, nor the present Minister to propose, their repeal. Well, but that personal objection is no satisfactory answer to the country why this panic dream should not be disturbed.
The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. A. Hope) said, "I will not inquire whether the measure is right or wrong, but I will look to your conduct. I will give extracts from your speeches, and I will show that you ought not to propose a repeal of the Corn Laws." But, surely, the question which the hon. Gentleman will not ask, is the very question which the country asks, namely, is the measure right or is it wrong? Is it advisable that the Corn Laws should be suspended, and that after such suspension they should revive? If it be right, vote for such a proposal; if your objection is not to the measure, but to the Government that advises it, withdraw, if you please, your confidence from that Government; but surely you cannot 1024 justify voting against a measure which concerns such mighty interests, and which you believe to be right.
Now, Sir, I come to the Member for Somersetshire (Mr. W. Miles) who made no such admissions as those which fell from the Member for Roxburghshire, and the Member for Huntingdon. I infer from his speech, that he is for the maintenance of the existing law in all its integrity. [Mr. W. MILES: Hear, hear.] That hon. Gentleman gave me notice, that from henceforth I must not expect to possess his confidence. Of course I heard that statement with regret, though without surprise. The hon. Gentleman must excuse me for observing that, in closing his connexion with me, he has underrated his own importance. He has not always been a follower of mine. On more than one occasion he has been himself a leader. On the great question of "protection to native grease," he set up for himself, and was my determined opponent. I will rob him of none of his laurels—not one. I proposed, last year, that the then existing duty on foreign grease, an article extensively used in manufactures, should be remitted, and the hon. Gentleman rose and said, emphatically, "There must be a stop to these attacks on native produce. I take my stand on grease—'Hence! avaunt! 'tis holy ground.'"Grease," said the hon. Gentleman, "you shall not touch." And why? "Because," said he, "although the admission of grease might be beneficial to the manufacturers, I doubt the vigilance of the Custom-house officers, and I think some people would eat the grease, intended for manufacturers, and diminish the demand for butter." Now, I must say the hon. Gentleman, in taking his stand upon grease, did more injury to the cause of protection than has been done by any decided enemy to that cause.
§ MR. W. MILES
was understood to say that he had merely stopped the discussion at a late hour in order to obtain its adjournment, and was absent the next day.
§ SIR R. PEEL
Then I admit at once to the hon. Gentleman that on that occasion he exhibited his qualifications for a leader, by his discretion in absenting himself from the discussion on grease.
The hon. Gentleman must permit me to advert, with perfect good humour, to two or three of his arguments. I listened to his speech with great attention; but I feared that he was handling edge-tools. I had previously stated that the price of 1025 cattle and meat had not been diminished by the Tariff; that the navy contracts for the present year had been entered into on higher terms than those of preceding years. The hon. Gentleman said I had omitted to state the real cause of this increase—that I had overlooked the fact that, during the last six months, the number of sheep brought into Smithfield market had decreased by 250,000, as compared with a former period of six months; that there had been an average weekly falling-off in the London market of 16,000 sheep; that the cattle had decreased in weight from ten to seven stone, and, therefore, meat was higher in price. Be it so. Now, does the hon. Gentleman, after making such a statement, really exult in having opposed the Tariff of 1842? Does he think it a public misfortune that when our own cattle have been half-starved for want of green food—when the supply of sheep in Smithfield market has fallen off, according to his own showing, to the extent of 250,000 in one half year—when there is a deficiency of 16,000 in the weekly supply of sheep—when "the kine are lean-fleshed and ill-favoured," does he think it a public misfortune that we have imported in twelve months a few healthy cattle, and some sheep from the Continent to the extent of a week's deficiency?
§ MR. W. MILES
said, he had suggested that the duty on cattle should be regulated by weight, and not by numbers.
§ SIR R. PEEL
continued: I now refer to the hon. Member's remarks relative to the article of flax. When a duty of 10l. a ton was imposed upon foreign flax, it seems that certain parishes in the county of Somerset grew flax. In the parish of Chisselburgh 100 acres were devoted to the culture of that article, but now grow flax no longer. Now, I should wish to know what were the circumstances under which that cultivation was abandoned? Was it in consequence of the withdrawal of the duty? and at what period did Chisselburgh abandon the cultivation of flax?
§ MR. W. MILES
After the last removal of the duty on flax.
§ SIR R. PEEL
The last removal! why the last removal of duty was in 1842. And what was the amount of that duty? It was one penny on the hundred weight of foreign flax. Surely, that was no protection to the domestic produce of Chisselburgh and Aldcock, and the two Cockers. If these parishes have very recently ceased to cultivate flax, it has been for some better rea- 1026 son than the removal of the duty on foreign flax. That removal took place, not in 1842, but in 1824. Previously to 1824, there was a duty on foreign flax of 10l. per ton; and it was then reduced to a nominal duty — recently repealed altogether. "See," says the hon. Gentleman, "what injury free trade has inflicted on Chisselburgh! 1,000l. have been annually withdrawn from the encouragement of native industry in one parish alone!" It is pretty clear that free trade has had nothing to do with the matter. But if it had, are there no interests in the world but those of the parish of Chisselburgh, and the two Cockers? Would the loss of 1,000l. in Chisselburgh, be decisive against the free admission of foreign flax? Let us see what has taken place in other important parts of the Empire, since the withdrawal of the protection to native industry. You will find that in Ireland no culture is at this moment more profitable than that of flax; you will find that this trade has become flourishing since the last remnant of protection was withdrawn. It appears from the Report of Lord Devon's Commission, that the culture of flax in Ireland is more profitable than that of wheat; that flax, without protection, gives a better return than wheat with it. And what has been the effect upon the manufacture of linen? What was the state of the linen manufacture in Ireland before the removal of protection? I will assume, for the calculation, that a fixed amount of French cambrics and cambric handkerchiefs — say 1,000 dozens—has been imported into London annually. Before the removal of the duty, the manufacture of Irish, as compared with French cambrics, was as 100 to 1,000 dozens. In the next four years, from 1830 to 1834, the Irish manufacture was in the proportion of 300 to 1,000 dozens; from 1834 to 1838, as 900 to 1,000; from 1838 to 1842, as 4,000 to 1,000; and from 1844 to 1846, as 16,000 to 1,000. Since the withdrawal of protection, a great manufacture has arisen in the north of Ireland. I was assured the other day, by dealers in linen of the highest respectability, that whereas ten years ago, three-fourths of the cambrics and cambric handkerchiefs came from France, and one-fourth only from Ireland, in the last year the proportion was just reversed; one-fourth coming from France, and three-fourths from Ireland. So that it may be true that Chisselburgh has suffered; but coincident with that suffering, the culture of flax in Ireland, and the linen manu- 1027 facture of Ireland, have prospered to an extent exceeding the expectations of the most sanguine friend to Ireland. Well now, in order to restore prosperity to the parish of Chisselburgh, will you replace the 10l. duty on foreign flax? And will you do this under the pretence of protecting native industry?
This debate, Sir, has chiefly turned on the Corn Laws—but it is not necessarily a Corn Law debate. I propose a Committee of the whole House to consider the principles of our commercial policy. No doubt the question of the Corn Laws will come before that Committee; but it is quite open to you to reject my proposal on the subject of the Corn Laws, and to agree to all or some of the others. So much, however, has been said on the subject of the Corn Laws, in the course of this debate, that I cannot avoid adverting to it. Sir, Her Majesty's Ministers have proposed this measure in the belief that it is the one most likely to ensure success. They have proposed that, at the end of three years, the duties on corn shall be repealed, or at least reduced to a nominal amount. I proposed that measure, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, in the sincere belief that it was likely to be more acceptable than immediate repeal to the agricultural interest. I proposed it in the belief that not merely would it be more acceptable to them, but that it would be more advantageous than immediate repeal. We accompanied our proposal with respect to the Corn Laws, with another for encouraging the improvement of land, by advancing public money for the purpose of drainage. I certainly thought that, as to many lands in this country, we should be in a better position to compete with the foreigner, if absolute repeal of the Corn Laws were postponed to the end of three years; that there would be a better opportunity for making arrangements, if necessary, between landlord and tenant; that, considering that Canada has now an advantage as to the admission of her corn, compared with the corn of foreigners, it would be more acceptable to Canada, and more for the interest of that Colony, that some time should elapse before Canada corn came into direct competition with that of the United States. It was on this account, believing that the arrangement we proposed was more likely to prevent panic, and on the whole better for the agriculturists, that on the part of the Government I made the proposal. Believing it to be 1028 the best, it is my intention to adhere to it—that is to say, I shall propose it, and use all the legitimate means I can to give effect to it. But, Sir, it was intimated the other night by the Member for Somersetshire, speaking on the part of the agriculturists, that he would greatly prefer immediate repeal to the proposal of the Government; and that sentiment of his, as he turned round to his friends behind him, received apparently a very general concurrence. Now, as I stated before, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to adhere to their proposal. But at the same time I feel it to be my duty distinctly to give notice that if the agricultural body are of opinion that it will be for their advantage that there should be immediate instead of deferred repeal—if, by an union with hon. Gentlemen opposite, they should place me in a minority, then the only consideration which I shall bear in mind will be this—What course can I take best calculated to give effect to the law so amended at your instance? I will do all I can to carry the proposition of the Government. I prefer it — I proposed it believing it to be favourable to the agricultural interest. I do not say what course, speaking for myself, individually, I may pursue. I don't say what effect the substitution of immediate for postponed repeal here might have in another place, for which I have less means of answering than I have had heretofore; but this I will say, that my own opinion as to the policy of a final adjustment of the Corn Laws will remain unaltered; and that I shall decidedly prefer immediate repeal, even though carried against my own proposal, to throwing the country into confusion by the rejection of this measure. Observe, it will be quite open for me to consider what course of personal conduct will be most conducive to the result I should have in view; but the final adjustment of this question will be with me a consideration paramount to all others.
In the course of this debate, I have been asked more than once to specify the price at which corn will sell after the passing of the new law. I observed, that it was very difficult for me to give a positive answer to that question; that I thought the price must be affected by variation of seasons and other considerations; and I, therefore, could not offer—nor, indeed, would past experience encourage me to offer—any guarantee, or to give any positive opinion, as to the probable future price 1029 of corn. But this I must say, that nothing can be more erroneous than to suppose that the interests of agriculture are necessarily interwoven with the price of wheat. I will attempt to demonstrate this. The Member for Somersetshire talked of the boundless wilds from which corn would come, and is oppressed with the fear of enormous production. I will ask him to consider that the island of Jersey has, for many years, enjoyed free trade in corn, and to look at the result as to price in that island. Corn may be introduced into Malta from Egypt and Odessa. The price of it delivered at Malta has been, on an average of years, about 30s. per quarter; but that corn bears a price of 10s. less in the English markets, on account of its decided inferiority. It is impossible to draw a just inference from the nominal price at which corn may sell, without, at the same time taking into account, among other elements of price, the quality of the corn. I doubt, certainly, whether there will be any such great reduction in the price of wheat, in consequence of more extended importation, as seriously to injure the agricultural interest. But what I want to show is this—that agricultural prosperity has no necessary connexion with a high price of wheat. It has been frequently admitted that there never was a time when science was so successfully applied to agriculture, when such reductions had been made in the cost of production, as in the last three or four years. Yet the price of wheat has been declining. The price of wheat seems to have a necessary tendency to decline in this country, apart altogether from all legislation. I will take decennial periods, commencing with the ten years ending in 1805. The average price of wheat for the ten years ending
Now, what has been the average of the last four years—a period during which the greatest improvements are admitted to have been made in the science of agriculture? The average of the last four years has been 51s. 10d. only. The average of fifty years, from 1791 to 1841, was 68s. 7d. The price of wheat has fallen, between 1815 and 1845, taking the average of four or five preceding years, from 97s. 6d. to 51s. 10d. And yet it is admitted 1030 that agricultural prosperity was never more marked, and that at no period were greater improvements made. And, therefore, if there should be still a continued fall in the price of wheat, I must ask you, in the first place, not to impute it, as a necessary consequence, to the operation of the new law, for I have shown you that there is a natural tendency to a decline in the price of wheat; and in the second place, not to consider a diminished price of wheat indicative of the ruin of agriculture. A remarkable series of facts presents itself in comparing the rental of land with the price of wheat. The gross rental of land in 1815, as taken from the Property Tax Return, was 32,502,000l. The average price of wheat for the five years ending in 1815 was 102s. 5d. For the five years ending with 1842, the price of wheat was 64s. 7d., while the gross rental of land in England had increased to 37,794,000l. Thus, coincident with a fall in the price of corn, there was an increase in the rental of land. I admit that there was a change in the currency as comparing 1815 with 1842, but then you must recollect, if on that account you take 10 per cent. off the nominal price of corn, in the one case, you must take 10 per cent. off the gross rental also; so that the result, as far as the argument is concerned, is the same. If you deduct 10 per cent. from the price of the first five years, on account of depreciated currency, the price will be 92s. 2d.; but you must also deduct 10 per cent. from the gross rental of the first five years, which will reduce it to 29,250,000l. Take it as you will, there has been increased rental coincident with an immense reduction in the price of wheat. No doubt the productive powers of the land have been increased—no doubt great improvements have been made—but surely this is a proof that with declining prices of wheat there has been a profitable application of capital to the improvement of the soil.
s. d. 1805 was 81 10½ 1815 was 97 6 1825 was 78 8 1835 was 56 7 1845 was 57 11
Sir, a speech was made during this debate of great ability—I allude to that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford O'Brien). However I may regret some of the expressions in that speech, or dissent from its conclusions, I cannot do otherwise than acknowledge its ability. But what was the argument of the hon. Gentleman? He told us that, after this law was passed, the tenant-farmer would come to his landlord, and would address him somewhat after this manner—"I cannot afford to pay the 1031 rent I have hitherto paid. The bones of my family have been deposited for many generations in the churchyard of this ancient parish. It is most painful to me to quit this, the residence of my ancestors, the rude forefathers of this hamlet, and to seek my fortune in another country." And the hon. Gentleman (making a great impression on this House, from the pathetic tone in which his speech was delivered) proposed that the landlord should make a speech in reply. Addressing the tenant, he was to say—"My good fellow!"—[Laughter]—"My good fellow! it is true that your forefathers lived in this parish, and that there has been an intimate relation between your ancestors and mine; but the principles of free trade are prevailing now. I can purchase all the articles of my consumption at a cheaper rate in foreign markets. I must deal with you on the same principle. The land you occupy produces only three quarters of wheat per acre. With the application of capital and skill, it may be made to produce five quarters; and there is a gentleman connected with the Anti-Corn-Law League" — [Mr. S. O'BRIEN: No, no!] Well, then, "a gentleman connected with the manufacturing districts (not the Anti-Corn-Law League), is ready to come and take your farm at an increased rent." This was the speech which the hon. Gentleman put into the mouth of his landlord. Now, Sir, I can suggest another, and I think a better, speech to be made by this landlord to his desponding tenant. I would have him say, "My good fellow!"—[Laughter.] (Let us have for each speech the same advantage of the pathetic tone.) "My good fellow! our forefathers have, it is true, been buried in the churchyard of this parish. The fortunes of your family have long been connected with the fortunes of mine. This protection to agriculture has been a bad business for both of us. Under these protective laws your farm, which ought to produce five quarters of wheat per acre, only produces three; and public opinion will hardly tolerate this, that there shall be at the same time restrictions on the import of foreign corn, and that our own soil shall produce two-fifths less than it ought to produce. We must take some measures, therefore, to increase the produce of your farm. I have the advantage of the new Tariff, I am able to purchase my luxuries and comforts at a lower rate, and I intend to apply the whole amount of the saving to your assistance, and to the improvement of 1032 your land. I won't, therefore, turn you out of your farm; I won't let this manufacturer outbid you in the rent; but, my good fellow, it is for your interest and mine that the land should bear five quarters of wheat instead of three. You have not the capital and science which are necessary for this; I will assist you by the advance of capital, by scientific advice in improving your land; I will contribute towards the education of your son, and enable him to assist you in your old age, and to succeed you in the farm hereafter. I will cut down the trees which encumber your fields. Let you and I unite to keep out this foreign invader — this manufacturer who wants to supplant you. You have the industry, I have the capital; let us improve this farm; let it be handed down to your son and to mine in an improved state; there shall be five quarters of wheat where there are three now. That will be for the benefit of both landlord and tenant; and the bones of your sons, and the bones of mine for generations to come shall lie together in the old churchyard with those of our forefathers." Now that is the speech which I would put into the mouth of the landlord, and I think it the better speech of the two. Well, but suppose the tenant should rejoin, "Ah, Sir, this is not a landlord's—this is not a tenant's—this is a labourer's question." I should answer, "Then, my good fellow, if we make this land which now produces three quarters of wheat produce five, we shall employ more labourers. There will be a greater demand for labour. Thus all parties will be benefited—the estate will be benefited, the security for your rent will be increased—your comfort will be increased—there will be more labour employed—and all this good will be done by the liberal application of that saving which the hon. Gentleman says the rich are to derive from free trade and the new Tariff."
This, however, is no mere Corn Law question. Her Majesty made surely no unreasonable demand when She thus addressed you in the Speech from the Throne:I recommend you to take into your early consideration whether the principles on which you have acted may not with advantage be yet more extensively applied, and whether it may not be in your power, after a careful review of the existing duties upon many articles, the produce or manufactures of other countries, to make such further reductions and remissions as may tend to ensure the continuance of the great benefits to which I have adverted.And you promised you would do this. The 1033 Address was purposely worded not to give a pledge as to the adoption of particular measures; but it gave this assurance to the Sovereign, that—In compliance with Her Majesty's recommendation we will take into our early consideration whether the principles on which we have acted may not with advantage be yet more extensively applied, and whether it may not be in our power, after a careful review of the existing duties npon many articles, the produce or manufactures of other countries, to make such further reductions and remissions as may tend to ensure the continuance of the great benefits to which Her Majesty has adverted.How do you fulfil that assurance? Will you refuse to go into Committee at all? What is the Amendment? Does it embody any great principle, as I expected it would, from the early notice that was given by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme? I expected he would have moved either that the Government was not entitled to the confidence of Parliament, or that native industry is entitled to protection; but what Motion is made now? Why, that no reduction of Customs' Duties shall be considered for six months to come. After a positive assurance given to Her Majesty that you will take these matters into consideration, you determine not only that there shall be no change, but no inquiry—no consideration. Is it possible you can refuse to go into the Committee? Do you decide at once against the admission of foreign brandy, for instance? Do you decide at once against the admission of foreign silk? This Amendment absolutely precludes the consideration in Committee of any one of these questions. In point of fact, this is not a question of corn at all. There is a great principle at issue; the question is with respect to commercial policy. The question is, will you advance or will you recede? The immediate proposal is, indeed, to stand still—for six months to come to do nothing! With reference to the commercial policy of this great country, to stand still is to retrograde. The carrying of this Amendment is a reflection on the past course of the House of Commons. Every year you have been relaxing protection; you say you will relax it no more—you will not listen to any proposals—the Speaker shall not leave the Chair. Well, I do hope this House, which has been party to all the former proposals of reduction, which simplified the commercial code, which consented to the Tariff of 1842, which passed the Canada Corn Bill, which passed the amended Tariff of 1845— 1034 I do hope this House will not pass such a reflection on itself as to vote that the consideration of these measures be postponed for six months to come.
The question at issue is, whether you will advance in the relaxation of duties and the removal of prohibitions, or restore prohibitory duties, and increase protective duties. I never said that it was on the experience of the Tariff for the last three years, that the measures of the Government were founded. I said this—that during three years there have been, coincident with abundance and low prices of food, great contentment—the diminution of crime—the abatement of all social disorders, improved health — increased commerce. This is the experience of three years to which I referred—which tends to prove that cheapness and plenty are the foundation of your prosperity. I did not take the credit of this to the Tariff: all I claimed for the Tariff was this—that, concurrently with these great blessings, there have been constant relaxations of duties protective and prohibitory; and that if they have not caused — they have not, at any rate, obstructed our advance in the course of improvement. But I will offer this challenge, not connected with the Tariff of the last three years alone, but with respect to the whole series of your relaxations of prohibitory duties; show me, in the case of any important protected interest, one relaxation, one removal of prohibition, which has not contributed to the advantage of the great body of the consumers of this country. Nay, I go further. Again, speaking of all great interests, show me any removal of prohibition, or extreme protection, which has not, at an early period, contributed to the welfare of the producer.
I have been ashamed to read some of the petitions which have been presented on this subject of protection. A petition was presented the other night from certain shipowners of the port of London. The petitioners represent that they are deeply interested in the prosperity of the shipping interest; and, in conclusion, they—"invoke the wisdom of Parliament to check all further rash experiments on British navigation, and, as an earnest of its sympathy with a branch of commerce indissolubly connected with national defence, they implore your Honourable House to reject the proposition for reducing the duty on the importation of foreign timber from 25s. to 15s., as proposed by Her Majesty's Government.And this from shipowners! From the builders of ships! And they conclude with a prayer to you to check all further rash 1035 experiments on British navigation! What has been the issue of the rash experiment you made in 1842? You found, then, a discriminating duty of 45s. in favour of Canada timber, which you reduced to 25s. Have you destroyed the Canada trade? Has that rash experiment been destructive of the welfare of shipowners? You reduced the duty on Canada timber to nothing; on Baltic timber you reduced the duty from 45s. to 25s. the load. What has been the result? At the port of Liverpool the average tonnage in the British North American trade for eleven years preceding the reduction of duty was 153,000 tons; since you removed the duty, since you made the rash experiments of 1842, the average tonnage has been 194,000 tons. On the average of seven years before the reduction of duty 5,749,000 cubic feet of pine, of all sorts, were brought into home consumption; in 1844, the quantity amounted to 6,211,000 cubic feet; and in 1845 to 6,807,000 cubic feet. Yet the shipowners call on you to refuse a reduction of the duty on Baltic timber to 15s. the load, as they called on you to refuse a reduction formerly from 45s. to 25s. I presume Liverpool is interested in the prosperity of the Canada trade, and in the building of ships. Allow me to read the following extract from a Liverpool circular with reference to the supply of timber for building ships of the first class:—There is one branch of the timber trade which has this year been very scantily supplied with those woods adapted for the construction of ships of the first class. So trifling has been the supply, that at the present moment this, one of the greatest maritime ports in the world, is in the anomalous position of not having in stock a single log of foreign wood suitable for a twelve years' ship. There can be no question, therefore, of the policy which, by removal of duties, would encourage the supply of such woods from all parts of the world, and, at all events, admit, free of duty, all oaks, hard-woods, masts, spars, treenails, pitch, pine, and such woods as enter largely and almost exclusively into the construction of ships. As the Colonial timber trade, formerly encouraged by bounty, has at length arrived at its present enlarged state, it is surely not unreasonable now that the shipwright should have all restrictions removed, so as to receive from all parts of the world, at least in the unsawn state, whatever material he employs in the construction of ships, the great source of this country's wealth and power, and absolutely necessary for her national defence. The removal of all restrictions, and an economical mode of storing, would cause this to be one of the largest depots in the kingdom.Not a single log of foreign wood in the port of Liverpool suitable for a twelve years' ship! Can this be true? and if it 1036 is, what think you of a petition from shipowners and shipbuilders to reject the rash experiment of permitting a freer access to the timber required for shipbuilding? and will that free access destroy the Canada trade? On the contrary, as the import of foreign wool increased the demand for domestic wool, so will the import of Baltic timber increase the demand for that sort of Canada timber for which the former is not a substitute.
I cannot pass unnoticed the speech of my gallant Friend the Member for Liverpool (Sir Howard Douglas). It was a condemnation of the principles of free trade, and an argument that such principles are wholly at variance with the maintenance of our revenue, and our colonial system. My gallant Friend assumes that free trade means the removal of duties levied on articles of consumption for revenue purposes. I make no such proposition, and defend no such doctrine. Nay, I do not advise, even with reference to purely commercial considerations, the sudden and violent application of principles theoretically true. I do not abolish all protective duties; on the contrary, the amended Tariff maintains many duties that are purely protective, as distinguished from revenue duties. But though duties levied for revenue may operate as protection to branches of domestic industry, there is a clear distinction between the objects for which such duties, and duties purely protective, are levied; and it is a wholly erroneous assumption, that those who advise that the principles of free trade should be the ruling principles to which our commercial policy should gradually conform, either do contend, or are bound by any logical necessity to contend, that bonâ fide revenue duties on foreign products ought to be abolished. Then as to the colonial system. Any one who heard my gallant Friend's speech would infer, that the measures of the Government involve a total subversion of that system. If they pass, there will still be left discriminating duties considerable in amount in favour of almost all articles the produce of the Colonies — sugar, coffee, timber, butter, cheese, and various articles of colonial manufacture. But this I cannot deny, that for many years past you have applied to your colonial system the same general principle you have applied to your commercial policy, foreign and domestic. Your rule has been (a wise rule, I think,) to relax cautiously and gradually the rigour of the colonial sys- 1037 tem. All the measures of Mr. Huskisson had that tendency. The relaxation was not a one-sided one, favouring the mother country at the expense of the Colonies. You have reduced the discriminating duties on coffee, to a limited extent on sugar, and on other articles of colonial produce; but you have consented, at the same time, to forego the protection which the produce of the mother country had in the colonial market. You have permitted the Colonies to supply themselves from the United States with articles of the first necessity; you have reduced the protecting duties in favour of British, as compared with articles of foreign manufacture, from 30 to 20, to 15, to 7½ per cent. The ruling spirit which has prevailed for a long series of years in your colonial legislation has been the relaxation of protection—the reciprocal relaxation of it as regards British and Colonial produce. And has either party been injured by it? It is a mistake to suppose that our colonial system, and the attachment of the Colonies to the mother country, are based upon a system of exclusion and prohibition. Some of your Colonies—the Australian Colonies, for instance—derive little benefit from the colonial system, if that system implies exclusive favour to colonial produce. But, surely, speaking generally, your colonial relations are perfectly compatible with the just and cautious application of a liberal policy in the commercial intercourse between the mother country and its dependencies.
Now, as to the protection to native industry. The advocates of the Corn Law seek to enlist in the defence of that law all branches of manufactures threatened with the loss or diminution of protection. The warmest sympathy is expressed with the working classes employed in manufactures which are to be ruined by foreign competition.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham was particularly severe upon the removal of protective duties on paper-hangings. I really don't know why there should be such a complaint. There is an Excise duty of ¼d. per square yard on papers fabricated in this country; and I propose that there shall be a duty on foreign paper about 700 per cent. above the domestic duty. I propose, that while British pays ¼d., foreign should pay 2d. per yard. I know it is said our patterns are inferior to the foreign. But, depend upon it, there is nothing in the physical constitution of Englishmen to prevent them 1038 from drawing as good patterns as Frenchmen, if you will stimulate them to exertion by competition. The hon. Gentleman described himself looking out of his window, and mourning over the sight of a vast number of paper-makers, carriage-makers, and others, all crying out that they are ruined by free trade. Why, there has not been a single alteration made in prohibitory or protective duties where the same prophecy has not been made. It was the constant warning when the Tariff was altered in 1842. We proposed to admit foreign potatoes at a moderate rate of duty. The potato growers of Yorkshire said, "We shall be ruined." In 1842, there was a reduction of the duty on hops from 8l. 11s. to 4l. 10s. The hop-growers of Kent and Sussex said, "We shall be ruined: where are those employed in the culture of hops to find subsistence?" What quantity of foreign hops have come in at the reduced duty? Two hundred weight. I have now proposed that there shall be a reduction of the duty to 2l. 5s. A deputation of hop-growers were with me the other day, and said they would be ruined. I referred to the prophecy they had made in 1842, and showed them that the whole quantity introduced was no more than those two hundred weight. When Mr. Huskisson proposed an alteration of the Silk Duties, about twenty years since, how gloomy were the forebodings of ruin! That great authority, Mr. Baring (Lord Ashburton) resisted the reduction of protection, and said—There were hundreds of thousands of poor honest men who knew nothing in the world of political economy, but who, because some very wise men had sprung up of late, were to be robbed of the earnings of their patient labours. There was to be only a duty of 30 per cent. protection against foreign competition. Would the House consent to a measure which must have the effect of driving all the workmen connected with it to the poor rates for subsistence? When the French manufacturer maintained—as he (Mr. Baring) contended he would—his superiority, what would become of his (Mr. Huskisson's) principles then? How was he to reconcile himself to the operation of a system which would drive to utter ruin and starvation the hundreds of thousands engaged in the silk trade throughout the United Kingdom?One Gentleman improved upon Mr. Baring's denunciation, and said, "As for unbending, hard-hearted metaphysicians" — (his language reminds me of some attacks which have been made of late upon another Minister)—"they exceeded the devil himself in point of malignity and contempt for the happiness of mankind." Mr. Huskisson 1039 replied in these memorable and affecting terms:—I have been assailed and distressed by ungenerous appeals to my feelings calling upon me to commune with my conscience and my God, and to say whether I am under no visitations of compunction and remorse. Good God! that man must have a heart of stone who can witness without sympathy and pain the distress which now exists among our manufacturers. I hope I am not wanting in the duties and feelings of a man. I have also a duty to perform as a Minister—to trace the causes of the present calamities, and to prevent, if possible, their recurrence.
Who was the true philanthropist? Was it the man who cried out against the admission of French silks, and denounced the Minister as being equal to the devil himself in point of malignity and contempt for the happiness of mankind? Or, was it that Minister who said "Good God! don't suppose I do not sympathize with distress. Don't load me with the reproach of causing ruin to thousands when I am endeavouring to benefit them? I have seen Spitalfields under the system of protection at the point of starvation. I have seen constantly recur- 1040 ring periods of severe distress; let me trace the causes of such calamities, and try whether by bringing in the free air of competition, I cannot diminish or remove the sources of such calamities." And have you been unable to compete with France? Why, you have sent silk manufactures, goods and yarn, into that very country which has Lyons at the head of the silk trade; you sent as great an amount of silk manufactures into France last year as you exported to all Europe in the year 1826. I could go through the details of other articles. I could go through timber, through wool, through flax, through inferior articles; but let me take only one, the article of foreign feathers. It seems a small article, but trade consists of an aggregate of small articles. In the year 1842 we reduced the duty on foreign feathers; at that time a manufacturer of those articles in which feathers are used, said that this was the most hard-hearted measure that was ever introduced; that he had a house in England, and another in Ireland — that he dealt with English farmers for feathers, and found them careless with respect to them—that the Irish were more provident, though not very humane, as they plucked the birds alive. But he said he took almost all his feathers from Ireland, and he brought thence every year 100 tons of feathers, and that he paid for them 20s. a stone. There would be an end of the feather trade, he said, with the Irish and English farmer if this measure should be passed. Well, it did pass, and this year the same person, admits his error in having opposed the reduction of duty on foreign feathers. I have very recently received this statement, founded, I believe, on his own assurances:—
He therefore persevered: he removed the duty; and what has been the result? Were hundreds of thousands of silk manufacturers thrown out of employment? Have the poor rates been burdened for their subsistence? Have we been unable to compete with foreigners? In the decennial period ending in 1823, the quantity of raw and thrown silk entered for home consumption was 19,409,023 lbs. For the ten years ending 1833, immediately after the reduction of the duty 39,681,248 lbs. For the ten years ending 1843 52,007,118 lbs. The aggregate annual consumption of the successive decennial periods was For the ten years ending 1823 1,940,000 lbs. For the ten years ending 1833 3,968,124 lbs. For the ten years ending 1843 5,200,711 lbs. A further reduction of duty took place in 1842. The consumption, which for the ten years ending in 1823 was on the annual average 1,940,902 lbs. For the single year 1844 6,208,021 lbs.He has imported in one year '1845' from St. Petersburgh above 250 tons of feathers, and over 50 tons more from other places, Dantzic, Riga, Memel, and the Mediterranean; and, strange to say, so great has the demand become for feather beds, since they became cheap, that he purchased 150 tons also, in 1845, in Ireland, the growth of Ireland; and he is paying now 22s. 10d. per stone, showing an increased growth of 50 tons, and of price for the same article, while the great demand has enabled him to extend his concern and lessen his charges. He added that when provisions were cheap in Cornwall, the miners purchased a great deal of feathers.This is a small matter, but it reads us an important lesson. The cheapness of the article has multiplied the demand for it; with increased foreign import, there has been an increased demand for the domestic produce. The Cornish miners, 1041 earning high wages and buying at a low price the articles of food, apply their savings to the purchase of manufactured articles, and of that particular article which enables them to recruit by night the severe toil of the day.
This night is to decide between the policy of continued relaxation of restriction, or the return to restraint and prohibition. This night you will select the motto which is to indicate the commercial policy of England. Shall it be "advance" or "recede?" Which is the fitter motto for this great Empire? Survey our position, consider the advantage which God and nature have given us, and the destiny for which we are intended We stand on the confines of Western Europe, the chief connecting link between the old world and the new. The discoveries of science, the improvement of navigation, have brought us within ten days of St. Petersburgh, and will soon bring us within ten days of New York. We have an extent of coast greater in proportion to our population and the area of our land than any other great nation, securing to us maritime strength and superiority. Iron and coal, the sinews of manufacture, give us advantages over every rival in the great competition of industry. Our capital far exceeds that which they can command. In ingenuity—in skill—in energy—we are inferior to none. Our national character, the free institutions under which we live, the liberty of thought and action, an unshackled press, spreading the knowledge of every discovery and of every advance in science—combine with our natural and physical advantages to place us at the head of those nations which profit by the free interchange of their products. And is this the country to shrink from competition? Is this the country to adopt a retrograde policy? Is this the country which can only flourish in the sickly artificial atmosphere of prohibition? Is this the country to stand shivering on the brink of exposure to the healthful breezes of competition?
Choose your motto. "Advance" or "Recede." Many countries are watching with anxiety the selection you may make. Determine for "Advance," and it will be the watchword which will animate and encourage in every state the friends of liberal commercial policy. Sardinia has taken the lead. Naples is relaxing her protective duties and favouring British produce. Prussia is shaken in her adherence to restriction. The Government of France will be strengthened; 1042 and, backed by the intelligence of the reflecting, and by conviction of the real welfare of the great body of the community, will perhaps ultimately prevail over the self-interest of the commercial and manufacturing aristocracy which now predominates in her Chambers. Can you doubt that the United States will soon relax her hostile Tariff, and that the friends of a freer commercial intercourse — the friends of peace between the two countries—will hail with satisfaction the example of England?
This night, then—if on this night the debate shall close—you will have to decide what are the principles by which your commercial policy is to be regulated. Most earnestly, from a deep conviction, founded not upon the limited experience of three years alone, but upon the experience of the results of every relaxation of restriction and prohibition, I counsel you to set the example of liberality to other countries. Act thus, and it will be in perfect consistency with the course you have hitherto taken. Act thus, and you will provide an additional guarantee for the continued contentment, and happiness, and well-being of the great body of the people. Act thus, and you will have done whatever human sagacity can do for the promotion of commercial prosperity.
You may fail. Your precautions may be unavailing. They may give no certain assurance that mercantile and manufacturing prosperity will continue without interruption. It seems to be incident to great prosperity that there shall be a reverse—that the time of depression shall follow the season of excitement and success. That time of depression must perhaps return; and its return may be coincident with scarcity caused by unfavourable seasons. Gloomy winters, like those of 1841 and 1842, may again set in. Are those winters effaced from your memory? From mine they never can be. Surely you cannot have forgotten with what earnestness and sincerity you re-echoed the deep feelings of a gracious Queen, when at the opening and at the close of each Session, She expressed the warmest sympathy with the sufferings of Her people, and the warmest admiration of their heroic fortitude.
These sad times may recur. "The years of plenteousness may have ended," and "the years of dearth may have come;" and again you may have to offer the unavailing expressions of sympathy, and the urgent exhortations to patient resignation.
1043 Commune with your own hearts and answer me this question: will your assurances of sympathy be less consolatory—will your exhortations to patience be less impressive—if, with your willing consent, the Corn Laws shall have then ceased to exist? Will it be no satisfaction to you to reflect, that by your own act, you have been relieved from the grievous responsibility of regulating the supply of food? Will you not then cherish with delight the reflection that, in this the present hour of comparative prosperity, yielding to no clamour, impelled by no fear—except, indeed, that provident fear, which is the mother of safety—you had anticipated the evil day, and, long before its advent, had trampled on every impediment to the free circulation of the Creator's bounty?
When you are again exhorting a suffering people to fortitude under their privations, when you are telling them, "These are the chastenings of an all-wise and merciful Providence, sent for some inscrutable but just and beneficent purpose—it may be, to humble our pride, or to punish our unfaithfulness, or to impress us with the sense of our own nothingness and dependence on His mercy;" when you are thus addressing your suffering fellow subjects, and encouraging them to bear without repining the dispensations of Providence, may God grant that by your decision of this night you may have laid in store for yourselves the consolation of reflecting that such calamities are, in truth, the dispensations of Providence—that they have not been caused, they have not been aggravated by laws of man restricting, in the hour of scarcity, the supply of food!
§ Debate again adjourned.
§ House adjourned at a quarter to two o'clock.