§ On the Order of the Day for the resumption of the Adjourned Debate on the Corn Laws,
spoke as follows: If, Sir, I, who have always been a firm and consistent supporter of free-trade principles since I have had the honour of a seat in this House—if I have hitherto abstained from taking an active part in this debate, I can assure the House that it was not from any fear of any new arguments that have been brought forward by the native talent arrayed on the protection benches opposite. But, Sir, if I have hitherto abstained from mixing in this debate, it was from the firm conviction that our arguments on this side of the House were unanswered, and had proved unanswerable; and because I felt they had been triumphant out of doors—triumphant in and over the Cabinet: and I also hope I may add, that they are likely soon to be triumphant within the walls of this House. I have listened as patiently as I could during the six nights of this protracted debate, and I have not heard one new argument in favour of protection. I have heard much of personal attack; some lugubrious orations about the breaking up of a great party; some very curious statistics; and last, not least, some very newfangled doctrines touching political honour and political consistency, which I beg to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. S. O'Brien) are not to be found in Adam Smith, nor in any dictionary of political economy; and not being so to be found, appear to me to have but very little to do with this great question. I heard, Sir, several noble Lords, and several hon. Gentlemen, who had been constantly brought down to swell Ministerial majorities for the last three years, and who had assisted the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) on more than one occasion in his gradual abstraction of protection, quite alarmed and astonished at the success of their own efforts in favour of free trade. I heard one Member for Liverpool (Sir H. Douglas) denounce the right hon. Baronet as a wolf. I heard a noble Lord (Lord Sandon) the other Member for Liverpool say, it was very true the Minister was a wolf, but he should vote for the wolf because he was a wolf in sheep's clothing. This drew down on him a rebuke from my hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire 1191 (Mr. Miles)—he who is the farmer's friend, who has always been a pattern of consistency, and who flatters himself he has ever been the consistent advocate of the old Corn Law in all its ancient splendour since he has had the honour of a seat in this House. It is true, that when the right hon. Baronet altered the old Corn Law in 1842, the Member for Somerset was the first person who rose in this House and pronounced a panegyric on the right hon. Baronet for having diminished protection. It is true, that in the horned-cattle debate in May 1842, my hon. Friend (Mr. Miles) expressed his firm conviction, that owing to science having been applied to agriculture, he felt that the English farmer, even with diminished protection, would be a match for his foreign competitor. My hon. Friend has quoted Hansard. Well might the right hon. Baronet warn his former supporter, that in referring to former discussions, he was playing with edge-tools—for on turning to the horned-cattle debate, I find that the hon. Member for Somersetshire was then, as now, the great agricultural prophet of the day. This hon. Gentleman, who in this debate has indulged us with some Russian statistics, stated at that time that a correspondent of his in New Orleans had written to inform him, that there was a district in America containing a population of 5,500,000 persons exclusively devoted to agriculture, with an area of 460,000 square miles of exquisite fertility; and that great preparations were being made by the agricultural inhabitants of these fertile regions to inundate England, as soon as the duty was taken off foreign cattle, with bulls, cows, sheep, oxen, and pigs. Now, Sir, it does so happen that my attention was recently recalled to this prophecy of my hon. Friend's by the following circumstance. Happening to go down into Warwickshire in May, 1842, the day after that ever-memorable horned-cattle debate, I met a very worthy friend of mine—a great grazier and proprietor of horned cattle in that part of the country. I met this agricultural gentleman, who is not by any means a light weight, coming galloping down a lane at a pace that was truly awful. "My good fellow," said I, "what is the matter?" "Get out of the way," said my friend; "you, and Sir Robert Peel, and the rest of you, you have been and done it up in London; you have ruinated the farmers with your feelosophy—that you have, quite entirely, my Lord: we be all ruined." "Well," said I, "my good fellow, but 1192 where are you galloping so fast?" "Oh," said the grazier, "I be off to Shipston market. I sey you does'nt understand agricultural statistics. Ha'ant you read what our great oracle, Mr. Miles, the farmers' friend, said t'other night? He never indulges in no exaggerations, like Mr. Cobden. I always believes him; and Mr. Miles has said as how 5,500,000 Yankees be a building and a loading of a Noah's Ark, in a place called Ohio, with millions of bulls, cows, sheep, oxen, and pigs; and they he a going to bring this here ark over to Bristol, to swamp us poor English farmers. They be going to give away the meat; and by this day six weeks, Mr. Miles has said that American mess pork will be sold at 3½d., and prime pork at 2½d., a pound in the Bristol market:" and having said this my poor friend rode off full speed, and before night had sold off half his stock at a very reduced price. Now, Sir, it was my fortune to meet this same Warwickshire grazier last Saturday, in the market place at Shipton-upon-Stour; and I asked him if he had come there to sell his corn? "No, my Lord," says he, "I been't come here for no such purpose." "What!" said I, "have you not read what your great agricultural oracle, Mr. Miles, said about Tamboff last night in the House of Commons—how we are all going to be swamped with foreign corn?" "No, Sir," said the grazier, "I have had enough of that 'ere agricultural agitator and his speeches. He do always, I observe, advise we farmers to sell at low prices; but I have found out he does'nt sell hisself in a panic of his own making. I be determined not to sell my corn this time, till I hear that the stackyard at Legh Court be empty. He be a downright bad fellow, that Mr. Miles; he be a trying of it on again. I was gammoned out of a hundred pounds by him about cattle; but I be come to the determination not to believe none o' his gammon about corn." And, Sir, after this painful and instructing story, can it be wondered at that I have come to a similar conclusion? And as on this occasion I am compelled to choose between two great prophets, I am free to confess I am rather inclined to place my confidence in the predictions of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, who proved a true prophet about the Tariff, rather than in those of the hon. Member for Somersetshire, who showed himself to be but a very indifferent prophet about the probable price of meat in England when the duty was 1193 lowered on foreign cattle. The same expectations as to the abolition of protection being followed by ruin, do not, however, seem to prevail universally on the protection benches. No sooner did the hon. Member for Somersetshire sit down, leaving the House in a state of panic, than, at the sound of that magic word, up jumped the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Hudson). The hon. Member was not in a panic; he was a man of iron nerves; he was not to be easily frightened. He rose to express his surprise at hearing right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench making molehills into mountains. The hon. Gentleman admitted the potato disease. Well, what of that?—it was a mere temporary accident—a mere matter of small moment. To be sure, 4,000,000 of unfortunate persons in Ireland were starving: that is nothing, said the hon. Gentleman—I could cure that in a moment. [Mr. HUDSON: That is not what I stated.] Well, I beg to be allowed to read the following extract from the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Sunderland on Tuesday evening:—He (Mr. Hudson) conceived, that in dealing with the Corn Laws, they had nothing whatever to do with the calamity that threatened the country. He viewed it with regret and anxiety—he was anxious to aid in alleviating it. It ought, in his opinion, to be met by the temporary expedient of a public subscription.Such were the hon. Gentleman's own words on Tuesday evening. And now I beg to ask, whether that was not a distinct proposal on the part of the hon. Gentleman to the head of the Government to be allowed to descend on Ireland in the golden shower of a public subscription? I make no question of the hon. Gentleman's sincerity, in proposing such an expedient; but I doubt excessively the wisdom of adopting it. The hon. Gentleman had come forth in a new character as the champion of the agricultural interest—he who had often so cruelly invaded those turnpike trusts and rural solitudes which were once the pride and the boast of the country gentlemen of England. "I will show you," said the hon. Gentleman, "that cheap corn has been the ruin of the country;" and he referred at once to the period of 1841—a period of dear corn and of great distress—not a penny could be raised then even for a railway. But the hon. Gentleman admitted that in 1842 "a change came over them." He appeared to be a little jealous of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury. He took 1194 the trouble to explain that the prosperity in 1842 was not caused by the Tariff, but by low prices, owing to an overproduction of English corn." The hon. Member abominated foreign corn. He especially warned us all against those long-headed merchants who import foreign corn to lower the prices—and I was not a little surprised to hear, in the very next sentence, that the hon. Member for Sunderland took credit to himself for importing foreign corn at 25s. a quarter. The hon. Gentleman was more discreet than the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. Miles); he would not disclose to the House where supplies to cure the starvation in Ireland might be had at so low a rate as 25s. a quarter. Of one thing I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has convicted himself of being a good political economist, who knew how to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market he could find. "And if," said the hon. Gentleman, "people are starving in Wiltshire on 8s. a week, take a special train and come down with me into Yorkshire. We are all well fed and prospering there." This was valuable testimony from the hon. Member: it proved what was always denied by Gentlemen opposite, that the working classes were better off in the manufacturing than in the purely agricultural districts. I can assure the hon. Gentlemen I have a great respect for him, and I hope even yet to see so respectable a name as that of Hudson withdrawn from the provisional committee—the greatest bubble of the day, "Protection to Native Industry." What is the meaning of that word protection? It means the laying a tax on the many for the benefit of the few—on the poor for the benefit of the rich—on the poor consumer for the benefit of the wealthy producer. Protection in England means the attempt to keep up high prices and high rents by artificial means. As a landlord, I am no enemy to high rents fairly obtained; but I am an enemy to one class endeavouring artificially to raise the price of the articles of produce, at the expense of the rest of the community. Have extremely high prices benefited the farmer? I think not, and I am a farmer myself. Extremely high prices are prices of years of scarcity; the very years in which the farmer pays most for the cost of his production—most for the cost of his consumption—and probably the highest corn rent, at the very time when he can least afford it. Has the high price of potatoes been of advantage to the farmers who have lost their crops? Have high prices 1195 been a benefit to the labourer? The labourer's wages are not regulated by the price of corn, but by the laws of supply and demand; and if the present demand for labour continues, I doubt excessively whether the right hon. Baronet's measure will have the slightest effect upon the price which is paid for labour in England. However much it may or may not reduce the price of corn—of this I am certain, that high profits only can afford high wages; and if profits be reduced, wages must fall, and an efflux of capital take place, which, to emote the words of Adam Smith, "is worse than the natural inclemency of the heavens, or than the barrenness of the soil." For nearly two centuries in England, the landed interest has been endeavouring to keep up prices by artificial means. In 1670, and again in 1690, Acts were passed to promote the exportation of corn by bounties, not to keep down but to keep up the price of that which remained in the home market. In 1770, England began and has since continued to be an importing country, and these Acts became a dead letter. As the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) at the head of the Home Department had so well explained to the House the other evening, the period between 1770 and 1790, was a period of free trade. We then came to the war; and at the conclusion of the war there existed, as at present, a panic amongst the agricultural interest. They expected to be swamped by foreign corn, and an Act was passed in 1815 of complete prohibition—an Act which he had frequently heard alluded to, in the course of the debate, as the Act which conferred the promise of those artificially high prices of which the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government is now charged with attempting to rob his late agricultural friends. But was this the intention of the Act of 1815? Was it the intention of those who promoted it to hold out any such promise of keeping up high prices at the expense of the community? I conclude, and I think I can prove, that nothing could be farther from the intention of the original promoters of that measure; for, on referring to the speech of Mr. Robinson, who introduced the new Corn Bill, on the 17th February, 1815, I find that he made use of the following remarkable expressions:—It was not now supposed that the object sought to be accomplished by this alteration of the Corn Law, was the mean, base, and paltry one of getting for a particular class of society a certain profit, at the expense of the rest. For his part, he declared before his God, if he thought this was the motive 1196 which actuated any individual who supported the alteration, and, above all, if he conceived that such would be the effect of the measure, no consideration on earth would have tempted him to bring it forward.Such were the words of Mr. Robinson in 1815; and are they, the proud aristocracy of England, to debase themselves now by grappling to the last for this mean, base, and paltry object of attempting to gain for themselves a certain profit at the expense of the rest of the community? I always conceived that it was the duty of the aristocracy to lead, and not to follow, public opinion. [Cheers.] Yes, I always conceived it was their duty to direct, but not to attempt to coerce public opinion. Their ancestors had never shrunk from leading the way in many a well-fought field; and when a generous people are asking to lead the way and set an example, is the proud aristocracy of England now, for the first time, to fall back, and begin to count numbers, to calculate odds, and to fall on their knees to beg that generous people to protect them against foreign competition, at their expense? Such may be the principles and the practice of landlords and tenants in Somersetshire or Sussex; but such, I am happy to assure the House, is not the opinion of either landlords or tenants in the northern parts of the island. In the county of Forfar, in which I was born and bred, a very different feeling prevails. They are not afraid of Tamboff there. My countrymen are buckling on their armour, and preparing themselves to compete, and, I trust, to compete successfully, not only with foreign corn and foreign cattle, but—for the first fruits of this measure has been to raise the question—whether they cannot also compete with the foreign growers of hemp and flax. The cultivation of these articles, which are the raw material of their staple manufactures, they have cause to believe has been too much overlooked. Be that, however, as it may, the Scotch farmer fears neither the Russian nor the Belgian. The Scotch farmer has no exclusive burdens to complain of. I wish I could say as much for the tenant-farmers in England. They, I must confess, have to struggle with an exclusive burden on the agricultural population, which has not been alluded to, I mean the want of education. The Scotch farmer has a parochial school to send his child to. So also have the farmers in Prussia and America. But the English farmer has not the facility afforded him of readily educating his son. Let the Government remove this exclusive 1197 burden from the farmers in England, and let them trust the rest to British energy and to British skill. In conclusion, I beg to state that I stand here as the independent representative of a large constituency; and I did not rise to explain away a single sentence I have ever uttered about the Corn Laws, either in the House of Commons or elsewhere. I never entertained more than one opinion on the subject, and I am prepared to act up to every pledge I have ever given. One pledge I have certainly given which I trust I have redeemed, in common with many Gentlemen on both sides of the House—a pledge to vote for any and every measure which I consider will be beneficial to the country at large: and with the sincere belief that the right hon. Baronet opposite is incapable of being actuated by unworthy motives, and that he has introduced a measure fraught with benefit to the commercial and working classes of this country, and with sincere belief, also, that the prosperity of the class to which I myself belong, is entirely dependent upon the prosperity of the rest of the community, I shall not hesitate to declare that the Government, on this occasion, shall receive my humble though hearty and honest support.
§ MR. HUDSON
, in explanation, begged, in the strongest possible manner the forms of the House would allow, to contradict the assertion of the noble Lord, that in the observations he had had the honour of addressing to the House, he ever meant, or did treat lightly the distresses of Ireland. He appealed to every Gentleman who had heard him to say whether any expression of his warranted the construction put upon it by the noble Lord. ["No, no."] What he stated was, that it was the duty of the Government immediately to provide for the distresses of Ireland, and that he would be ready to give his support to any measures the Government might bring forward tending to afford immediate relief to the Irish people. This, he believed, was the substance of what he had said. He did not know whether the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) who had said "Hear, hear," to the expression of the noble Lord, (Lord Duncan) had understood him; but he begged most distinctly to say that he did not, upon that occasion, and he hoped never would, treat lightly the distresses of the sister country.
apologized, if he had overstated the meaning of the hon. Gentleman, and was delighted to hear his 1198 expressions of sympathy with the Irish people.
§ MR. ALDERMAN THOMPSON
said, that although he was aware that the subject-matter of the debate was exhausted by the hon. Members who had preceded him, still he trusted that he might be permitted to state the grounds on which he intended to give his vote. He claimed their indulgence, particularly from this circumstance, that he had held a seat in that House for six-and-twenty years, and had witnessed changes from time to time made in their fiscal laws. He had seen reductions in duties made, and the revenue sacrificed, without a corresponding benefit. He wished this House to remember that it had limited the issues of the Bank of England to 14,000,000l. on securities; and whenever the issue exceeded that amount, it must be in gold. They had limited the issues of the country bankers; and he could say, that men of great experience doubted whether the working of that measure were beneficial. Hitherto no inconvenience had been sustained; but then they were to bear in mind, that the times had been very favourable, and they had not been subjected to any very severe pressure of circumstances. He should like to know if any man could conceive a greater injury to the important interests of this country than would arise if foreign countries refused to follow the example of England? Was there not cause of alarm if that should be the case? And the right hon. Baronet had candidly and fairly stated that he could not hold out any expectation that foreign nations would immediately pursue a more liberal system of commercial policy towards us. That was one reason, amongst others, which had induced him to pause in adopting further measures of this sort; and, although he did approve of the measure of 1842, yet he could not but think that the right hon. Baronet had much overrated the advantages which had flowed from that measure. The House would bear in mind that several years antecedent to 1842 were years of great depression and distress; and that alternations of times of prosperity and adversity were inseparable from the state of society in this country. Periods of depression had before now occurred, and no doubt would again take place. When we considered the immense capital employed in manufactures and commerce, and the energy and enterprise which were characteristic of our countrymen, we must admit that in prosperous times they were very 1199 apt to produce more than the home or foreign markets could consume. The right hon. Baronet had claimed the support of the House to the measure under consideration, in consequence of the partial failure of the potato crop, and the bad quality of the produce of last harvest. There could be no question that the potato crop of Ireland had failed to a very great extent; and he was sure that as the utmost sympathy had been expressed, so every relief would be afforded which it was in the power of that House to afford, in order to palliate that distress. Could any stronger proof be advanced in support of that assertion than the fact stated by the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department, that Bills for granting nearly half a million of money were now in course of passing through Parliament for the purpose of giving employment to the people of Ireland? And if that were insufficient he felt confident that any claim which the Government might make upon the liberality of the House, with that object in view, would be fully accorded. Before the assembling of Parliament there was a great outcry raised by certain parties that a famine was impending. Happily that cry had ceased; we had heard nothing of it for several weeks past; and if hon. Gentlemen took the trouble of reading any country paper, they would find that the price of agricultural produce was falling; that potatoes, wheat, flour, and meal were cheaper; thus showing that the cry of "famine" was utterly without foundation. But, supposing there had been ground for alarm, then, he would ask, why did not Her Majesty's Government at once take upon themselves the responsibility of opening the ports? The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) alluded to certain precedents established towards the close of the last century, where the Government of the day had opened the ports; but, to his utter astonishment, he altogether omitted the case of the year 1826, though he believed the right hon. Gentleman was himself a Minister of the Crown at that time. In 1826, the ports were thrown open for oats, barley, peas, and some other articles, but not for wheat. No difficulty whatever was experienced by the Government of that day in procuring from that House an Act of Indemnity; neither was there any difficulty in maintaining the Corn Law, although the protection was much higher than at present. There was this difference, however, between the two periods—and a most 1200 important difference it was—that in the year 1826 we had no Anti-Corn-Law League. But, in 1846, that unconstitutional body was in existence; and he believed it had been the great moving powder to induce the right hon. Baronet to adopt these measures, though that body did not represent public feeling to any great extent. It was said, that there was now a perfect understanding between the master manufacturer and the labourer that low prices were not necessarily the cause of low wages; but he begged to remind the House of the great alteration which had taken place in the tone and language of the League upon this question. He recollected that, some three or four years ago, the manufacturers of Yorkshire and Lancashire were loud against the Corn Law, upon the ground that they found it impossible to compete with the cotton manufacturers of Switzerland; they were in the habit of making contrasts between the rates of wages in Switzerland, and those paid in Yorkshire and Lancashire; and some leading manufacturers went further and stated, that unless wages could be reduced in this country, they should be compelled to remove their stock and capital to other countries. He, therefore, contended that it was a delusion to hold out, as the Anti-Corn-Law League had held out, that they could maintain wages at the present rate, though they reduced the price of food. He believed there never was a period in the history of this country in which the master manufacturer had realized such large profits, or the labouring classes had been better off, than at present. Could it, therefore, be matter of surprise that so many soldiers of the Guards obtained furloughs for the purpose of visiting their relatives at a distance? Could it be matter of surprise that the communications between the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary and the Horse Guards and Police Commissioners had ceased? Could anything be more strongly indicative of the increased comfort and happiness of the great bulk of the people than such facts as these? But the House would permit him to refer to another important fact in order to show the state of the labouring classes—he alluded to the country savings banks, an account of which had been published by Mr. Tidd Pratt within the last few days. By this Paper it appeared that, on the 25th of November, 1841, there were in the United Kingdom 841,204 depositors, representing a capital of 24,471,085l.; 1201 and that three years afterwards—namely, on the 20th of November, 1844, the deposits had increased to 1,012,047, and the capital to 31,275,636l. The average sum deposited by each person in the United Kingdom appeared to be 27l. 18s. Looking at the savings banks in Yorkshire und Lancashire, the principal seats of our manufactures, the result of his examination of the Tables was that, on the 20th of November, 1841, the number of depositors in Lancashire was 49,948, and the capital deposited 1,665,171l.; whilst, on the 20th of November, 1844, the depositors numbered 67,159, and the capital amounted to 2,159,766l. In the towns of Lancashire, the Tables showed the following results:—
Coming to Yorkshire, he found that, on the 20th of November, 1841, the number of depositors was 59,434, representing a capital of 1,965,731l.; whilst, on the 20th of November, 1844, the depositors had increased to 71,114, and the capital to 2,256,843l. The Tables exhibited the following results with regard to the towns in Yorkshire:—
Towns. Sums deposited in 1841. Sums deposited in 1844. Blackburn 41,661 54,298 Bolton 69,836 97,657 Burnley 31,356 41,550 Bury 35,174 54,039 Lancaster 63,890 77,953 Manchester 397,592 568,313 Preston 88,350 121,565 Warrington 112,355 126,236 Wigan 66,105 79,789
Then, while the average of each depositor throughout the United Kingdom amounted to 27l. 18s. in the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire and Lancashire, the average amounted to 30l., showing an excess of deposit in those counties of 2l. 2s. He thought this was a pretty good indication of the state of the country. He believed it could not be denied that the labouring classes, especially those who were connected with manufactures, had possessed many of the 1202 comforts and enjoyments of life in a much greater degree during the last three or four years than for a long period antecedently. They had been more comfortable in their circumstances; and it was clear, from the returns he had referred to, that they had been enabled to accumulate very considerable sums of money. In this state of things, then, he asked why was it that these great changes were proposed? The right hon. Baronet stated that his object was to improve the moral and social condition of the labouring classes; but he would find that the agricultural interest was the best customer to the manufacturers, after all, and that his measures, instead of improving the moral and social condition of the labouring classes, would, by injuring the home market, have quite the contrary effect. To buy in the cheapest market was undoubtedly a very beautiful theory; but it was totally inapplicable to this country, where it was necessary, in order to maintain the public credit, to raise a revenue of 30,000,000l. annually, and nearly half as much more to uphold the establishments of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War stated the other night that protection was a bad system, and that all classes had suffered under it. Now, if that were true, why had he not, in conjunction with his Colleagues in the Government, submitted a purer and more perfect piece of free trade than that now proposed? Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that the Cornish miner, the man who worked the deep, and comparatively poor, copper mines of Cornwall, would be much better off if he had less protection, and entered into competition with the rich and shallow mines of La Plata? Did he wish to see protection altogether abolished in that case? Did he wish the repeal of the navigation laws? If we were to have free trade in corn, he wanted to know if the farmers had not a right to bring their produce to market by that ship which would convey it at the cheapest rate? He wanted to know if they had not a right to demand the abolition of the monopoly possessed by the shipowner in the coasting and colonial trades? ("Hear, hear.") Hon. Gentlemen opposite might say "hear!" but he apprehended that if a proposition to that effect were made, it would be met by right hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House telling them—"Oh, the national safety and the national honour alike deter us, and demand that we should not have our coasting trade or colonial trade destroyed." He said that common justice, 1203 as well as national honour and national policy, required that protection should be extended to the agricultural interest. By the law as at present existing, an English merchant might invest his capital to any extent that he thought fit in foreign funds, or in foreign manufactures, yet he was not allowed to embark 100l. in a foreign ship, and exercise the rights of an owner over that ship. Was the House, then, prepared to repeal the navigation laws? He could not bring his mind to go along with the right hon. Baronet in those extreme measures. He wanted to know what statesman, either in Europe or America, had advocated free trade? [Sir R. PEEL: It is advocated in the petition of the merchants of London.] He was ready to admit that he himself had signed that petition. But his question was, "Where was the statesman, either in Europe or America, who was the advocate of perfect free trade?" Certainly not Mr. Webster, than whom no man could stand higher in the estimation of the public. With the liberty of the House, he would read an extract from a speech of Mr. Webster, to the people of Boston, on the 15th of November last. But first he would remind the House that in 1842 the Americans increased their Tariff upon many articles 20, 30, 40, 50, and even 100 per cent.; and from communications he had had with merchants in that country, he believed that it had never advanced in prosperity with such rapid strides as under the present system of protection. He was quite aware that there was a strong party formed there for the relaxation of the Tariff; but he apprehended that that party would not succeed in accomplishing their object. On the 15th of November last Mr. Webster said—
Towns. Sums deposited in 1841. Sums deposited in 1844. Barnsely 27,395 35,979 Bradford 59,167 91,399 Halifax 49,963 73,339 Huddersfield 51,690 66,067 Leeds 233,780 262,908 Sheffield 161,969 182,838 Wakefield 50,363 57,596Among many other great questions upon which the election of next Monday must have some bearing, is that system of laws which we call the Tariff, which has received the general support of the State. Every man expects a ferocious attack upon the whole system. Every man expects that, since the Government now in power was established by the general voice of the Anti-Tariff States, an attempt will be made to destroy that whole policy. How far they will succeed I know not. There are circumstances of encouragement—circumstances of an opposite character. But my question is with the people of Massachusetts. What have the people of Massachusetts to expect from any change? Taking the Act of 1842 as a general law, of general operation, what have the good people of Massachusetts to expect from any change? The question is, whether the Tariff is conducive to the prosperity of Massachusetts? What is the criterion? I put it upon one ground only; I put it upon this one ground. I do not inquire what profits are made by the rich capitalists, or whether 1204 or not a few individuals grow rich under its influence; but I put this question—are the labouring classes well off? Are their wages high? Is labour in demand? (and these questions comprise the prosperity of five-sixths of the community). Are they in good condition? I ask these questions; and, if you give me a country where labour is in demand, and the labouring classes well off, I call that a happy country, tariff or no tariff. One thing more, gentlemen. There has always been an attempt, for the last twenty years or more, to show that this protective policy helps the rich only, building up such establishments only as Lowell and Springfield, and other places where large operations are carried on. This is not the foundation of the system, and never was. If you go back to the adoption of the Constitution, or if you look at the state of things amongst us, as it is now, the foot is that it is in the manufactures of a more individual character—the shop manufactures, those of the workers in iron, in brass; of the artisans working in their own shops, with the assistance of their wives and children—these are the interests for the benefit of which the system was founded in Washington's time, and is now. And let every man think of this; and when he is told of the aggrandizement of the great capitalists at Lowell and Dover, and Providence, and elsewhere, let him look at the many hundreds sf thousands of small capitalists, hammering over their own anvils, making hats in their own shops, obtaining by those processes of manufacture support and education for their families; and then let him remember that, without the duties at the Customs; there is not one of those manufacturers that could survive twelve months.He would not trouble the House any further with extracts on that matter. But the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, the other night, in the course of his speech, had asked hon. Gentlemen who sat around him, whether they were prepared to retrace their steps on our commercial policy—to stand still, or to go forward? He, as an humble individual, could only speak his own opinions, and he certainly was not disposed to stand still. He was disposed to go forward; but, at the same time, he could not go along with the right hon. Baronet in the road which he had taken. He would presently state what road he should like to follow in preference to that of the right hon. Baronet. The right hon. Baronet had stated that the rental of the land of this country in the year 1815 was estimated at 32,000,000l., and in the year 1842 at 37,000,000l.; and he thought the right hon. Gentleman had meant the House to infer that the rental was higher in the year 1842 than it had been in 1815 by five millions. But it should be remembered that much land which had been in a state of waste at the former period had been brought into a state of cultivation, and had corn grown upon it; so that there was an increase upon the ancient 1205 cultivation of the land of about 15 per cent. [Sir R. PEEL: With a falling price for wheat.] But let the right hon. Baronet put against that the immense increase in the capital which had been employed in the cultivation of the soil since that period. Did the right hon. Baronet mean to say that, if twenty or thirty millions had been thus employed between the years 1815 and 1842, there was to be no interest upon that capital? Be the amount ten or twenty millions, it was included in the increase. It did not, therefore, appear to him, that the right hon. Baronet had made out the case in his comparison between the years 1815 and 1842. The inference he thought the right hon. Baronet had meant to be drawn was, that rents had advanced between the years 1815 and 1842, which it was the purpose of his argument to demonstrate was a fallacy. Whether he succeeded or not, let the House decide. The right hon. Baronet had asked whether the British merchant should be shackled and restrained in his operations, because of certain opinions held on that side of the House. Why, there was no objection to the merchant being left free to prosecute his schemes of commerce in this respect. The corn trade was more free than the tea trade and the tobacco trade. It had always been as open to British enterprise as tea and tobacco. The right hon. Baronet had asked if land did not let at a higher price now than formerly. He had made inquiry in quarters the most likely to be best informed on the subject; and he had been told that, since those measures of the right hon. Baronet had been proposed, no large estates had been sold, and no buyers had been found. [Ironical cheers.] Perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite would be kind enough to give an instance, if they were in a position to state differently. Although he could not support the measures of the right hon. Baronet, he was free to confess that all his predilections were in favour of manufacturing interests. At a very early period of his life, accident had placed him at the head of a large manufacturing establishment, where a vast number of persons were employed, and, therefore, he had no dislike to manufactures: quite the contrary; all his predilections, as he had said, were in favour of them. But, at the same time, he wished to do justice to the community at large. The right hon. Gentleman had a right to expect to hear from him, as he had said he was not prepared to stand still, how he was disposed 1206 to proceed. He conceived he could advance in the course the right hon. Baronet had in view—viz., the improvement of the social condition of the labourer—in a way somewhat different. The right hon. Baronet had been most successful in his financial measures. He had got now a surplus of between 3,000,000l. and 4,000,000l., and he should have advised him to reduce the duty upon an article of very general consumption—he meant tea. He knew, from observation, that a very large proportion of the labouring classes, especially those engaged in manufactures, were consumers of tea and sugar; and if the right hon. Baronet had reduced the duty upon tea to 6d. per lb., and that upon sugar to 1d. per lb., it would have been the greatest boon that any Minister could have conferred on the labouring classes. For what was the case with regard to tea? That article paid from 150 per cent. to 250 per cent. duty; costing 9d. per lb., it paid a duty of 2s. 2d. per lb.; and thus the consumers of tea in this country paid 9,000,000l. of money annually for that article; 4,000,000l. for duty, about 2,500,000l. for freight and other charges, and 2,500,000l. to the Chinese merchant. What was the case in America with respect to that article? Into England there were 30,000,000 of lbs. annually imported, and into America, which was the next great importer of tea, there had been imported last year 20,000,000 of lbs., upon which not one farthing of duty had been paid. Now, what answer could we give to the Chinese should they say, "We won't allow you to send your goods into our country upon payment of a duty of 5 per cent., when you tax our chief article of export at the rate of 150 per cent., whilst the Americans allow that, our staple article, into their country without payment of one single farthing." No satisfactory answer whatever could be given; and, in his opinion, our trade with China was in a most difficult and dangerous position at the present time, and required the most anxious, serious, and immediate consideration. The right hon. Gentleman was prepared to reduce the duty on French brandy and silks, with a view to abolishing smuggling. Why, tea was smuggled to a great extent; but, with respect to tobacco, which the right hon. Gentleman had not touched at all, according to a return made for the year 1841, and laid before the House, there had been 555 convictions for smuggling that article in that year. Many of those convictions were for smuggling such quantities as one to 1207 two lbs. of tobacco, the value of which was about 8d. per lb., and the parties convicted had been committed to prison for periods varying from one to three months. The drawback upon soap allowed to the manufacturers of woollens, silk, flax, and cotton, for the year ending January 5, 1845, amounted to 81,128l. 17s. 6d. The licensed soapmakers in England and Scotland numbered 183, and the convictions for smuggling soap in that year amounted to 16, or 1 in 10. He hoped, in the course of his observations, he had said nothing calculated to give offence to the right hon. Baronet. He could assure that right hon. Gentleman that no man more deeply regretted than he did, that a sense of duty compelled him to take a course opposed to the right hon. Baronet on the present occasion. He had, during the long period he had sat in that House, given the right hon. Baronet his general support. Humble he knew it had been, but most disinterested certainly it had also been; and therefore he deeply regretted that he could not continue to give him that support, because of a sense of duty, for he was under no engagement whatever in the matter. To his constituents in 1841 he had told on the hustings that for more than twenty years he had given a general support to the right hon. Baronet; and it was his full intention to have continued that support, because of his admiration of the right hon. Baronet's great talents as a statesman, and integrity as a Minister of the Crown.
§ SIR W. MOLESWORTH
I will not trespass upon your patience, Sir, by discussing the general principles of free trade. I will content myself with replying to some objections which have been urged against this measure by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They have repeatedly asserted that it would be injurious to the labouring classes; that free trade would cause low prices; and that low prices would be followed by low wages. The right hon. Baronet, on the first night of the Session, stated his conviction that there was no connexion between low prices and low wages. He has been repeatedly and violently assailed, both for this opinion, and for having arrived at such a conclusion from an experience of only three years. I think, however, if it were necessary, it would be easy to confirm that position by a much wider experience. Just before the dissolution of the last Parliament, I gave notice of a Motion for a Committee to inquire if any connexion could be traced between the amount of the wages of labour and the 1208 price of food. If I had been able to bring that Motion before the House, I think I could have shown, from a series of Parliamentary Returns embracing a period of more than thirty years, that there was no connexion between high wages and high prices, and low wages and low prices; on the contrary, it appeared to me, from a careful examination of those Returns, that generally speaking the wages of labour, especially of manufacturing and skilled labour, were higher when the price of food was low, than they were when the price of food was high. And the reason appeared to me to be this: when the price of food is low, the labouring classes—and they form the great bulk of the community—can expend a larger portion of their earnings on the purchase of articles of clothing, dress, and other the staple manufactures of the country. Consequently, when food is cheap, there is a greater demand for those articles, and a greater trade in them. There is, therefore, increased activity amongst the manufacturers; increased employment for their workmen; and, as a necessary consequence, the wages of labour, especially of manufacturing and skilled labour, tend to rise. On the other hand, when food is dear, as the labouring classes must first and before all things obtain the means of subsistence, they are compelled to expend a greater portion of their earnings on the purchase of food; consequently, they are compelled to diminish their consumption of articles of clothing, dress, and manufacture. There is, therefore, a diminution in the demand for those articles; stocks of them accumulate in the hands of the dealers; trade becomes dull and stagnant; the manufacturers employ fewer workmen; and, as a necessary consequence, the wages of labour, especially of manufacturing and skilled labour, tend to fall. Thus reason and experience show, not only that there is no connexion between high prices and high wages, and low prices and low wages, but that, generally speaking, the wages of labour are higher when food is cheap, than when it is dear. In fact, the amount of the wages of labour depends upon the relation which exists between the supply of labour and the means of employing it. If there be no alteration in the supply of labour, wages rise or fall according as there is more or less employment for labour. Now, the means of employing labour are in proportion to the capital of a country; to the extent of its trade, commerce, manufactures, and other industrial 1209 occupations of its inhabitants. But it can hardly be doubted that free trade would augment the commerce, manufactures, and capital of this country. It follows, therefore, that with free trade, the means of employing labour would increase; the wages of labour would rise; and the condition of the labouring class would be improved. Some hon. Members are apprehensive lest a large number of agricultural labourers should be thrown out of employment by a repeal of the Corn Laws. It cannot be denied that if the repeal of the Corn Laws were to produce a panic amongst the agricultural classes; that if, in consequence of that panic, a large quantity of land were thrown out of cultivation, there would be a diminution in the demand for labour for agricultural purposes. Now, this might prove, under other circumstances than the present ones, a serious though temporary evil. Fortunately, however, if the Corn Laws were immediately repealed, there are causes at work which would fully counteract the effects of any such panic. The railroads which are now making, or about to be made, will create a great demand for that very description of labour which it is supposed the repeal of the Corn Laws would throw out of employment; and long before those railroads are completed, the apprehensions of the agricultural classes would be dispelled. As far, therefore, as the agricultural labourer is concerned, it would be difficult to find a better opportunity than the present one for repealing the Corn Laws. Most of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken against this measure, have expressed their opinion that the repeal of the Corn Laws would chiefly affect the tenant, and not the landlord. I cannot agree with them. It appears to me, that if free trade makes any alteration in the value of land, or of agricultural produce, the chief gainer, or the chief loser, must be the landed proprietor. The hon. Gentlemen possess landed property. They have let estates. What, I ask them, does a farmer do before he offers to take an estate? Why, he considers the nature of the soil; the vicinity of the estate to markets; and the general value of agricultural produce; and, according to these particulars, he offers a greater or less rent for the estate. The landlord, or his agent, does precisely the same thing: he takes into account precisely the same particulars, and demands a rent accordingly. Thus a bargain is struck between landlord and tenant, for a definite or indefinite number 1210 of years. Now, suppose any event occurs which alters the value of the estate; as, for instance, if its fertility be improved by drainage or other means; if it be rendered more accessible to markets by new roads or railways; or if the general value of agricultural produce be altered by legislative enactments, or other causes; then, at the expiration of the period for which the original bargain was made, either the landlord demands a higher rent, or the tenant offers a lower one, according to the circumstances of the case. Thus a new bargain is struck, in which the landlord generally takes good care to obtain the full value of his estate, and the tenant is equally cautious not to offer more than that value. Thus it appears to me certain that, if free trade diminish the value of land, rents will fall: if, on the contrary, as I expect and believe, free trade will increase the value of land, then we shall have the pleasant task of raising our rents: in either case, it will be the landlord, not the tenant, who will ultimately lose or gain. In one point of view, however, the farmer will be a gainer by a repeal of the Corn Laws; for a repeal of the Corn Laws will be a final settlement of the corn question. During the last half century, there have been I know not how many Corn Laws, with the professed object of regulating the price of corn. Now, I may assert, without fear of contradiction, that under each Corn Law, the price of corn has been much less than was calculated upon or intended by the framers of those laws. If farmers, therefore, acted upon those expectations of the higher price in their bargains with their landlords, they must have been repeatedly and grievously disappointed. A repeal of the Corn Laws will dispel all doubt and anxiety on the subject. The farmer will soon know what he is about, and what bargain he ought to make with his landlord. I must acknowledge, however, that these observations chiefly apply to those farmers who possess sufficient capital and skill to cultivate their estates in the best manner. For only such farmers are really independent, and can make an equal bargain with their landlords. There is, however, another class of farmers, who possess little capital and less skill, the tenants of small estates, which they cultivate in the worst possible manner, many of which estates have been in the same family for successive generations: of this class of farmers the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Northamptonshire gave a pathetic description the 1211 other evening. He portrayed in forcible terms their impending ruin, and attributed that ruin to the free-trade measures of the right hon. Baronet. It cannot be denied that the class of farmers in question will cease to exist. In many parts of England, especially in the west, with which I am well acquainted, they work harder and fare worse than the agricultural labourer. It is a mistake, however, on the part of the hon. Gentleman to attribute their present condition or future fate to free trade. Whether the Corn Law be repealed, or its provisions be rendered more stringent, their doom is inevitable. What is the cause of it? I answer, it is their want of capital and of skill. It has been discovered that, in agriculture, as in every other branch of industry, by the combination of capital and skill, production can be carried on more cheaply and profitably than in any other manner. Of late years, agriculture has ceased to be a mere empiric routine: it has become an art founded upon chemistry, vegetable physiology, and other kindred sciences. For the successful cultivation of this art, much capital and skill are required. By these means, the agricultural produce of certain portions of England has been greatly augmented, and the produce of the remainder might be equally increased. Indeed, it appears to me, that some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite have scarcely been guilty of exaggeration when they asserted, that if the whole of England were cultivated in the best manner, we might raise an amount of food sufficient for a larger population than the present one, and at as low a price as it can be imported. But to do this, the land must be cultivated by farmers who possess sufficient capital and skill. And what then would be the fate of the small farmers without capital or skill? Sir, the large farmer, with abundant capital, and acquainted with the best methods of agriculture, can produce more cheaply, can afford to pay a higher rent, and, at the same time, can obtain a better profit, than the small farmer without capital. The former can and does undersell the latter in the market. He can and does outbid him with the landlord; and he prospers, whilst the condition of the other daily becomes worse and worse. In proportion, therefore, as agriculture improves, in proportion as more capital and more skill are required in the cultivation of the soil, the doom of the small farmers, who have neither capital nor skill, becomes more and more certain—more and more imminent. They are the 1212 handloom weavers of agriculture, and their fate is the necessary consequence of the competition between capital and skill on the one hand, poverty and ignorance on the other. We may sincerely deplore the sufferings of the individuals, but neither as individuals nor as legislators can we prevent the result; for, in order to prevent it, we should have to stop the accumulation of capital, to check the advancement of knowledge, and stem back the tide of human progress. Though most of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from the opposite side have declared their belief that the repeal of the Corn Laws is only a farmers' question, yet I know that many who sit on that side of the House firmly believe that free trade will diminish the value of land, and that the landowners of England will be ruined. As an owner of land, and of no other description of property, I do not entertain any such apprehensions. For some years the principles of free trade have evidently been gaining ground, and every year the repeal of the Corn Laws has become more and more probable; yet has the value of land decreased in this country? Certainly not. Land sells better now, and for a greater number of years' purchase, than it ever did before. Upon what, I ask, does the value of the land of a country depend? It does not depend entirely, or even mainly, upon its fertility; for in some places a few acres of inferior soil are much more valuable and fetch a higher price in the market, than thousands of acres of the richest soil in other places. The value of land depends mainly upon the wealth and numbers of the surrounding population, and upon its vicinity to good markets. Now, when I reflect on the enormous population, the vast trade, and the great wealth of this country—when I calculate the stimulus which will be given to population, the additions made to commerce and wealth, by a system of free trade—when, on the other hand, I consider the narrow extent of the land of England, and the increasing demand for it which must arise from any increase of wealth and population, I laugh at the notion that the landlords of England can be permanently injured by a repeal of the Corn Laws. It is my firm belief that the value of our land is augmenting, and will augment; and I contend that we owe that augmentation to the accumulation of the manufacturing and commercial classes. For example, a great revolution seems to be about to take place in our means of internal communication. 1213 If this country continue prosperous—if commerce and manufacture thrive, before long England will be covered with railroads—railways will exist between every town of any importance, and extend into every district possessing either mineral or agricultural wealth. Great Britain will become like one vast city: our remotest agricultural districts will be brought, as it were, into the vicinity of the metropolis; and a few hours will convey their productions, their corn and cattle uninjured to the best markets of the world. To whom shall we be indebted for these railroads, which, in many cases, will double the value of our land? Not to the capital of the landowner, but to the accumulations of the commercial and manufacturing classes. More than any other set of men, the landowners of England are interested in fostering the commerce, augmenting the wealth, and increasing the population of this country; for in proportion to that commerce, wealth, and population, will he the demand for our land; and in proportion to that demand will be its value in the market, and we shall be rich. Therefore, Sir, if I were not actuated by nobler or better motives, self-interest alone would induce me, as a landowner, to give my cordial support to the measure of the right hon. Baronet.
§ MR. BENETT
, in opposing the present measures, was not influenced by ill will or animosity either against the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, or against those who now supported him. As for himself, he never gave any support as a party man to any Minister, nor to any party in that House. He would, however, tell those who originated the measure which produced the present juncture, and those who supported it, that as there was, as they avowed, a change in their sentiments, they acted most honourably in having changed their conduct. The present was a question of very great importance—it was a question on which he entertained for many years very strong opinions. He heard with great pleasure the position which was laid down by the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, when he said that the object of all political economy should be to afford the greatest amount of happiness to the largest number of people; and the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government expressed a similar opinion. It certainly was the duty of the Government and of the Legislature to do everything in their power to afford the greatest 1214 amount of happiness to the greatest mass of the people; but then the question was, whether the measure now before the House was the one most likely to accomplish that object—the question was, whether they would enjoy more happiness with it or without it. It was affirmed that cheapness of food would afford a great amount of happiness to the population: he agreed with the sentiment that cheapness of food was most desirable; but still care should be taken, lest in endeavouring to produce cheapness of food, an error might be committed which would rather injure than serve the people. He admitted that cheapness of food produced by home labour was most desirable, because in proportion to the extent of that production, there was a demand for wages, and the increase of wages was in proportion to the demand and the supply of labour; but care should be taken lest, in promoting cheapness of food, we may not lessen the demand for labour, while we did not diminish the supply. It was a fact, which he could establish on the clearest evidence, that every quarter of wheat which would be brought to this country would displace an amount of labour which would be equivalent to 25s.; so that care should be taken not to reduce the demand for labour, either by importation or by any menus; and it would appear from a calculation he made, that the importation which might take place would produce a defalcation in labour to a very large amount, probably to the amount of five millions. Some gentlemen who represented the sentiments of free traders, had told the people that wages would not be reduced by a reduction in the price of food. But that was not possible to suppose, as the amount of foreign corn which would be imported must eventuate in the destruction of the English labourer; and would not the want of the demand as regarded the English labourer tend to the reduction of wages? Most assuredly it would, for that there would be a considerable reduction in the price of labour he would contend; and that reduction would be to the amount of 25s. the quarter. The hon. Member for Manchester made a calculation that the amount of labour for a quarter of wheat was only 9s.; but he had drawn up a document, which would show what really was the amount of labour expended on a quarter of wheat—and the accuracy of the document was beyond all contradiction.
|PYTHOUSE LABOUR ON ARABLE LAND.|
|Common labour, equal to four weeks' labour of one man, at 8s. per week, on each acre||32s.||per acre.|
|Cost of beer, equal to 2s. per week each man||8||—|
|Blacksmith, wheelwright, collar maker, and extra labour, equal to one weeks' labour per acre, one man at 8s.||8||—|
|Cost of beer to ditto, equal to 2s. per week to one man||2||—|
|Cost of labour and beer per acre||50s.||—|
|In the Four-field system, the wheat crop should bear two years' cost of labour, or 100s. Supposing the above calculations to be correct, allowing the crop of wheat to average four quarters, the cost of labour on each quarter of wheat will be||25s.||—|
|PYTHOUSE AND LINDLEY FARMS, FEB. 1846.|
|260||Arable—Common labour equal to four weeks' labour of one man per acre at 8s. per week||32s.||416|
|Cost of beer equal to 2s. per week each each man||8||104|
|Blacksmith, wheelwright, collar maker, and extra labour equal to one week's labour per acre, at 8s.||8||104|
|Cost of beer equal to 2s. per week each man||2||26|
|100||Meadow — Common labour, equal to two weeks' labour, one man on each acre at 8s. per week||16||80|
|Blacksmith, wheelwright, collar maker, and extra labour equal to one week's labour of one man per acre, at 8s. per week||8||40|
|Beer, cost of, equal to 2s. per week, each man, in common labour two weeks||4||20|
|Beer, blacksmith, wheelwright, collar makers, and extra labour, one week of one man per acre||2||10|
|200||Pasture — Common labour equal to one week's labour, one man at 8s. per week||8||80|
|Beer, — Common labour equal to one week's labour, one man at 8s. per week||2||20|
|Labour on Pythouse farm||£900|
|Poor's-rate average 6s. per acre||198|
|Tithe average 6s. per acre||198|
|Capital employed at 10l. per acre, 5,600l. should give 10 per cent.||560|
§ From that statement, which was incontrovertibly true, every quarter of wheat elsewhere produced and imported here would deprive the British labourer of earnings to the amount of 25s. He would, therefore, ask those Gentlemen—those free traders who proceeded through the country telling strange tales, to seduce the people to their views, and for whose information he prepared those documents—could they deny their veracity? He was as anxious as any man could be, that the people should have every fair privilege, and that they should have cheap food; but he would remind the House his desire would be, that it should be the produce of this country. That it should not be the produce of foreign countries—that it should be grown at home. His wish was, that the English labourer should neither suffer, nor be reduced to distress; and which would be the case unless that grain on which he was fed was grown in this country. As to low wages, the old argument was abandoned. He remembered many years ago the argument used by manufacturers was, that they wanted to effect low wages in order to compete with the foreign manufacturer, and which, they said, they could only do by the reduction of wages. They had the honesty publicly to declare what was the fact—they were not so prudent then as they are now; a new generation had started up, who saw that that argument would not do—that it would be unsafe and unpopular to talk of low wages; but that they should talk of the exchange of commodities. The Anti-Corn-Law League therefore say, that they do not want to reduce the wages, but to extend their traffic—the old argument being superseded by one more congenial to the times. But to bring about low wages was the object; and the design was to accomplish it by the measure of the right hon. Baronet—a measure which would be the ruin of the English farmer. But if the advocates of free trade be anxious to serve the poorer classes, why not advocate the reduction of those taxes which press so heavily on them? Why not advocate the repeal of the malt tax, the tobacco tax, and those other taxes which the labouring classes feel? He would denounce the men who, having themselves made large fortunes, who purchased large properties, and were anxious to exempt those properties from every burden, while they professed to sympathize with the labourer, and yet would not advocate the removal of any tax which would prove to him a real relief— 1217 not even the removal of an impost on tobacco, which is to him a luxury, when, at four o'clock in the morning, he proceeds to his business with his pipe in his mouth. He was a very old man, and thanked God that he had once more the power of speaking honestly his sentiments, as it might be the last time he should have an opportunity to do so: and he should be rejoiced hereafter to reflect that he had taken that opportunity of requesting and urging upon the rich and great of the country to relieve the poorer classes of the people of those heavy taxes, and to take the burden upon themselves. He had repeatedly, and repeatedly again, heard the members of the Anti-Corn-Law League informing the people that the result of the repeal of the Corn Laws would be, that, they would have cheap bread and dear labour. Now, he asserted that those two things could not exist together; and if they should have cheap bread, they would have cheap labour also; and those who stated the contrary, would not only deceive themselves, but would also deceive others. He remembered on one occasion, some time ago, that at an agricultural meeting, when he had distributed some premiums amongst the small farmers and labourers, in his part of the country, for employing implements in farming, he had occasion to address them, in the course of which he had told them that he respected them as friends; for he looked upon them as such; and if he had to be born again, he would rather be born an honest labourer like one of them, than in any other class of society. He had made that statement in the excitement of the moment, it was true, but yet he felt it most sincerely; and he would wish to know if any of those Gentlemen opposite, who were connected with the manufacturing interest would address the labourers as friends? He was sure they would not, for there was no sympathy existing between them: they looked upon the labourers as mere machines. He considered those persons who resided on his land as his friends; and therefore there could be no impropriety in addressing them as such. A great many allusions had been made to the meeting that had been held at Goatacre; and he wished to make a few observations respecting it, as he knew the place well. The persons who attended that meeting, were not the labourers of the place, but strangers, who were collected together in the night time. The League pretend that they do not pay 1218 emissaries, but he knew that they did; and an hon. Member had said, previous to that meeting being held, that before long there would be a "flare up" in Wiltshire. At that meeting, a Mr. Pedlar, who had been taken out of the workhouse a short time previously, was put into the chair. He had read the speech which it was alleged that person had delivered on the occasion, and also the speech of a Mr. Edwards, who addressed those assembled. They had both been sent to him, and he had therefore read them attentively. He would wish that hon. Gentlemen would read those speeches, and give their opinion as to whether they believed them to be the production of those two persons. For his part, he would say without hesitation, that they were the manufacture of the League. There was one person who had admitted that he received a guinea a day for going about the country to get up these meetings. The people of Wiltshire were respectable men, and had nothing to do with that meeting; for, with the exception of some half-dozen lazy fellows, such as always were found in every locality, and who were an annoyance to the place, with these exceptions, they were as respectable a body of labourers as had ever been met with anywhere. He remembered the labourers of Wiltshire a great many years. He was old enough to remember when the property tax of 10 per cent. was in existence. At that time he was young and aspiring, and could not bear to see the deception that was used towards the people. He remembered attending a meeting at Salisbury, when Mr. Cobbett and Mr. Hunt were making speeches, and misleading those who were present, for the purpose of running down the property tax; and he remarked to an old gentleman, a Mr. Burton, who was with him, "Was it not disgraceful to allow those fellows to deceive those men?" "Oh!" said his friend in reply, "you talk foolishly: those fellows have no property, but we have; let them alone, they are doing us a service." The consequence was, that the property tax was run down, and by those very persons too, who were injured by its removal; for since then tax upon tax had been levied on the people, from which they had been free previously. At Goatacre and other places the people were induced to cry out for a free trade in corn, and subdivision of land, which he could assure them would prove to be the ruinof small farmers, who would be obliged, 1219 from want of sufficient capital, to sell then-produce at any price they could obtain—as it were from hand to mouth—not like the large landholders, who could keep their corn until such times as prices would prove sufficiently remunerative. It was the small farmers who would be ruined, as the little fish were eaten up by the big ones, and the little manufacturers destroyed by the large and extensive ones. He did not complain of that, but merely stated it as a fact. Last year the price of wheat was 44s. a quarter; and the small farmers, who could not afford to keep it back, sold at that price, which was the most they could get. He knew a very extensive farmer, who had 4,000 sacks of wheat, and he being in independent circumstances, kept his stock back until he was enabled to realize 72s. a quarter. These were facts which no one could deny; and he would be glad if hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House would take the trouble of inquiring into them, and they would find that it was as he stated, and that it would be the little and not the large farmers, that would be crushed by it. He was a landholder himself, and was not speaking for the benefit of his own class, but of that of the small farmers, as he felt quite satisfied that the land would not be injured, but merely the class of persons he had mentioned. At all events the loss that landlords might sustain must eventually fall on labourers: first, they would lose what was allowed them for beer, and then they would have a reduction in their wages; and, therefore, he protested against the measure for the sake of the poor labourers, and the small but industrious farmers. He considered that they would have to suffer greatly from the decrease that must necessarily take place in the demand for their produce, and for which they would be without a remedy; but if the manufacturers had no demand for their goods, they had only to put out their fires and dismiss their workmen; but demand or no demand, the farmer was still obliged to go on. It seemed to him, under these circumstances, that passing the present measure was as if the landed interest was to be fattened for slaughter. The manufacturers, whose movements he had watched for fifty years, appeared to think that their interests were safe, that the state of things might continue as prosperous as they appeared to be, sufficiently long to enable them to amass 100,000l. or 150,000l. He had seen such periods when 1220 produce was high, and labour low, But there came a day of retribution, and then came with it the misery which fell most heavily upon the poor labourers. He was a sort of self-elected prophet, and he would tell hon. Gentlemen that, after the passing of that measure, the sooner they made up their books they would find it to be so much the better—and the sooner they left their tall chimnies it would be so much the better; as he firmly believed that the day of trial was coming, and that they were manufacturing more than the world could consume. Foreigners were beginning to rival them, and he was afraid that manufacturers would soon meet with a day of distress. With respect to wages he did not wish to say much; but the Anti-Corn-Law League told them that labourers had very low wages. He would wish to ask those free traders if it were not one of the principles which they advocated themselves, to buy in the cheapest market, and sell in the dearest? If it were so, why not allow farmers to act upon their own principle? He could tell them, however, that wages were not governed by the farmers, but by the demand for labour. When those gentlemen connected with the manufacturing interests speak of the rate of wages in their respective districts, he considered that they should also add whether at the time quoted it was one of prosperity or the reverse: the average should be given, and not a particular instance advanced as a general principle. He was much surprised, when it was generally admitted that everything was in a thriving condition in the country—when the farmers were satisfied with the prices they were receiving for their produce — in short, when everything was in a state to be let alone, he was surprised that at such a time every interest in the country was interfered with. They had two great parties in the country and in that House; and when he looked to the respective advocates of each party, he admitted that he had great respect for the talents of hon. Gentlemen who sat on the same side of the House as he did, and he had an equal respect for the talents of those Gentlemen who sat opposite; and he could not believe that any sinister or unworthy motive had actuated hon. Gentlemen in the course they had resolved to pursue—yet he could not conceal his astonishment at the very sudden and extraordinary change that had taken place in the opinions of many of them. Though his feelings had hitherto 1221 been in unison with the party on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, yet when he saw them join in the measures and principles of those who were universally opposed to them, it somewhat alarmed him. He could scarcely understand hon. Gentlemen stating that there must be a Government, and that one of two right hon. and learned Gentlemen in that House must be the leader—that they had to decide between them, and them only. What a miserable state of things was that, that they must either follow the right hon. Baronet on that side of the House, or the noble Lord on the other, and that, without them, they could not form a Government! That appeared to him to be very extraordinary; and he thought that greater mischief could not be created by any party, than was about to be effected by the introduction of that measure based on such a principle. He had observed that when one great political leader had passed away, there was always another ready to start up and take his place; and he, therefore, denied the proposition that a Government could not be formed without the aid of either of those two right hon. Gentlemen, who were looked upon as the leaders of the two great parties in that House. He had witnessed many important events in his time; but he confessed that he had not seen any more important than that would be—the passing of the measure under discussion.
Mr. HENRY BERKELEY
I might have been unwilling to obtrude myself upon the House in this protracted debate, had it not been for the prominent position in which my hon. Colleague has placed himself by moving the Amendment. I find myself called upon to make some remarks on the subject, and I intend to con-find myself as much as possible to the line of argument adopted by my hon. Colleague. My hon. Colleague has thrust himself into the front of the protectionist army. Whether he has achieved this greatness willingly, or it is greatness thrust upon him, we have no right to inquire; but there I find him, pleading the cause of protection sternly and stiffly. My hon. Colleague argues, "There was no special necessity for the measure." My hon. Colleague observes, "Even the hon. Member for Wolverhampton must be astonished at the miraculous conversion of some of his new coadjutors, who were now prepared to substitute for their own the opinions of the Member for Stockport;" and my hon. Colleague winds up his determined protectionist speech 1222 in these words—"He believed that he was acting for the benefit of the country and the Colonies also, by advocating protection for every branch of British industry." Now, Sir, the astonishment my hon. Colleague evinces for the conduct of others, may be somewhat abated if my hon. Colleague will only take the trouble to scan his own. On Monday, the 9th, my hon. Colleague made the speech from which I have quoted extracts; and on Tuesday, the 10th, having been asked by a most respectable constituent to support the prayer of a petition, signed by 18,000 of his constituents, approving of the Ministerial plan, but preferring immediate abolition, my hon. Colleague—ever having voted against the annual Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton—ever having been a sturdy protectionist—having, on the 9th, made a protectionist speech, thus writes on the 10th:—
§ "London, Feb. 10, 1846.
§ "Dear Sir—I received your letter this morning, and regret that I cannot give my vote in favour of the immediate repeal of the Corn Laws, as I am opposed to the measure introduced by Sir R. Peel, when considered as a whole; but though I cannot give my vote in favour of the immediate repeal, I do not hesitate to say that I think that it would be better for all parties that the repeal should be immediate; and, entertaining this view of the question, if the Motion should be made. I shall not oppose it.
§ "My speech of last night will, I hope, sufficiently explain to you my reasons for not being able to come round to a sudden change of opinions.—Believe me, dear Sir, yours truly,
§ "PHILIP W. S. MILES.
§ "G. Thomas, Esq."
§ Now, this is consistency with a vengeance! Why, if the hon. Member for Wolverhampton be astonished at the conversion of any one, he may well be astonished at the conversion of the hon. Member for Bristol. Has the proposition of the right hon. Baronet, to deal with the Corn Laws had the wonderful effect of disarming the hon. Member's objection to total abolition? But no, he will not now oppose the instant abolition of the Corn. Laws. Then, if not, why not? Because the right hon. Baronet has brought forward a scheme for a sort of modified abolition of the Corn Laws, can that be a pretence for the hon. Member for Bristol giving up all defence of protection; and how are we to reconcile his speech of the 9th with his letter of the 10th? Really, when Gentlemen opposite talk of inconsistency, it would be better to remove the beam from their own eye, before they look after the mote in the eye of their neighbour; 1223 and I would just ask my hon. Colleague if the Conservatives of Bristol are likely to be hypercritical—whether they might not think that his determined opposition to his own political leader might savour of faction, coupled as it was with the surrender of his opinions to those of a political opponent? I now turn to that great commercial city which we have unitedly the honour to represent, and I tell my hon. Colleague that he does not speak the opinions of the majority of the inhabitants of the county and city of Bristol—nor of the constituency, nor of that portion of the constituency which sent him to Parliament. I believe most decidedly this to be the case. The petition which I presented contains 18,000 signatures, and those the signatures of Conservatives equally with Liberals. Now, if my hon. Colleague spoke more than his opinion—if he claims the weight which a Member deserves who speaks the voice of a powerful constituency—where were his petitions? Not a single one did he, or could he, produce. The opinions of the hon. Member on this question are the opinions of a mere clique Bristol has suffered too much from the principle of monopoly not to feel disgust at the very name. Monopoly has been the evil genius of the city. Whatever strength protectionists may have in other parts of England, it exists not in Bristol. I have heard loud boasts from hon. Gentlemen opposite, of an appeal to the people. An appeal to Bristol, I most decidedly believe, would prove that the constituency fully recognize the principles of free trade; and I fear my hon. Friend would find that his supporters in that city would not sanction a secession on his part from Her Majesty's present Minister. In short, since my hon. Colleague cannot understand the signs of the times—cannot read the writing on the wall—the people of Bristol will read it for him. They will discriminate between obstinacy and consistency; and if my hon. Colleague stands still, his constituency will follow the right hon. Baronet in his onward course. And why should they not feel and yield to the pressure of the times, and, following the example of the two first statesmen of the ago, give up foregone conclusions—abjure bygone errors—and, uniting heart and hand, do that tardy justice to their country, the necessity for which has forced itself on their reason?
said, that surely the speech of the hon. Member who had 1224 just sat down was more suited to the Bristol hustings than the House of Commons. He could assure the House that he had no intention of encouraging it by a repetition of replies to arguments which, in his opinion, had already been satisfactorily answered, and which would, no doubt, be again satisfactorily answered in the course of that debate; but as the hon. Member for Durham, after whom he had risen to speak, but in vain, the last night of the debate, gave vent pretty freely to the expression of his opinion on the subject of farming in Cheshire, perhaps he might be allowed, as one of the Members for that county, to express his belief that if the hon. Gentleman had had the same experience in the cultivation of the soil that he had in the manufacture of cotton goods, not only would he have arrived at a very different conclusion with respect to the state of farming in the county of Chester, but he would also have been thoroughly satisfied that so pressed down was the landed interest by local and general taxation as to make it utterly impossible for the British farmer to compete with the foreign farmer; and, therefore, the hon. Gentleman, instead of being, as he then was, a thorough-going and an ultra free trader, would, at this moment, have been a most determined and rigid protectionist. It was not to an agriculturist that the hon. Gentleman would go for an opinion when carrying on manufacturing operations; consequently he must excuse him for declining, as he did decline, to acknowledge him as any great authority, or, indeed, as any authority at all, on matters relating to agriculture. However, as the hon. Gentleman had favoured them with his observations, he should state that, although he had the honour of being one of the Members for South Cheshire, he was connected, both as a landed proprietor and as a resident, with another county, which was acknowledged to be one of the best cultivated in the kingdom; and, from all he had seen in that and other counties he did not hesitate to declare that, in many parts of Cheshire, agricultural improvement was progressing as rapidly as in any other part of the country. It was true that improvement had been seriously checked and the confidence of the farmers much shaken by the agitation carried on against the Corn Laws by the Anti-Corn-Law League—a league that, if it did not owe its existence, at all events owed its importance and influence, to the vacillating and tampering 1225 conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers, during the last two or three years, with respect to protection generally. As the hon. Gentleman appeared to take so great an interest in Cheshire landlords and Cheshire farmers, he strongly recommended the hon. Gentleman, as some amends for the mischief he and his brother leaguers had done, to vote as he should vote, against the free-trade scheme of Her Majesty's Government. The hon. Gentleman had also spoken of the "proud aristocracy" of Cheshire. Now, as he concluded he meant that expression to imply the meaning given to it on a recent occasion by the right hon. Baronet, viz., that pride in which the most exalted and worthy might justly indulge, he had only to thank him for such a compliment to a portion of his constituents. Without regard to the great question before the House, the opinions he had always held respecting protection to all interests remained unchanged; and he should certainly feel it his duty to act up to those opinions, by voting against the measure introduced by the Government. If the present or any other Government had reason to apprehend a scarcity of food, either in England or Ireland, he should be most anxious for an immediate and effectual remedy being applied to meet so fearful a calamity; and one of those remedies should be, perhaps, the opening of the ports for a limited period. At the end of that period, he was well aware that if the Ministers pursued an undecided, vacillating course, they would be unable to maintain the Corn Laws, or indeed anything else; but if their course, on the contrary, were bold and decided, the Corn Laws would be maintained, and without great difficulty. He did not attribute the present prosperous state of the country to the relaxations that had been made in the Tariff, but to markets which had so providentially opened — to the great increase of wealth to the country consequent on a succession of good harvests—to the confidence given to capitalists, by making, as the income tax had done, the revenue of the country exceed its expenditure — to the encouragement that confidence had given to the construction of railways and other public works, and thereby the employment of labour, which had added so immensely to the consuming powers of the country. Had no relaxation in the Tariff taken place, there would, in his judgment, have been an equally prosperous state of things, and a much 1226 larger revenue. It was his belief that as long as the prosperity of trade could be forced up to its present height, and the railway mania lasted, the consuming powers of the country would be such that, even under a free-trade system, it might be possible to obtain remunerating prices for agricultural produce; but when the season of depression in the manufacturing districts arrived—and arrive it occasionally would—there would be nothing to fallback or rest upon, and the most fearful consequences would be the result to every class and every interest in the kingdom. After the course adopted by Her Majesty's advisers with respect to the dissenters' chapels, the College of Maynooth, and academical education in Ireland, in previous Sessions, and in this Session with regard to the Corn Laws, it was his painful duty to declare that he could no longer incur the responsibility of being one of their supporters in Parliament. He should, of course, support them on questions on which he might consider them right, and vote against them when he might consider them wrong. He felt the greatest regard and respect for them as individuals, but he could no longer have confidence in them as Ministers. The power of the leaders of a Government professing to be Conservative, in carrying measures that would be acceptable to Gentlemen opposite, holding avowedly Radical opinions, was unbounded: for they could always command a certain number of votes on their own side, which, together with support from the Opposition, would at any time ensure to them a majority. But he could not continue his confidence to any set of men, were they ever so respectable or talented, when it was proved that their adherence to any one great principle could not be depended upon. Deeply, however, as he deplored the change that had taken place in the opinions of Her Majesty's Ministers, extraordinary as it was that so many conversions should have occurred in so short a space of time, he was thoroughly satisfied that that change had been the result of the most earnest and conscientious conviction; and under such circumstances it was, no doubt, their duty, as honourable men—it was a duty they owed to their Sovereign and their country, openly to avow that change of opinion. But although they were unquestionably right in that, they were, in his judgment, decidedly wrong in continuing in power without first making an appeal to the country; for he feared 1227 they had laid themselves open to the serious charge of making use of the power they possessed as a Government to overturn the very principles, by the profession of which, and for the defence of which, that power had been obtained. That charge, compared to which that of inconsistency (important as it was that public men should on great questions maintain their consistency) was trifling indeed—that serious charge had yet to be met and satisfactorily answered by one of the Ministers of the Crown. When it had been satisfactorily answered, by no one would the answer be received with greater pleasure and satisfaction—by no one would it be more heartily cheered—than by himself. He was well aware that, brought forward as this measure was by a nominally Conservative Government, it would be carried with triumph through that, and he feared through the Upper House of Parliament; but a thousand times would he rather fall, as he knew he would fall, with the agricultural Members with honour, than join in a triumph which he could not but fear would be attended with disgrace.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, that, cordially concurring in the measure, and believing it to be one which not only did honour to the Ministry that introduced it, but would reflect credit upon the Parliament that adopted it; believing also, after the statement made by the right hon. Baronet opposite, that through the influence of public opinion alone could he overcome the difficulties with which he was surrounded, or be sustained against the obloquy with which bigotry and ignorance had assailed him; he thought it behoved those who did not owe their seats to the nomination of peers, and were not removable at their pleasure, but owed them to the free and independent choice of the people, to stand up for the measure, and not give to it a silent, a lukewarm, or a jealous support. Far be it from him to let hon. Gentlemen opposite suppose him insensible to the painful and false position in which they were placed; he could make every allowance for those whose powers of change could not keep pace with the conversions they saw going on around them; far be it from him to deny that a great, a very extraordinary, a peculiar, a simultaneous change of opinion had taken place in the breasts of distinguished men on both sides of the House, concurrently with the advice tendered by the right hon. Baronet to his Cabinet in November last; but it did not become hon. 1228 Members on his (Mr. Duncombe's) side of the House to cavil at the change, or quarrel with it; it was for them to feel grateful for it, and to admire the ability which it was carried out. But he must say, that those hon. Gentlemen for whom he had just expressed some sympathy, because they could not in conversion go the pace of those who sat near them, did not seem to be taking the right course to extricate themselves from their false position. Why indulge in every sort of personal abuse and reproach towards the right hon. Baronet and his Colleagues, with every now and then a sort of hypocritical canting exclamation—"We give you every credit for conscientious motives; we are sure you do not do it from any corrupt motives; we are sure you are quite honest and sincere in your changes—but still we have no confidence in you as Ministers?" [Mr. SHAW: Hear, hear.] The hon. and learned Recorder went farther than any; he called the Ministers, with whom up to that hour he was in the habit of associating both as friends and Ministers, political cowards; he told the right hon. Baronet he had no confidence in such political cowardice as his. Well, if that were so, why not come forward at once with a vote of want of confidence in the Ministry, a vote of censure upon the Treasury bench? Such a course would be manly, intelligible, and Parliamentary. It would be Parliamentary; for hon. Gentlemen opposite took that course in 1841 on the Address. It was proposed to meddle with exactly the same questions as now, namely, the commercial interests of the country; and what was the Amendment then moved and carried? That a Government which meddled with such questions as corn and commerce ought not to have the confidence of that House. Thus it ran:—We assure your Majesty that we are deeply sensible of the importance of those considerations to which your Majesty has been graciously pleased to direct our attention, in reference to the commerce and revenue of the country, and to the laws which regulate the trade in corn; that in deciding the course which it may be advisable to pursue with reference to such matters, it will be our earnest desire to consult the interest and promote the welfare of all classes of your Majesty's subjects; that we feel it, however, to be our duty humbly to submit to your Majesty that it is essential to the satisfactory results of our deliberations upon these and other matters of public concern that your Majesty's Government should possess the confidence of this House and of the country; and respectfully to represent to your Majesty that confidence is not reposed in the present advisers of your Majesty.1229 That was the manly, straightforward course taken in 1841. Why did not hon. Gentlemen opposite do the same thing now? [Sir J. TYRRELL: Because you would not support us.] "I won't support you!" (said the hon. Member); how do you know I would not support you? I never told you I should or I should not; and what right have you to assume that I should not? Why not try it like honest men, and leave the country to judge between us? [Sir J. TYRRELL: I meant that your party would not support us.] I have no party but that of the country." The fact was (the hon. Member continued), that hon. Gentlemen opposite dared not face the opinion of the country. But what did they do? They went on casting all sorts of abuse and obloquy on the Government; they charged them with perfidy and treason. Treason to whom? What would they have had the right hon. Baronet do under the circumstances—the peculiar circumstances—in which he was placed in November last? The right hon. Baronet had told the House—he had explained to them—in the estimation of the public honourably to himself—the course he had thought proper to pursue on that occasion. He resigned. Were hon. Gentlemen opposite prepared to take the Government? Mr. Gladstone, in his address to the electors of Newark, told them that those who were against the relaxation of protection were not prepared to form a Government. The noble Lord the Member for London was empowered to form an Administration; but he failed, for some reason or other. The Protectionists wanted courage; the Whigs wanted concord: what was the right hon. Baronet to do? They would, of course, admit that there must be some Government in the country. If that was so, how was the country to be governed, except in the way that the right hon. Baronet proposed? He was prepared, even if there had been no one to follow him, so to act that Her Majesty should be able to meet Her Parliament. He wished the noble Lord had done the same. He wished the noble Lord had come to that House, if even he had had only ten men to follow him. Public opinion would have carried him through, as it would the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. Treason! to whom? To the Queen? To the people? To his own honour?—No! Treason, perhaps, to Toryism! But, what did that mean? Why, that he had preferred the interests of a great nation to the ignorant prejudices of a party. There was 1230 but one treason of which the right hon. Baronet could now be guilty—that was, treason to the people and the country, by vacillating in the course he had marked out for himself. That was the only treason of which the right hon. Baronet could now be guilty. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might say the country was with them; but where was the proof? Where was protection in the West, Riding of Yorkshire? Its voice was still there. Where was it yesterday at Westminster? Was any protection candidate put forth in Westminster? For himself, he did not think it signified one straw which of the hon. Gentlemen was successful in that contest. Where was the protection candidate? Why did he not hoist the flag of protection at Covent-garden? If they had, the candidate might have stood up to his knees in native cabbages and talked of protection. They were told, however, that the tenants-at-will and the clergy were up in arms, and the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford told them that the clergy and the Church were dreadfully alarmed. He said that the tithe interest was not taken care of in the measure, and that the interest of the Church was not taken care of. But he had not told them why. He did not give any reason why those interests were in danger. It was singular that, whenever anything was going to be done for the good of the people, some Gentlemen always got up in that House, and cried out, "You don't remember the Church!" Why, the clergy were no more necessarily associated with tithe than the Church meant religion. Why? Because one-half of the Church belonged to lay impropriators. Still it was said that the clergy were up in arms against the measure. As for the tenant-farmers, he did not think they cared a straw about it; if they could vote by ballot they would vote for the measure. But under the 50l. tenant-at-will clause they were compelled to vote at the will of their landlords. Talking of tithe, he had an authority on the subject, which he thought would dispense; with some of the alarm which war said to exist among the clergy on that account. He contended that the titheowner, whether clerical or lay, had no right to complain; and the authority on which he said this was one to which the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis), would, he was sure, pay the greatest attention. It was a charge of the Bishop of Rochester in 1837, immediately after the Tithe Commutation Bill passed. If he rightly understood the argument of the 1231 hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis), it was that the Legislature had by that Act entered into a compact with the Church to the effect, that tithe should not be thereafter prejudiced by any act of the Legislature; But that this measure for the repeal of the Corn Laws would so prejudice tithe. He had sometimes voted with the hon. Baronet, though on very different principles. He did so on the occasion of that Bill, and he did so against the Maynooth Bill; but on the voluntary principle, while the hon. Baronet voted on the high church principle. The same was the case on the Tithe Bill. In opposing that Bill, he (Mr. Duncombe) then argued that it was most unjust to the landlord, if changes were to be made, especially in the Corn Laws, to fix him by the enactments of the Tithe Bill. He also argued, that if the Corn Laws were repealed, certain light lands must be thrown out of cultivation, while the landlords would be saddled with a rent-charge out of all just proportion. He also argued that the Bill gave tithe a right and claim on land which it had never had before. It gave tithe a prior claim to all other charges on land. Previously the titheowner had no lien on land, but only a personal claim, if the party owing the tithe refused to pay it. But the Tithe Commutation Bill made the tithe a positive rent-charge, and one which the light lands, under the repeal of the Corn Laws, would be unable to pay. Now, what was the opinion of the Bishop of Rochester? He referred not merely to the Tithe Bill, but also to that for the registration of births, deaths, and marriages. He said:—Taking into account the state of political parties in the country, the Tithe Bill may be considered to be as favourable an arrangement towards the clergy of a very difficult question as could have been expected. Happily for the Church, a powerful and influential body of the laity were also holders of tithe property to a very large amount, and were as much interested in a fair settlement of the question as we were; the clergy, therefore, in this instance, have experienced a greater degree of justice than has been extended towards them in the discussion of other subjects connected with their temporal affairs.Now, generally it was not considered Parliamentary to impute motives. If he had said what was here said, it would have been called a Radical opinion; but, as it came from a bishop, of course it was quite orthodox. Yet it imported that, self-interest being mixed up in the question, a better arrangement had been obtained than would have been got if there had been no such interest. The bishop went on to say— 1232The criterion which has been fixed upon to determine the future value of the tithes is also considered by some persons, whose opinions are entitled to great weight, as a dangerous and delusive arrangement, which will hereafter lead to great diminution in the property of the Church; and it is said that any considerable decrease in the value or quantity of the articles which may have been fixed upon to regulate the future relative value of the tithes, would produce the evils here anticipated; but it must be remembered, that as the incomes of the clergy were derived under the old system from the articles of produce, they would equally have been affected by, under any circumstances, a diminution in their quantity or value. I am not, therefore, disposed to think that any just cause for alarm exists on this point.Surely that authority ought to be satisfactory to the hon. Baronet. It was the charge of the Bishop of Rochester in 1837, and was reported in The Times newspaper; and unless the hon. Baronet was prepared to state that the sliding-scale, like tithe, was of divine origin, he thought that the clergy, or the titheowners, had no reason to complain of the repeal of the Corn Laws. The only argument used by the hon. Gentleman opposite in defence of this measure, which had given him pain, was that which was involved in the reference to the occurrences of the year 1842. He did think that those occurrences ought to have been kept completely out of sight on the present occasion. He could easily understand hon. Gentleman opposite, the right hon. Baronet, for instance, despairing and desponding as to making any impression on the reason of some of the hon. Gentlemen who sat on the same side, and, therefore, thinking it necessary to appeal to their fears. But he conceived, that when they did so appeal to their fears, they ought, at the same time, to have done justice to the other side of the House. They ought to have recollected, that in 1842, when those dreadful occurrences took place, and when there was every symptom and appearance of considerable tumult and confusion in the country—they ought to have recollected that, previous to that, continual Motions were made on that (the Opposition) side of the House, involving exactly the same principles as those now advanced by Her Majesty's Ministers; and that those Ministers were told, over and over again, that if they could but give effect to those sound principles of commercial policy, more particularly as regarded the food of the people, they would thereby put an end to all the confusion and distress in the country. He had himself, at the end of July, on that occasion, moved an Address to the Crown, which was, after all, looking to the force of the 1233 party opposite, negatived but by a slight majority, praying Her Majesty, if the measure then resorted to did not remove the distress, to call Parliament together, and give greater effect to the principles which had been entered on. That Motion was rejected; but now they were told that those were measures which hereafter would prevent such distress and confusion us then existed. If such measures would now prevent the recurrence of such distress, he had a right to say that they would have prevented it on that occasion, and would have relieved the right hon. Baronet opposite from the necessity of then vindicating the measure which the right hon. Baronet seemed—he would not say—to glory in, of sending down a regiment of Guards and a park of artillery to the manufacturing districts. If a measure like that now proposed had been then brought forward, there would have been no necessity for the guards and artillery, but contentment and peace would have been restored to the manufacturing districts. It was impossible to say, by such a measure, what misery and what sufferings might not have been spared, and what crime might not have been prevented! But, thank God, whoever might be the rulers of this country, they ruled over a loyal, peaceable, honest, and forgiving people. The people did forget and forgive the errors then perpetrated; and all that Parliament could do now was to pass this measure as quickly and as sincerely as they could, giving the people no cause to look back to those days which were gone. There was a certain question put that evening to the right hon. Baronet by the hon. Member for Norfolk, and also another by a noble Lord, with respect to the total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws; and the right hon. Baronet had been told, that if he thought it necessary for the safe carrying of the measure, no Gentleman on that (the Opposition) side of the House would support any measure for the total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. The right hon. Baronet had stated that he thought the provision as proposed by himself with respect to the Corn Laws, to be the most desirable, but that, if it were the sincere wish of the hon. Gentlemen sitting on the (protection) benches near him that protection should altogether cease, he and the rest of the House would be but too happy to accommodate them. But there was another part of this measure to which he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet, in connexion with the question 1234 put by the hon. Member for Norfolk. When this measure was proposed, they were told to take it as a whole. Now, he would tell the House that part of the measure which, after all, was and would prove the most valuable to the operative classes in the manufacturing districts, was that part which made the great and important change in the law of settlement. He declared, that if they struck out that part of the measure, and if the Ministers did not pledge themselves as much to that portion as they did to that part relating to the Corn Laws, the measure would be valueless in the eyes of the operative classes in the manufacturing districts. The right hon. Baronet had said that evening, that he did not intend to press that part to which he was now alluding, until the part relating to articles of food and clothing was concluded in that House; but there was an idea getting abroad—he mentioned it, though he hoped it might not prove true—that in some of these great manufacturing towns it was intended by certain parties to offer a very strong and powerful opposition to that portion of the measure to which he adverted; and that the language used was, "Let us get the Corn Law part of the question settled, and then we will deal with the law of settlement." He warned the House, that if they did not pass this part of the measure, there would be an agitation in the country which would render the measure completely valueless; and he called on the Ministers to give an assurance that they did consider that portion as part and parcel of the measure. The proposed provision to which he alluded was, that which, having a retrospective effect, made a five years' industrial residence give a settlement in the towns where the operatives resided. [Sir R. PEEL: A right to relief.] Well, a right to relief. What he contended for was, that those towns should be saddled with the expense of that relief. Supposing that such a law had existed in 1842, did they suppose that there would have been half or quarter of the crime, misery, and distress that then prevailed? What occurred at Stockport at that time? It was notorious that 3,000 houses there were vacant and empty at that time, which had been occupied by men paying 2s. 6d. a week rent. What became of all those unfortunate, persons? They were obliged to tramp and travel through all parts of the country. A great number were Irish, and they were cruelly and with the greatest inhumanity sent back 1235 to Ireland by those capitalists whose property they had helped to create. He understood that at the present moment nearly two-thirds of the operative population of Manchester were not entitled to relief from those persons whose fortunes they had made. What was the result? These poor persons, with their wives and children, were sent back to their country parishes, and when they arrived there, what happened? They were disowned by their parish; a small sum was offered to them to go away, and seek employment elsewhere; and they were sent tramping about the country — the whole world scorning them—no one having regard for them; as if they were only worthy to starve. Was it then to be wondered at that these persons commit crime? They might declaim about discontent, disaffection, and sedition, if they chose so to call it; but who would not be disaffected under such circumstances? Was it surprising that crime was committed by persons hungry and tramping throughout the country, when the only prospect for the termination of the misery of those unfortunate victims of the detestable system of the law of settlement was death or the hulks? He did hope, therefore, to hear from Ministers, that they considered that portion of their measure relating to the law of settlement to be essential. He did not ask it as a compensation to the agricultural interest, although it would be a boon to them; but it would also be a great act of justice to the operatives in the manufacturing districts. For those reasons it would be necessary to look after this part of the measure with a very jealous eye; but he believed that the Ministers were sincerely desirous of carrying every part of the measure. Having said so much, he would conclude by giving his cordial support, both in that House and out of it, to the Ministerial measure; believing, as he did, that it was calculated not only to extend our commerce, and to benefit agriculture, but also to improve the social and political condition of the people; and, above all things, to enlist in favour of our common country the good will, friendly feeling, and respect of all the civilized world. With respect to that portion of the House commonly called the agricultural interest, he really did believe that as soon as this protection, so degrading to and unworthy of them, should have been removed, they would be the first to acknowledge that their apprehensions were unfounded; and when they saw trade 1236 flourishing, employment plentiful, prices ranging high and steady, rates reduced, and the value of their estates not depreciated, he did hope that they would readily admit that all their alarm had been without just cause, and would regret the error in which they had so long and pertinaciously persevered.
SIR T. ACLAND
was very glad, as a Member of that body which was the subject of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, to have an opportunity of responding, as he hoped many others could, with the utmost sincerity, to the last appeal which that hon. Gentleman had made to the agricultural interest. If they found they were the advocates of error, though it was an error which they had shared in common with many others much their superiors in ability, and which had been received as truth for generations—if they found that a course contrary to that hitherto pursued was really fraught with blessings, he did believe that, one and all, they would not only acknowledge their error, but cheerfully acquiesce in the decision of Parliament; and whether the measure of the right hon. Baronet proved to be for the immediate advantage of the country or not—whether they were called upon to meet that measure as a benefit or as a misfortune, they would, above all, do their duty to their country and to the interest with which they were connected, so that the legislation now in prospect might not be turned to the injury of either. But when the hon. Gentleman used the epithets "ignorant and bigoted," in speaking of the agriculturists, he begged to remind the hon. Gentleman, of what indeed the hon. Gentleman had unconsciously shown he recollected, that they had an excuse for their error. The hon. Gentleman had reminded them that they were merely continuing in the belief which had been propagated, and persevering in the advocacy of that law which had been passed in 1842, by the very persons who now proposed its repeal, whom the hon. Gentleman described as being the first to discern the new light, and who now, for the first time, propounded in that House those great truths which he charitably allowed that the party he had attacked were yet incapable of seeing. For one, he acknowledged that such was his unhappy fate; and he hoped the House would give him credit for sincerity when he assured them that never, since he first took his seat in Parliament, that is, in 1812, more than thirty years ago, had he endeavoured 1237 with greater anxiety to ascertain the course which it was right he should take. He had never been a supporter of extreme protection. He had welcomed the measure proposed in 1842 by his right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel), which presented itself to the agricultural interest as a great reduction on the protection they had long enjoyed. Neither had he made any difficulty about the Tariff, nor as to the appendix in the shape of the Bill for admitting Canadian grain, or any of the other sequences of the Corn Bill of 1842. In every respect in which he found his right hon. Friend fairly carrying out the principles of that measure, he gave him the most cordial support. But there was a difference between the conduct of Government then and now. He supported them at that time, because they pursued a policy which was necessary to the due fulfilment of their duty in securing a constant supply of grain for the country. There was no free trader then so mad as to maintain that he should secure that constant supply principally by importation. It was by means of a moderate protection that such a supply could alone be secured; such was the purpose for which it had been maintained, and certainly it was not intended to secure high prices of grain for the benefit of a class. The Corn Law had not for its object, directly or indirectly, the raising of prices. In 1815, that great authority, Sir H. Parnell, directed attention to the difficulties which would attend the transition from a state of war to peace. The matter was taken up by the Government. The price of wheat had been as high as 120s. It was necessary for the security of agriculture, in reference to the security of the consumer, that some means should be taken to obviate the difficulties which had been suggested; and it was then determined to secure agriculture from competition up to the price of 80s. The principle on which protection was kept up was fully recognised in the modifications which the law subsequently underwent. The first form of protection was found inconvenient, and the plan of a sliding-scale was adopted in 1828. The duties were made to range so that the foreigner should not be able to compete on the average with the home-grower at a price below 64s. In 1842 the right hon. Baronet lowered the pivot price, so that the competition should commence between 54s. and 58s. Prices which were maintained at 80s., in 1815, gradually dropped to 56s., as was shown by the average 1238 taken under the Tithe Commutation Act, namely, 7s. a bushel. It was their domestic agriculture which had brought prices down from 10s. to 7s. a bushel. His right hon. Friend, in his admirable displays of eloquence, which he was sorry to say had not brought entire conviction to his mind, did not explain, as he thought, what were the large grounds on which the decisions of the Government were said to rest. The whole country was in expectation of the disclosure of those indisputable reasons which had influenced a man who had shown greater judgment in the administration of public affairs than any Minister he had ever known. The right hon. Gentleman did nothing to show that he was right, but had made some of his ablest efforts to put others in the wrong. That was not assigning reasons. That was not what Mr. Huskisson would have done. The right hon. Baronet had said that there were three reasons of policy and one of justice on which the general system of protection was maintained, and had argued ably, though not in all points quite fairly, against them; but he had not attempted to grapple with or even discuss the dictum of Mr. Huskisson, which was the only basis of justification on which the course so long pursued by the Legislature in dealing with this question, could be rested — that it was absolutely necessary for such a country as this not to be dependent for the existence of her people upon foreign countries. Mr. Huskisson said, "Let corn be as cheap as you please, provided only it be of domestic growth." That was the rule laid down in every speech of Mr. Huskisson, of Mr. Canning, and of the right hon. Baronet. The basis of every law since 1815 had been, that there should be as much protection to domestic agriculture as should enable them, not exclusively, but fully, to raise their supply from their own soil. This they would command, when, in many cases, as, for instance, war, they could not command the produce of foreign countries. In scanty harvests, also, on the Continent, foreign Governments would find, as they frequently had found it, their duty—even during the present year—to secure a supply to their own subjects first, and prohibit the export to this country. In all this debate it was remarkable that this, the essential and mainspring of the whole argument, had not been touched; it had not been touched in either of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman. Thus the House was left to discover as it 1239 might what were the ample grounds which had arisen in the last three years for reversing the legislation of thirty years preceding, a legislation more or less maintained by every Government and every leading statesman of the country up to the 1st of November, 1845, as well as by each successive Government and Parliament. Even the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell), when he made his fatal proposition in the celebrated Budget of 1841, had acknowledged the principle of protection; upon that proposition his Government was overthrown; still it contained in the fixed duty of 8s. the principle of protection. The agriculturists did not wish for high prices; how could they wish to see their countrymen suffering from scarcity and famine? They were not like the manufacturers, who, employing large masses of men, could tell them on a Saturday night that they did not require them. They had to keep their labourers all the year round; and, in the course of twenty or thirty years, connexions of common interest and humanity were formed. The agriculturist did not want high duties at the time of high prices; at a period of high price a fixed duty of 8s. could not be held; but at a time of low prices a glut might come under the system of free trade, prices would be too much depressed, and a great degree of agricultural distress would be created. That was the plain fact, and if the agriculturists did not receive a remuneration for the investment of their capital, it was impossible they could continue to furnish an adequate supply. He wished to draw attention to the different conditions of the manufacturer compared with the farmer, in another point of view. When the manufacturers had established their mills and machinery, and made a successful venture, it was not impossible they might be repaid their outlay in a year; if their returns were hazardous, they were also good; and when a period of depression came, if their credit was sound, their machinery was always ready; they could quickly command labourers, should large orders come in from abroad, to start again at a week's notice, and before a year was out they reaped their harvest. But with the agriculturist it was otherwise—he required a much longer period to ensure his returns—his capital and labour must lie in the ground for years, before the soil would yield back her abundance; he must then stand the risk of the harvests; and with any continuance of adverse circumstances, it must require a long 1240 period for him to recover the original cost of his outlay; and if to effect this he should abate his exertions, and rack and impoverish the ground, any one knew that a fresh tenant must begin the same long and patient course again, and that it would require three or four years even to get the ground in heart. This was a reason as much for the public interest, as for justice to the agriculturist, why, if they were considering the apportionment of protection, as they were unfortunately considering its total abandonment, agriculture should have a fair protection. If a scanty harvest and scanty supply tempted a large quantity of corn from abroad at the moment when estates were going back both in value and cultivation, they would find themselves in the unhappy situation which it had been the object of all the legislation of the last thirty years to guard against. The farmers, however, had believed that the settlement made in 1842 was a permanent one, and had made increased efforts in a reliance upon that law; had spent more capital, and introduced more skill, in the cultivation of the soil than before. Now his right hon. Friend had himself alluded to this happy state of agriculture at the present moment, and told them that its prosperity did not depend on the price of wheat: assuredly not — it depended on plenty as well as price, and plenty was the far better source of prosperity of the two. His right hon. Friend gave as the fall of prices for the last forty years the following statement. In the ten years ending in 1815, the price of wheat was 97s. 6d. per quarter; and they would also find that for the five years ending in 1814 the prices averaged between 105s. and 106s. Since then prices had gradually fallen; and in the ten years ending 1825 the average price of wheat was 56s. 7d.; in the ten years ending 1835 it was 57s. 4d.; and for the last four years it had been 51s. In thirty years, therefore, the price of wheat had been reduced one-half. Then, said his right hon. Friend, how can you say your prosperity depends on price? But he (Sir T. Acland) was disposed to ask rather, how can you say the effect of protection has been to inflict and keep up a high price of corn as against the consumer? This was his answer to those who charged the landlords with maintaining a law which made the food of the people dear, in order to serve their own interests; and instead of rendering railing for railing, this should be his answer to 1241 the speech of the hon. Member for Durham, and all other such speeches which he or others might make in that House, or elsewhere. He was, however, happy to acknowledge the much improved tone of the last speech of that hon. Member, bereft as it was of much of the vituperative language which had too long characterized them—he hoped that it was an indication of the benefit they might derive from his acuteness and talent on a better occasion. But further. A printed paper was sent to him by post the other morning, by a gentleman who approved the measure of the right hon. Baronet, and who was evidently an advocate of free trade, in which a comparison was made between the exports and imports in the three years, 1822, 1823, and 1824, and the three years 1842, 1843, and 1844. The official value of the imports in the former period was about 35,000,000l.; while in the latter period it was 70,000,000l. The exports during the same period had increased in a similar proportion; and the number and tonnage of our shipping in a still greater. These statistics showed that the traffic of the mercantile community had doubled during the period he had mentioned, while the price of corn had diminished one-half. Every one who heard or read these statements must admit that the Corn Law had worked well for the whole population. It had worked well for the agriculturists, who were satisfied with it, who were thankful for it, and who desired its continuance; and it had worked equally well for the exporters and consumers. What more could they desire? He would like to know what circumstances had occurred since the adoption of the law of 1842 to justify the measure now proposed by the right hon. Baronet? He must say, that he saw none which ought to induce him to resign his judgment to that of any other person; but he would continue to support the law of 1842, until he was convinced that an alteration was necessary. He asked, then, what circumstances had occurred between 1842 and 1846 to justify the proposed change? As one reason for his present proposition, the right hon. Baronet had told them, with a warmth of feeling which such a subject would naturally excite in the heart either of a man or a Minister, that a lamentable scarcity of provisions was anticipated in Ireland. He thought he could dispose of that point by repeating what had been stated by several hon. Members 1242 on Tuesday night, that if the right hon. Baronet had come down on the first day of the Session, and had proposed a suspension of the Corn Law for the temporary exigency, Parliament would have passed the measure within a week, had it been requisite. Had the right hon. Baronet or his Colleagues thought fit, on the 1st of November, on their own responsibility, to suspend the law, he was convinced not a single voice would have been raised against such a proceeding; but that it would have been approved and sanctioned by Parliament. But the right hon. Baronet had not taken this course. He was grieved to say that the right hon. Gentleman had united to a proposal, which might have been clear and simple, the most litigated question of the present day. He remembered that, on one occasion, the Government of the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) was involved in a similar difficulty, but did not get out of it. They attached to the settlement of the Tithe question in Ireland, which many hon. Gentlemen among their opponents would have assisted them to arrange on fair terms, a most indefensible condition, to which the House would not consent—he alluded to the Appropriation Clause. This was just the course which the right hon. Baronet had taken in the present instance. The right hon. Gentleman had frankly told them that on the 1st of November he proposed to his Colleagues to open the ports, in order to meet the fearful evil which was anticipated, and that he still wished he had done so. He and many of his hon. friends entertained the same wish. But the right hon. Baronet also said, "I told my Colleagues fairly that the step of opening the ports would involve a reconsideration of the existing Corn Law." "By such a measure," said the right hon. Baronet, "we shall adopt the principle of free trade. I believe that if you once open the ports you never can shut them again. Therefore, when I make to you the proposition of opening the ports, as a means of remedying or preventing the dreadful evil of a famine, you are to understand that it involves—if it be in my hands—the contemporaneous change of our former policy." Could the right hon. Baronet be surprised that, under such circumstances, he found but three Members of the Cabinet supporting him? Could he be surprised that he (Sir T. Acland) and those who entertained similar opinions on this question, should think now that, with a sincere determination to do his duty 1243 to the suffering people of Ireland, the right hon. Baronet found the occasion too tempting to be suffered to pass without endeavouring to carry out at the same time a foregone conclusion? The right hon. Baronet had not told them when the change in his opinions took place; but he did not think that so great an alteration could have taken place in the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman—a man remarkable for prudence and sagacity—within a recent period. What he complained of was, that the right hon. Baronet, even when warned by the differences which existed in the Cabinet, did not separate the two branches of this question, at least in point of time; and acting upon his own discretion, with the concurrence of the Cabinet, adopt at once some prompt measures to relieve pressing distress, leaving it to the good sense of Parliament to determine afterwards whether the time had arrived for an alteration of the Corn Law. Admitting the great evils which might result from the failure of the potato crop, he thought the right hon. Baronet had done them injustice in preventing them from sanctioning with one heart and one voice, as he believed they would have done, such measures as might have been deemed advisable for alleviating the anticipated distress. But, indeed, the proposed law was not the most direct and effectual relief of that distress. In the first place, several months had been lost in point of time; and whatever difference there might be between entirely open ports and the reduced duty to be enacted under the new law, that difference there would be against the right hon. Baronet's plan, in comparison with the immediate and temporary suspension. Or, again, why might they not have released from bond the large quantity of corn now in the ports? The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. T. Baring) had told them that it was above a million of quarters. Why, on the assumption that one quarter is consumed by each individual in a year (though it does not, in fact, amount to that), the corn now in bond would, if let out, supply the whole four millions whom the right hon. Baronet had described to be in danger of starvation for the next four months before harvest, for at least three out of those four months; and was not this a high tribute to the principle of a law which, at a remarkable period, when some scarcity and high prices prevailed over the greater part of Europe, had provided such a resource as this at our disposal; and that, even with the general 1244 prices of the home market, exceedingly moderate. The truth was, that under the present law relative to corn and provisions, the agriculturists had been induced to make exertions such as were made in no other country; and now, by the sudden and unlooked for, unjust, and unnecessary alteration, they would be forced to run the risk of great disappointment and injury. If, however, the law should be repealed, he would not give way to alarm, or encourage discontent. On the contrary, he would do his best to keep up the hearts of his agricultural friends. He had already told them in his own county, that the best way to take advantage of a good law was to improve their estates to the greatest possible degree; and, on the same principle, he deemed the wisest way of meeting a bad law was by redoubling their exertions. Such was his general view of the merits of the scheme, and he was not prepared to accept it at the hands of the right hon. Baronet. He could not in three short weeks read backwards the lesson which the right hon. Baronet and he had together learned in the same school for the last thirty years, the one indeed as the teacher, and he himself as the humble follower. His adherence to his principles might be deemed bigotry; but as he acted on conviction he acted confidently, and should continue to do so till he was convinced that the maintenance of such a course was hopeless. What, indeed, was the reason for the change that had come over them—what the cause? Why, first, the Anti-Corn-Law League, and its quarter of a million fund. But by the first subscription of 100,000l., and by the second of 250,000l., had not the League shown that if those engaged in manufactures could in so short a time collect together so large a sum to be spent in such a political game or conflict as this, they had very little need to complain of the existing state of things? And, for his part, he thought that that agitation alone would have been easily put down by firm and resolute men, unless, indeed, they had some misgivings about the real merits of the case. The noble Lord the Member for London had been the next to move overtly in the matter; and, to tell the truth, he had the best right to do so, for he had only to make one step forward, while the right hon. Baronet had to make an entire change in his policy. But it appeared to him, that even his noble Friend the Member for London, with the support of the Opposition and the League united, should not 1245 have been strong enough to thwart or terrify a Minister, with a strong party at his back, who had been able four years before, with smaller numbers, to defeat his noble Friend and his principles, and to keep them on the Opposition side of the House ever since. If that Minister had been firm, that party would have been sufficient for his support. But, unfortunately, they had now the opinion of the Minister himself also against them; but not the authority of the united opinion of his Government. His first proposition had been supported by only three Members of his Cabinet; and, on its repetition on the 26th November, the majority was still against him, and so the Government was broken up. It was resumed, indeed, nobly, and in a most praiseworthy manner, that Her Majesty and the country might not be left without a Government. But that only proved that the previous majority of the Cabinet felt the absence of a Government a greater evil than the repeal of the Corn Laws. He (Sir T. Acland), therefore, could not add to the weight of the force against him the authority of an unbiassed united Cabinet on the question; and he, therefore, would not surrender his judgment upon it, notwithstanding the great difficulty and improbability of effectively maintaining it. He had had serious communication with many agriculturists in his county on the subject of the anticipated changes, previous to the meeting of Parliament, and had always told them that he should think it his duty, when he knew what the measure was to be, to view it most dispassionately, and to consider it over and over again, in all its bearings, and with a view to all its consequences, before he came to any conclusion as to his own course. He had done so most anxiously, and also reflected on the danger which might arise from sending such a question as this back to the country. He did not complain of those who, similarly circumstanced, came to a different conclusion from his own, as did his noble Friend the Member for Liverpool; for he fully believed that, when a large portion of the people had continued for a length of time to demand any particular measure, and the Minister of the Crown had once pledged the Government to grant it, that measure, sooner or later, was pretty sure to be carried, and therefore he could well understand the difficulty felt by many persons as to the wisdom and propriety of a protracted resistance. He should, however, hold his own course; all 1246 the responsibilities were with his right hon. Friend. But he would join in no vexatious opposition—he would be no party to worrying the measure. He would not, indeed, yield to the League, as the noble Lord or the Minister himself; but if the House of Commons should sanction, by a full majority, the measure proposed by the Crown, he (Sir T. Acland) would give his right hon. Friend no unnecessary trouble. If, indeed, the very first division should be what is called a close one, then no one knew better than his hon. Friend, that he could have no hope of getting his bill through the present Parliament, and the sooner he sent them all to the right-about the better—a great evil, no doubt; but that, like the other responsibilities, must rest with his right hon. Friend—but he must not expect other men to lend him their shoulders to get him out of his false position. He (Sir T. Acland), for one, as an old Member of Parliament, did not think his right hon. Friend had a right to call on him to submit to a necessity entirely of his own creation.
§ LORD A. PAGET
had listened with a good deal of attention to the debate as it had gone on, and he confessed he thought that a good many Gentlemen had been rather hard upon the right hon. Gentleman. He was convinced that nothing but a sense of public duty could have induced the right hon. Baronet to have brought forward the present measure. He had been at the head of a large and a united party; now, whether he went east, west, north, or south, nothing but the renegade Minister was talked about. He thought that the right hon. Baronet was one of the greatest instances of sacrifices of self that had ever been made from conscientious motives. He quite agreed that the noble Lord the Member for London would have been the proper person to have brought forward this Motion. He had had the honour of supporting the noble Lord since he had been in Parliament, and he hoped that he should long have that pleasure; his undoubted bravery and manly straightforward conduct entitled him to their highest regards. He should give the right hon. Gentleman's measure his most cordial support. He had belonged for several years to that forlorn hope which went out annually with his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers); but now he was glad to say that their position was altered. He had always agreed that no law could regulate the price of wages; admitting that axiom, he 1247 said also that no law should regulate the price of food. The Corn Laws were near their end. His family derived their income from corn, and he knew that the head of it apprehended no danger from the repeal of the law; therefore, though he should support the measure of the right hon. Baronet, yet he must express a hope that it would not be long ere they should have a complete repeal of the Corn Laws.
MR. BINGHAM BARING
said, the hon. Member for Devonshire had expressed the opinion that, sooner or later, this question would be carried. He should like to ask the hon. Baronet how much longer he wished the question to be agitated? Did he remember the Reform Bill? Did he know that if it had been settled betimes, they would never have had the heartburnings which had followed it? Did he remember the Catholic Relief Bill? The measure of Emancipation began under Pitt as a party squabble; but at last it grew into a national quarrel, and God only knew where that quarrel would end! And did he wish that this subject, which at present was a mere topic disputed in clubs—did he wish that it should sink into men's hearts, and become a contest of classes—classes of property and of intelligence, each appealing to the passions and the prejudices of the people? Let them look at the history of the Corn Laws. He would not go back to those times when the Corn Laws were rather intended to regulate exports than imports—when they prevented the producer from selling in the dearest market, rather than the consumer from buying in the cheapest; but he would go at once to 1815. Previous to that, in the period of war, prices had risen, and a difficulty was found to provide food for the people. The landed interest was encouraged by all classes to invest their money in extending the cultivation of the poor lands. When peace came, and with it an influx of foreign corn, the nation, acting freely, and with the consent of all the leading statesmen of the day—the nation willingly consented to take upon itself the burden of the Corn Laws; and with a view to prevent the land going out of cultivation, and the labourer being thrown out of employment, these laws had been continued to the present day. But could they still be justified on that plea? That was the question. Could it be proved that it was now impossible to dispense with protection? He denied that it could. He thought he could prove that they might now dispense with protection; and if he 1248 could prove that, he was certain that the highminded gentry of England would not insist upon its being continued. In 1836, they had a Committee upon agricultural distress. At that time, they had some of the ablest and most intelligent tenant-farmers before them giving evidence. The Scotch farmers admitted that they might meet foreign competition. The English farmers thought they could not: in the first place, on account of the burden of tithes; and at that time, the House would recollect, tithes had not been commuted; but whatever capital was expended on land, one-tenth of the profits were paid over to the titheowner. How, then, was it possible for the English farmer to compete with the foreigner on fair grounds, when that by which alone he could succeed—the power and influence of his capital—was thus swamped. But since that period the tithes had been commuted. Then there was another objection. They said they could easily cultivate the good lands, but the wet sour clay lands required protection; and, besides, they were in many cases without good access to markets. But what had since taken place? The railways that were now extending over the country afforded every facility for the farmer bringing his produce to market; chemical and artificial manures might be distributed through the country by the same means; while the drainage, which was now carried on to so great an extent, brought the wet lands into good condition; so that all the objections of the tenant-farmers were now removed, and the landed gentry found that their crops were doubled. The present measure must be looked upon in the light of an appeal to the justice of the landed interest, and no doubt it would be considered satisfactory.
§ Debate again adjourned.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Twelve o'clock.