§ On the Order of the Day for the resumption of the Adjourned Debate on the Corn Laws,
§ LORD J. MANNERS
I know, Sir, under what a disadvantage a Gentleman rises to take a part in this momentous discussion, who cannot enlist heartily under either the blue banner of my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire, or that of Her Majesty's Ministers and the hon. Member for Stockport; but who, regarding both as Englishmen, and both as really anxious to promote the best interests of the country, strives to the best of his ability to reconcile the contending forces, and to unite in one league of harmony and concord the conflicting elements of trade and agriculture. Knowing then that I cannot appeal to the excited feelings and animosities that prevail within as well as without these walls, and that my appeal must be to the calmer judgment of some less troublous time, I shall confine within the narrowest limits that which I have to say. Before entering into the main question, let me correct a misapprehension into which the noble Lord the Member for Lincolnshire fell the other night with respect to my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs: quoting an isolated passage from a speech of my hon. Friend's on the Corn Law of 1842, the noble Lord placed him in the category of Ministerial converts; but my hon. Friend's speech was altogether a free-trade speech, in which he accepted that amended Corn Law as only an "instalment of justice." Sir, I have been much struck, in approaching the consideration of the question, with the very general inclination on both sides of the House to view the problem how a country is to be supplied with food, as one exclusively of political economy. Now I entertain great doubts whether such a question should be so argued; and, without referring to those English political economists of whose opinions the House must be satiated, I will take leave to cite the language of one who in Italian literature occupies the same rank 1090 as Adam Smith occupies in English. Count Carli, the President of a Supreme Council of Public Economy at Milan towards the close of the last century, in a remarkable treatise on the Corn Law, expressly separates the question of supplying a country with food from the category of commerce; he says—The matter of corn is an affair of administration, and not of commerce, contrary to the other productions of the soil, such as wine, oil, &c.; because without these man can live, which is not the case with bread;"—and after referring to a period when England suffered much from a constant deficiency of the home harvests, he says—In these circumstances, with that wisdom which is worthy of a people free and thoughtful, the Government set about considering whence they might animate internal agriculture, and step by step diminish the need of foreign corn, in proportion as they augmented the produce of their own soil. It is sufficient for me to observe, that the material of which we are treating is an affair of administration, and not of commerce, and that no prudent Government will renounce it, because neither are the seasons always equal, nor are men always heroic.Well, then, I am justified on such authority in considering this question apart from the doctrines of political economy. I will own, Sir, without giving in my adhesion to that most melancholy theory of my noble Friend the Member for Liverpool—a theory which if carried into general practice, would place the charter of the poor man, the mitre of the prelate, and the crown of the monarch alike at the mercy of that most odious of all despotisms, the oligarchy of red tape—without acceding to that theory, I will own that when I heard nearly all the statesmen of the country had come to the conclusion that the Corn Laws should be abolished, I thought it was the duty of that great party who still believed protection to be essential to the welfare of the country, to carefully reconsider the whole subject, and, maturely weighing all the evidence that has of late years been submitted to the public, counting the cost of a protraction of the struggle, and estimating the chances of success—then, and then only, after that anxious deliberation, to come to a determinate resolution. For myself, being of opinion, on grounds with which I need not trouble the House, that the effects of a free trade in corn have been greatly exaggerated on the one side and on the other, I was prepared to consider carefully and favourably any proposition that might have been legitimately submitted to the country either by the noble Lord 1091 the Member for London, or by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, that should have for its object the settlement of this long agitated question, and the extinction of those flames of civil discord which were then, and are now, so fiercely raging. But I was persuaded then, and am so now, that any such proposition, to be permanently successful, must be made not on narrow, temporary, evanescent, self-contradictory, and suspicious grounds, but on broad general principles; not hurried as the expedient of a terrified Cabinet, through a mystified Parliament, into a premature law, but submitted to that full and free discussion, and verdict of the English people, without which I am convinced no such mighty change can be beneficial now, or satisfactory hereafter. I can easily conceive such a course being adopted; and indeed, after the speech last night of the right hon. Gentleman, were it not for the indisputable evidence of eyes and ears to the contrary, I should deny the possibility of an adverse policy being attempted. How different, Sir, would be now the position of Her Majesty's advisers; what other and far better feelings would now prevail in the various counties of England, had the right hon. Baronet opened in the autumn of 1845 the ports, and on the meeting of Parliament announced that his convictions were changed; that, to use his own metaphor, he could no longer steer the vessel the same course; and that after those measures which the exigencies of the time required had been passed, he should appeal to the people to know whether they had faith in his wisdom, skill and integrity, and would sanction his new commercial and industrial policy! I have listened Sir, to all these long debates, in order to hear what reasons could be assigned by Her Majesty's servants for pursuing an opposite course; and the main plea of the right hon. Gentleman I take to be this: "Most people," said he, "agree that, following the example of foreign countries, and the precedents of our own Parliaments, we ought, being satisfied of the reality of the danger in Ireland, to have suspended, in the autumn of 1845, the laws regulating the importation of grain." Yes, Sir, I for one, agree with the right hon. Gentleman, the ports ought then to have been opened; but what can we, what can the country think of a Government who, not doing then what it affirms it ought to have done, turns round now to its old supporters, and calls on them to remedy its own laches, 1092 by adopting a course fatal, as they believe, to the best interests of their country? Nor, Sir, will it do for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the opposition he met with from his Cabinet was so strong, that he could not carry his proposal; for there is not, I venture to say, a man in England who believes that those Members of the Cabinet who, returning to power at the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman, acceded to this far greater revolution, would have offered any very resolute or determined resistance to the minor step of opening the ports, sanctioned as it had been in the interim by the Central Protection Society of England. "But if I had done so," says the right hon. Gentlemen, "the country party would have expected a guarantee from me that I would close the ports again, and that I was not prepared to give." Now, Sir, I have not heard any one Gentleman on this side of the House say he looked for any guarantee of the sort: on the contrary, the universal language has been, let that question be left to the decision of the country; and even now, late as it is, far later than if that much-derided Protection Government had been formed at Christmas, even now, if the right hon. Baronet is really in earnest—if he believes the danger to be so imminent, the necessity so pressing, and the remedy so easy—the shortest way would be, before the end of this week, with the assent of every Gentleman in this House, to suspend the Corn Laws, open the ports, and leave it to the good sense of the English people to decide whether they should be closed again, and this Corn Law, or any other, or none at all, be adopted. But if you persevere in your present lumbering course of action, let me ask how soon do you expect to pass your measures into law, without your Committee to inquire into the burdens on land, and, for aught I know, your Committees to inquire into the operation of free trade on the Colonics and on the finances of the Empire! No, Sir, if you believe present Irish distress is to be remedied by these measures, open the ports now, and leave your great schemes to the decision of another Parliament. I trust, Sir, I have shown how unfairly the right hon. Gentleman has urged that plea; and as in urging it he taunted needlessly many Gentlemen around me, I will take leave to assure him, that so far from expecting from him a guarantee to close the ports again, I don't believe there is a man, woman, or child in England who will, for the future, ask him to guarantee the Corn Laws, or anything else. No, Sir, 1093 the right hon. Gentleman may rely on it, that those who think protection to native industry as inseparably connected with the welfare of the country as it is deeply rooted in the affections of the people, will depend for the future on the good sense, courage, and determination of the English people, not on the pledges or guarantees of statesmen and politicians. Throughout the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I have to complain of the same want of candour and fair dealing with the arguments of his opponents. Now, it is extremely pleasant at the time, though I don't think much of it, afterwards to hear the way in which the right hon. Gentleman disposes of the particular course of action, or line of argument, his opponent may chance to adopt. Thus, last night, the right hon. Gentleman said, if the hon. Member for Bristol had proposed a vote of want of confidence in Ministers, or a declaration in favour of protection; or, if in short, he had done anything except that which he had done, then the right hon. Gentleman could have understood, and perhaps have been induced to support him; and Members are rather caught by that sort of reasoning. I was myself at first; but it is my firm conviction that whatever course the hon. Gentleman had adopted, he would have been met by a similar opposition from the right hon. Gentleman. But to return to the right hon. Gentleman's main line of argument. He is horrified that the hon. Member for Bristol proposes the question shall stand over for six months: "to stand still for six months in a country like this is to retrograde." We used to hear very different language not only from right hon. Conservatives, but even from that eminent champion of progress, the noble Lord the Member for the city of London. He used to tell us that the country could not stand a yearly revolution; but now the right hon. Gentleman's specific for all the evils of the country is a revolution every half year! Truly, Sir, after such a declaration from the First Minister, I think my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne, and others who think with him that there are still institutions and things worth fighting for left in England, are justified in withholding their confidence from so revolutionary a Government. Well, Sir, I now come to the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the effect to be produced on foreign countries by this great commercial and industrial revolution. "Prussia," said he, "is shaken;" but no evidence has 1094 been submitted to us to show that Prussia is shaken: on the contrary, every public sign that Prussia has given is in the opposite direction; and I shall be very much surprised if Prussia, after the passing of these measures, does alter her present policy, for she will then have got all that she can ask or wish for from us, without making any equivalent to us. But passing from Prussia to France, the right hon. Gentleman said, that although the commercial aristocracy of France was opposed to free trade, yet intelligent public opinion was in favour of it. Let me ask, Sir, who are the leaders of this intelligent public opinion of France? I suspect Arago, and Thiers, and Berryer, and Louis Blanc, are the leaders of that public opinion; and so far from being advocates of free trade, they are strenuous maintainers of protection to French industry. I come now, Sir, to the main plea on which this Parliament is asked to consent to these sweeping changes—the failure of the Irish potato crop. Of that failure, and the probable results, more especially after the statements we have lately been listening to of the hon. and learned Member for the county of Cork, I wish to speak in deep sympathy; perhaps I cannot evince that sympathy better than by not needlessly parading it. But, Sir, I must be allowed to say that when the right hon. Gentleman argues from the failure of the Irish potato crop, in the autumn of 1845, to a total repeal of the Corn Laws in 1849, my reason is not so much convinced as my sympathy is affected. The right hon. Gentleman inaugurated with solemn and melancholy pomp the laying of that great corner-stone on which the now social edifice of free trade was to be raised; but the very first stroke of the argumentative trowel he applied to it, shivered that stone to pieces, and now it lies there a shapeless mass of jarring and self-contradictory atoms; for the right hon. Gentleman himself told us that he did not expect his measures would reduce the price of agricultural produce; and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War, improving on that text, delivered a most eloquent homily to show that not only prices could not fall, but that there were no foreign provisions that could come in. Well, then, Sir, if this be so, how can present Irish distress be remedied by these measures? I say, therefore, that apart from the merits of free trade or protection, no case has been made out by Her Majesty's servants for proposing to this Parliament a total repeal of the Corn Laws; and I am 1095 consequently justified in voting with my noble Friend the Member for Salop (Lord Clive) in favour of an appeal to the country; nor am I answered if told that I can appeal to my own constituents, for it is not an appeal to the electors of Newark alone that I seek for, but an appeal to all the constituencies of England. But now, Sir, let me say that I do not regard the proposal of the Minister as the best that could be made. I concur in many of the objections that have been urged against it. It is not a fair measure—it is not a free-trade measure—it is hardly a measure of free imports; it leaves on the one hand a 10 per cent. protection on manufactures; and a burden of 5,000,000l. in the shape of a Malt Tax, and a prohibition of the cultivation of tobacco, on the other. It is of course in vain for a person in my position to offer any opinion to the country on so great a question; but I am anxious to leave on record what that opinion is, and I think that a scheme which would admit the produce of our own Colonies and Indian corn duty free, and foreign grain at a moderate fixed duty, would place the corn trade on a basis satisfactory to the great mercantile interests of this country, would bind the various Members of our vast colonial empire by the closest ties of common interest to the mother country, and afford to the English farmer a fair security against the undue competition of his foreign competitor. Were this, Sir, my opinion alone, it would be worthless; but it is the opinion of many able and experienced men in the city of London and in Manchester; and I entreat the attention of the House to the following extract from the last circular of Messrs. Ferguson and Taylor, of Manchester:—We are not," say they, "insensible to the advantages of providing the benefit of cheap food for the population of these countries; and we think the safest means of doing this, is by affording every facility for developing the resources of our soil, and making its yield abundant by the encouragement of those engaged in its cultivation. A low fixed duty of about 5s. or 6s. would uphold British agriculture, whilst the protection would not be so great as to place the native corngrower beyond the risk of competion.Non meus hic sermo: this is not the language of the Central Protection Society, nor of any of the old-fashioned supporters of the landed interest; it comes from those most deeply interested in the welfare of Manchester and English manufactures; and I say that opinions and authorities such as these cannot be pooh poohed away in a single sentence, or got rid of by a con- 1096 temptuous sneer; and, with all respect for the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary it will not now do for him to say that a fixed duty cannot now be thought of because some time ago he said he never would vote for a revenue duty on corn. Entertaining, then, these opinions, not fearing free trade, and hoping that a future Parliament may sanction some such scheme as that I have presumed to sketch, I yet deprecate any rash and hasty interference with that system of protection under which trade and manufactures have risen to so marvellous a prosperity—under which agriculture has made such gigantic strides—and above all do I deprecate this House, at the dictation of the right hon. Baronet, so acting as to alienate from itself, and from those rulers whose edicts it seems prepared to register, the sympathies, the affections, and the confidence of that great rural population to which, in times of danger and distress, the Sovereigns of England have ever been wont to look—nor look in vain—for ready obedience to the laws, dauntless courage, and unswerving fidelity. For these reasons, while I neither fear nor hope much from a free trade in corn; while I am anxious to see a settlement of this great and long-agitated question—but in a manner satisfactory and honourable to all classes—I shall give a most hearty vote in favour of an appeal to the country; and oppose a resolute, though it may be an ineffectual, negative to the proposition that this House of Commons do resolve itself into a Committee for the purpose of considering the Corn Laws, with a view to their repeal.
§ CAPTAIN LAYARD
observed, that whatever might be the opinion formed by some hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, concerning the great question proposed to their consideration by the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, looking upon it, as he did, as a question of vital importance—as a question by which the great principles of free trade were at once to be established; or, should the measure be rejected, for some time delayed (for he was one of those who never had the smallest doubt that free trade must ultimately succeed), it was his intention to give his warmest support to this great and beneficial measure; and he earnestly trusted that hon. Gentlemen would well and deeply consider the fearful responsibility that would attach to them if they any longer banded themselves together, and, under the cry of protection to native industry, tried to main- 1097 tain a monopoly, which was nothing more nor less than a restriction on the food of the people. No cause that had ever been brought before Parliament had progressed so rapidly as that of free trade within the last few months. Those who had been the most skilful and strenuous defenders of monopoly had thrown down their arms, and said they could no longer defend so weak and hollow a cause; and what argument had the protectionists brought forward that had not been refuted over and over again? They had stated that a quantity of land would get out of cultivation; but let them remember the meeting at Goatacre, among the Wiltshire labourers, where the protectionists petitioned against protection, and where it was stated that when the labourer requested to be allowed to rent patches of ground, he was told by the farmer he must pay 8l. for that for which the farmer paid but 2l. For his part he believed that with such an increasing population—that with such an impetus as would be given to trade were this measure carried — that so far from any land going out of cultivation, in places where now there was only a wilderness and a game preserve, we should shortly see extensive and flourishing gardens. In every experiment made by the right hon. Baronet, approaching free trade, he had been eminently successful; and the last alteration in the Tariff had more than realized his most sanguine hopes. What was the use of experience? Were they to shut their eyes to it? Were they to be for ever blind? However that might be the case with some Gentlemen, he believed a far different feeling began to pervade the country, and he believed a better proof could not be adduced to support the truth of the assertion, than the wise, the judicious choice made the other day by the West Riding of Yorkshire; a choice, in his mind, equally honourable to the electors and the elected. What could be a more ample proof of the alteration which had come over the feelings of the people, than that a few years ago the noble Lord was beaten because he was not a sufficient protectionist, and now he stood in the proud position of their Representative as a free trader; or the course about to be taken by the noble Lords on the other side of the House? He alluded to the noble Lord (Viscount Sandon) the Member for Liverpool, and the noble Lord the Member for Newark. The first noble Lord made a speech in favour of protection, which was claimed, and justly so, by the hon. Ba- 1098 ronet the Member for Oxford. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War had also put in his claim; but, in his opinion, it was about as just a one as the American claim to Oregon, and seemed to show that right hon. Gentleman to be of a very avaricious disposition, as the noble Lord had, in the division he had made of himself, given his old friends (the Government) what they, no doubt, considered upon this occasion the better half—namely, his vote. Now, the line thus pursued by the noble Lord put him in mind of a circumstance that happened a few years ago. A person at Huntingdon having given a vote to a successful candidate, the Member, from those pure motives of gratitude which actuated so many politicians, procured for the man the place of chorister at Canterbury. But when he was required to perform the duties, he was found to have no voice at all. Some one, patronised by the genius of poetry, though in a very inferior degree to the hon. Member for Pomfret, put the story into rhyme, and it ran thus:—A singing man and cannot sing!No need to thank your patron's bounty:Excuse me, sir, if I can't sing,My voice is in another county.So it was with the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool, who had made a right good speech for protection, as far as was possible in such a cause; but his voice, like the chorister's, was in a different direction. Then the noble Lord the Member for Newark wrote a letter to his constituents, and said, if ever he was returned again, he would not vote in favour of protection. What the noble Lord would now do it was impossible to say. He defied any Member who had listened to the noble Lord's speech to say what the noble Lord's actual views on the question now were. He could not help thinking it would have been just as well if the two noble Lords had paired off and said nothing at all on the matter. When he heard the right hon. Gentleman, then Secretary at War, state in his free-trade speech—which he congratulated him upon—when he said in that speech that the Corn Law of 1815 was, in his mind, a great mistake, he agreed with him in that opinion; nay, for his part, he went further, and not only thought it a great mistake, but a great crime. By that mistake or crime, whichever they chose to call it, commerce had been crippled, agriculture had been injured, crime and misery had increased. It had given rise to difference of feeling greatly to be deplored. But like other crimes, it had 1099 brought its own punishment. It had for years kept the agriculturists in hot water and uncertainty; and at last received its just retribution and condemnation by the very hand that millions had been spent to raise in its defence. They were told by the protectionists, that it was by this law that great and glorious England had taken her stand as one of the greatest nations of the earth. But what a fallacy! He would give them an illustration. He supposed no one, either in the House or out of it, would doubt for a moment that the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government was a free trader. Now, did any one suppose for a moment, that because the right hon. Gentleman had lived with the protectionist party, had spoken with them, and had acted with them, that that was the reason he was a free trader? Certainly not. Those had been his hindrances—in spite of all these he was a free trader, from honest and sincere conviction. And who could doubt that he would have been a free trader long ago, if it had not been for these unhappy connexions? So it was with England. It was not on account of these Corn Laws she had become great and glorious, but in spite of them; and she would no doubt have arrived at a higher pitch of grandeur if she had not suffered from the ill effects of these baneful laws. He could not help expressing his surprise (though certainly there were times when a wise man ought to be surprised at nothing), though on the last occasion that he (Captain Layard) had the honour of addressing the House upon this subject, he had foretold that the hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, and the present Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Gladstone) would become ere long free traders. He was delighted to find that his prediction had been correct, though at that time he was not sanguine enough to hope that the change would have been made so quickly and completely. But he congratulated them on having acted in a manner worthy of the high station in which their talents had placed them. They had been undismayed by the thunders of the Caucasus, unscared by the virulent attack of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury; though, indeed, they were manifestly guilty of the charge brought against them by that Gentleman—the charge of sacrificing that which was supposed to be the benefit of their party, to the welfare and happiness of their country. They had been told by the hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Newcastle-under-Lyme, that rotten potatoes 1100 had given rise to rotten argument—that the fear of scarcity had been exaggerated; but the deplorable accounts received from Ireland, unhappily, too surely proved that the prudent measures taken by the Government were only those which were absolutely necessary; and he, for one, believed most men would agree with him in thinking that those who prepared for a scarcity acted more wisely, ay, and more conscientiously, than those who, with the fact staring them in the face, of the fearful loss which had happened to the potato crop, endeavoured to argue that no scarcity need be feared at all. In that able pamphlet entitled "An Attempt to estimate the Effect of Protecting Duties on the Profits of Agriculture," by Mr. Morton and Mr. Trimmer, it was proved to demonstration that the tenant-farmer and the agricultural labourer were considerable losers by this so-called "protection." By that pamphlet the truth was proved of the declaration of the hon. Member for Stockport, Mr. Cobden, that the system of protecting duties was a system of mutual plunder between the growers of the different descriptions of agricultural produce. He would have been delighted had the right hon. Baronet proposed to do away at once with all duty upon the importation of corn, because he believed the only real danger attending the agriculturists was the uncertainty with which they had to contend at present, and which must continue for the ensuing three years—an uncertainty which prevented that self-reliance, that outlay of capital and industry, which could alone raise them to that independence which they ought to aspire to, but which was unattainable as long as they relied on artificial prices and a bolstering system. He, for one, had the greatest reliance on the ability and judgment of the noble Lord the Member for London; that reliance was, if possible, increased when the noble Lord made the assertion, which to him seemed so wise, but to many so startling, that protection was the bane of agriculture. For his part, he looked on this measure as a great and beneficial one—one not only advantageous to this country, but which set a bright example to the world at large, and an example worthy of all imitation. He would vote for this measure, believing that it would prove one great link to assist in binding together the nations of the earth in unity and peace.
§ MR. R. PALMER
rose for the purpose of expressing the opinions of the constituency he had the honour to represent, and with whom he entirely concurred on this 1101 question. His constituents were awaiting with the most intense anxiety the result of their deliberations, believing that upon it would depend either their future prosperity or permanent distress. It was, however, unnecessary for him to state the feeling of the public on this subject; since a number of meetings had been held in various parts of the country since these measures had been announced, and, almost without exception, they had been unanimous in condemning the measure. Persons connected with the agricultural interest had never calculated that the right hon. Baronet, so long the advocate of protection, would, almost at a moment's notice, have turned round and advocated a precisely contrary course. He thought they were justified in that opinion by the speeches the right hon. Baronet had delivered in that House. He was not going to quote Hansard at any length, yet he thought he should be justified in referring to a speech delivered by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) in 1844, on a Motion by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers). The right hon. Baronet then said—I think the agriculture of this country is entitled to protection, and that it is so entitled to protection from considerations of justice as well as policy. I do consider that there are special and peculiar burdens on agriculture. I do believe that that portion of the Act which imposes burdens for the relief of the poor, and subjects the profits of trade to those burdens, as well as the profits of agriculture, has not, so far as the profits on trade are concerned, been acted on, whilst it has been acted on with respect to the profits on agriculture. I say, on that ground, that I think there are special burdens applicable to agriculture. I think also that there are restrictions on the application of capital as concerns agriculture. I think, therefore, that considerations of justice do entitle agriculture to protection. I think that considerations of policy, so far as the general interest of all classes is concerned, justify this protection.And the right hon. Baronet concluded his speech on that occasion by saying—I repeat the declaration I made at the commencement of the Session on the part of the Government, that we do not intend, and have not intended, to diminish the protection which the existing Corn Laws give to agriculture.It was on a statement of this kind that the country had placed reliance; and nothing could have caused more surprise than the recent change of opinions avowed by the right hon. Baronet. He had been present at several meetings in the county he represented, and he must say he never saw such unanimity of feeling in his life. Neither was it confined to the cultivators of the land; for many respectable tradesmen he 1102 had conversed with were all convinced of the alarming consequences which would ensue from these measures. The question was universally asked in the country, what grounds are there for these great changes? He had listened with the greatest possible attention to the greater part of the debate, and especially to the eloquent speech of the right hon. Gentleman last evening; but he had not heard any one substantial reason—nor, indeed, was there any reason brought prominently forward, either by the right hon. Baronet or the Secretary for the Home Department, or the Secretary at War, except the failure of the potato crop in Ireland. Now, he heard with great regret the statements made on this subject last night by the right hon. Baronet. But the question which naturally arose on hearing them was this—whether the measure the right hon. Baronet now proposed could by possibility remedy that particular evil? He could perfectly understand, that if the right hon. Baronet had proposed to open the ports for a time, it might be the means of giving greater facilities for the purchase of food to relieve a starving population; but it did not appear to him that opening the ports, whether temporarily or permanently, could have any effect, unless the unfortunate individuals who were the subjects of that calamity had the wherewithal to purchase corn? The right hon. Baronet said that he had proposed to the Cabinet to open the ports at once, but that they rejected that suggestion. Now, he, for one, did not think that in such a measure there would have been much difficulty. He thought the right hon. Baronet might have taken upon himself the responsibility of suspending the law, and opening the ports for a time: for he, for one, after hearing the statements of the right hon. Baronet respecting the distress in consequence of the failure of the potato crop, would never, for a moment, have objected to any Bill of Indemnity which it might have been necessary to bring in in consequence of such a measure. He did not believe that any persons, however they might advocate the existing law, would oppose any Government which considered it absolutely necessary, for the security of any part of Her Majesty's subjects, that such a temporary suspension of the law should be adopted. But the right hon. Baronet argued that, in his opinion, it was impossible to open the ports as a temporary measure, without involving the reconsideration and repeal of the Corn Law itself. He was not sufficiently versed in 1103 political affairs to say whether that was a correct opinion or not; but he did not see that the one was at all the necessary consequence of the other. The right hon. Baronet alluded last night to several occasions on which the Corn Law had been temporarily suspended by Orders in Council. He recollected also that in August, 1827, Mr. Canning obtained an Order in Council for the admission of 500,000 quarters of corn, in consequence of the rise in price occasioned by a deficient harvest. No doubt, in so doing, Mr. Canning did right; and he recollected that a Bill of Indemnity was passed in the next Parliament. But Mr. Canning, having done this, never thought of coming to that House and saying the Corn Law itself must be abandoned. Nor could he see, at the present moment, any good reason why, if the temporary suspension of the law had been again adopted to meet this temporary difficulty, the law might not again have come into operation. It would require no Act of Parliament to bring back the law into operation; for it would come into operation of its own accord when the necessity for its suspension had ceased. A great deal had been said as to protection, not alone to agriculture, but also to all other products of native industry; but he should confine himself to the protection afforded to agriculture. That had been abandoned by Her Majesty's Government, who stated that they had good reasons for changing their mind on the subject, though they had not adduced any satisfactory reason to him for its abandonment. Protection to agriculture was, however, no new part of the political wisdom of this country; it had been the policy of England for centuries. In Lord Campbell's "Lives of the Chancellors," reference was made to it in the first year of the reign of Henry VII.; when the Lord Chancellor of the day, Morton, the ancestor of a noble Lord connected with the Anti-Corn-Law League, addressing Parliament, which was then the practice, instead of a Speech from the Throne as at present, cautioned the people of this country against allowing British gold to be sent out of the country for the purchase of foreign produce. That was the earliest instance of protection he had seen recorded; but he believed that it had existed from a period still earlier in the history of this country. The hon. Member for Sheffield had quoted Mr. Huskisson on a former evening in support of free trade in corn; but he remembered that right hon. Gentleman's speech on the silk trade, in 1104 which the principle of free trade was enunciated, as well as another speech in which a contrary principle was maintained on the subject of corn. And whatever Mr. Huskisson's opinions might be on other points, one thing was clear, if his own words were to be trusted—namely, that he was in favour of protection to agriculture. These were the words of Mr. Huskisson on that subject:—Let bread," he said, "be the produce of your own soil. I care not how cheap it is; it is cheap now; and the cheaper it is the better. But let us have a sufficiency of our own growth for our own purposes, as far as possible. And, in order that we may ensure the continuance of that cheapness and sufficiency, we must ensure to the home grower that protection which has contributed to produce them.That was high authority; and he (Mr. Palmer) fully concurred in the views of that right hon. Gentleman, because he had never seen any reason to suppose them erroneous. The noble Lord the Member for London had held equally strong language in favour of protection in former days. The noble Lord had since changed his mind on that point; but he only wished to show how the principle of protection had been at all times maintained by men of the greatest ability in that House; and that, therefore, those who clung to it still had, at least, high authority for so doing. A good deal had also been said on the subject of compensation to the landed interest. He (Mr. Palmer) had never contemplated compensation; and in his opinion, it was not an argument which ought to be put forward in a debate upon the principle of protection. The principle of protection was either right or wrong: if it was right, it ought to be maintained at every hazard; if it was, on the contrary, wrong, and unjust, and unfair, then those who enjoyed it had no right to ask for compensation on its removal. But as the right hon. Baronet had alluded to it in his speech, or, more properly speaking, as he had referred to the equivalent advantages which his proposition would confer upon the agriculturist, as a counterbalance to the removal of protection, he could only say that, as far as he was able to collect them, the opinions of all those whom he had consulted on the subject, or conversed with, were opposed to the plans of the right hon. Baronet, which they considered in the light of so much waste paper, and as forming no equivalent whatever for the direct loss they would sustain. The right hon. Baronet had stated that the effects of the former alterations made by 1105 him in the Corn Law and in the Tariff of duty on provisions, had been productive of no injury, but, on the contrary, had been productive of great benefit to all parties; and the right hon. Baronet had instanced the great rise that had taken place in the prices of cattle, of meat, and of other commodities, as a proof of that position, notwithstanding the anticipations of many to the contrary. The hon. Member for Somerset, however, had stated many reasons why that rise in prices should have occurred, and therefore he should not touch on that part of the subject; but he certainly did think that the right hon. Baronet could not take credit for that rise on the ground of removing protection, because when the right hon. Baronet had introduced the Tariff, he stated it to be for the express purpose of reducing prices. The alterations, therefore, made by the right hon. Gentleman would appear to have been of no great advantage to the farmer or to the consumer. But, even admitting that the facts were as the right hon. Baronet inferred, and that the circumstances had actually occurred which he took credit for, did not that furnish an exceedingly good and sufficient argument for leaving things alone, and not meddling with them any further? He believed that the constant meddling with the Corn Law had caused more difficulty and distress to the agricultural party than any badness of seasons or other circumstance whatever. After the alterations of 1842, the farmer had just now begun to recover strength; he was getting remunerating prices for his produce; the labourers were better paid; and a general prosperity commenced to prevail in the country. But the right hon. Baronet, by the proposition he had made, had done much to turn the scale the other way, and reverse the balance. The effect of the agitation which had succeeded upon the question raised by his proposition, was a complete stagnation in the market for agricultural produce. No miller bought now, except for present purposes, as it were "from hand to mouth." No business had been done in the market of the county which he represented, the market of Reading, since the period of the proposition of the right hon. Baronet; and though prices, perhaps, were quoted as high as on any previous occasion, and though it might be, also, that a few parcels of very good wheat were sold at these prices, still there was no actual dealing, no actual sales, in the great majority of instances. That stagnation was a 1106 most material disadvantage to the farmer, especially at this time of the year; and it created a difficulty in making up his rent, fully equal to a difference of 7s. or 8s. a quarter in the price of his produce. The time, as well as the circumstances, were each most unfortunate for the farmer in regard to the plan of the right hon. Baronet. It had been said by the noble Lord, whose sentiments had been quoted by the last speaker on the subject, that protection was the bane of agriculture; but he (Mr Palmer) would put it to any person acquainted with the face of the country during the last twenty years, whether a more scientific system of cultivation did not now prevail in all places; whether more capital was not employed upon land; and whether the produce was not much greater now than at that period? Yet all this had occurred under what the noble Lord had termed "the bane of agriculture"—a system of protection. He (Mr. Palmer) believed protection not to be the bane of agriculture, but the contrary; for it was his opinion that the farmers were induced to lay out their capital upon the land on the strength of the home market being ensured to them, a consequence of protection—an argument which had been often used in that House; and he liked it none the worse for being old, although old arguments as well as old principles were now going fast out of fashion—that argument was, that protection to British agriculture was given with the view to make this country independent, as far as it could possibly be made, of the foreign supply. This argument had been supported with great ability in that House upon several occasions by various hon. Members, but by no hon. Member with greater ability than by the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary. These were the sentiments of the right hon. Baronet expressed upon that occasion:—It appeared to him that for a State of the power and the magnitude of Great Britain, deliberately and voluntarily to place itself in a state of dependence on foreign Powers for its daily food, was the most foolish thing that could be imagined. It was like placing the country in a state of siege—all the supplies were to be drawn from without, and if they were stopped there would be a state of dearth which would lead to absolute desperation, and there would be this destruction if our supplies could be cut off by any foreign Power. If we placed ourselves in that position, there were enemies so jealous of us, that they would readily cut off the supplies, and reduce us to the greatest extremity; and when he heard such a proposition pressed, he could but consider it most dangerous and most unwise. After all, it was not in the power of any human legislation to prevent occa- 1107 sionally a deficient harvest. Neither was it possible for any legislation to prevent a deficient harvest from being a national calamity.That was the opinion of the right hon. Baronet in 1839; and the opinions of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government were analogous, as expressed on the same occasion. In that debate the right hon. Baronet spoke as follows:—Now, if you are right in maintaining that the shores of the Baltic will afford our chief supply, and if in reliance on that supply we diminish materially the production of corn at home, the misfortune of a generally deficient harvest may involve us in the greatest peril. In ordinary seasons we may safely trust to a regular supply from abroad, and the discouragement of home production may not be seriously felt; but if the common calamity should arrive (and Mr. Tooke and the highest authorities show that it ought to be foreseen), then we may have cause bitterly to repent our loss of independence, and to find that the encouragement we gave to home production, by restrictive duties, was a provident insurance against the dangers of famine.These were no small authorities in support of that view of the case; and he should leave them to the House to weigh at their leisure. A good deal had been said in the course of the debate about the question under discussion being a labourers' question and a landlords' question. The strongest proof, however, that it was not altogether a landlords' question was furnished by the manner in which it had been taken up by the tenant-farmers at the meetings which had taken place in all parts of the country. Go where one would, very few of the landlords were to be found at these meetings; they were all, or mostly all, composed of tenant-farmers. The tenant-fanners felt that their interests were materially involved in the question at issue, and therefore they displayed unwonted activity. The landlord was, in most cases, an opulent man, to whom it was not perhaps important if his rental was reduced some 20 or 25 per cent.; but the tenant-farmer had invested all his capital in his farm; every thing he had in the world was at stake; and consequently he felt himself to be in a very different position. And when people said that the landlord had but to reduce the rent to place the tenant in a safe position, they spoke without a knowledge of the real facts of the case in question, as regarded the farmer. Rent, in point of fact, was by no means the heaviest charge upon the land of the tenant. Ten shillings a quarter difference in the price of corn would not make more than half the difference in the amount of rent. An intelligent tenant-farmer had informed him, that if wheat 1108 was reduced 10s. below an average of 54s., it would make to him half the difference of the rent he paid his landlord; and he had argued, therefore, that the question was one of vital importance to him. If the price of corn was low, because of the largeness of the produce, no man could reasonably complain; but when the remunerative price of that article was beaten down still lower by foreign competition, then indeed he considered that the farmer had a good right to complain of the system which led to such ruinous results. With respect to the question being a labourers' question, it was a common observation, that it was to the advantage of the labourer to have bread as cheap as possible. That sounded well, no doubt, and it was true in fact, so far as fixed incomes were concerned. To the man with a fixed income it was most desirable that bread and meat, and every other article of consumption, should be obtained at as cheap a rate as possible; but that rule did not apply to the daily labourer, who had to subsist upon the wages he earned from day to day. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, and the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, had both come to the conclusion that the wages of labour were not dependent upon the prices of provisions; and he did not deny that to a certain extent they were right; that the price of wages and the price of provisions did not rise and fall like alternate buckets in a well. He said, however, that in the agricultural districts the price of corn was the basis on which wages were founded. When there was a considerable addition to the price of corn, there was always a rise in wages, and when there was a great fall in the price of corn, wages, in like manner, fell. When farmers were unable to get good prices, and when matters went unfavourably for them, he had always found that the labourers were the worst off. He recollected when corn was much lower than at present—in 1822, and again in 1835, which was a remarkably low year—that there was the greatest distress among the labouring classes, because the farmers were unable to obtain remunerating prices for their produce. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department did not always entertain the same opinion on this subject which he now professed. He did not find fault with him for the change; but he wished to quote the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman in 1839 on this question. At that time, in addressing, he presumed, the ad- 1109 vocates of a repeal of the Corn Laws, the right hon. Baronet said—If they desired a low price of corn, let them declare their intention, and he would tell them that their object was to reduce the rate of wages; for low wages would certainly be the result of the low price of corn.That was the right hon. Baronet's opinion in 1839, on this subject, and, as it would appear, in direct opposition to the sentiments which the right hon. Baronet appeared now to entertain. He was aware that the whole subject had been so long, so ably, and so successfully debated, that he had to apologize for trespassing on the attention of the House at such length. He was not one of those who would cast blame or throw any imputation on any man or set of gentlemen who, on a great political question, should find it necessary to change their opinions; but when he saw a statesman like the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, who was certainly no novice in the conduct of public affairs, and who must have made such subjects the study of his life—when he saw a Gentleman of such ability and experience throw overboard all his former arguments, and abandon all his former principles—when he heard him admit that all his former views, founded on some experience, were erroneous—and when he heard the complimentary language which he used towards the heads of the party that went by the name of the Anti-Corn-Law League—when he recollected all this, however he might admire the boldness of the Minister, it was not surprising if his confidence in him as a statesman was very materially shaken. For his own part, entertaining a strong opinion on the expediency of protection, not alone to agriculture, but also to other branches of native industry, and seeing no sufficient reasons for the contemplated change, the right hon. Baronet would excuse him if he declined following him into the path through which he would wish to lead them. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War told them the other night that this was a fine opportunity for the display of their honour and disinterestedness; but he for one could not see how he was to maintain his honour at the expense of his political honesty. He had never given any pledge, and had never been asked for one, but still he thought there was an implied agreement between him and his constituents that he would endeavour to maintain the protection for which he had hitherto struggled; and, 1110 therefore, so long as he had the honour of having a seat in that House, it should never be said that he had betrayed the trust that had been reposed in him, or the interests that had been committed to his charge.
§ SIR C. NAPIER
had hoped that after the able, brilliant, heart-stirring, and unanswerable speech of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, the hon. Members opposite would have allowed the debate to come to a conclusion that evening. He feared, however, from what had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for Newark, that if it was still the intention of hon. Members to proceed with that debate, they would no doubt, follow out the same course of invective in which they had hitherto indulged against the right hon. Baronet, in the vain hope of inducing the right hon. Baronet to alter his mind, and adopt another course. He was glad that the hon. Gentleman who had last addressed the House, had not spoken in the same bitter tone of feeling as the other hon. Members who had spoken on the same side. The great complaint that hon. Gentlemen had made against the right hon. Baronet was, that he had proposed a new Corn Law in consequence of the state of the potato crop in Ireland, and the depression and distress which were soon to follow it. But he did not see why the right hon. Baronet was to be blamed alone. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Home Department had changed his mind as well as the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War had followed in their wake; and he believed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was of the same opinion as the right hon. Baronets. The rest of the Cabinet had also followed the right hon. Baronet in adopting the just and popular view which he had taken. Why, then, was the censure of hon. Gentlemen reserved for the right hon. Baronet? He wondered that they had not blamed hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, who, having formerly been advocates for a fixed duty, now agreed in opinion with the noble Lord the Member for London, and thought that the time was come for a total repeal of the Corn Laws. He was surprised that this change had called forth no expressions of astonishment or indignation from those hon. Gentlemen who ploughed with the same horses which they had yoked together twenty or thirty years ago. Had not the right hon. Baronet told the House over and over again, that on the 1st of November he proposed 1111 to his Colleagues to open the ports, and that he was only supported by three of his Colleagues? The right hon. Baronet, seeing that his Colleagues would not agree with him, gave his resignation into Her Majesty's hands. The noble Lord the Member for London then attempted to form an Administration, but failed in the attempt; and he (Sir C. Napier) for one rejoiced that the noble Lord did fail, because when he saw the numbers who had deserted the standard of the right hon. Baronet, he could not but think that the hostile array presented on the other side of the House, would have been much more formidable than it was now likely to prove. The noble Lord the Member for Newark had asked why the right hon. Baronet did not now open the ports? The noble Lord blamed the right hon. Baronet for not opening the ports, because in November he had expressed his opinion of the necessity for opening them; but he (Sir Charles Napier) believed that if the right hon. Baronet had proposed to open them now, hon. Members opposite would have opposed the project just as much as they did the present measure. He thought that the right hon. Baronet was perfectly correct when he wished to open them. Hon. Members opposite now told the right hon. Baronet that they would much rather have an immediate repeal of the Corn Laws than a repeal at the end of three years; but he (Sir C. Napier) was not going to fall into that trap. He believed that the right hon. Baronet had gone just as far as he could go. Hon. Gentlemen opposite hoped, by inducing the right hon. Baronet to agree to this alteration, that the measure would be defeated in the House of Lords; but he trusted that it was a settled thing on that (the Opposition) side of the House, that they would not take the bait which hon. Gentlemen were so ready to offer them. The noble Lord the Member for Newark had said that there ought to be an appeal to the country on this question. But was this the time, when Ireland was in a state of starvation—and hon. Gentlemen must know that Ireland was in a state of starvation when they did not contradict what the right hon. Baronet said on the subject—to make matters still worse than they were by an appeal to the country? The noble Lord was the most extraordinary man whom he had ever heard speak on this subject. He changed his arguments constantly. The noble Lord, who had always, he believed, been a sliding-scale nobleman was now ready, it seemed, to accept a fixed 1112 duty. The noble Lord had changed his mind, just as the right hon. Baronet had changed his, with this difference, however, that the right hon. Baronet changed his because he was convinced that he had been wrong; while the noble Lord changed his in order to keep up his rents. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not like to hear the truth; but he would tell them very plainly what his opinion was on the subject, namely, that if they did not think their rents would fall in consequence of the measure, there would be no opposition to it. ["No, No."] He knew that plain speaking was not in fashion in that House; but he must remind hon. Members that when interest swayed the human heart the mental vision was not always perfectly clear. The right hon. Baronet had adverted to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. S. O'Brien), in relating a conversation which bad taken place between the hon. Member and his good friend the tenant-farmer. Now he (Sir C. Napier) would take the liberty of giving a little advice to the hon. Members opposite. He would recommend them, instead of making long speeches, to grant long leases to their tenants, and then they would gain much more than they would get by protracting this debate. Let them go to Scotland, and see how the land was farmed there. That country had an adverse climate, three weeks behind that of England, yet let Members look at the manner in which turnips were cultivated—let them look at the mode in which wheat was drilled, and the crops were thrashed out by machinery, instead of employing men and horses. If they would imitate the example of Scotland, England would become an exporting instead of an importing country. "It may seem, Sir," said the hon. and gallant Officer, "very ridiculous in a sailor like me to give advice to hon. Gentlemen opposite, on the subject of agriculture; but I myself am a farmer. True, I am not a farmer of very long standing, having only been a farmer four years. Four years ago I took a farm of forty acres. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but what is good for forty acres, is good for four hundred. I took, I say, a farm of forty acres, and I wish I could have afforded to have taken more land. The land was very bad; what is called in Hampshire 'forest land,' which had been under the plough fourteen or fifteen years. The land was very foul, and those who had it before me used to plough it with four horses, and two or three men conducting them. As might be expected, they lost 1113 money by farming it. One man gave it up; another took it; no one could do anything with it, and they all went away ruined. I hope I am not fatiguing the House. I began farming much in the same way as my predecessors had done, and the consequence was that in the first year I lost 200l. Sir, I began to think this was very bad farming. I looked about me, and I saw a poor man, a neighbour of mine, who had a piece of land of ten acres, who had always good crops, and who contrived to keep his land dry. I went to him and said, 'Well, old boy, how is it that you, who have no capital at all, you, who have only a little pony, your wife, and yourself, manage to have such good crops as you do?' In reply to my question he said, 'If you will follow my advice you will have good crops too. Cleanse your ditches, level your banks, and drain your land well.' I acted under his directions in managing my land; and the next year, in place of four or five quarters of oats, which was the utmost which the land had ever borne before, I had eleven quarters of oats to the acre. I went on under his advice; and now, instead of the land belonging to me lying fallow during the winter, as is the case with nearly all my neighbours, all my land, with the exception of three acres, has crops upon it. If hon. Gentlemen will do the same as I have done, they will, I doubt not, succeed equally well. Mr. Speaker," continued the hon. and gallant Member, "I have taken up arguments different from those used by others, because the question before the House was so completely worn out, that I thought it necessary to get up something fresh, and to enlighten the agricultural mind."
§ MR. SHAW
said, that unaffectedly, if he were to consult only his own feelings, he would much rather have taken no part in that debate. In every view that he could regard the subject to which it related, and the circumstances under which it had been brought forward, they were painful and repulsive—they brought personal friendships and party predilections into direct collision with public duty, and left him but the alternative of perfect silence, or a condemnation of those men, whom, for the sixteen years that he had then been in public life, he had followed and esteemed. The conviction, however, that not only the measure itself, but, above all, the means by which it was about to be carried, would more injuriously affect Ireland than any part of the United Kingdom—as well as the pecu- 1114 liar course the debate had taken, constrained him to trespass for a short time upon the attention of the House. The hon. and gallant Member (Sir C. Napier) would excuse him for not thinking it necessary to attempt an answer to the gallant Officer's speech. With few exceptions, the discussion had been kept up on that side of the House, between the former supporters of the Government and the Members of the Government, aided by the select number of independent men who, "few and far between"—had risen to say they would vote for the Government, while generally they had made their speeches against them. Amongst those, indeed, throughout the whole debate, there had been no speech with the reasoning of which he more entirely concurred, than that of his noble Friend the Member for Liverpool. His noble Friend described the course taken by the Government as unwise, impolitic, and unjust; and the reasons which they had adduced to sustain their sudden change of opinion as inconclusive and unsatisfactory; and although his noble Friend expressed a strong hope, in which he cordially joined, that if the measure did pass, it would disappoint both the hopes and the fears that were then entertained respecting it—yet his noble friend regarded it as a most perilous and uncalled-for experiment. He only regretted that his noble Friend and he had come to different conclusions with respect to their votes. And when the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) alluded to Lord Ashley and those other hon. Members who had resigned their seats, rather than repudiate their implied engagements to their constituents, the right hon. Baronet had no right to claim them as approving of the course he (Sir R. Peel) had taken; but, like his noble Friend (Lord Sandon), they probably considered that when the leader of the Conservative party had taken that course, and proposed a sweeping measure of free trade, that that was entirely a new element in the question—that it rendered the result inevitable—and that a protracted contest would be injurious to all parties. That, more or less, every thinking man must admit. But, with all the esteem which he sincerely entertained for his noble Friend and those honourable men, he felt it to be the duty of every independent Member of that House to oppose what he thought wrong, and support what was in itself right, irrespective of the acts of others, and of consequences for which he could not fairly be held responsible. True it was that they must 1115 reckon on defeat; but was that surprising? A comparatively little band suddenly separated from what had been a powerful and commanding body in that House. The noble Lord (Lord Morpeth) taunted them that they were without leaders or a head. Yes, their leaders had not only abandoned them, but gone over to the enemy. They were necessarily in some amazement and confusion—without concert, ill-arranged and unorganized, undisciplined, unofficered; but yet undismayed—and believing the cause in which they had enlisted to be just, they at least would not be deserters from it. But whether victory or defeat awaited them, they were resolved, with God's help, to be true and faithful to the end. The subject of the potato failure, on which the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had laid such peculiar stress, had been already that night debated on a separate Motion by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. O'Connell). He (Mr. Shaw) on that occasion had stated his opinion, that although there would be in Ireland a considerable aggravation of the usual periodical distress at the close of the present season, still that he thought very exaggerated statements had been put forth, and undue alarm excited on the subject. His desire was to be most guarded and cautious on a question involving the vital interests of the suffering poor in Ireland. But, while he would not for a moment check the sympathies of the House, nor discourage the efforts of the Government, he could not avoid deprecating exaggeration of the evil. He had taken great pains, and had considerable opportunity of making personal inquiries on the subject. He had communicated with contractors for large establishments, such as gaols and workhouses, and had watched the state of the market since the panic had ceased; he had visited and made personal inquiries during the autumn and winter in the counties of Cork, Tipperary, Carlow, Wicklow, besides the county of Dublin, in which he resided; he had held correspondence with various other parts of Ireland; and the result he came to was, that although there had been in the digging out season a general apprehension of failure, that that had since been greatly allayed, and that there was at present, in most parts of Ireland, the reasonable expectation of a fair average crop. In some parts he feared it would be very deficient, and that the evil had been increased by a waste of the potato, and a glutting of the market under the influence of an early panic. He should also observe that there was, that 1116 year, a more than ordinary supply of grain and other food in Ireland, as a substitute for the potato, and he trusted, likewise, better means of purchasing food, from a more more than ordinary employment of labour. He was, however, far from blaming the Government; on the contrary, he commended them for taking active means for averting the possible calamity of famine, and would gladly support every measure for employing the labouring population, and alleviating the sufferings of the destitute poor in Ireland. What he deprecated was, the attempt to turn the potato failure in Ireland to a purpose which neither the facts of the case nor sound reason could justify. But, assuming that the potato failure had been as general and entire as some persons had represented, could that for one moment be seriously urged as a sufficient reason for the sudden change of the Government on the subject of the Corn Laws? Were they to be told that a man of the ability, the knowledge, the information, and practical mind of his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government (Sir Robert Peel), could, for thirty years of public life, have recommended and advocated the system of protection as applicable to all the varied wants and circumstances of that great country, without taking into calculation the liability to partial failures, deficient crops, and bad seasons, to an extent far beyond what it could for one moment be contended the potato failure could affect the present controversy? It was only within the last few days that he had heard the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), in answer to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Sharman Crawford), when proposing outdoor relief under the Poor Law in Ireland as a remedy for the potato failure, ridicule the notion that a temporary emergency should be met by altering the principle of an established system. With reference to the diminution of the committals for crime during the last three years, quoted by the right hon. Barenet, he, or any one acquainted with criminal statistics, could have told the right hon. Baronet that such was always the case when the demand for labour and the employment of the poor increased; and he thought the stimulus given in that respect by the railway works of the last three years had been rather unfairly kept back by the Government speakers. He was not there to deny that there was not only much that was plausible, but much abstract truth in the principles of free trade, and the maxims of political economy. They 1117 were not, at that side of the House, so ignorant as their opponents affected to think of the writings of Adam Smith, of Malthus, M'Culloch, Ricardo, and other eminent men of that class; they had read them, but they also knew a little more; and that while those doctrines might be very sound as regarded a new country, or if you could persuade all the nations of the earth to act with the reciprocity and simplicity of a single community, ruled by one authority, yet that when you came to apply them to such a country as England, you could only do so having a full consideration of her artificial condition, the national debt, and consequent heavy taxation, under which she laboured, as well as all the peculiar circumstances and complicated interests upon which essentially depended the welfare, prosperity, and happiness of that mighty Empire.A thousand years scarce serve to form a State,An hour may lay it in the dust.From whom had they so frequently and profitably learned these lessons of practical wisdom as from those very men who would now have them untaught them all? The speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) on the previous night, had been, from first to last, an absolute free-trade speech, unqualified by any one of the doctrines of caution or practical experience of which he had not only been the disciple but the teacher for the last thirty years; the new convert had almost surpassed the old professors, and the right hon. Baronet's whole argument was a petitio principii, in regard to that which was the real gist of the question in dispute—namely, whether the theories of the free-trade philosophy were to be applied in their full latitudinarianism, or cautiously adopted with the careful discrimination and matured wisdom which the existing circumstances of an ancient and highly artificial country suggested. The onus lay upon the right hon. Baronet to convince those whose opinions had been formed under his own teaching for the last thirty years, that he (Sir R. Peel) had been wrong all the rest of his life, and was only right since the 1st of last November; and that, either by the proof of altered facts or circumstances, not temporary emergencies—or by a new course of reasoning, not by the trite truisms borrowed from the school of the more consistent free traders, nor plagiarisms from the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, or the Anti-Corn-Law Leaguers—all which had been a thousand times explained or refuted by the right hon. Baronet himself. His vocabulary or 1118 powers of reasoning could add nothing to those able arguments and eloquent statements made at former times by the right hon. Baronet and the Members of the present Government, with all the force of sincerity and truth; and it would be nauseous to the House and the country were he to attempt to reproduce them then, when, night after night, the process was going on of the words in which they had been spoken being eaten at that very table, where, and by the very men by whom, they had so recently been uttered. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department (Sir J. Graham) had tried to gulp all his at one swallow. But that was too much even for the stomach of the right hon. Baronet, and it quite overcame the nerves and gravity of the House. No, it would not do for the right hon. Baronet now to talk of "abrogating his inheritance," rather than wring his wealth from the poverty of the poor man. Was that, then, what the right hon. Baronet had been doing for the last thirty years of his life? That assumption was really the begging of the whole question. Did the right hon. Baronet think that even the poor rustic labourer was so simple as to be taken by that appeal, recollecting who it was that, as it were only the other day, so poetically described—The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,as compared with "the sad sound of the factory bell"—and drew the pathetic contrast between "the blooming garden and the foul garret"—the "innocent walk of the country Sabbath, and the debauchery, the sorrows, and the sins of the crowded manufactory;" who spoke of "sinking hearts and rebelling hands;" and asked, "where were the moralists that they did not lift their voices against those fearful consequences?" Ay, but where was the moralist now, when the right hon. Baronet was himself proposing to perpetrate a cruelty which he then described as "far more atrocious than sending the Poles to Siberia?" and declaring that that very system would make this "the last country he would wish to inhabit," which he now said was to render it prosperous, peaceful, and contented? Depend upon it, this sudden change in six months from the opinions of a whole lif-would much more affect the public characeter of the men than the soundness of their former opinions; and, unless that change could be supported by facts and reasoning very different from any that had been adduced in the present debate, their former opinions and arguments would remain un- 1119 touched, and bear all the impress of their intrinsic worth. But, passing from the six months' converts to those whose conversion appeared, as far as the public was informed, to have been brought about in not many more than six days, he came to what did appear to him the most inexplicable, what certainly had been the wholly unexplained part of the entire case; he meant the conduct of those Colleagues of the right hon. Baronet who had resigned their offices and raised the first alarm throughout the country because they disapproved of his proposed measure; and yet in not a great many days resumed their offices again for the purpose of supporting those same measures. It was no answer to say, that they were all honourable and upright men, who could not be influenced by dishonest or corrupt motives; he had the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with most of them, and he could say with the most unaffected sincerity that he knew all that to be true: there was one of them whom the whole civilized world knew to be incapable of trickery or double dealing. But that was not enough: as public men, the public had a right to demand a public explanation of them. It was not for this country only, but that the conduct of their Government might be intelligible to all other countries. It was not for the present time so much as for history. It had been justly observed by Lord Mansfield, if he rightly recollected, or some other eminent man, that the worst precedents had often been established from the best motives, and that when a sound principle was departed from, in order to meet the exigencies of a particular case, that which was in itself well intentioned, and in the particular instance just, could easily be turned by designing men, and from bad motives, to the purposes of injustice. The right hon. Baronet seemed to think that the personal conduct of the Members of the Government was a matter of little moment; but he protested against that doctrine; and while he did not attribute to the Members of the Cabinet the slightest taint of personal corruption or dishonesty of motive, yet if their conduct continued unexplained, he believed that the discriminating public of that and other countries would consider that it evinced an infirmity of mind—an instability of purpose—a political tergiversation—a species of Cabinet juggle unprecedented in the annals of English statesmen. Would their powerful neighbour, France, fail to draw the striking contrast between the eminent man the First Minister of the Crown in that country, 1120 by his firmness and consistency strengthening their Government, and consolidating their power—and ours, weakening and dissolving both by the exhibition of the very opposite qualities? Was that a moment that America, however you might attempt to bribe her to peace by a repeal of the Corn Laws, should see the public men of England wanting in that true English spirit which refused to succumb to blustering and clamour? He was persuaded the Members of the Government were all men of personal courage, who would not hesitate to risk their lives in the discharge of their duty; but he maintained that they would be handed down to posterity as the greatest political cowards that ever wielded the destinies of that great country. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) not only seemed to speak with all the incautious zeal of a political apostate, but to be ready to act with all the desperation of a political coward. He made it the substance of his speech—the very point of his peroration. He did not see how it could bear any other construction than that the right hon. Baronet, for the sake of peace and good order, discarded that great party which had always been the friends of order—which comprised an immense proportion of the rank, the property, and, let what would be said to the contrary, the intelligence of the country—and who at all events inherited the principles as well as the blood of those who for centuries had been distinguished as the supporters of good order, the laws, and the Constitution. And, forsooth, to prevent revolution, anarchy, and ruin, the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) would throw himself and the Government bodily into the hands of the Anti-Corn-Law League in England, and of the Repeal Association of Ireland! He had been much struck the other day by the speech of a tenant-farmer, he believed in Northamptonshire, who told the anecdote of a manufacturer's remark to him, "Why you farmers are fools; why don't you agitate and annoy the present Government, for that is the only way of obtaining anything from them?" The lesson had not been lost in Ireland; he observed that an hon. Friend of his, and one for whom he had much personal regard, widely as he differed from him in politics, (he meant Mr. Smith O'Brien), had hailed the present concession as an harbinger of a Repeal of the Union; and his hon. Friend was an enthusiastic and earnest man, who would not fail to profit by it; and he himself protested he should not be so much astonished, 1121 if, in two years hence, he found his right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) under the pressure of sufficient agitation, and in deference to popular clamour in Ireland, proposing some modified plan of a Repeal of the Union, as he would have been two years ago, had any one then predicted that he (Sir R. Peel) would, at the present time, have proposed the measure that the House was then discussing. As regarded Ireland, the measure would, in a twofold point of view, he unfavourable to the Union: first, it would take from the friends of that measure the argument of the great advantage Ireland derived from the certain demand of the English market for her agricultural produce, almost her sole staple commodity; and her imports of corn to Great Britain were yearly and rapidly increasing. Next, it would furnish to the repealers the strongest inducement to persevere, seeing, that while protection was abolished, and all bounties taken from other trades, a great encouragement and a monster bounty was offered to the trade of agitation. And when the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had last night used a threat to the agricultural interest, which he thought was not very worthy of the right hon. Baronet, nor could much alarm them—that if annoyed he would not be very unwilling to yield the total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws—surely that was but a further proof of the instability of mind of the right hon. Baronet, as a public man, and of his besetting infirmity to adopt the counsel of his opponents, and to yield that to pressure and to clamour which he refused to reason and to justice. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), in concluding his speech the other night, spoke of the "glory" to be reaped by the present Government, and the solid satisfaction by the noble Lord and his party from their coalition for the carrying of the measure then before the House. When he heard the noble Lord apply the term "glory" to the present Government as their share, he could not but think that the noble Lord was speaking bitter irony. If glory at all, it must be the glory of martyrdom. For let success or failure be the result, let that measure bring weal or we to the great interests of the country, surely glory, or honour, or credit, could never attach to the means by which the present Government would have carried it. No; the noble Lord, and men of all parties, in and out of the House, well knew that the conduct of the Government in that regard would have given a shock 1122 to public feeling, which would vibrate through every portion of the Queen's Empire, and shake throughout the world all public confidence in their public men. But that the noble Lord and Gentlemen opposite, as party men—and he was one of those who thought that the country must be governed by parties—he did not wonder that they as party men should feel great satisfaction. It was only natural. They saw on his side of the House their ranks broken—their strength scattered; his right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) having committed suicide on his own party with the very weapon by which he had formerly overthrown the noble Lord and his party: the man who, at the head of an united and overpowering phalanx of that House, had triumphantly driven the noble Lord from his position, now supplicating the noble Lord to spare the existence of his Government—["No, no."] Well, if they objected to that expression, he would correct it—then, at all events, existing as a Government upon the sufferance of the noble Lord; a Government obviously in extremis; Cabinet Ministers, without seats in Parliament, offices vacant, and which could not be conveniently filled up. For whether the popularity of the Government was tested by appeals to a Conservative or free-trade constituency—to an agricultural or metropolitan district—failure was equally likely to be the result. For his part, he said—and he said it in the sincerity of his heart—that when he recalled what the party led by the right hon. Baronet was three years ago, and what it had become, he was sorry his political life had lasted until he saw that day, and was impelled by an imperative sense of duty to renounce the leadership of the man with whom he had been associated throughout his (Mr. Shaw's) political life, whom, however, he trusted, he could still be permitted to call his right hon. Friend. Mistaken, and greatly mistaken, as he thought his right hon. Friend, he was satisfied that his right hon. Friend was influenced by a sense of what he deemed his public duty. He claimed for himself the same just construction of his motives, in opposing the measures of his right hon. Friend; and it was very painful to him (Mr. Shaw) personally. He would conclude by addressing to his right hon. Friend on his own behalf, and that of those who felt with him, the words which not very long before, and on a similar occasion, his right hon. Friend had addressed to the noble Lord opposite, 1123 the Member for London: "While you invite us to follow you, you present to us only distracted councils, conflicting Colleagues, statements of facts not to be reconciled, and arguments leading to opposite conclusions. We then peremptorily refuse to surrender our judgment to your guidance, and to throw the protection secured to agriculture, under the existing law, into the lottery of legislation, in the vain hope that we might by chance draw the prize of a better."
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that he had hoped when the hon. Member for Bristol moved his Amendment, that they were to have the question of protection discussed; that when the right hon. Baronet moved that proposition which had been so often and so ably brought forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, they were to have the whole question fairly gone into, as being that about which the country really cared; for he would assure hon. Gentlemen opposite, that they never committed a greater mistake than in imagining that the great body of the people cared one farthing about the quarrel in the great Conservative patty. He had been an attentive listener during the debate, and had endeavoured to find out any reasons which might be alleged in favour of agricultural protection. The hon. Member for the University of Dublin would forgive him if he did not attempt any answer to his arguments; as, if he was not mistaken, this was a discussion on the merits of protection, and on these merits the hon. Gentleman had said not one syllable. He passed, then, to the speeches of those Members who had at all grappled with the question. The hon. Member for Bristol said, that the farmers of England would not consent to sell cheap corn, and buy dear sugar; and the hon. Member for Lincolnshire had stated that the Colonies of England had been protected at a heavy expense to the English farmer. From this he gathered it to be the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that it was not fair to give protection to the colonial sugar grower if protection were withdrawn from the British grower of corn. He admitted it most freely. If this great inroad were to be made upon protection, the principle must be extended to all—manufacturers, agriculturists, and colonists. If, then, it were unfair to protect sugar and not corn, it must be clear that if there were any industry to which the Government did not now afford protection, that the protection which it extended to agriculture 1124 must be unjust to the class pursuing the unprotected branch of trade. He supposed they would not deny that. Well, he was then, in some sense, the representative of one of the largest trades carried on in this country; a trade to which no Gentleman on the opposite side had ever proposed to extend the protection of legislative enactments. Since he had entered the House a proposition had been made to remove restrictions on the export of machinery—much of it used in the trade referred to. Every hon. Member connected with that trade had voted for it. Last year it was proposed to sweep away the protective duty of 10 per cent. from cotton yarn. Every hon. Member connected with the trade voted for the proposition. And there was now not a person in any way interested in the business, who did not regret that the right hon. Baronet had not swept away every vestige of protection. But he would not talk of the cotton and woollen trades—he would come to that great branch of industry of which hon. Members opposite talked so much, and appeared to know so little. He had passed by the door of the Central Office of the Protection Society the other day, and certainly the place did look what was generally called "seedy," and very forlorn. There was not the least appearance of business; but he observed a handsome brass plate on the door, marked "Central Society for the Protection of Agriculture and Native Industry." Now, what was this native industry that they were so anxious to protect? Did they recollect that in 1842 his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden), proposed that before they proceeded to make a law to raise the price of bread, that it was becoming to ascertain whether it was possible to make a law to raise the rate of wages? What, on that occasion, was their answer? That spinners and weavers did not understand political economy—that it had long ago been settled that wages could not be raised by Act of Parliament. They had said so, and within an hour of the declaration they proceeded to make a law for the express purpose of raising the price of the wheat which they had to sell—the produce of their own estates. They would impose prohibition, and raise the value of the article to a certain pitch. They did not mind the starving of an operative in Lancashire, or a labourer in Wiltshire. To a certain point they seemed determined to carry prohibition. The population was increasing—the competition for food increasing, and, therefore, they 1125 hoped, as they said, that there would be an increase of profits to their farmers—a hope which the public was ill-natured enough to translate into a hearty aspiration for an increase of rents to themselves. But now, where was this protection to the labourer? He had heard a clergyman of the Church of England say that the protection of the labourer was the Poor Law. But it was as much the protection of the landlord. If the latter became poor he would betake himself to the Union. But what protection had the labourer akin to the protection which the Corn Laws gave the landowner? That House, within the memory of the oldest of those who now sat in it, had passed no law for the purpose of giving employment to the labourer, or raising the rate of his wages. The hon. Member, the senior Member, he believed, for Wiltshire (Mr. Benett), at a meeting held the other day in his county, made a long speech to the farmers, He reviewed the condition of the agriculturists in this happy land; and concluded by stating that, had he to come into the world again—had his life to be lived over again—he knew no condition which he would choose with so much contentment—with such Pleasure—as the humble lot of an agricultural labourer. He (Mr. Bright) really felt some delicacy in saying anything which could imply a doubt of the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman was older than himself, he had lived among agricultural labourers all his days, and he ought to know something of their condition. However, after all, he would take the opinion of the agricultural labourers themselves upon the point, rather than that of the hon. Member, landowner in Wiltshire though he was. Now, it happened that there was a meeting of peasantry, at which the matter was debated the other night, at Goatacre. He was aware that some hon. Members had stated that that meeting was got up by the League. And he must say that the omnipresence of the League had been so impressed upon hon. Gentlemen, that if he stated that the League had nothing to do with the Goatacre meeting, he believed that some of them would go away with the impression that, nevertheless, it had. But there had been a second meeting at a place called Bremhill, at which the chair was taken by a labourer named Job Gringell. He knew not whether this poor fellow was a pattern labourer of Wiltshire; but he told his auditory, "I be protected, and I be starving." And it was not in Wiltshire alone 1126 that such scenes were passing. Since he had come into the House a paper had been put into his hand, drawn up by a most respectable person at Tiverton, and containing accounts of the circumstances of twenty-eight families—the number of each family, and the wages earned by its members. And how much did these wages amount to? Why 7s. a week. These men—with wives, and five, and six, and seven children each—lived in miserable huts, and earned 7s. a week. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire said that the labourers there had 12s. a week. He asked him whether it was protection that had given the labourer in Wiltshire 7s. a week, and whether the peasant there had protection commensurate with that which Parliament had accorded to the owners of the soil? The hon. Member for Northampton was very pathetic on the subject of the coach-makers, who, he contended, were to be thrown out of employment by the change in the Tariff; but if the hon. Member would go to Southampton, and interrogate Mr. Andrews, the coachbuilder there, he would be told that at this moment he was constructing carriages to go to almost every part of Europe. Why, he would not insult his countrymen as some hon. gentlemen did. He would not believe that they were so inferior in skill and enterprise that they could be beaten on all hands—the man of taste by the Frenchman—the English farmer by the serf of Poland. But hon. Members persisted in expressing great horror at the consequences of the repeal of the Corn Laws. They were continually talking of an inundation of wheat. Now, we had different sorts of inundations. There were actual inundations of water—there were talked-of inundations of wheat; but it was the remark of a wise and acute writer on the subject, that rivers of wheat were as rare as rivers of gold. No country produced more corn than was necessary for its own wants, and there was nothing in the circumstances of any foreign nation which would make it a formidable rival in agriculture to this country. They drew from every acre in England a larger quantity of corn than was grown on a corresponding space in any country in the world. There could be no doubt of the fact, and as little of another fact, that of the produce of the land the English labourer got less for his share than fell to the lot of the actual tiller of the soil in any other country whatever. Why, if their prices were so much higher, as they said 1127 they were, and the wages they gave but 7s. a week, and if each of their acres grew nearly twice as much as any other acre in the world, how could any conclusion be come to other than that the labourers of England received a smaller share of the produce of their toil than the peasantry of any country in the world. Then look to the advantages by which the landowners were assisted. They possessed more manure, they could hire better and cheaper agricultural labour, they had superior implements, they had better roads, and markets more valuable beyond comparison, and yet they complained of not being able to get on. It was protection which had damaged them—they had protected their farmers into a state of decrepitude; and now, when a stimulus was to be applied, they trembled for the consequences. How did matters at present stand? Take the county of Chester. There they found a high aristocracy and a poor tenantry—land of fair quality most wretchedly cultivated—in fact all the elements for the production of a mass of pauperism as great as that in the southern and western counties, had it not been for the proximity of Lancashire. It was not that the people of Cheshire were inferior to their Lancashire neighbours; but that an unfortunate system of legislation had destroyed the vitality of agriculture. An hon. Member complained of the burden of poor rates on the land. He contended that the tenant-farmers paid no poor rate whatever according to the scale which the hon. Gentleman would lay down, and that their capital was wholly exempt from local taxation. Those opposite complained that he did not pay poor rate on the machinery in his mill, and on his stock in trade. Well, they could not wish to mete out another measure to the manufacturers from that which they applied to themselves. Let them see how this plan of taxation would work. The hon. Member might have a tenant who had some thousands wherewith to cultivate his land; that tenant paid no poor rate on his household furniture, on his stock, or his growing crops, or his cattle, or his horses. Not a farthing poor rate did he pay on all these things until a permanent improvement in the land rendered him liable. Was that true or not? Now if he (Mr. Bright) was obliged to pay on his machinery, it was quite clear the tenant farmers must pay on their stock. Such a system would never be found practicable, and as it would work infinitely greater injustice than service, he advised 1128 the hon. Member for Berkshire to say nothing more about it. [Mr. PALMER: I only quoted Sir Robert Peel's speech on that topic] Yes, but you used the right hon. Gentleman's argument as unanswerable at the present time. There was another burden on land about which they heard nothing in that debate, and that was the burden of game. Two sons of the Duke of Rutland had spoken in that debate, and were about to vote against the proposition of Government. Now in 1844 that noble Duke paid 915l. for damage done by game on 389 acres of land. Now he asked hon. Gentlemen how they could sanction a law which prevented a foreign supply of food being furnished to a starving people, and at the same time destroy quantities of food solely for their own gratification? I believe, in reality (said the hon. Gentleman), you are not afraid of a repeal of the Corn Laws. You are angry with the Government, but you are not afraid of protection being abolished. In this House and out of it you have said repeatedly, "that if the Corn Laws were abolished the land would be neglected, and no rent paid by the tenants (an assurance some of you will be reminded of before twelve months elapse)—the labourer would starve, the national debt not be paid—that there would be no revenue—that a proud aristocracy would be lowered—that the Church, and therefore Christianity, would be endangered — that the Crown itself would be insecure—and that the sun of England, whatever that means, would set for ever." This is a short list of the calamities that were to come upon the country. Now do you adhere to the statement, or are you anxious to repudiate it? Why, you exhibit no alarm, you show no resistance. You say that seven-ninths of the population are connected with agriculture, and nearly all are in favour of protection; and yet, though all the calamities I have enumerated have been predicted by you, their leaders and guides, there is not the smallest prospect of insurrection; and the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department assures us, that for the last twelve months not even the sound of sedition has been heard within the precincts of the Home Office. But you don't believe that any such dread calamities are at hand. Where, if you do, are your public meetings? There was a meeting in Dorsetshire of 1,500 persons. I myself addressed 3,000 in that county, and presented their petition for total abolition. But where else have you held meetings? Did you see the 1129 Lancashire petition with 300,000 signatures? Did you see the petitions presented by the Metropolitan Members, signed by 400,000? and hon. Gentlemen opposite coming down with their 150 petitions, with twelve or eighteen signatures to each? Where is public opinion in your favour? Look to the public press. All the newspapers which have the widest circulation are, almost without exception, in favour of the Government proposal. We have all heard of men going merrily to battle with a chance of losing their heads, or gaining that glory which they look on as a sufficient reward for every peril. We have even heard of some reckless and daring criminals who joked upon the scaffold; but never could we imagine men sliding into the unfathomable abyss of ruin with faces so jovial and complacent as those of the hon. protectionists opposite. You say the right hon. Baronet is a traitor. It would ill become me to attempt his defence after the speech which he delivered last night—a speech, I will venture to say, more powerful and more to be admired than any speech which has been delivered within the memory of any man in this House. I watched the right hon. Baronet as he went home last night, and, for the first time, I envied him his feelings. That speech has circulated by scores of thousands throughout the kingdom and throughout the world; and wherever a man is to be found who loves justice, and wherever there is a labourer whom you have trampled under foot, that speech will bring joy to the heart of the one, and hope to the breast of the other. You chose the right hon. Baronet — why? Because he was the ablest man of your party. You always said so, and you will not deny it now. Why was he the ablest? Because he had great experience, profound attainments, and an honest regard for the good of the country. You placed him in office. When a man is in office he is not the same man as when in opposition. The present generation, or posterity, does not deal as mildly with men in Government as with those in Opposition. There are such things as the responsibilities of office. Look at the population of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and ask yourselves whether, with all your valour, and although you talk of raising the standard of protection, and crying, "Down with the Anti-Corn-Law League," there are men in your ranks—and I defy them—who will take that bench (the Treasury) pledged to a main- 1130 tenance of this law. The right hon. Baronet took the only honourable course. He resigned. He told you by that act, "I can't any longer do what you want—I can't defend your cause." The right hon. Baronet, no longer your Minister, came back the Minister of the Sovereign and of the people, and not the advocate of a class who placed him at their head for their own special and private objects. Why, the right hon. Gentleman has not used you badly. He offered no obstruction to your taking office. The right hon. Gentleman stated distinctly that he had not advised the Sovereign to send for Lord John Russell, but that he left it to the Sovereign to use Her own discretion as to the party to be selected for Her Minister. It would be presumptuous in me to assume what were the considerations that swayed the decision of the Sovereign; but I doubt not there entered into Her mind the question, "Shall I select for office men pledged to uphold the present Corn Laws?" and if she had done so, she would thereby do that which would jeopardize the aristocracy, and do a thousand times more damage to your institutions than the instantaneous sweeping away of every vestage of the system of protection. Why, what sort of Government would you have made? There is a programme of your Administration printed this morning in the Times. There is the hon. Member for Somersetshire at the Board of Trade. I don't say that all the mills of Lancashire would shut up at the announcement, but irrepressible laughter or the utmost consternation must have spread in all the trading districts. Lord Stanley was to have been a leading man in your Government. Now, recollect the noble Lord's geography as to a Russian province. The hon. Member for Norfolk, who sits at the Table, challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport to a discussion, at St. Andrew's Hall, Norwich, and, in the courtly language of the Central Society, he predicted there would be a "shindy." Well, the hon. Gentleman told the assembly that certain resolutions were advocated by Henry Clay, once President of the United States. Well, if one Member of your Cabinet does not learn better geography, and another more correct history, I am afraid your rule over the destinies of this Empire will not be very brilliant. You were, too, to have the Duke of Richmond. That noble Duke said, last week, that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport got thirty thousand pounds a week by his 1131 business, and that one of his own tenants paid a larger amount of poor rates than all the Leaguers put together. That may be true; but if it is it speaks badly for protection, when one tenant of its greatest advocate is obliged to pay so much to the poor rate of his parish. But what sort of Government would Lord Stanley, the hon. Member for Norfolk, and the Duke of Richmond have formed? I am quite sure of one thing, that in all my public speaking, of which so much has been said elsewhere, I never did anything so disastrous to the aristocracy, and especially to the order of Dukes, as the noble Duke of Richmond has done for the last four months. Yes; for exaggerated statements, for charges against men from whom he differed, for such statements as he is said to have made last night, "that it would be easy to send itinerant agitators into the manufacturing districts to show that cotton would burn as well as stacks." And yet for men capable of such things, you profess yourselves anxious to remove the statesmen who now occupy the Treasury benches! You know the country would not tolerate such a Government a week. I do not believe that even you are anxious to place the protectionists in office; but you wish to be avenged on those who have forsaken the obligations of party, in order to obey the call of a great country, imploring them to work out its commercial deliverance. I was going to make an observation to the Member for Oxford, if he had not left the House: I fear the hon. Baronet has forsaken his usual associates in politics, the bishops. ["Oh!"] I understand all the bishops are to vote with the Government; if this be true, the orthodoxy of the hon. Baronet will at least be doubted. Why, would any Gentleman dare to say that when there is the intensest suffering in your counties, and when famine is at hand in Ireland, one dignitary of a Christian church would dare to give a vote for preventing the opening of the ports and allowing a supply of food to a starving people? Though the hon. Baronet may not truly convey on this occasion the sentiments of the bench of bishops, he is certainly the fitting representative of that Oxford which, from its celebrated decree in 1683 down to the present time, has done more than any other city to prove that there may be the greatest possible acquaintance with books, united to the profoundest ignorance of men. Now, as to the measure before the House, I hesitate 1132 not to say that it is a great measure, and does great credit to the Government. But great measures, like great pictures, are sometimes tarnished by defects; and I believe it is a serious defect in this measure, that it does not propose an immediate abolition. I know that the tenant-farmers in many districts prefer immediate to gradual repeal. I ask it, not only because there is no alarm in this country, and men are giving higher prices for their farms, but on this ground, that we have always advocated the repeal of the Corn Laws, because they were unjust, in defiance of the laws of God, and an odious abuse of the laws of man. If the emergency has been so great as to justify the Government in going so far, it pronounces their condemnation if they stop where they are. If there be suffering throughout England, and a pending famine in Ireland (and no man is insane enough to deny it), the Government can never defend the duty of from 4s. to 10s. for three years on the importation of food. Hon. Gentlemen say, the emergency is not great; but as some will not believe in a flood while it drowns only those in cellars, others will not give credit to the existence of famine until it reaches Belgrave-square. The hon. Members for Hertford and Warwick made an attack on the League, because they were said to purchase votes in the counties. I recommend them to read the decision of the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. He says it was a course not only legal but laudable. If there be any Member of this House who fears that the incompleteness of the Reform Bill may give cause for agitation, it must be a matter of rejoicing to him that a mode has been discovered by which tens of thousands of honest, industrious, and meritorious artisans have brought themselves within the pale of the Constitution. But not a farthing have the Anti-Corn-Law League given for qualifications. We merely ask those who are of free-trade principles to qualify for counties if they have the means of doing so. A noble Lord elsewhere has called on the Government to put down that proceeding. The League is expressly framed for the purpose of procuring the abolition of the Corn Laws; and when that abolition is effected, its organization will be instantaneously dissolved—and not till then. I doubt not that the class of men, who, through its instrumentality may obtain their franchise, will use it at least as independently as the tenant-farmers, and 1133 as much for the good of their country. I ask the hon. Members opposite, representing pocket boroughs, and nomination boroughs, what they imagine their countrymen will think of the course they have pursued; when, if there were truth in the Minister—if there were truth in the statements of the hon. Member for Cork, and of all those who had any opportunity of being acquainted with the facts, there was a terrible calamity impending over the country, for which somebody must be responsible? The Government say they will not take that responsibility upon their shoulders, and sooner than do so, they risk everything to remove it, and ask this House to do that which common justice makes imperative. I ask you if you think that the execution of your vengeance against the Minister will be held as any excuse for the course you are now pursuing, by your country and by posterity? Do you believe it will? What a glorious recompense will it be to you, if, after that you have turned the Minister out of office, and have appealed to the country, you should see famine and distress stalking throughout the land, and recollect that you have been, through your factious proceedings in this House, the means of aggravating want and suffering among your fellow creatures?
§ MR. G. HUDSON
In rising, Sir, to state the views which I entertain on this important question, I think I may fairly bespeak the indulgence of the House, for though I am in the habit of addressing public meetings, I am now about to speak on a question of great importance in an assembly with the forms of which I am imperfectly acquainted. Sir, I must say, in the first instance, that I have not been returned for a pocket borough—and that I came here on as independent grounds as the hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House. I will go further, and say that to the constituency who elected me, I can go back with as much confidence, and as much honesty of purpose, as that hon. Gentleman can revisit those whom he represents. Sir, this is a subject to which I have given the deepest consideration. Before I had the honour of being a Member of this House, I read with the greatest interest the speeches of the right hon. Baronet, and thought upon them as an individual who had a right to feel deeply in the welfare of his fellow men. I have listened with the closest attention to the speeches of the right hon. Baronet since I entered 1134 Parliament; and I confess that, having applied the most anxious consideration to his arguments, I am confirmed in the belief that those opinions which I entertained when I addressed the electors of Sunderland, were both sound and constitutional. While I deplore most deeply the calamity which it is anticipated may take place in Ireland, in consequence of the unfortunate train of events that has arisen there, and many comments upon which have been introduced into this debate; while I am prepared to sympathise with the sufferings which may possibly grow out of those unfortunate occurrences in the sister country; I nevertheless contend that this calamity, sudden in its effect, and which can easily be met by special measures of relief, should not be made the basis of a call upon this House to pass a measure of legislation which may injuriously affect the great interests of the country. I think that the right hon. Baronet has not treated his party with the fairness which they have a right to expect from him. I confess that I cannot coincide with the view which the right hon. Baronet has thought fit to adopt. In common with him, I entertain a strong sense of the emergency of the occasion; but, with the conviction pressing on his mind that it was necessary to do something at once, why, I ask, did he not come down to Parliament prepared to propose a measure, the object of which would be the immediate alleviation, if not removal, of the great misery, sickness, and distress, which are said to exist in Ireland? I regret that, not being provided with any such measure, and not intending to propose one, he should have dwelt with such harrowing effect on that subject; and entertaining, as I do, the deepest commiseration for the wretchedness which has been described to us as likely to ensue in Ireland, in consequence of the failure of the usual supply of food there, I call on the right hon. Baronet at once to provide for that emergency. I am sure that every one not divested of right feeling will give his cordial support to any such measure. I freely give mine; but I object to be called on to assist in passing a measure of general legislation to meet a merely special emergency. Having fairly stated to the House my views upon this branch presented to us for consideration, I come to the question itself—the policy of a repeal of the Corn Laws; and that, in my opinion, is a question of the gravest importance—of too much importance to be embarrassed with the extraneous 1135 matters which the right hon. Baronet has introduced into its discussion. The right hon. Baronet certainly grounded the appeal which he made to the House chiefly on the success of his Tariff. Last night he found that ground untenable, and went back to the state of things in the year 1825; but, Sir, for my part, I believe that there were other measures which contributed to the prosperity of the country rather than the action of the Tariff of 1842, even though that Tariff included the Premier's all-important repeal of the duty upon grease. Let us examine what was the condition of the country when the right hon. Baronet assumed what he calls the "helm of public affairs." I recollect that my first interview with any Member of Her Majesty's present Government had reference to the construction of a railway of some importance between England and Scotland. At that time the depression was so great, and the foreign exchanges were so much against us—in consequence, be it observed, of the importation of corn—at that time, I say, the balance of trade was so much against us, that it was impossible to raise funds for any railway purpose whatever; and in order to carry out a system which will, I believe, confer greater benefits on the country than any of the Prime Minister's measures—I was obliged to go from company to company, to beg that, with respect to the sum of about 500,000l., they would consent to guarantee some 6 per cent. to the proprietary of the line in question. Now, from 1842 a change came over the state of public affairs. We were then blessed with abundant harvests; and I must say that, when the right hon. Baronet spoke last night, I think that, in his exultation at our recent prosperity, he should not have forgotten that it was to those harvests, and to the success of railway speculations, that we were indebted for our national prosperity. [Sir R. PEEL: Hear, hear.] It is well for the right hon. Baronet to say "Hear, hear;" and had the prosperity I refer to been produced during a period when there was a large importation of corn, I perhaps might have joined in his "Hear, hear," also. But such was not the case. The prosperity was coincident with home production, not with importation. The right hon. Baronet spoke of the silk trade, and, said he, "See how the silk trade has increased." I admit it; but that trade has flourished under a system of protection. There has been a duty upon foreign silks; and what we want with 1136 respect to foreign corn is a similar duty for a similar purpose — a protection not immoderately large, but adequate to enable us to meet the burden of poor's rates, highway rates, land tax, and the other charges to which the agriculturists are peculiarly liable. The right hon. Baronet proposes to reduce the duty on shoes, paper, and other articles of manufacture. Why, Sir, I would ask him is this not a question of labour? The whole question resolves itself into that. If it were merely a question of machinery, I know we might contend, and contend successfully, with the whole world; but when it comes to be a question of labour, the burdens and the heavy taxation which the labourers of this country are subjected to, makes all the difference. The right hon. Baronet calls upon the poor man—the artisan, to exert himself and enter into competition with the labour of the world, but he seems to forget there are charges imposed upon the poor man here, which shackle his exertions and impair his energies, from which the artisan and the labourer of other countries are free. The shoemaker of France who contends against him, has to pay no poor rate, highway rate, or other burdens, has a great advantage in the contest. I have, however, no fear of the competition of the labour of France, or any other country, against the labour of this, if both are placed upon the same footing. We have been talking about the price of corn; and it is a question for serious consideration—and to this I would invite the especial attention of the House — what is the probable price at which we shall be able to purchase corn in this country, under the measure of the right hon. Baronet? I have taken some pains to ascertain what will be the probable price of wheat when the Government Bill shall have passed—I mean in the year 1849, when that measure will be in full operation. I have had large dealings in corn, and speak as a practical man; and I have not felt justified in offering any opinion to the House, until I consulted with men of practice and experience on the subject. This is a question which I think important, and which the House ought to weigh well before it decides on the proposition which has been submitted to it. In the year 1837 I had a corn transaction, in which I was enabled to deliver wheat at a port in this country—all charges paid, at 25s. a quarter. [An hon. MEMBER: In what year?] In the year 1837 I was enabled to deliver wheat 1137 in a port of this country at 25s. a quarter, each bushel weighing 61½ lbs. Now, I ask, what will be the case in 1849, supposing this measure to pass? And I say before you legislate on a matter of such importance—a measure affecting such vital interests—a measure that must tend to the weal or ill of the country—before you come to a decision repealing the Corn Laws altogether, you ought to have an account of the probable price at which corn can be sold, when this change shall have been effected. Why, if I were to add 10s. per quarter as the probable effect of free trade in corn to the 25s. I have stated, I do not think I should be taking an unfair view of the matter, or a view that is not borne out by the information I have derived from the average prices of corn under the new Bill. I shall rejoice if it should be otherwise; but at the same time I cannot refuse to give to the House information obtained from sources of the highest authority, and from my own practical experience. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War spoke the other night of the distress which prevailed amongst the farmers and agricultural labourers of the county of Wilts. I heard the right hon. Gentleman's statement with considerable dismay; but I should like to ask him, when he said that protection was of no benefit to the farmer, whether he thought that 35s. or 40s. per quarter will make the farmer better off than he would be with 45s. or 50s.? To state this, it seems to me, is a mockery and an attempt to deceive. I listened with much attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. Herbert), and to his statements as to existing distress in Wiltshire. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. S. O'Brien) has invited the right hon. Gentleman to visit that county. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to visit Yorkshire, and I promise him he will not find distress, or anything like distress, there; but I will not answer for what may ensue if the present Bill pass into a law. As to the question being a matter of rent, I believe firmly and honestly that it is no such thing; for if land were let without rent, the farmer would be unable, under the new law, to cultivate it and obtain prices that would remunerate him. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government believes that the farmers will be as they were before, and that it will not be necessary to make any relaxation from the charges of income tax; which, under the present law, 1138 the right hon. Baronet will take care that the farmer shall pay whether he realizes it or not. Now, I have got a paper here, to which I beg the attention of the House, and from which I shall take the liberty of quoting the language of those gentlemen who advocate the measures of free trade, which it seems the right hon. Baronet is to be the great instrument to carry out. It is a paper which I do not know whether or not the right hon. Baronet has ever seen—it is called the "League"—and that paper has ventured an opinion as to what will be the result of the operation of the proposed Bill in the year 1849. Having stated that it was probable the Bill would work well, they go on to state that it is equally probable that the "1st of February, 1849, may be the commencement of a period of unexampled distress to the whole class of farmers, a distress and ruin reacting in the most fearful way on the entire community." That is the opinion expressed by those persons who are the great agitators of this measure. I for one am not prepared, in the excitement of a moment, or under temporary pressure, to recant the opinions which I have entertained for many years. I am not prepared, because the right hon. Baronet has thought proper to change his opinions, for reasons which I believe are most unsatisfactory to every person who has heard them—I am not prepared, I say, to overthrow in a moment those principles under the influence of which this country has been brought to a state of prosperity unexampled in the history of the world. What was the state in which the right hon. Baronet found this country when he thought right to agitate the question which he has now brought before the House? I believe it is admitted on all hands that it exhibited every feature of returning prosperity. Agriculture was rising from its previous depression, and looking as prosperous as its most sanguine friends could wish. The commercial interests were equally prosperous, the exchanges constantly running in favour of this country. But, Sir, I will acknowledge that the effect of all this prosperity was to create a rise in prices. Still I should like to ask this House and the public, why, when all the interests of the country are prosperous, should not agriculture be prosperous among the rest? When bricklayers are getting 28s. a week, stonemasons 30s., and labourers from 18s. to 21s., why should not the agricultural interest enjoy that prosperity which extends to all other in- 1139 terests? But it seems as if a bane were to be put upon this interest, which I believe to be the great interest of the country. I am aware that it is utterly impossible in a country like this to contend for anything like an excessive protective duty, or anything like monopoly. But the right hon. Baronet does not carry out his own principles: he still leaves 10 per cent on manufactured goods. The shoemakers, for instance, are most hardly treated. I know several of that industrious class, and I know well that they will not be able to contend with the overwhelming flood of foreign competition which is preparing for them. Then there are the paper-stainers. It may be known that York has long been famous for paper-hangings. I know a gentleman in that trade who employs great numbers of persons at wages varying from eighteen shillings to a guinea. He has a most extended trade in all the large towns of the country. But, no sooner did the right hon. Baronet bring forward his Bill, than my friend received several letters stating that the effect of the measure would be to introduce large quantities of paper of French manufacture, this paper having previously been subject to a very large duty. My friend immediately reduced his works, and was obliged to discharge several men from his employment. I know that these are are not interests in which the great bulk of the nation are concerned; and that they may not, therefore, engage the attention of the House; but the real question is, "Are the real interests of the country concerned in the measure of the right hon. Gentleman?" I believe that the effect of this measure will be to throw a large tract of land out of cultivation. I believe that similar results will take place to those which occurred in the years 1835–36, when the average price of wheat was 39s. At that period large tracts of land were thrown out of cultivation, and applied to other purposes. If the proposition of the right hon. Baronet should be adopted, the consequences will be that the land will be uncultivated. No doubt for a short time there would be great cheapness; we should revel in low prices, and in the meanwhile have an abundance of supply. But my humble opinion is, that the right hon. Baronet will not derive that benefit from this circumstance which he anticipates. He will lose the best of all customers—the home customers—and then comes the time of a bad harvest, and a sudden change from low prices to high prices. What would 1140 the right hon. Baronet then do? If he continued to rule the destinies of this nation, the right hon. Gentleman would have to come down and propose some extraordinary measure for the sustenance and maintenance of the people. What would be the effect of low prices? It withdraws capital from the cultivation of the land; the skill and industry of the people are applied to other purposes and pursuits, and ultimately the country is thrown entirely upon a foreign supply of food, that supply being dependent upon circumstances over which this country never has any control. I believe that the effect of this measure will be to paralyse the industry of the country. Indeed, I fear its effect has already been very seriously felt throughout the land. The right hon. Baronet has referred to what occurred in October—namely, the alarm of a deficient harvest. He feared that we should have to send out our gold to buy foreign corn. The consequence would be, that the bankers, as they always did when they saw any prospect of our being obliged to buy foreign corn, would immediately shut up their coffers, and would show an unwillingness to afford that accommodation which they are ever ready to do under more favourable circumstances. The right hon. Baronet says, that this was rather the effect of other causes than of the price of provisions; but I can only express my entire conviction that we shall see the same thing happen whenever we have a short harvest. In short, Sir, my belief is, that if we agree to the measure of the right hon. Baronet, we shall throw a vast quantity of land out of cultivation, and the effects cannot but be most ruinous. But I understood the right hon. Baronet, when he brought forward his plan, to state to the House that he had a number of equivalents to offer to the landed interest as a compensation for the loss of protection. But on looking very carefully through the whole of his scheme, I must say that I cannot discover those equivalents. I ask the right hon. Baronet why he did not deal with the poor rates — why a man who is in the receipt of 3,000l. a year from the funds should not contribute in the same proportion to the poor rate as the man who derives 3,000l. a year from land. Why should you cast the burden of supporting the poor wholly upon the land? If the right hon. Baronet is determined to pass this measure, then let him charge the support of the poor upon the Consolidated Fund. I, as a practical man, assert that 1141 there is no difficulty whatever in doing this. I have had to do many things quite as difficult as that. Why, I ask again, should the fundholder, receiving his 3,000l. a year, contribute nothing whatever to the maintenance of the poor? It is monstrous that such an exemption should be made in his favour. The whole country is bound to provide for its poor by the highest command that can emanate to man. There are other burdens which are peculiarly oppressive to the landed interest. I recollect a deputation waiting on the right hon. Baronet respecting the malt tax. He said then that there were certain burdens which the land must necessarily support, and that they had, therefore, better be quiet and say nothing about it. But I again repeat, I do not see why the land should bear the principal burden of the poor rates, and the fundholder entirely escape. If the poor rate were charged on the Consolidated Fund, the poor would be provided for wherever they might be found; and there would, in that case, be no necessity for their removal from place to place, as the present law of settlement now renders necessary. Nor do I see why the land should be exclusively burdened with the county rates. I think it is extremely unfair to the agriculturists. What we want is justice. If you tax malt for the benefit of the revenue, why should you not likewise tax the manufactures of the country? Why not say to the manufacturers, "You shall not make cotton into gowns, before it has paid a tax for the benefit of the State." You say to the farmers, that they shall not make their barley into malt without paying a tax to the State. Why should you not say the same to the cotton manufacturer, if such be necessary to the State? Then, I say, this is really a labourers' question; it comes down, after all, to the poor labourer, whether a manufacturing operative or an agricultural labourer. Why not cheapen to him his tea and his coffee, before you call upon him in this way, and thus tax his industry and his exertions? Why not give him a boon along with that, if he must, in the end, pay the tax? For it is absurd to suppose that the effect of this alteration must not fall upon the labourer. Fall upon him it will—fall upon him it must, because the very thing which we have to contend with, as an agricultural country, against other States, is, that our labour is dearer than that of other countries. For the farmer of this country is bound to pay more; he is charged with many other 1142 things, which are no charge upon the labourer or the grower of corn in any other country. And, therefore, I say, if you call upon us to contend with these things, put us upon an equal ground. Why should we be called upon to contend with other countries, when we have not the same advantages? I admit there is the protection, as it is called, of the freight; but is it not notorious that the freights from Hamburgh and Dantzic are extremely small? But this is not a measure which ought to be passed hastily; it ought not to be forced upon the country without giving it the opportunity fairly to express its opinion. It is impossible to deny that the present Parliament, either by implication, or by direct declaration, was returned upon the question whether an eight shillings' fixed duty should be adopted, or whether the protective principles of the right hon. Baronet should be predominant. Let an appeal to the country be made, and let the country decide as to this great and important measure. You have already once had a Parliament that abused the confidence of this great country. At that time, I did not take a deep interest in politics; but I recollect the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill, and I recollect, as a consequence of the course then pursued by Parliament, the passing of a great measure of Reform—a reform which in my opinion, never would have passed, had it not been that Parliament had abandoned the great principles on which it was elected. Though the right hon. Baronet may be able, by the force of his majority, to carry this measure through Parliament, I do trust that he will have some regard for the feelings of the country—that he will appeal to the people, and let the country determine whether the Bill shall pass or not. If the relief of Ireland be the object of Her Majesty's Government, let them bring in any measure they think wise and expedient for the immediate relief of that important country, and I am satisfied there is no Member of this House who will not readily assent to any such temporary measure. I am perfectly satisfied, from my intercourse with my fellow countrymen—and it is pretty extensive—that however they may advocate this measure or the other in Parliament, they are, for the most part, decidedly hostile to the passing of this Bill in the present Parliament. If you pass this measure, you will make it objectionable to the country. The right hon. Baronet has referred to the parties who have been obliged to 1143 resign their seats. It was only their duty to do so; and I think it is not a subject of regret, but of rejoicing, that there have been found in this House some hon. Members, who are not forgetful of the solemn pledges which they gave, either by implication or direct promise—who are not forgetful of those engagements which bind man to man in this great commercial country—and who are actuated by feelings so honourable as to induce them to vacate their seats, rather than sacrifice their honour. I know, Sir, that the observations which I have addressed to this House are unworthy of the acceptance of the House and of the Government; but I can assure the Government that when I first aspired to a seat in this House, my principal object was to support the Government and the right hon. Baronet. I went to the hustings, and I stand here, with the honest purpose of promoting the interests of my country; but I do not stand here to vote for a measure the offspring of a divided Government, and which has not been the subject of that mature reflection which the measures of that Government have hitherto received. I hope the country will not suffer by the abandonment of this measure at present; and I think the Government will best consult the interests and feelings of the country, by, as I said before, giving their immediate attention to the condition of Ireland; by allowing this measure, perhaps, to pass through a division, and then appealing to the country to see whether there shall be protection or no protection—to see, Sir, whether the labourer of this country shall be called on to compete with the labourers of Poland and Prussia—the former receiving 12s. and 14s. a week, and the foreign labourer getting only 4s. or 5s. a week. I say let the constituencies of this country decide the question. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War said that the labourers of Wiltshire were only earning 8s. a week. I would recommend him, then, to give his serious attention to the alleviation of the pitiable condition of the labouring classes in his district, and he will then confer a vast benefit on his county. I can only say that if such a state of things had existed in my neighbourhood, I should have been ashamed to have acknowledged it, and should have tried to remove it. I feel that in opposing this measure, I shall be performing my duty to my constituents, and to that commercial interest in which I am so deeply and so interestedly concerned. The right hon. Ba- 1144 ronet stated that he was quite ready, when it would seem fit, to throw aside the three years that he gave to agriculture. I shall shall give my vote, believing that protection is a benefit to the agricultural interest. But as between the immediate repeal, and the extension of protection, I am, of course, in favour of the latter. If the right hon. Baronet had made out a case that the protection to agriculture should be less than hitherto, I should be prepared perhaps, to go along with him. It may be charged against me that I am deeply interested in land; but though I am largely interested in commercial pursuits also, I believe that I am as incapable as the right hon. Baronet of shaping my course by any reasons but a regard to the good of the country. This measure is favourably received by the Anti-Corn-Law League, though it may end, as they state, in an unexampled state of distress, spread over the whole of the community. I will conclude by expressing my intention to give my vote against the measure of the right hon. Baronet.
§ Debate adjourned to Thursday.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Two o'clock.