§ MR. E. BULLER
said, that though he rose under every disadvantage in following the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, yet confidence in the cause which he advocated, induced him to reply to some of the observations of the hon. Gentleman. He would at once dismiss all reference to the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman with regard to party and Party connexions, and come at once to those arguments which bore on the question. The arguments of that hon. Gentleman, however, were not new: they consisted mainly of the old arguments which had been often brought forward, and as often refuted. The principal points adduced by the hon. Member were, firstly, that free importation without reciprocity drained the country of specie; secondly, that it involved the forfeiture 1395 of the independence of this country by an entire reliance upon the importation of foreign grain; and, thirdly, that the imports of foreign grain depreciated the value of labour, and lowered wages. These were the arguments of the hon. Member, and they were by no means novel, though brought forward by the hon. Member in a new and brilliant light; if he might be allowed to say so, the hon. Member had dressed his jackdaw in the splendid plumage of an Indian aviary. The hon. Member said, that as ours was a territorial Constitution, it was the duty of Government to maintain the preponderance of agriculture. The hon. Member asked if we were prepared to fight hostile tariffs with free trade; and what was to become of diplomacy and commercial treaties? He thought there was no inconsistency in not regretting the failure of this diplomacy. The hon. Member said that we trusted that other countries would follow our example; and he bid us look at America, where there was no party or any public man that would support free trade; in France, said the hon. Member, the conservative, revolutionist, and the philosophic parties, were protectionists; that Monsieur Arago, M. Thiers, and M. Guizot, were all protectionists; and yet the hon. Member recommended that this country should try diplomacy and treaties. He did not think much good would be gained by the attempt. He remembered a speech of the hon. Member, when the late Government was in office, when the hon. Member taunted the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton with his abortive efforts to obtain commercial treaties. Since then, there had been six years of a Conservative Government, in which the course of free trade had not been advanced by diplomacy? The only way to induce foreign nations to embrace free trade was by proving its advantages by our own experience. If a high fiscal protection were the true policy, at least it should be shown, that we who for so many years had successively reduced our duties, while other nations raised theirs, had suffered by our erroneous reductions. The imports of this country which in 1820 amounted to 32,510,000l., in the year 1843 amounted to 70,000,000l.; the exports, which were 38,000,000l., in 1843 had increased to 117,000,000l. The exports had greatly increased in proportion to the imports, for the former had been trebled, while the latter were only doubled. Frequent reference had been made, in the course of the debate, to our trade with France. Since 1396 1825 we had been gradually pursuing a system of reduction of duties on imports, while France had adhered to the high duties of her tariff. The result had been, that in the twelve years preceding 1825, when Mr. Huskisson first introduced his commercial reforms, the average exports to France were 326,858l.; the imports 939,000l.; whereas, from 1833 to 1844, the imports rose from 323,000l. to 3,005,000l.; the exports to 3,003,400l. He wished to show by these figures the effect which the liberal views of this Government, though met with opposite ones in France, produced on our exports and imports. ["Hear."] He was obliged to the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) for that cheer, for until now he thought he was speaking only to the benches. Though France had not profited by our example, still our success had been triumphant. But the hon. Member for Shrewsbury asked what would be the consequence of a large importation from foreign countries, while our exports were met by hostile tariffs—of our importing five millions from Russia, which had a hostile tariff, while we must, as a consequence, exports more goods to New York and Brazil, in order to get bills upon Russia; but if we found no bills our goods must come back. The hon. Gentleman, by introducing bills into the question, had confused the subject. The transaction must be of import from Russia, to be met by a correspondingly large export of British goods to Brazil and New York. From those places there must be exports to Russia, for which bills would be given, and those bills would necessarily be paid over to the British merchant. It was, therefore, only a roundabout way of carrying on trade with Russia. Then, said the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, "having shown you that you cannot succeed in meeting a hostile tariff by free trade, I will now tell you the consequence of these large importations from Russia, without any corresponding amount of exports from this country to Russia; the consequence will be a great drain of gold from this country." Now he had always considered that a great difficulty was unnecessarily introduced into these commercial questions by viewing gold as something different from any other commercial commodity. Gold was merely an article of trade, having its price like other commercial articles. No country could retain more gold than was sufficient to carry on its commercial relations. If there was a superabundance of gold, it would necessarily 1397 be cheap, and of course it would be sent away to other countries where it was dear. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury next drew the attention of the House to Turkey. "That country," said the hon. Gentleman, "had had a perfect free trade for a long time, and the unchecked spirit of competition there had destroyed the whole of its manufactures." The hon. Gentleman boasted of having an extensive correspondence with all the eminent commercial men in Europe. Of no such extensive correspondence could he boast; but he believed there were certain practices in the Turkish empire, which were very likely to be peculiarly unpleasant to gentlemen engaging in trade in that country, and which might cheek the growth of commerce there, wholly irrespective of any system of free trade which that country might adopt. He would not quote the writings of gentlemen, who, after travelling in other countries, then returned and repaid the courtesies they had received with calumnies. The document he would refer to was a hatti sheriff, issued by the Minister of Turkey, and by which he proposed that the institutions of his country should be regenerated. The proclamation set forth the necessity of establishing three institutions essential to the well-being of the empire. The first was, to guarantee to the subjects of the sovereign, their life, honour, and fortunes; the second was, to fix the rate of taxes and the regulation of imports, and to rescue the people from the vexatious system of monopoly; and the third institution was with reference to the levying and maintenance of the army. This promulgation of new institutions, and this confession of old errors, were quite sufficient to make him believe, that if the trade and manufactures of Turkey had declined, it might be from other causes than from free trade. The next argument of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury was that which more peculiarly affected the Corn Laws. He said that it was dangerous to the independence of this country that its inhabitants should depend upon foreign countries for food, and that it would be especially dangerous in a time of war. But he denied that this country was at any time independent of foreign resources. In every year of deficiency the people of this country were for two months obliged to depend upon the supply of corn from abroad. Should that supply be cut off, what misery and destruction must ensue! But, supposing we were engaged in a foreign 1398 war, what material difference would that occasion? It was admitted by the hon. Gentleman himself, that if we could maintain the command of the ocean, we should then have the power of procuring a supply from every quarter of the world. But the time might come when this country might not be able to preserve that superiority; our resources then would only be in the wisdom of that commercial policy which in a time of peace, and in the height of our power, we might establish. Another argument, of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) was, that the importation of foreign corn must lower wages. Suppose, said the hon. Gentleman, you import four millions of quarters, and then, suppose that the wages of labour should not be increased, why should there be any greater consumption in the country? And, if not, then the four millions of quarters of foreign corn must displace four millions of quarters of home-grown corn; and, as a consequence, displace the home labour which would have been employed in the growing of those four millions. This would increase the amount of labour in the market, and thereby render labour cheaper, and so reduce wages. He considered that argument of the hon. Gentleman to be totally destitute of foundation. He conceived it to be utterly impossible that such an importation could take place without causing a reduction in the price of corn, and necessarily increasing the consumption. Suppose four millions of quarters were imported at 30s. a quarter, what would be the result? Why, the people would be able to purchase these four millions of quarters of foreign corn for six millions of money, instead of purchasing four millions of quarters of home-grown corn for ten millions of money. Thus they would retain to themselves four millions of money to be expended for other purposes. Such a transaction could not by possibility remove from British labour any portion of that capital. The six millions of money paid for the corn imported from abroad, must and would be supplied by the exportation of British goods to an equal amount. The remaining four millions of money would be available for the encouragement of manufactures and trade at home, and would to that extent advance the people in the social scale. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) next claimed protection, on the ground of exclusive burdens on the land. He (Mr. E. Buller) could not allow the claim on such narrow grounds. If 1399 the landed aristocracy really sustained peculiar burdens, they were amply compensated by the exclusive honours which the "territorial Constitution" of this country bestowed upon them. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury then proceeded to enunciate a new principle. He called upon the House to look up to him as the oracle from whom they were to hear this great principle, which was to govern the new generation, and shed light and happiness on the world. And what was this great principle? "Give preponderance to the agricultural interest!" The great principle which he told Parliament to adopt, was, "Give power to one class in the State, by sacrificing the pecuniary interests of the other classes." This might be all well enough for those belonging to the favoured class; but suppose those belonging to the labouring class were to be asked how they would like it, what did the hon. Gentleman think would be their answer? If distinct classes were to be supported in this country, then there must be jealousies, and heartburnings, and discontent; and a feeling of alienation would govern the destinies of a large portion of the people; and the Sovereign would become, not the Queen of a nation, but only the Sovereign of a faction. The real question, however, for the House to consider was this:—were they now to proceed in the course they had adopted, or were they to retrace their steps? The great difficulty in considering this question was that of finding any two Gentlemen who were opposed to the present system, agreeing what course they really wished to be pursued. He, at all events, entertained the strongest objection to the principle of conferring a benefit on one class at the expense of another class of the community. You cannot protect the export trade, and you cannot protect the money interest. He believed that to those two great interests the giving of protection to the landed interest was a great vexation. He knew there were many Gentlemen who thought the home industry and colonial policy ought to be supported by legislation; but when he looked at the working of the two systems—that of free trade, protection to domestic and colonial trade—and contrasted their operations and their consequences, he could not doubt which of the two the country ought to be governed by. This principle once adopted, foreign nations would become valuable Colonies to us, without imposing on us the responsibility 1400 of governing them; and we might then look without jealousy at the rising prosperity of other countries. He felt that he had very inadequately discharged the duty he had proposed to himself; but he would sit down by observing, that though there were points in the measure of the right hon. Baronet which he might cavil at, if so disposed, he felt that so great was the importance of passing it, that he should suggest no Amendment, but should give it his earnest and cordial support, while he tendered to the Government his humble, but earnest tribute of praise, for having, under circumstances of peculiar difficulty, acted in that manner which was, upon the whole, the most consistent with their own principles, with their duty to their Sovereign, and to the nation at large.
§ CAPTAIN BATESON
During this protracted debate only one Irish county Member has addressed the House. I therefore feel it my duty, as one of the Representatives of a great, influential, and agricultural county, to state my reasons for giving my decided opposition to the proposed measure of Her Majesty's Ministers. In the first place, Sir, I shall take this opportunity briefly to allude to a speech delivered in this House on a former evening, which was so replete with philanthropy and the milk of human kindness—I allude to the hon. Member for Durham. I hold in my hand an extract from the half-yearly Report of Mr. Leonard Horner, Inspector of Factories, dated 26th of November, 1845, in which, after stating that he found the average of accidents occurring in cotton mills to be forty-five weekly, that Gentleman went on to say—I saw that a great many arose from the cogwheels at the ends of certain spinning-machines called throstle-frames, causing severe lacerations of the hand, and making amputations of fingers necessary in many instances. I ascertained from the occupiers of some factories, where the machinery is carefully fenced, that it is both necessary and practicable to guard these cog-wheels; and their opinions were confirmed by that of an eminent machine-maker in Manchester. I therefore directed the warning notice to be left by the sub-inspectors at every factory where the cog-wheels of the throstle-frames are not boxed, and they are now leaving these notices in their present circuit of inspection. They inform me that, in general, they meet with the most ready compliance with the recommendation. Mr. Davies, the sub-inspector at Ashton, in his last Report, says, 'I have not had an objection made by any mill-occupier to fencing the throstle-frames.' The 43rd Clause provides, that the mill-occupier, on receiving such a notice, may call upon the inspector to have it submited to the arbitration of persons 'skilled in the construction of the kind of machinery to which 1401 the notice refers,' whether the machinery alleged to be dangerous is so or not. Only one instance has yet occurred of this. One firm required an arbitration; they named Mr. Mason, of Rochdale, on their side, and I prevailed on Mr. B. Fothergill, machine-maker of Manchester, to be the arbitrator on my side. I had the satisfaction of being told afterwards, by a very competent judge, that I could not have selected a better. I recently received the award, which states, that the two arbitrators, not being able to agree, had chosen a third arbitrator, as the Act directs, and had called in Mr. William Fairbairn, of Manchester, and that the decision come to was, that it was both necessary and practicable to fence the machinery alleged in the notice to be dangerous.That firm was the Messrs. John Bright Brothers, of Rochdale! Now I leave it to this House and to the country to decide whether the humanity of the hem. Member for Durham is genuine? Whether the sympathy he expressed for the poor man was not feigned? Whether his liberality, whether his philanthropy, is not spurious? One word more with respect to the hon. Member, and I have done with him; he referred to the state of the agricultural labourer in Wiltshire. The hon. Member for Wilts replied to him, but omitted to state one fact, viz., the average length of life in Wiltshire as compared with Manchester. In Wiltshire the average length of life is thirty-three years; in Manchester, only seventeen years. Having made these observations, it is my intention to confine my remarks chiefly to my own unhappy country. No man more deeply laments the failure of the potato crop in Ireland than I do, and no man is more anxious than I am to assist in passing any measure calculated to alleviate the distress which will be caused by it; but is it not a mockery to come forward and tell us that Ireland will be benefited by a measure which must depreciate the price of her agricultural produce, upon the sale of which eleven-twelfths of her population depend for their maintenance and support. Bills have been introduced into this House for the improvement of waste lands and for drainage in Ireland. There are at present in that country nearly four millions of acres capable of being reclaimed, and which would have been gradually reclaimed and brought into cultivation under the fostering influence of protection. Landlords would willingly have laid out their capital, secure of a return for their money, and having, in addition, the supreme satisfaction of knowing that they had contributed in no small degree to the amelioration of the condition of their fellow countrymen; and I am happy 1402 to say, there are many bright examples of this growing spirit among Irish landlords. Employment has been acknowledged on all sides to be the most efficacious, perhaps the only, means of relieving the distress and misery which prevail in Ireland; and I had fondly looked forward to the improvement in Ireland as a means of increasing employment, and in the same proportion diminishing wretchedness, and thus elevating the position of the Irish peasant. But if this measure of the right hon. Baronet be carried, does anybody suppose or expect that landlords will lay out their capital with the certainty of loss staring them in the face? Can the tenant, then, unassisted, first reclaim the bog (even if he had it rent free), and then grow corn upon it, so as to compete successfully with the foreigner, who has the advantage of climate, and whose land is now in a high state of cultivation? No; the bog will still remain barren, the hill-side will grow nothing but heather, and one of the channels of employment for our teeming population will be permanently blocked up, and their moral and social improvement materially retarded. I feel strongly on this question, both for the Irish farmer and the Irish manufacturer. In the north of Ireland the handloom weaver is frequently also a farmer; and the farmer often devotes the time he can spare from agriculture to the loom. Why, under our present system of protection, in one small town in the north of Ireland, upwards of eighteen thousand pounds' worth of linen is sold at the weekly market! But what will be the case of Ireland, as compared with her present condition, should this measure be carried? Why, at one fell swoop, our export trade will be destroyed, our agricultural produce will be shut out of the English market by foreign competition, and our linen trade annihilated. As an advocate of protection to the farmer, as an advocate of protection to the manufacturer, I protest against so unnecessary, so hazardous, and so revolutionary a scheme; and I implore this House to pause ere it severs one of the two great bonds of union between these two countries, one of which is the Irish Church, the other the benefit Ireland derives from having a just advantage over the foreigner in the English market. And I cannot doubt but that this measure will have the effect of stimulating the advocates of the Repeal of the Union to increased exertions: they will say to the farmer, "England 1403 has deprived you of the benefit her markets have hitherto afforded you for the sale of your corn, your butter, your beef, your pork;" to the handloom weaver they will say, "Your occupation is gone, your linen trade is ruined, you are in no better position than the foreigner—none of you can now refuse to join us in the cry of "hurrah for the repeal!" Again, let me implore this House to pause before it places such a powerful weapon in the hands of artful and designing agitators; and I confess it is not without apprehension and alarm that I look forward to the probability of this measure passing into a law, the consequences of which it is impossible to foresee, and which may be but the foreshadowing of other revolutions, even of more vital interests, which would lead to the destruction of our once much-prized Constitution, and the dismemberment of this great Empire. I will not take up the time of the House by alluding at any length to the miscalled compensation which has been offered to Ireland—I refer to the proposed transfer of the charge for the police force to the Consolidated Fund. I shall merely state that in the county Londonderry, the charge to the county for this force has averaged for the last three years 2,278l. 10s. 5d. per annum, which is but a fraction over 1d. per acre. Had the Government proposed to relieve Ireland from the repayment of the loan for the erection of the workhouses, no doubt it would have been considered a boon; but now, the only persons relieved by the proposed measure will be the midnight legislators of the disturbed districts, who are necessarily saddled with a large police force. Is not this a premium to agitation? And now, with regard to certain speeches which we have heard delivered during this debate: I trust it will not be considered presumption in me, if I ask this House whether it will sanction the sentiments they inculcate? Whether this House, by its deliberate decision, will ratify those opinions? Whether this House of Commons will solemnly declare that there is to be a new faith in politics, a new Parliamentary creed? Whether its Members are to become mere weathercocks, veering about with the breath of every popular outcry, and serving only to point out the quarter from whence the blast of agitation is strongest? I confess, for my part, I am still sufficiently old-fashioned to admire consistency, and I still retain the ancient motto of my county—"No Surrender." 1404 And let me here give this warning to those advocates of free trade who say that—"you must go with the times"—"that now-a-days there is no standing still"—"that in this railroad age we must move onward"—I would have them take care lest while the movement be onward, it be not at the same time downward. And now, Sir, in conclusion, permit me to ask the right hon. Baronet—supposing this great scheme, this comprehensive measure, shall have been proved by bitter and dear-bought experience to have failed—supposing, I say (for the right hon. Baronet is bound to provide against every contingency) there should be days of adversity in store for this country—if, when thousands of acres which now grow corn, have been thrown out of cultivation, want of employment and consequent distress prevail in the manufacturing districts, and to this should be superadded all the horrors of war—let me ask the right hon. Baronet, how will he then answer the cry of those despairing multitudes? Let me ask how are we to retrace our steps—how are we to regain the footing we have lost? How will he restore to this country the vantage ground he is now so tamely giving up?Facilis descensus AverniSed revocare gradum—Hoc opus, hic labor est.
§ MR. MONTAGUE GORE
said, the opinions he was about to express, and the vote he intended to give, were opinions, and would be a vote, at variance with those of a large body within that House, for whom he entertained the highest esteem and the sincerest regard; it would also be a vote at variance with the sentiments of many without the House, for whom also, as for the others, he felt the highest regard; moreover, the opinions he then entertained on this subject were at variance with the opinions he formerly held; and, in justice to himself and the public, he felt bound to come forward manfully and openly, and state the reasons that influenced him on the present occasion. In so doing he agreed with the hon. Member who had last spoken, that the consistency which scorned to yield to popular agitation, or be lured from the path of duty, was indeed to be prized; but the consistency which, when convinced that its course was erroneous, still adhered to it—that did so in despite of the evils that would be caused by so doing—that was a consistency which he could neither admire nor follow. What subject or question could be named on which there had not been change, both in 1405 that House and the country? Take the Catholic question—the slavery question—take the present question of the Corn Laws—and what great discrepancies of opinion would not be found to have existed upon them? In 1814 or 1815 the advocates of the Corn Laws thought 80s. or 90s. a quarter only a fair price for corn; yet the same Gentlemen afterwards allowed that they had been in error on this subject, and that between 50s. and 60s. was a fair price. Mr. Huskisson himself, one of the greatest names of that House, was, both in 1815, and afterwards, a strong advocate of the protection measures of that day; yet, it was well known, that before his death he was of opinion that the Corn Laws could not be maintained. If it was an error, therefore, though he could not allow it to be an error to bend to the force of reasoning, it was one of which that House, and men on both sides of it, had been repeatedly guilty. He declared, for his own part, that he should think himself unworthy of a seat in that House—unworthy to take part in any public debate or public discussion, if when convinced of an error, he did not come forward and manfully and firmly avow it. And, in allusion to the debates of 1814 and 1815, perhaps he might be excused, at those debates, remarking that, in looking, he found that there was one venerable Member of the House (Colonel Gore Langton), on whom, at least, the charge of inconsistency could not be thrown; for in 1814 or 1815, the hon. Member had opposed the Motion that the Speaker do leave the chair in order to go into Committee, when that was moved by Mr. Robinson (now Earl of Ripon). To those opinions the hon. Member had always adhered; and notwithstanding his advanced age and infirmities, he would come down and give his vote in favour of the Government. He (Mr. Gore), on his own part, would at once say, that he would rather have seen this measure brought forward by the noble Lord opposite; and had it been brought forward by him, he should have had his cordial, strenuous, and decided suppport. He did not think that the mere desire for a settlement of the question relative to the Corn Laws, would alone justify him in giving his vote; but he was of opinion, that there existed an absolute and pressing necessity for such a settlement; and that, taking into consideration the effect which a distraction in the councils of the nation would have upon the many great interests involved in 1406 the security of our vast colonial possessions and Indian Empire, they were called upon to set aside all slighter differences; and if they feared no evil result, to give their fullest support to the Government. He considered it of the highest importance that the Minister of this country, whatever be his party, should be enabled to carry on the Government with firmness and energy; and in addition to the reasons, furnished by that belief, guiding him in the course he was pursuing, it was his most decided conviction that the repeal of the Corn Laws, in the manner proposed, would be attended with no detriment to the public. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War, in the remarks which, on a previous night he had made, had said that the agriculturists were labouring under a delusion. Gentlemen might quarrel with a term: it might, perhaps, have been said, that those Gentlemen were mistaken; and certainly he coincided in that opinion; and he did think that in the opposition offered by hon. Gentlemen to the measure, they had been led away by a very mistaken view of the facts. He considered that it was altogether impossible, as some had supposed, that the proposed changes could ever expose England to a deluge of foreign corn; and, on examination, such would be found to be the inevitable inference. He had made inquiries, extensively, among merchants and others engaged in the American and European corn trade, and the results he would as briefly as possible lay before the House. One highly respectable authority in the City had assured him, quite in accordance with the statement of Mr. Jacob, that at Dantzic the ordinary price of wheat, free on board, was 40s. the quarter, to which were to be added, for freightage, 4s. 8d., insurance, 1s. 4d., and loading and landing, 6s. 9d.—together 12s. 6d.; thus making the price of the quarter of wheat in this country 52s. 8d. Another respectable gentleman put the charges at importation at 10s. in which he included a small sum for damage to cargo. With regard to Odessa, he had ascertained that for the three years ending in 1840, the price of wheat there, on the spot, was 34s. 6d. the quarter. The freight from Odessa to London amounted to 8s. 6d., insurance to 1s. 4d., and the other charges to 5s. together 14s. 10d.; making the price in this country 49s. 4d. the quarter. This statement had been confirmed by highly respectable parties; one gentleman assured him that the freight and charges 1407 would be 15s. a quarter; and another, who was largely connected with Odessa, and that part of Europe, had informed him that, taking an average of years, the corn from thence was sold here at a price varying between 48s. and 50s. the quarter. If this were correct, he saw nothing to apprehend from the passing of the measure before the House. It might be said, that an inducement being held out, the agriculture of these countries would undergo, and was capable of undergoing, great improvements; but it was forgotten that, to effect that end, there must be the necessary capital, labour, and facilities of conveyance, all of which were wanting. The estates on which the corn was grown were so embarrassed, that there were great impediments, even if there was the inclination, to any material increase of capital to be employed in the cultivation of land. The existence of feudal tenures, too, was an effectual bar to the concentration of labour; the labourers were serfs; and, in the great majority of instances could not be removed from one estate to another. And then, with respect to the modes of conveyance; it was known that corn was conveyed to Dantzic by water carriage, and on arriving there the boats were broken up, and sold for a mere trifle when compared with the original cost. To Odessa the corn was brought overland 400 or 500 miles, by means of carts, drawn by bullocks. Would not the knowledge of these circumstances fully justify this conclusion, that, as far as the Continent of Europe was concerned, no great increase for a number of years could be anticipated in the quantity of provisions to be imported into Great Britain. The hon. Member for Somersetshire had alluded to America, and had contended that it was out of the question for the English agriculturists to expect any successful, any but a ruinous, competition with the corn growers on the other side of the Atlantic. It should, however, be borne in mind that in America capital was wanting, labour was excessively high, and that the yield per acre was very small in comparison with what was found to be the case in England and other countries in Europe. It was quite true, as had been said by the hon. Member, that the extent of land under cultivation was considerable; but was that a circumstance favourable to the hon. Member's argument? What did they deduce from the reports of the agricultural societies in America? Why, they would see that the great subject of complaint 1408 with those desirous of promoting improvements was, that the very extent of land under tillage, caused a careless and unscientific cultivation. At an agricultural meeting in Albany, in the winter of 1844, Mr. O'Reilly said—Such has been the depreciation of the wheat crops, owing to the exhaustion of the soil, consequent on ill-judged farming, that the product of the wheat lands, between the Seneca lake and Virginia river, has not, for the last three or four years, exceeded the low average of eleven or twelve bushels per acre. Indeed, I have authority for declaring that, in reference to a single county (Seneca), the average yield is now not over ten bushels per acre.Dr. Buckman, addressing the Dutchess County Agricultural Society, said—Where is the farm that will now upon the average yield forty bushels of wheat to the acre? If in this assemblage there is an individual who owns that farm, and realizes that result, I will stop: no one speaks. If not forty, then thirty; if not thirty, then twenty.Mr. Van Ranselaer, president of the Agricultural Society of Ranselaer county, said—One reason why our land has not advanced more rapidly, grows out of the wide circle in which it is expanded—new lands yield with but comparative little labour; and to produce a certain amount, many acres are put into cultivation: when these fail to make a profitable return, the farmer, instead of repairing the exhaustion of the soil, often adopts, as he supposes, an easier method of obtaining his purpose, by moving to one of the new States, where a rich harvest may be reaped with little trouble of sowing. To cultivate less land, and in a superior manner, is the point to be ascertained.Mr. Kirby, president of the Jefferson County Society, speaking of the repeal of our Com Laws, said—It appears by an official report made to the British Parliament, in 1841, that the average price of wheat for the seven previous years, at the principal ports of the Baltic and the Black Sea was 77 cents per bushel; while, during the same years, the average price at Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, was 1 dollar 40 cents. The cost of freight to England, from the European ports referred to, was 13 cents per bushel. The freight from our ports to England was 17 to 18 cents per bushel. Thus it is apparent that our most favoured wheat region cannot compote even-handed with the continent of Europe for the wheat trade with England, unless we consent to a general reduction of wages to the European standard—a thing quite out of the question.Tooke says—Barring any extraordinary difference in the seasons, I should expect that the price here, with the ports always open, would, in a series of years of some length, average about 45s. This country, but more especially the port of London, will be the emporium of the trade in corn between Europe and America. Thus, there will be a great increase 1409 of trade, and we shall be sure of supply if our crops are deficient.Allusions had been made in the course of the debate to what would be the remunerating price to the English farmer; and the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had been asked to say what he thought a fair price. But he must say, that of all the difficult questions to be solved, this seemed to him the most difficult. It was a subject on which a great diversity of opinions had prevailed, and still did prevail; and it was also a subject concerning which an agreement would perhaps never be come to. In 1814 and 1815, men of great experience and of high authority had endeavoured to show, and very generally convinced the public, that the agriculturist could never cultivate with profit, if he failed in obtaining the price of 80s. a quarter. In 1818 similar statements had been made by individuals, whose opinions were entitled to the same respect and yet prices had declined; and what had been the consequence in which the nation had rejoiced—a great increase in agricultural improvement. On this point Mr. Tooke said—The averages of the six years following, when there was no foreign wheat, or no proportion worth mentioning in the market, were, 1882, 58s. 8d.; 1833, 52s. 11d.; 1834, 46s. 2d.; 1835, 39s. 4d.; 1836, 48s. 6d.; 1837, 55s. 10d.; average, 50s. 3d. But if it be considered that by far the largest quantities sold were in the three years of the lowest prices; viz., 1834, 46s. 2d.; 1835, 39s. 4d.; 1836, 48s. 6d.; average, 44s. 8d.; and that, during that period, although, as usual, on the occurrence of low prices, there were loud complaints of agricultural distress, the country never exhibited a greater extent nor a higher degree of cultivation; it is perfectly fair to presume, that, at a price of 45s., there would be no reason to apprehend that much, if any, land would be thrown out of cultivation. The general fact is, in proof, by results beyond controversy, that the agricultural productions of the kingdom were never, as far as the seasons permitted, on a larger scale than in 1836 and 1837, notwithstanding the alleged discouragement of the low prices of 1834 and 1835.For his part, he was inclined to believe that the principal aids to a rapid progress in agricultural science, and to an increase in the profits of those engaged in agriculture, were to be found in the development of our manufacturing interest. If they looked to the periods when the greatest improvements had taken place in agriculture, they would discover that those improvements were coincident with an extension of the capital and an addition to the amount of labour engaged in manufactures. If they took the history of this country at 1410 the period immediately previous to the accession of George III. to the Throne, and when manufactures in Great Britain were in their infancy, that they would perceive that agriculture at that time was stationary, and had undergone, for a considerable number of years, scarcely any improvement. When, in 1760, manufactures improved, agriculture, it would be remarked, had made a corresponding advance, and since then the progress of the two interests, fostered by capital and skill, had been in conjunction. And judging, therefore, from the past, he felt perfectly assured that the measure, the adoption of which was now recommended, would, if carried, make the further progress, both of agriculture and in manufactures, more certain and more rapid. He had said before that he was not advocating the proposition merely because he concurred in thinking it was necessary the Government should be kept in office; if he considered that that end would be obtained, at any material sacrifice of the agricultural interests, he would give his most strenuous opposition to the scheme of the right hon. Baronet; but from an increase in population there must result great increase in demand for agricultural produce. All experience and all reason went to prove that a benefit to the manufacturing would be a benefit to the agricultural interest; and among the many authorities who had dealt with the subject, none had spoken more plainly or more convincingly on that point than Hume:—When manufactures and mechanical arts are not cultivated, the bulk of the people must apply themselves to agriculture; and if their skill and industry increase, there must arise a great superfluity from their labour, beyond what suffices to maintain them. They have no temptation, therefore, to increase their skill and industry, since they cannot exchange that superfluity for any commodities which may serve either to their pleasure or vanity. A habit of indolence naturally prevails. The greater part of the land lies uncultivated. What is cultivated yields not its utmost for want of skill and assiduity in the farmers. Were our narrow and malignant politics to meet with success, we should reduce all our neighbouring nations to the same state of sloth and ignorance that prevails in Morocco and the coast of Barbary. But what would be the consequence? They could send us no commodities; they could take none from us; our domestic commerce itself would languish for want of emulation, example, and instruction; and we, ourselves, should soon fall into the same abject condition to which we had reduced them. I shall, therefore, venture to acknowledge, that not only as a man, but as a British subject, I pray for the flourishing commerce of Germany, Spain, Italy, and even France itself. I am, at least, certain that Great Britain and all those nations would 1411 flourish more, did their Sovereigns and Ministers adopt such enlarged and benevolent sentiments towards each other.A great change like that proposed would naturally create great apprehension; and in the remarks he (Mr. Gore) had to make, he would carefully guard against saying one word that would convey anything but his respect for those Gentlemen with whom it was his misfortune he differed. Similar changes in the history of every country had been attended with similar expressions of doubt, dismay, and dissatisfaction. A remarkable instance of that nature occurred at the time when Spain, in 1765, having at last been convinced of the ill effects of her past policy, proposed a total alteration in the fiscal laws relating to the intercourse between the mother country and her Colonies. All cried out against it, and loudly predicted ruin and disaster. In a short time the new system was found to work advantageously; and in the end the merchants of Cadiz, who had been the most strenuous in their previous opposition, were the most prominent in their exultations on the new state of affairs. A train of events, identical in their character, marked the extension of turnpike roads from London to remoter counties; the possessors of property round London declared they would be ruined; but when their entreaties were neglected and the roads were made, the benefits of the alteration were experienced, and since had been fully acknowledged. It was, none would deny, most important to consider the way in which the new Bill would affect the poor; and the proportion likely to exist between prices and wages.—In reference to that portion of the inquiry the hon. Gentleman read the following documents:—Harvest of 1795 very deficient, price of wheat six guineas per quarter. Season of 1796 favourable, price fell to 56s. at end of year. In 1797 quality was bad, quantity deficient. Harvest of 1798 only moderately abundant, consequently no store of grain to bring in in aid of deficient harvest of 1797; immediately after which the price rose to 92s. 7d. per quarter. In 1800 the quality was injured by excessive rains, and the quantity was so short that the average price of wheat, on the 1st of January, 1801, had advanced to 139s. per quarter. Before the harvest of 1801 was secured, the price of wheat in the London market reached 180s. per quarter, and the quartern loaf was, for four weeks, as high as 1s. 10½d.It was curious (continued Mr. Gore) to observe how intimate a relation existed between the prices of food and the number of marriages.The falling-off in the number of marriages observable 1412 in 1795, 1800, and 1801, was in each year very marked in its character. The harvest of 1801 was moderately abundant, and as, in addition to the home produce, the importation of wheat, under the stimulus of a bounty, had been very large, the price fell, in the latter part of this year, to less than half what it had been before the harvest. In 1802 the crops, although not very abundant, yielded enough, with a small importation, for our wants, and prices became still more moderate. The number of marriages in these two years, according to the registers, was 90,396 in 1802, and 94,379 in 1803. In March, 1804, the average price of wheat was as low as 49s. 6d. per quarter; but the harvest in that year was far from being good, and towards Christmas the price was double what it had been nine months before. The price continued high until the result of the harvest of 1805 could be known. This proving more favourable, and a considerable quantity of foreign grain having been imported, prices again receded, but not extensively. The number of marriages in 1804 and 1805 again showed the restraining effect in this respect of high prices, having been 85,738 and 79,586 respectively.All these facts and statistics went to show that the country flourished in the greatest degree when there was the greatest abundance, combined with cheapness of food. He had supported the Corn Law as it then existed, because he had looked upon it as the law best suited to the circumstances; but he had since seen reason to doubt the correctness of that opinion. It had been said of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wilts (Mr. S. Herbert), by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Disraeli), that he was responsible for the labouring population of South Wilts. He (Mr. Gore) was bound to say that he did not believe the agricultural interest or the agricultural labourers had a better friend than the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War; and he spoke from a knowledge of the kind feeling shown by him to all on his property. With regard to the assertion that the Corn Law had worked well, it was for the advocates of the law to reconcile this assertion with the fact, that under its operation the farmer had to sustain a progressive fall in the price throughout not less than five successive years, from 75s. in 1831, till it got down to 36s. On the occurrence of the first season following, of marked deficiency, in 1838, the public obtained no relief till the aggregate averages of the six weeks had attained in September 73s. 2d., when suddenly, in a single week, 1,513,113 quarters of wheat and wheat meal were liberated, at the low duty of 1s. per quarter. The price, in consequence, declined in four weeks from 77s. to 61s. 10d., so that whereas the previous rise was for 1413 the benefit of the wealthier farmers who had been enabled to hold their stocks of the crop of 1837 to the last, the subsequent fall was to the detriment of the numerous class of small farmers, who, having by that time got in their crops in all the divisions of the island south of the Humber, were threshing out, and, as usual, bringing the earliest supplies to market. Therefore, he thought it was an error to suppose that the Corn Law had worked to the advantage of the small farmers. What had been the effect of the Corn Law upon other interests? In years of scarcity, there was a sudden demand for ships; freights rose; shipowners got large profits: but when the prices of corn fell, down went the profits of the shipowner. The effect of the law, and of a sudden demand for corn, was mischievous upon capital, as well as upon the interests of shipowners. He was inclined to agree with a remark of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that the hopes on one side and the fears on the other were equally exaggerated. He had the authority in favour of free trade, not only of Bishop Watson, Mr. Horner, Lord Wallace, and Lord Wellesley, but of a statesman, second to none in experience, knowledge, and attachment to the Constitution; he alluded to Lord Grenville, who, in the debate upon the East India Charter, in 1813, said—Those who understand, as your Lordships do, the real nature of commerce, and the true principles of its wise administration, well know that all its interests are interwoven; all its branches inseparably connected. It is the union, not of commerce with Government, but of commerce with commerce, that a provident legislation will respect. Numerous are the commercial enterprises Which would be of small benefit if limited to the direct intercourse of one country with another, but which, by intermediate or subsequent transactions, in other markets and in distant regions, become highly advantageous both to private and to national interests. For the encouragement of such hopes no moment was ever yet more favourable. The barrier of prejudices is shaken, the spirit of monopoly is rapidly giving way to juster principles of commercial legislation, and the change of public opinion in this country is seconded by the great revolutions of the world."*These were the sentiments of Lord Grenville, than whom no man was more sincerely attached to the Constitution of this land; so that, if this question was to be decided by authority, there could be none of greater weight. For the reasons he had stated he should give his decided and cordial support to the measure of Her Majesty's Government. He believed that the* Hansard, vol. xxv, p. 744.1414 measure was framed upon sound principles; he thought it calculated to promote all the great interests of this great Empire. It was not by swelling any one interest into unnatural proportions, but by fostering the general welfare of the State, that the life-blood was best distributed to every member, and the symmetry and vigour of the whole preserved. The welfare of agriculture depended not on their protective laws, but on the enterprize breathed into all interests by the spirit of freedom, and protected by equal laws; and if, looking beyond the narrow segment of their immediate age and country, he contemplated the distant regions to which British commerce, when free from restrictions was destined to extend—The shores watered by her wealthy tides;"—when he viewed her, over this extensive space, shedding far and wide the beams of civilization, liberty, and pure religion, as a man and as a Christian he rejoiced at the prospect; as an Englishman he exulted that this country was likely to be the instrument of dispensing such blessings to the human race. He repeated, that he would not yield this measure to intimidation; and he thought it would be unbecoming loyal English gentlemen to be swayed by such a motive. But he hoped that they would come to a decision "having their hearts," in the beautiful and simple language of that prayer with which they auspicated their daily proceedings in that House, "free from partial interests, prejudice, and party affections;" and that, whatever vote they gave might be such as would most conduce to the permanent and durable welfare of Great Britain, and to the happiness of the countless millions who were subject to her sway, or dependent on her destinies.
§ MR. FITZGERALD
wished to impress upon Her Majesty's Ministers the urgent necessity of relieving his unfortunate country from the horrors of famine. He was happy to say, that it was with no small gratification and pleasure that he had listened to the speech of the right hon. Baronet the other night; and he (Mr. Fitzgerald) could corroborate the accounts read by the right hon. Baronet and the statements he had made. He could not but express his satisfaction likewise at the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, in introducing measures for promoting public works in Ireland, so as to give the poor the means of buying what 1415 they wanted. He was not going to answer the statements of the hon. Member opposite (Captain Bateson) respecting the manufactures of Ireland. He acknowledged he knew more about land than manufactures; nor would he notice what he had stated about the firm of Bright and Co.; he had no doubt if the hon. Member for Durham had been in his place he would have been able to answer him. With regard to the measure of Her Majesty's Government, he confessed that until he entered the House his idea was for perfect free trade; and although he had not altered his opinions, still he thought that the measure of Her Majesty's Government was the best that could be brought forward at the present moment. He thought that any sudden change to free trade (though he was in favour of free trade) would do rather injury than good, and that it showed the wisdom and good sense of the right hon. Baronet not to bring forward a measure of sudden free trade, but to afford such a time for the measure to take effect as was usual in agricultural operations and changes of crops. He acknowledged that when the measure was first brought forward by the Government great alarm was felt in Ireland; and as a Member of one of the largest counties in Ireland, and almost entirely agricultural, he had felt it to be his duty to hear the opinions of his constituents, and to see how far they accorded with his own. The result was, that though alarmed at first, coupled with the compensations—which he, however, considered no compensations whatever—they were disposed decidedly to support the measure of Her Majesty's Government. Considering all the other changes for the last few years, a change in the commercial policy of this country must be made. We must go according to the times, and go onward, not, he hoped, as the hon. Member (Captain Bateson) expected, downwards. He was glad to hear the kind expressions which had been used towards Ireland by hon. Gentlemen in that House; but he could not help saying, that the conduct of that which was now the Ministerial party did not practically carry out the kindness which persons in that House were so anxious to profess. As to the vote which he intended to give, he did believe that the prevailing sentiments in the place which he represented would secure to him the gratitude of his constituents. He should support the measure of the right hon. Baronet, for this amongst other reasons, that he admired 1416 the moral courage with which he brought forward and sustained the policy which he thought it his duty to pursue. There could be no doubt that a Government, with the noble Lord the Member for London at its head, could do much for Ireland, because the people of that country regarded the present Ministerial party as their enemies, and the Liberal party as their friends; but no man could doubt that the measure now under their consideration was one calculated not to promote the interest of a few, but to advance the prosperity of the nation at large.
was at all times reluctant to obtrude himself on the House, but could not submit to give a silent vote on that occasion. He had a deep sense of the services which Her Majesty's Ministers had rendered to their country. He had not forgotten the distress and the despondency which existed in it at the time of their coming into office, or the many difficulties from which they had extricated it; he, therefore, most sincerely regretted to find himself placed in opposition to them on this question. His regret was great in proportion to the respect in which he held them. When the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government proposed an alteration in the Corn Laws in 1842, he had given him his humble and willing support; he had reason to know that the vote he then gave met with the approbation of his constituents; and since the present scheme was announced he had received a communication from a very influential body of them expressing the same moderate views. They contented themselves by saying, that as long as protection was given to manufactures of any description it was most unjust to deprive agriculture of it; and he believed they would be satisfied were the three years of promised protection, like the three years of the right hon. Baronet's Income Tax, prolonged to an indefinite period. For his own part, he desired to see all their interests protected moderately, and on equitable principles. He had no wish, he never had any wish, for exclusive advantages to agriculture; but he must say, that the cry of class legislation came with a bad grace from those who raised it. Few interests had been more largely favoured than that of cotton manufactures. Up to 1819, if he mistook not, foreign goods of that description were subject to a duty of 85½ per cent., and till a more recent period to a duty of 50 per cent. There was also, at 1417 one time, a bounty on the exportation of printed calicoes of our own manufacture. He had said, he desired no exclusive advantages to agriculture. Accordingly, had the proposal of the right hon. Baronet been a diminution of the protection it now enjoyed, he should not have hesitated to have voted with him; but for the total abandonment of protection he was not prepared. He remembered the often-quoted caution of Montesquieu—"Beware of following the example of the savage, who, to get at the bread fruit, cuts down the tree on which it grows." He hesitated to give his assent to a measure long earnestly desired by all who sought the overthrow of our Constitution, and the dismemberment of the Empire. He was returned, and that unanimously, to that House by a numerous constituency on protective principles, and to these principles he was bound in honour to adhere; for no new circumstances had arisen, no new reasons had been assigned, to induce him to change his opinions. He could not think we were justified in sweeping away all protection, in order to remedy a casual calamity or a defect in the existing system, which could be readily removed by a simple alteration. The misfortunes which now threatened Ireland, and which the right hon. Baronet feared would be seriously felt in less than three months, had nothing to do with this question. They must be met by other means, and not by a measure which would not come into operation till the end of three years. With regard to other interests affected by the Resolutions, the experience of the Tariff of 1842, instead of being a reason for abandoning protection to them, was rather a reason why they should adhere to it. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Liverpool had shown that free trade would injure our Colonies, and lead, probably, to their separation from us. He felt the force of his observations. He saw, also, as respected ourselves, serious obstacles in the circumstances of this country and of Europe. One of the obstacles was the unwillingness of Foreign Powers to enter into reciprocal engagements. The orators of the League admitted this, by invariably assuming that the whole world must follow the example of Great Britain; but though the right hon. Baronet seemed disposed to countenance their prophecies, he adduced no facts that could lend them any distinct and convincing authority, except as to one or two very insignificant States. Another, and 1418 even more serious objection, arose out of the enormous debt with which we were loaded, and from which other nations were, in a great measure, exempted. In whatever manner our taxes might be raised, it was obvious they must press on all classes, even on the very poorest; and therefore this country ought to be one of the last to abandon protection to its native industry. There was another disadvantage, certainly not of the same important character, yet not altogether unworthy of consideration—that this measure would tend to perpetuate the Income Tax, from which his constituents were anxious to be relieved, or prevent a reduction of the duty on tea, which would be a great boon to all classes, and a great benefit to our commerce. It would also prevent the Chancellor of the Exchequer from dealing with taxes which affected the industry of our people. Some of the assessed taxes, for example, interfered directly with their employment; and he was at a loss to know on what ground this could be justified, when we were about to allow untaxed foreigners to enter into competition with them in so many respects. He could not help fearing that the great difference between the value of labour here and on the Continent, must be attended by serious consequences. On account of the comparatively high rate of wages in this country, our exports must be confined to goods manufactured by means of machinery, and to articles on which little labour had been expended; while we should receive in return manufactures, the chief value of which consisted in their workmanship. Little attention had been paid to this subject in the course of that debate. He hoped the House would not be led away by vague assertions, which had been made by several hon. Members, about increased employment and better wages; but look seriously into the means of employment which this description of traffic must withdraw from our rapidly increasing population. In regard to agriculture, he apprehended a similar displacement of employment; and for this reason, that the amount of labour required for the production of corn, was greater than that which was required for the manufacture of those articles which it was proposed to exchange for the corn of the Continent. It was well known, that in every operation of husbandry the labour of man was largely employed; whereas in steam-woven cotton goods, everything from first to last was performed by machinery with comparatively 1419 little assistance from the operative; and the raw material was chiefly imported from a foreign and not very friendly land. We thus displaced our own industry, and transferred it not only to the country from which we imported our corn, but also to America, from whence we imported our cotton. He held it to be utterly impossible that the farmers of this country could go on paying the wages they had been accustomed to pay, and compete with the farmers in more favourable climates, who paid their labourers from 3s to 4s. a week. No one would seriously pretend that they could. The hon. Member for Stroud said, we already competed with the cheap labour of Ireland; but the supply from that part of the kingdom was limited; it did not materially affect prices, and could not, therefore, affect wages. The hon. Member who had just addressed the House, stated that the speech of the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, had at first caused great alarm in the county he represented. He (Mr. Lockhart) thought that the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Southwark was still more calculated to excite uneasiness. He (Sir W. Molesworth) admitted that the class of small farmers must be swept away. Now he would ask—was Ireland prepared for that measure? He knew that in the county he had the honour to represent, the effect would be strongly felt. There were upwards of two thousand small farmers in it, not, generally speaking, possessed of much capital, but deficient neither in skill nor industry. Their most experienced and best-informed farmers, were of opinion that their inferior lands must go to ruin. He had seen the greatest part of them brought into cultivation; and if this measure passed, he was destined, probably, to see their return into the state from which they were reclaimed; for these lands, when left in grass, rapidly deteriorated, and in a few years became valueless. As this was a subject in regard to which great misapprehension existed, he would take the liberty to read a single sentence from a letter he had received from a neighbour of his, a practical farmer, and a great admirer of the right hon. Baronet. It was as follows:—If Sir R. Peel carries his intended Corn Bill, it will ruin this part of the country. A great part of our inferior land must go out of cultivation; and if allowed to remain in grass, it will get into a wild state in a very few years.In short, the right hon. Baronet was putting 1420 the science and industry of our farmers to too severe a test, and many of them must sink under it. "Agriculture," said the right Baronet, "even here is in its infancy." Be it so. Would not, then, any improvements that might be introduced, tell with double effect in countries that were immeasurably behind us? And if our liberality did not stimulate foreign farmers to greater exertions, were there not among themselves those who would take advantage of the lower rate of wages abroad, and set them an example? for they had no want of speculators. Were the price of labour equal, or nearly equal, they need fear nothing from competition; and in the course of time it must become so: when the principle of buying in the cheapest market had come fully into operation, as the price of every thing else fell, the price of labour must sink also. This was a melancholy prospect for the industrious classes; but it was, he feared, the inevitable consequence of a measure of this kind. It was indeed a hazardous experiment; but he sincerely hoped he might be mistaken, and that the policy which brought ruin to ancient Rome, might bring prosperity to the British Empire. Such he most devotedly believed were the anticipations of the Government. Might it prove that they were wiser than the majority of their friends!
§ SIR G. CLERK
said, that he very unwillingly obtruded himself upon the attention of the House; but he could not allow this question, considering the situation which he had the honour to hold, to be disposed of without saying a few words; at the same time he did not presume to think he could add much to what had been already said. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury had told the House that the objections to the measures were two fold—one founded upon the non-existence of an emergency, the other upon the construction of a new system of policy. As to the existence of the emergency, he believed that that was a position which could not be successfully contested, and which it was really unnecessary to debate at any length. In discussing the other ground of objection, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury told them that the present measure went to the construction of a new system of commercial policy. Now he denied that altogether. The present proposition was nothing more than a following out of that system which was introduced by his right hon. Friend in 1842, and a development of 1421 those measures supported by him in 1824, when they were brought forward by Mr. Huskisson and Lord Ripon, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. They had been told then that the Government and the Parliament had run wild upon the subject of free trade. The propositions of that day were so described, but they were carried out; and if hon. Members would only view calmly the measures now proposed, they would see that they went very little beyond the principles which had been acted upon for the last twenty years, and that there was really no intention of introducing a new system of commercial policy. With regard to the emergency, he wished he could consider it, as some hon. Gentlemen did, temporary. In this debate they had looked too exclusively to the misery in Ireland which would prevail during the present summer; but they must look further—they must look what the crop of potatoes, which he was sorry to say was the sole food of 4,000,000 of the people there, would be in the subsequent years of 1847 and 1848, because they must bear in mind not only that the crop of the present year was destroyed, but that there would be the greatest difficulty in obtaining sufficient seed for future culture. ["Hear, hear!"] Did the hon. Member doubt that statement? If he did, perhaps he was not in the House when a question was put by the hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Horsman) to the right hon. Baronet near him (Sir R. Peel). He Sir G. Clerk) had himself made some inquiries among his own neighbours, and he had been told by men of great intelligence, though the disease did not exist to the same extent last spring, yet that there had been symptoms of it, and, as they had not been sufficiently careful as to the potatoes they had used for seed, there was reason to believe that the seed sown did contain the germ of the disease last year. He thought that, after what Professor Lindley had communicated to the right hon. Baronet, and what had been by him stated to the House, there was reason to apprehend that the disease would not be confined to the present season; and that even supposing they could procure seed to be sown for next year, the disease would prevail. But it was not only to Ireland they were to look in considering the means of obtaining a sufficient supply of food for the present year: although the potato was not the exclusive food, it did form a great part of the food of the people of Scotland and 1422 of England. Now, the disease had been found to prevail to a great extent in every part of the United Kingdom. He knew that different parties did not agree on the precise extent of the injury. It varied in different districts, and on one farm from another, so that, according to the place where the question was asked, very different ideas might be entertained of the extent to which the disease prevailed; but there was one test by which they might approximate to the truth. In England the potato formed a great portion of the food of the lower orders: it did so especially in the metropolis. What did hon. Members suppose the supply of potatoes for London was this year compared with the last? From the 1st of October, 1844, to the 14th of February, 1845, being a period of four months and a-half, the supply of potatoes to London was 770,000 sacks; whilst the supply of London for the same period from the 1st of October, 1845, to the 14th of February instant, was only 540,000 sacks, showing a falling-off of nearly one-third in the supply of the metropolis. He believed he might take this as a fair index of the failure throughout England generally; and if they contemplated the deficiency of supply of potatoes in Manchester and Liverpool and a great many other towns, where a large portion of the population was Irish, they might imagine the distress that would exist. What effect had this defective supply of London on the prices? At the end of January, 1845, the price of potatoes in Covent-garden market, by the ton, was from 50s. to 80s.; and if they looked at the price at the end of January, 1846, they would find it ran from 80s. up to 160s, a ton; so that the lowest price now was equal to the highest price in the former year, and the highest price now was double what it wat last year. He knew if they took the water-side price it might be found somewhat lower, for many cargoes of diseased potatoes were brought to market, and of course sold at a low rate; indeed, at the present moment, it depended on the state of the wind, and a prosperous passage from the Humber or the Tay, whether the cargo would arrive in a sound state or not. Potatoes by this price had been placed beyend the reach of the lower classes, who had consequently been obliged to purchase bread to a greater extent than they were used to do in former years. Those bakers who supplied the poorer districts, who used to bake ten 1423 sacks a week, were now baking eleven, so that there was an increased consumption of bread of 10 per cent. When, therefore, we had been importing corn during the last six years to a great extent—when they found that the food of 4,000,000 of the people in Ireland would be cut off at the end of the next two months, and that the consumption of bread had been increased 10 per cent. already, even in the metropolis—and when it was highly probable that this diminished supply of potatoes that came to the metropolis could not hold out till the end of May, it was the duty of the Government to look out and see that there were no impediments to a sufficient supply of food. He must now advert to another remarkable feature of this case. It was well known that although the harvest of last year had not been deficient in bulk upon an average, it had been deficient in weight; and an additional quantity of wheat was now required to produce a given quantity of flour. Now, at the same time that the potato disease had not been confined to Great Britain and Ireland, but had extended itself to the whole of the Continent, it was also known the harvest in Germany and other parts of Europe had failed to a great extent likewise. Holland and Belgium had at once removed all impediments to the admission of food in their ports. At that time, when corn was so admitted into the ports of those countries free, it had been found that though the price of corn in the London markets was exceedingly high—though the best wheat was remaining stationary, or rather rising—the averages were moving in the opposite direction. That was in the month of November. The attention of the Government had been most anxiously directed to this difficulty. From week to week the accounts of the quantity of corn coming in were compared with the accounts of the quantities which from week to week were re-exported. The amount so re-exported continued trifling; but had it increased, it would have been the bounden duty of Government to open the ports, as a means of preventing the corn from being taken away from this country to those which had removed all impediments upon its importation. Under such circumstances he thought he might assume that there would have been but one feeling in the House—that the Government would have been justified in taking upon itself the heavy and delicate responsibility of opening the ports and admitting corn. But if this point was admitted, 1424 and if such was the opinion of the agricultural Members, that admission took away from him the main and chief argument upon which he had ever been prepared to defend the sliding-scale, because the great argument in favour of that scale had been that it contained within itself a self-adjusting principle—that the duty should fall with a rise in price, until it vanished altogether. If hon. Gentlemen would refer to the arguments used in favour of the sliding-scale in 1827, and having regard to the circumstances of the autumn of 1826, they would find we had been nearly in a similar position in the autumn of 1845. The Government of Lord Liverpool had been obliged to open the ports and suspend the law. They had come to Parliament, and had asked for a Bill of Indemnity; and having made out a sufficient case the Parliament had passed their Bill. Lord Liverpool had then remarked that this power of opening the ports was of so delicate a nature that it required to be exercised with the greatest caution and care; that it might occasion loss and ruin to many unoffending and innocent persons; that it was a power which ought not to remain with the Government; and that some alteration should be made to render it unnecessary. Mr. Canning had also shown most forcibly that under the Corn Law then in force, there was no security against a recurrence of similar circumstances which might make it imperative on the Government to assume the power of dispensing with the law; and that this objection was not only applicable to the law of 1815, but to a fixed duty, however small. That had been the great argument in favour of a sliding-scale, for in a commercial point of view it was liable to many palpable objections; but now, here was a case in 1845, when the sliding-scale had failed in this respect of adjusting the duty in proportion to the price. The law not answering its purpose in this respect, it would have been the duty of Government, had they opened the ports, to do as Lord Liverpool had done in 1827, when he asked for indemnity, namely, to have been prepared to show how the existing law might be modified and altered so as to prevent the recurrence of this evil. An hon. Member had said that all that was required was an alteration in the mode of taking the averages; but upon this point he would rather take the opinion of a representative of the agricultural interest, the hon. Member for Somersetshire, who had said that there was no middle course, and 1425 that he would rather have that proposed by the Government, if the Corn Laws were to be touched ["No, no!"] The hon. Member for Somersetshire was not now in his place, and it was possible he might be mistaken; but he had a distinct recollection of the hon. Member saying that there was no middle course. The hon. Member had followed shortly after the hon. Member for Huntingdon, who thought there was a middle course open, but received so little encouragement from Gentlemen who had cheered other parts of his speech, that he had not been induced to state to the House what that middle term was. But the hon. Member for Somerset had stated his opinion that there was no middle course, but that if the existing Corn Law was to be disturbed, it was far better that the measure of the Government should be adopted. Very few of the agricultural Members had entered into details to show the nature and extent of the injury they apprehended; but the hon. Member for Somersetshire had been an exception, for he had quoted some statistics, and had expressed his alarm at the quantity of corn likely to be brought from various parts of the world, and he particularized Russia; but it was well known that in reality a very small portion of the crops in the southern provinces of that empire consisted of wheat: they were principally rye, hemp, and tobacco. During ten years of deficient supply of corn at home, we had been obliged to ransack the whole world; and even then wheat could only be had at a great price. If hon. Members would look at the accounts on the Table, they would see that 120,000 quarters only was the average importation from Russia during the last ten years; and even in 1840, 317,000 quarters were all that could be had from that country. The Government availed themselves of the best information on this subject from our consular agents abroad. Returns had been obtained from different individuals and at several different periods of time; and it was a very remarkable fact, that nearly all of them concurred in the general result. From that information it appeared that the utmost quantity of wheat to be expected from Russia was 670,000 quarters, which was supposing that Great Britain obtained the whole surplus of that country; for some Gentlemen argued as if Great Britain was the only country wanting wheat; whereas they would find that in reality a very small portion of the surplus of these corn-growing countries came into England, 1426 and that if we went into the market, other countries would compete with us, the consequence of which would be, that the price would be raised to the English level by such competition, instead of the English price being reduced to the continental level. With respect to America, there was no greater mistake than to suppose that we were likely to receive very large supplies of corn from that country. By a reference to the Papers on the Table of the House, it would be seen that the United States exported in 1790 and 1793, when the population was four millions, a larger quantity of corn than she had ever done since, except in 1840, when the preceding harvest of 1839 had been remarkably abundant. But of the corn exported by America in that year a very small part found its way into the English markets. The population of America in 1840 was calculated at upwards of 17,000,000l.; the crop of wheat in that year was estimated at ten million quarters. Of those ten millions America exported 215,000 quarters in the shape of wheat, and 1,897,000 barrels of flour, which, subtracted from the total quantity, left only about four bushels per head for the consumption of their own population. Now, of that quantity exported from America only 620,000 barrels of flour came into England in 1840, the year in which there was the greatest importation. In the next year, 1841, America exported only 108,000 quarters of wheat, and 1,500,000 barrels of flour; and in 1842 her exports were 140,000 quarters of wheat, and 1,100,000 barrels of flour. The population of America was now about 20,000,000, and it was supposed that she could export little more than half the wheat she had sent out in 1840, still leaving a supply for her own people not greater than four bushels per head. With regard to the Eastern States of America, the fact was, they scarcely produced a sufficient supply of corn for their own population; and this being true—and that it was true was notorious to all who knew anything of the matter—it was clear that there could be nothing more absurd or untenable than the apprehension that from that quarter of the world, at all events, a supply of grain was to come in such exorbitant profusion as to glut the home market. Indeed, he believed that the apprehension would be found to be totally without foundation as regarded the United States generally; for circumstanced as those States were at present, and as they were likely to continue, with respect to 1427 their commercial relations, and the vast calls which their own population made upon their home market, it was in the last degree improbable that they would ever be in a position to export corn in sufficient quantities to injure the growers of any other country whatsoever. The United States already supplied Brazil and the West India islands with flour; and as the demand for the article had enormously increased, and was still increasing in the latter countries since the emancipation of the slave population—which, by the way, was a most gratifying fact—the possibility of our receiving any very considerable supply of corn from the other side of the Atlantic was rendered more and more unlikely. In fact, he regarded it as a contingency so extremely improbable, that it might fairly be considered as almost entirely out of the question. Nay, he viewed the matter in another aspect altogether—in an aspect which, he must say, he considered as a much more alarming one than that in which it was viewed by the hon. Member for Somersetshire; for he could not help thinking that the actual state of things being such as he had described it to be, hon. Gentlemen, instead of indulging in an apprehension that our home market would be inundated with foreign corn, ought to apply themselves to the consideration of this question, whether, if our population were to continue to progress at the ratio in which it had of late years been advancing, we should be enabled, even though the resources of Russia and some other countries were to be developed to the very utmost, to procure a sufficient supply of corn for our own people. Within the last five years there had been imported into this country nearly ten millions of corn, being an average of two millions per annum; and surely there was no one who would venture to allege, that the people of this country had in that period been over-fed. Let the resources of Russia be developed to what extent they might, even though it were to that extent the prospect of which caused so much pain and alarm to the hon. Member for Somersetshire; and let it be taken for granted, that during the ten years preceding 1856, the importation of foreign corn was to average 3,000,000 quarters per annum, instead of 2,000,000 as heretofore—it would still be found that a larger supply had not been brought in than was absolutely necessary for the support of the people; and, furthermore, it would be found (he ventured confidently to 1428 predict it) that notwithstanding all this vast importation, not one single acre of land would be thrown out of cultivation; but that, on the contrary, agriculture would receive a fresh impetus, and that the demand upon the home market would still be very much greater than the supply. This was his deliberate opinion; and he had not the slightest doubt but that the result would show that he was a true prophet, rather than those who apprehended that the agriculture of this country would be discouraged, and large tracts of land be thrown out of cultivation if all restrictions on the corn trade were removed. The experience of the last thirty years proved that the rate of population advanced more rapidly than the rate of production; and that this was true was attested by the fact, that for a long series of years, we had every year been compelled to increase our importations of foreign corn in proportion as we approached more closely to the present time; and bearing in mind this fact, the truth of which was not to be contested, he could not help thinking—no matter how vigorously, no matter how scientifically, the arts of agriculture might be applied to the enrichment of the soil—that ten years hence we would be compelled to import 3,000,000 of quarters of corn annually instead of two, which had been required, for the last five years. It was a favourite argument with hon. Gentlemen who were averse to the repeal of the Corn Laws, that the sliding-scale had this merit at least, that it prevented, or, at all events, materially checked, the fluctuation of the market; but the fact was, it had not produced a steadiness of price. The fluctuation of the market had been considerably greater under the sliding-scale than it was in the period intervening between the years 1786 and 1792—the period when the corn trade of this country was the least trammelled by restrictions. This he considered a very valuable fact, and one highly interesting for the purposes of this discussion. The hon. Member for Sunderland, when expatiating on the probability of our being subjected to an inundation of foreign corn, had spoken of the facilities for speculating in that article, and had alluded to the circumstance of his having himself, in the year 1837, imported into this country a quantity of foreign corn at so small a cost as 25s. per quarter. He had no doubt that the fact was just as the hon. Member had stated it, but it was capable of a very easy and natural explanation. Look at the state of the 1429 corn trade at home and abroad in the year '37. During the years '34, '35, and '36, we had a succession of good harvests, and consequently imported little or nothing. In the month of August, '37, it was ascertained that the crop on the Continent was an excellent one, and the crop in England was likewise very abundant, for the summer had everywhere been warm and genial. The consequence was, that all the markets here and on the Continent were well stocked. He held in his hand an authentic document, prepared at the period to which he alluded (August, 1837), and by a reference to it he found that at that time the Hamburgh market was so low that corn had fallen to a price varying from 22s. 4d. to 29s. 4d. per quarter, and that the rate of freight was only 2s. 6d. Now he could very well conceive that the hon. Member, if inclined to speculate at all, might have done so in this manner. He might have purchased a small parcel of corn, of a very inferior description, indeed, at 22s. 4d. or thereabout, and after paying 2s. 6d. for freight, nothing was more natural than that he might have had the article for the cost he specified; but would the hon. Member tell the House that this was a thing that could be done every, or indeed to a very great extent in any, year? Mark what a revolution took place in the corn market the very next year. The crop on the Continent, in 1838, was an average one; but it was the reverse of abundant in England, the summer having been cold and moist. The fact that the English people had not been blessed with a very rich harvest soon became widely circulated, and the consequence was that, in the month of August, 1838, wheat rose at Hamburgh, from 22s. 4d. to 63s. 9d., and freight from 2s. 6d. to 6s. and 8s. The hon. Member for Sunderland had not given the House to understand that, in the year 1838, he imported any corn at 25s. per quarter, or even at double that price. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury had argued that the rule of commerce was, that in proportion as the demand for an article increased, the price fell; but he (Sir G. Clerk) contended that the history of commerce proved that the contrary fact was usually realized. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury quoted the price of tea in support of his novel theory, stating, that though a much larger quantity of tea was now imported, the price in this country was lower. The price had since been reduced to the consumer; but the fact was not to be attributed to the 1430 increase in the demand. Were there no other reasons for a fall in the price of tea during the last ten or twelve years? Could the House forget, that during that period the trade to China had been thrown open, and that the restrictions under which the East India Company were required to conduct that trade had been removed. While the monopoly of the Company existed, they were obliged at all times to retain in store in this country a stock equal to a whole year's consumption; and the manner in which their periodical sales of tea were conducted, was frequently very inconvenient to the dealer in this country. Now, in consequence of the opening of the trade, freights from China had been greatly reduced. The importations of tea were not now, as formerly, confined to the port of London; the consequence of the removal of these and other restrictions, had been to reduce the price of tea to the consumers in this country, while at the same time the increased demand had had the effect of raising the price at Canton. The prices in 1844 had been so exorbitant, as materially to check the purchase of tea; and it was not till the beginning of 1845, that large purchases had been made; and even then at prices much above those which prevailed in 1832, before the trade was thrown open. There was reason, however, to hope, that a trade in tea might be established in some of the other ports of China, and that the breaking up of the monopoly hitherto enjoyed by the merchants at Canton might enable us to obtain tea at more moderate prices than had been of late demanded. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury had referred to the cotton trade as also affording an illustration of the truth of his doctrine, that, according as the demand for an article increased, the price fell; and he had instanced the fact that, in certain parts of the United States, cotton might now be had for three cents a pound. This statement, however, should be received with caution. He believed that cotton of a very inferior quality might be sold for that sum. He was given to understand that in New Orleans cotton of that description might be had for three cents per pound; but the latest commercial advices that we had received from New Orleans showed that good cotton, so far from being sold there for that sum, fetched so high a price as from six and a half to nine cents per pound. That was the actual price of the article at the present time in New Orleans. It was very possible that, owing to a stagnation of trade, or 1431 some other of those unfortunate casualties to which all branches of commerce were subject, a fall in the price of the article might have taken place in 1837; but that fall was only of a temporary character; and the indisputable fact was, that, so far from our manufacturers being able to purchase cotton at three cents per pound, they were obliged to pay a price for it ranging from six and a half to nine cents per pound. And there was no knowing what price it might yet attain; for there could be no doubt but that the merchants at New Orleans were narrowly watching the policy England was now about to adopt, and would model their own policy accordingly. The doctrines of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, he had no hesitation in saying, were totally untenable, and would not endure one moment's investigation. The mind of the hon. Member appeared to be tortured by the most dreadful apprehension of coming evil; but he (Sir G. Clerk) confidently trusted that the event would prove there was no ground whatever for such apprehensions. Alarm would always be excited whenever it was proposed to make any change, even the most trivial, in the commercial policy of this country. In the year 1787, when Mr. Pitt first brought forward his proposition to regulate the importation of corn from Ireland, the Scotch agriculturists were in an agony of alarm, and predicted that the corn trade and the agricultural interests generally of Scotland would be irretrievably ruined; but he was proud and happy to say that, notwithstanding this gloomy prophecy, in no part of the United Kingdom had the science of agriculture been prosecuted with more signal success than in Scotland, nor did he know of any portion of the Empire in which there had been a greater increase of rents to landlords since 1787. He ventured to predict that results equally happy would follow from the adoption of the measures now in contemplation; but let not the House be surprised at finding that apprehension and alarm existed in many quarters with regard to the effect of the measures of Her Majesty's Government, similar to what past experience had shown us had always taken place when any change had been proposed. As far back as the year 1820, a petition was presented to that House from some of the most eminent merchants in London, praying for the removal of those protective restrictions which cramped the energies of trade and commerce. The Government of Lord Liverpool, 1432 in the year 1824, acted on these recommendations, and brought in various measures with a view to the mitigation of the prohibitory system; but it was a notorious fact that, with respect to every one of these mitigatory measures, the same alarm was manifested, and the same gloomy forebodings were indulged in. At that time, the amount of the protective duty on linen was not very great, but a bounty was given on the exportation of linens from this country; and when it was proposed to do away with this bounty, the Irish Members rose with the utmost indignation, and declared that the reduction would be the absolute destruction of the Irish manufactures. He well remembered that the hon. Member for Londonderry expressly declared, that if the contemplated reduction were to be carried into effect, the linen and cambric trade of Ireland would be irretrievably ruined. Such was the prediction of the Member for Londonderry; but had the House forgotten the statement made by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, in the course of his masterly speech of that day week, by which he showed, on the authority of some of the most eminent linen manufacturers residing in the neighbourhood of Belfast, that their prosperity dated from the year 1826, and that, notwithstanding the removal of protection, they had been able not only to compete with France, but to send their fabrics in enormous quantities to the remotest countries of the world, and especially to the United States? So much for the linen trade. His (Sir George Clerk's) right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel), in the course of his speech, had summed all up in this way—"We reduced a great number of these things; we made further reductions in 1842; and now I call upon any Member—I call upon any person—who is connected with trade, to show us where it has suffered injury by the reduction." That challenge, then, remained unanswered. At last, the hon. Member for Birmingham took the field, and he referred to the article of spelter or zinc. He (Sir G. Clerk) had heard with great astonishment the declaration of the hon. Member, that the zinc trade had suffered from the change that had taken place; but he confessed he could not find out from his statement in what manner, or how, the manufacturers of zinc had been injured. He said, when the price of zinc was 75l. a ton, the duty was 45l. a ton. [Mr. MUNTZ: Oh, no! I beg your pardon.] He would take it at 50l. 1433 a ton.; the duty was as high as 50l. a ton, and the price of the article was 75l. That duty was gradually reduced, and last year they took off the duty. He appealed to the knowledge of every Member of the House, whether the manufacture of zinc was not one of the most recent origin; and it was only within a few years the means were discovered of rendering zinc malleable, and readily converting it to any useful purpose. Formerly, they were dependent exclusively on the mines of this country for a supply of that description of zinc that was used for the mixing of copper as an alloy for making brass. The description of spelter or zinc found in this country was so brittle, that it could not be converted into those articles into which zinc was now manufactured. It was the foreign zinc that was susceptible of being made malleable. Large mines were discovered in the Prussian provinces, and large quantities of that zinc had been brought here; and by the admission of that zinc, an entirely new branch of manufactures was established. By that means, employment was given to many hundreds of persons; whereas if the prohibitory duties had been maintained, the proprietors of those inconsiderable mines from which the inferior quality of zinc was procured, might have retained the price of 75l. per ton, and that zinc might have been used for the manufacture of brass; but then the country would have been deprived of the means of manufacturing those zinc articles. The hon. Member wound up his statement by this assertion: he said zinc was now 50l. per ton, and that it was not worth any man's while to work up that zinc, for every article of it, with trifling exceptions, was brought from abroad. Now, what was the fact? They had last year a statement of the duties on every article: the duty on manufactured spelter was 10 per cent., and the whole value of the article brought in was 5l., and the duty was 10s. 6d. Now, what had been the profits of the zinc manufacture in this country? He need go back only a few years, for the manufacture of zinc was but recently introduced. In the years 1843 and 1844, the quantity of zinc imported was 10,000 tons, and of that between 5,000 and 6,000 tons were exported to India and China, and 4,000 tons were retained to be worked up in manufactures in this country. In the last year, 12,000 tons were imported; and of that 2,000 tons only were exported, and 10,000 tons were worked up into manufactures. By means 1434 of that manufacture, a very useful and valuable article could be obtained at a moderate price, and employment was given to a great number of persons. Neither had the trade in British spelter been destroyed; for the fact was, that in addition to what was required for making brass in this country, no less than 1500 tons of British spelter had been exported in 1844. The hon. Member for Birmingham ought, from his position, to be well acquainted with this subject; but yet he said that the measures of the Government were productive of injury. He (Sir G. Clerk) would next refer to the observations of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. His right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) had said, that so far from the silk trade having been injured by the reduction of duty, the quantity of raw silk imported had more than doubled since the restriction was taken of. No, said the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, for the right hon. Baronet has taken into his calculation waste silk and thrown silk. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury said, that they had nothing to do with them; and he then stated, that twenty years ago, in the last year of protection, the quantity of raw silk introduced was 4,010,000 lbs.; and that in 1844 it did not exceed 4,020,000. Now, he found that the silk imported in 1824 stood thus:—raw silk imported, 3,414,520; waste silk, 133,257; thrown silk, 462,731; making about 4,011,000 lbs., the quantity quoted by the hon. Member; and, therefore, the quantity of silk which was stated by him to have been imported in 1824 included waste and thrown silks. That was the quantity imported in 1824; in 1844 the quantity of raw silk imported was 4,021,000; waste silk, 707,850; thrown silk, 410,358; making above 6,000,000 lbs. The hon. Member, when he made a statement of figures, was bound in both cases to take the same items; for he came down there to make a business speech, throwing aside all those sallies with which he amused the House on former occasions. The hon. Member said he would take the year 1824, the last year of protection. He (Sir G. Clerk) thought he might, with more propriety, claim 1829 as the first year of free trade. In the month of February, in that year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced to the House certain plans, including a proposition for the reduction of duty on raw silk, and the removal of the prohibition on the manufacture. An objection was taken to the introduction of the silk manufacture; but 1435 there was only one feeling in the House as to the propriety of immediately taking the duty off raw silk. On the 7th of March the House agreed to the Resolution, and on the 25th of March, in that year, the duty was taken off. Therefore, it was perfectly clear that as the subject had engrossed the attention of both Houses of Parliament in the former year, and a great change was universally expected, the year 1824 was naturally a year of great excitement and speculation as far as the importation of raw silk was concerned; and, in fact, in making any comparison of the past and present state of the silk trade, it ought to be left out of the account. The only true criterion to be taken in a thing of that sort was to take an average, and to see what was the effect of free trade, and what was the effect of protection and high duty. Let them compare the import of raw silk prior to 1824 with what it was subsequent to that period. For ten years previous to 1824 the average was 1,524,000 lbs. For ten years, from 1825 to 1834 inclusive, the average was 3,000,000 lbs. per annum, instead of 1,500,000 as before; and taking ten years, from 1836 to 1845 inclusive, gave him an average of 3,865,000 lbs., as compared with 1,500,000, presenting an increase of 150 per cent.; and in stating these figures, he had confined himself to the quantities of raw silk, excluding throughout the quantities of waste and thrown silk; though if those had been included, the result in favour of the system of free trade would have appeared greater. The result, therefore, was to increase the silk manufactures of this country to the extent he had mentioned; and, instead of throwing any persons out of employment, employment had been given to a greater number of silk weavers and other persons engaged in the silk trade by the removal of that duty. The hon. Member said he was for free trade, as he understood free trade. He was for a free interchange of the commodities of different countries. He desired, he said, that they should interchange their commodities on the same terms with France and America, as they were willing to interchange with them; but, said he, there are hostile tariffs against us, and are we prepared to fight hostile tariffs with free imports? With reference to this observation, he (Sir G. Clerk) would remind him that those changes were proposed to be made, not with reference to their effect upon foreign countries, but for the benefit of the community of England. If they required those articles 1436 which were produced in other countries, were they to deprive the people of this country of the use of them, because some foreign nations said they would not take in exchange articles of British manufacture? Russia, he said, had a prohibitory tariff, and would not take our articles; while facilities were given for the introduction of Russian tallow into this country. But the fact was, that the people of this country would not buy the Russian tallow except they wanted it. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury said, as you have no direct market for your productions with Russia, the British manufacturer is obliged to have recourse to an indirect and circuitous course: he is obliged to send an extra quantity of goods to the Brazils and elsewhere, to enable him to find returns for the Russia market; and that consequently a heavy loss is sustained. That is in fact, we had to pay this additional price for the products of Russia. But how was the British consumer benefited, if, in addition to the enhanced cost above alluded to, he had to pay a heavy tax in this country before he could introduce the hemp, iron, or tallow, which were required to enable the shipowner of this country to build or fit out his ships? Those Members who entertained the same views as the Member for Shrewsbury, and who at the same time professed to take a deep interest in the prosperity of the shipping of this country, would do well to consider, whether the course of policy which they espoused would not greatly increase the difficulties of the shipping interest in meeting foreign competition. It certainly must be a matter of regret that the countries from which they imported so largely so many articles necessary for the interests of this country, should persevere in having prohibitory tariffs. They should hope, however, that those other countries—not only from their example, but also from experience—would see, that the most efficient means of increasing the revenue would be by having a moderate duty substituted for prohibition. The hon. Member had said that without diplomacy they would get nothing from France—that they might reduce their duties as much as they pleased, but that it would not produce any advantage for the manufactures of this country. Let them see what was the experience of the last twenty years. In 1826 the policy was to remove the prohibitory duties on French silks and gloves. In 1828 the duty on French wines was reduced from 1437 13s. 9d. to 7s. 7d., and in 1832 to 5s. 6d. Madder, on which the duty was 12s., was allowed to come in free. The duty on flax was altogether removed. The duty on cambrics was reduced from 11s. 6d. to 5s. The duty on cloverseed, of which we got a considerable quantity from France, was reduced one-half. The duty on kid skins and other dressed skins was removed. The Government of France, it is true, had not during the same period relaxed any of their restrictions against British commerce; but the demands of the people of France baffled the diplomatists and legislatures; and our exports, from the very moment of the reduction of duties on our part, had been progressively increasing, and now exceeded by six times the amount in 1824. The declared value of the exports of British manufactures to France was—
The average of five years, from 1830, was 750,000l., and the average of the last five years was 2,700,000l. If he wanted then to select an instance to show that we might satisfactorily fight a hostile tariff with free imports, he could not have a better one than that of France. Judging then from past experience, there was every reason to believe that the changes now proposed were not likely to be attended with calamitous consequences, any more than the changes which had taken place at former periods. He had endeavoured to grapple with the facts of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, and trusted he had satisfied the House that they were incorrect in every particular. The hon. Member said that he was in favour of free trade, provided it could be got by diplomacy. He said that it was the duty of the Minister of this country to see that he did not give any advantage to a foreign country without an equivalent; and, above all, that nothing should be done which would, in the slightest degree, lessen the preponderance of the landed interest. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury would not 1438 admit foreign goods except some equivalent advantage were granted to the produce of this country; but, if any equivalent concession were made, then he was for free trade. If Prussia would admit our manufacturers free of duty, then he would be for the free admission of Prussian corn; that is, if he could make a good bargain for the admission of linen and cotton goods into Prussia, he would throw over protection to agriculture. Such being the necessary inference from the premises of the hon. Member, he doubted whether the agricultural Members would select him as their champion. He was as anxious as any one that the proper influence of the landlords and the landed interest should be upheld; but if the hon. Member meant by this, that it was to depend on the maintenance and continuance of the present Corn Laws, he would only say, that he could not agree to such a principle; and he did not believe that such an argument was for the advantage of the landed interest. He believed that it would be a most dangerous argument to put forward, that the Corn Laws must be kept up for the purpose of keeping up the influence of the landed interest. A statement had often been made to this effect on the other side, and it had been said that the Corn Laws had been adhered to for the purpose of benefiting the landlords. This was an argument or assertion which he had always repudiated; and he certainly conceived the assumption of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury as objectionable, and the argument which he had used, if adopted, would lead to the most dangerous consequences. The only meaning which he could attach to the language of the hon. Member was, that the Corn Laws were to be maintained as absolutely necessary to keep up what he termed our territorial Constitution; or, in other words, for the sake of the landlords alone. He (Sir G. Clerk), as a landed proprietor, disclaimed such doctrine altogether. He was of opinion that the aristocracy and landed proprietors of this country were not indebted to any system of Corn Laws for that influence they possessed with all those who were in any way dependent on them. They had acquired that influence long before the existence of any Corn Law; and he trusted they would for ever retain it, though these laws were all swept away, while they continued, as they had always hitherto done, to receive the respect and affection of their poorer neighbours by ministering to their 1439 comforts, supplying their wants, and improving their condition. He thought that the only just argument that could be used by the landed interest in favour of the Corn Laws, was, that the maintenance of these laws was not exclusively for their interest, but for the interests of all classes of the community. He felt that he had already trespassed too long on the attention of the House. In conclusion, he was ready to admit that he did not entertain the same opinions as to the effect of the repeal of these laws which he formerly did. He would only ask hon. Members to bestow the same pains to make themselves masters of the subject as he had done; and that they would disabuse their minds as to the effect of these laws. Hon. Gentlemen opposed to this measure were in the habit of saying that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government gave his opinion in 1839 and 1840 in favour of these laws, and had given the best arguments that could be used for their maintenance, and that they intended to rely upon such arguments; experience, however, had since convinced his right hon. Friend that he could not depend upon these arguments. He, therefore, thought hon. Gentlemen should seek for some new arguments. He hoped that those hon. Gentlemen who had formed opinions on the subject would state them, and give reasons for the conduct which they intended to pursue. He put it to hon. Gentlemen whether they would not best consult the interest of the parties they represented in that House, by at once assenting to the settlement of the question; the settlement of which, it was admitted on all hands, could not be long postponed. He put it to them to agree to accept a measure which was best adapted to promote the social, commercial, and political relations of the country; and calculated to promote the permanent well-being and best interests of all classes of the community.
In 1830 475,000l. 1831 620,000l. 1832 674,000l. 1833 848,000l. 1834 1,116,000l. 1835 1,450,000l. 1836 1,591,000l. 1837 1,642,000l. 1838 2,314,000l. 1839 2,298,000l. 1840 2,378,000l. 1841 2,902,000l. 1842 3,193,000l. 1843 2,534,000l. 1844 2,650,000l.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, that he wished to say a few words in explanation. The fact was that he had never found fault with the importation of foreign spelter, or with the reduction or removal of the duty. The reason why he alluded to the subject was, that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, in the course of his speech, stated that in no instance had the reduction or removal of a tax on a foreign article reduced the produce of the same article in this country. Now he was ready to show that that was not always the case, and he had mentioned spelter as an instance. He 1440 (Mr. Muntz) said, the other evening, that the whole of the spelter used in this country, up to the year 1816, was manufactured here. The price of the article at that time was about 75l. per ton. Shortly afterwards, in consequence of the reduction of the import duty on it, the price fell to 45l. a ton; and that, in consequence of further reductions in the duty, the price fell to 15l. a ton. He also said, that a few years ago only one manufacturer of spelter remained in this country, and that person had peculiar advantages in carrying on the trade, as he possessed the right of digging coals in the neighbourhood of his manufactory, and he therefore promised them at half their usual price. This house for many years was the only manufacturing zinc house in England, and that now no longer in existence. He had never objected to the reduction in, or the removal of the duty on foreign zinc; on the contrary, he thought that it was a very proper proceeding. He was far from even having said he thought that such a course was prejudicial to the general interests of the country. He yearly used 1,500 tons of zinc himself, and, of course, he gained by being enabled to purchase it cheaper. All that he meant to say was, that the reduction of the duty had had the effect of making the manufacture of this article in this country cease altogether.
§ MR. LIDDELL
observed that his right hon. Friend, who had just concluded his speech, made use of one of the boldest assertions which it had ever been his lot to hear, even in that House. The right hon. Gentleman said in the commencement of his speech that this measure was in fact no change in the policy of the Government. If that was the case, why did they go to the country in 1841 and protest against the policy of the noble Lord opposite? What were the three articles upon which that noble Lord proposed a change—a change, let him add, much more judicious than that now proposed by Her Majesty's Government—what but the three articles of corn sugar and timber? and if a change respecting them was desirable, why was the noble Lord now sitting on the Opposition bench? Why was the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland now engaged in an election contest, and in which he was likely to be rejected? Why had so many Members, from a conscentious feeling, resigned their seats in that House? Anything more startling than the assertion that by this measure they were only pursuing the same line of 1441 policy which had been followed for the last twenty years, he had never heard—even from the Treasury Bench. The second proposition of the right hon. Baronet to which he wished to refer was, that those who were leading the opposition to these measures, should adduce reasons for the course they were pursuing. Ample reasons were already provided for that purpose. For that purpose they had nothing to do but to look to the speeches of the right hon. Gentlemen—the First Lord of the Treasury and the Secretary of State. By doing this they would find the arguments which would fully justify them in the course they had taken. The country had a right to look to the right hon. Baronet and the Government for reasons for the course they had adopted, and to remove the alarm which they had created; to reconcile their former policy with the measures which they now recommended, and to show that the fears of the agriculturists were unfounded, and that they had little to fear from the change. This he thought that they had a right to ask from the Government; but they had hitherto asked it in vain. When the right hon. Baronet had asked why no new arguments had been adduced to prove their case, he seemed to forget the speeches made from the benches near him, and more especially those by the hon. Members for Somersetshire and Radnorshire. His hon. Friend the Member for Radnorshire had, as carefully as possible, prepared documents showing the prices at which wheat could be obtained from the ports on the Baltic, and the charge at which it could be brought to this country, and also the quantity that could be obtained from the several ports in that sea. Now this speech, and the statements of his hon. Friend, induced him and many of his Friends around him to regard the establishment of a free trade in corn as being pregnant with danger. On the one hand, it was said, that it would lead to the most ruinous reduction in the price of wheat; on the other, it was stated by the right hon. Gentleman, it would not lead to any important reduction. Now if the latter was the case, what became of the argument which had been so often used against the agriculturists with the view of exciting a popular feeling, namely, that the Corn Laws made dear to the poor man that corn which Almighty God had provided for his sustenance? This argument was often addressed to public meetings with the view of exciting popular feeling; but what became of it if, as they were told by the right hon. 1442 Baronet, the removal of the Corn Laws would not cause any important reduction in the price of grain? With respect to the present law, he never knew a similar period to that in which it had been in force, in which there had been so trifling fluctuations in prices. When the right hon. Gentleman complained that he could not get any new arguments against the measure, he at any rate should have set the example, and adduced some new arguments in support of his new opinion. The speech, however, of the right hon. Gentleman was merely a repetition of that of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. He therefore should proceed to refer to some of the points in that speech. No doubt the speech was delivered with his characteristic power and eloquence, and could not fail to make a great impression on the House and the country. Nevertheless, in that speech there were some fallacies and inaccuracies, which he should endeavour to point out. He thought that the speech might be divided under three heads. The first part pointed out the direct causes which had led to a change of opinion on the part of the Government on this subject. Under the second head he vindicated the course which the Government had pursued. Under the third head he stated various facts, with the view of showing that the reduction or change of duties in other trades had had no injurious effects on those trades, and that this circumstance had induced Her Majesty's Government to change their opinions as to the effect of the removal of the Corn Laws. He would not go into the first two points, as they had been so ably dealt with by other hon. Members, and more especially by his hon. Friend the Member for North Devonshire. In referring to the cases stated by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, and restated that evening by the right hon. Baronet the Vice President of the Board of Trade, he would first allude to the silk trade. It was not necessary to him to go back to the former Acts of Parliament which ensured to the Spitalfields weavers all sorts of privileges, and were based on an actual prohibition of foreign silks. Such privileges could not be maintained in any trade; and though the silk trade had greatly increased under them, it could not be denied but that great distress frequently existed among the silk weavers during their continuance. But how was that prohibition of foreign silks met? It was met by the trade of the smuggler—by the importation of contraband goods. He 1443 remembered when Mr. Huskisson stated in that House some remarkable facts on this subject. That right hon. Gentleman said that he had devoted considerable attention to the amount of foreign silks seized and confiscated in this country; and he found that during three years of the time that the importation of foreign silk was prohibited by law, the annual value of silk seized as contraband in this country, was not more than from 4,000l. to 5,000l. He stated also that he had made inquires, at the foreign custom-houses, to ascertain the value of silk which paid duty there on exportation to this country, and that the annual value of silk exported from France, to be brought to England through illicit channels, as cleared at the French custom-houses, was from 100,000l. to 150,000l., and that, it should be recollected, was exclusive of the large quantities of silk that had been brought here by other means, and without going through the Custom-house at all. These facts only proved that, in articles such as silk and lace, it was impossible to maintain a total prohibition. But the question with regard to these trades was not one between prohibition and free trade, because the right hon. Baronet proposed to retain protective duties in their favour to the amount, he believed of 15 per cent. ad valorem, which was probably the exact rate that would keep out contraband goods, and at the same time maintain protection to the home manufacturer. The right hon. Baronet, therefore, maintained protection in favour of these articles; and while he did so, he (Mr. Liddell) could not see why he should object to continue protection in favour of other articles also. He could not understand why protection should be maintained in some interests, and why the agricultural interest should be altogether deprived of it. The right hon. Baronet next went into the case of the timber trade, and took occasion to allude to the petition which he (Mr. Liddell) had the honour to present from the general society of shipowners of the port of London, against the proposed reduction of duties on foreign timber. The right hon. Baronet said he could not look at that petition without feeling ashamed of the petitioners, and their motives for presenting it. He was sure the right hon. Baronet did not mean to give offence to any gentlemen who felt it necessary to approach the House in what they believed to be the defence of their rights, property, and interests. In reply to the right hon. Baronet, it was necessary for him to state, 1444 in a few words, the real case of the British shipowners. The right hon. Baronet proposed to reduce the duty on Baltic timber from 25s. to 15s.; and, by doing so, he stated that he had no doubt of affording a better supply to the consumer at a diminished cost. There could be no doubt but that, partly from the judicious arrangements made by the right hon. Baronet in a former year, and partly from other causes unconnected with those measures, an immense stimulus had been given both to the timber trade and other branches of industry in this country. The demand for labour had been considerable, and the results to trade and commerce most gratifying. The British shipowners, no doubt, shared in this prosperity; but he would best state their case in the words of their own petition. They stated that it was of the last importance to the consumers of timber, that no monopoly of the supply of that indispensable article should be allowed; but that from the great distance of the Colonies, and from the consequent heavy cost of importing timber from thence, beyond the expense of importing timber from other countries, it was only by the protection of duties equivalent to the increased expense of importation from our colonial possessions, that the market in this country could be readily supplied with colonial timber in competition with that brought from the Baltic. They added, that the interests of the whole British public were involved, as well as the interests of the petitioners; and still more from the inevitable certainty that the greater part, if not the whole of the importation of timber from the Baltic, would, under the proposed duties, be ultimately thrown into the hands of foreign shipowners. That subject brought him to the consideration of the alleged incapacity of the British shipowner to compete with the shipowners of the north of Europe. On this point he should draw the attention of the House to the relative expenses of the British and foreign shipowners in navigating, in building, in victualling, and fitting out their vessels. He would take the returns from the Report of the Committee of that House that sat the year before last on the Shipping Interests. According to the evidence given before that Committee, it appeared that the relative cost, of navigating British and foreign ships on a three months' voyage was, for the British ship, 169l. 10s., and for the Prussian ship, engaged in the same trade, 81l. 14s., being a difference of 1445 88l. 5s. 6d., or upwards of 100 per cent. in favour of the Prussian shipowner. Again, in the case of provisions. The victualling of the British ship amounted to 96l., and of the Prussian ship only 31l. 19s., being a difference of 56l., or 140 per cent. in favour of the foreigner. Again, with regard to the cost of shipbuilding, the same differences would be found to exist. Ever since the framing of the navigation laws, the support of the British shipping trade was considered to be of paramount importance, and the public agreed to pay the additional price of increased protection, because they obtained security thereby. Even Adam Smith, with all his predilections for free trade, admitted that of all the restrictive policy adopted by this country, that of the navigation laws was the most justifiable. Now, in the port of London the wages of shipwrights had not varied for the last twenty-five years—the workmen declaring that they would rather starve than take less wages than 6s. a day. According to an official report lately published by the French Government, it appeared that the wages of shipwrights at Toulon was only one and a half francs a day; while in the dock-yards in this country the present amount of wages to shipwrights was 4s. 6d. a day. Foreign ships could under these circumstances be built at from 5l. to 6l. per ton; while at Sunderland vessels built there could not be got for less than 10l. per ton; and even these were not what were called first-class British ships. The first-class British ships built on the Thames sold at 16l. per ton, or, with all their fittings complete, at 21l. per ton. It was, therefore, evident that the British shipowners could not possibly contend against such unequal competition if all protection were withdrawn from them, and that the only mode by which they could do so would be, by bringing down the rate of wages paid to their workmen, and to all persons connected with them. The right hon. Baronet had asked were they to advance or to retrograde? He would answer by stating that if they were to advance by reducing the wages of their labourers and the condition of the people—if such were to be the results of free trade—then he thought the measure of the right hon. Baronet would be one of retrogression and not of advancement. But to return to the timber question. By the comparative returns of British and foreign tonnage engaged in the Baltic trade from 1842 to 1844, it appeared that the total tonnage entered inwards from Sweden, 1446 Denmark, Norway, and Russia, in the former year was 109,382 tons British, and 341,533 tons foreign. In 1844, which was a year of great activity under the Tariff duties of the right hon. Baronet, and when, whether there were any duties or not, the British shipping trade would no doubt maintain some degree of prosperity, the returns of this trade were as follows:—British, 130,170 tons; foreign, 528,722 tons; thus showing that while the increase in British shipping was 20,000 tons, or 19 per cent., the increase of foreign shipping was 187,189 tons, or 54 per cent. Now, what was the argument of the British shipowner on the subject of the Baltic timber trade? He said that he could not contend permanently with the owners of ships employed at so much a cheaper rate than his were; that he should be necessarily driven from the trade altogether, if obliged to enter into direct competition with the foreigner; and that the entire carrying trade from that quarter must therefore, ex necessitate, be thrown into the hands of the foreign trader. But it was said in reply that the British shipowner had the advantage of a monopoly in the coasting trade and the colonial trade. But by destroying the colonial timber trade the British shipowner would be driven altogether out of the market; and the result would be, that according as the supply of colonial timber decreased, the price of Baltic timber would rise, so that the consumer would, in the end, not benefit by the change. The right hon. Baronet stated, in the next place, that in the port of Liverpool there was not a ton of Baltic timber fit for the building of a first-class or a twelve years' ship. He could tell the right hon. Baronet that no Baltic timber whatever was used in the building of a twelve years' ship, so indifferent was that timber considered to be; the rule being to leave a ship on the first class for a length of time, proportioned to the quality of the timber used in her construction. First-class ships were built of British oak, or African teak; and the right hon. Baronet was in error when he stated that Baltic timber was used in their construction. A question most intimately connected with that on which he had been detaining the House, was the colonial trade. On this point he would not feel it necessary to offer more than a very few observations. A petition had been presented last year by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Hutt) from parties connected with the Colony of South Australia, praying that the import trade of 1447 corn from that colony might be placed on a similar footing with that from other Colonies. The Motion which the hon. Member founded on that petition was opposed by the right hon. Baronet, though it was founded on precisely the same arguments on which the Government advocated the Canada Corn Bill. He (Mr. Liddell) felt the force of those arguments, and voted with the hon. Member for Gateshead. In order to show the present state of that Colony, he would beg to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet to a statement which had appeared in the newspapers a few days since. It appeared that for the five years from 1840 to 1844, the quantity of land under cultivation in South Australia had increased from 2,503 acres in 1840, to 26,900 in 1844. In 1843, which was the most remarkable season in that respect, the number of acres under cultivation was no less than 28,600 acres. Since that time shipments to England from South Australia were very much increased; but if land were thrown out of cultivation in Australia in consequence of the admission into England of grain from other countries, the shipments to England would decrease also. Again, if corn brought a lower price in England than it did at present, a great deal of land in England would also be thrown out of cultivation. It was hardly to be conceived that prices in this country would not be reduced 5s. or 6s.; and if the colonists of South Australia were not able to import corn into this country when the average duty on wheat was 5s., how were we to receive wheat from that Colony when there was a free importation from foreign countries? Under such circumstances what became of the argument by which hon. Members were induced, and indeed successfully, to give their support to the Canada Corn Bill? What would become of the shipping trade, after the trade between the Colonies and the mother country had ceased? The Canadians must then resort to the United States, and purchase from them such goods as the Americans could supply. This was one of the evils connected with the subject, from which it was impossible to escape. He had heard nothing in that House to reconcile him to the great change which must take place in respect to our colonial trade. With regard to the general question, he had been on one point extremely anxious to learn what was the real opinion of Her Majesty's Government as to the probable consequences of that measure. On that point he owned himself 1448 still unsatisfied. Perhaps in the progress of the present debate the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Robert Peel) would favour the House with some sort of calculation of what might be the average amount of prices which the farmers of this country might expect to receive under the operation of free trade. It was of the greatest importance that, in coming to arrangements with one's tenants, hon. Gentlemen should have some sort of guide given from high authority. He had heard indeed, but he paid little attention to the assertion, that the trade in corn would in future be liable to little fluctuation. Now, the present Corn Law had certainly succeeded, whether by accident or design he knew not, in securing steady prices for corn in the British market. On that point there could be no dispute; but his belief was, that if we depended in a greater degree on a foreign supply than we had done before, although in ordinary times and seasons there would be steadiness of price, yet that in extraordinary occasions, and in bad seasons, or in case of war with a foreign Power, there would be greater fluctuations in prices than had ever been known. He trusted that the noble Lord the Member for London, would not abandon altogether the principle of protection. It was true that the noble Lord was in some measure bound by the famous letter to his constituents; but if the noble Lord could in any way get out of that difficulty, he trusted that he would soon see reason to adhere to the principle of protection. Adverting to another point, he tendered his most hearty thanks to the hon. Member for Finsbury, for the humane and wise recommendations which he made at the end of his speech, notwithstanding the caustic, and he might say rather spicy, language in which they were conveyed. He admitted that the proposed new law of settlement would be a boon to the agricultural interest; but it was also much more—it was a boon to the country, and a boon to humanity. He had seen, and seen with sorrow, in times of commercial depression, miserable objects with their families wandering about on the highways, unable to ascertain where their settlement was; and in all cases where they belonged to Scotland and Ireland, knowing that when they arrived in their own country, they would be unable to claim anything in the shape of parochial relief, they were obliged to eke out a miserable subsistence by casual charity, and perhaps die by the road side. He trusted that no consideration would induce 1449 the right hon. Baronet to lay aside that important part of his scheme, and that he would resolutely carry it through the House, since by so doing he would confer a great boon upon the people at large, and especially upon the working classes. He did not mean to say that after the declaration of the noble Lord the Member for London, and that of the right hon. Baronet, the present system of Corn Laws could be looked forward to as one likely to be permanent. So long, however, as he (Mr. Liddell) had a seat in that House, he would endeavour to maintain the principle of protection, though in a modified form, and he should therefore oppose, though without bitterness and without acrimony, the measures brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. HUTT
regretted that his hon. Friend (Mr. Liddell) should have enlisted his talents on the side of protection, which necessarily forced him to take the narrowest views of a question that ought to be contemplated in the broadest and most comprehensive manner. His hon. Friend had dwelt at considerable length upon the contents of a petition which he had presented from certain shipowners against the proposed reduction of duties on foreign timber. He (Mr. Hutt) had presented petitions of a very different tendency from a large body of shipowners of the Tyne and Wear, who were convinced that the measure proposed by the right hon. Baronet was calculated to do them great benefit. He would beg the House to notice what was the remedy suggested by his right hon. Friend to remedy what he considered to be a hardship on the British shipowners. Why, to maintain high duties on Prussian timber. That might be a satisfactory argument to the shipowners signing the petition which his hon. Friend presented; but it would be far from satisfactory to the great body of the shipowners of this country. The protective system had materially injured both the British and the colonial shipping. Relying upon this protection, the North American Colonies selected the worst description of timber for exportation to this country, whilst they sent their best timber to the United States. The only likelihood of the British shipowners getting good timber was by facilitating the importation of timber from the Baltic. He did trust that the House would take a more liberal view of this question than his hon. Friend had done, and that they would adopt the proposition of a diminished duty 1450 on Baltic timber. His hon. Friend had intimated his intention to discuss this question in Committee. He hoped his hon. Friend would do so, and then he should be extremely happy to meet his hon. Friend. Now, approaching the more immediate question before the House — that of the Corn Laws—he begged, in the first place, to disclaim any wish to touch upon the question of the political consistency of the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government. If the right hon. Baronet deserved all the censure that had been poured out upon him, those who thought so would do well to adopt the advice of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Duncombe), and bring the question substantially before the House as a Motion of censure. That would be far more regular, and more consonant with the practice of Parliament, than to mix up with a question of fundamental policy their party grievances and personalities. What was the worst charge that could be brought against the right hon. Baronet? Only this, that he was unwilling to retain those laws which had been proved to have been so long injurious to the industrial interests of the country. The country had had ample warning that these measures would inevitably become the policy of the British Government. In 1842 he attended a meeting at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he told those who were assembled, that if they expected to maintain a system of exclusion, they would find themselves bitterly deceived. There was every indication that the mind of the right hon. Gentleman was inclining towards free-trade principles. In 1841, when the discussion took place on the sugar duties, the opinions delivered by the right hon. Baronet were so tending in their nature to free trade, that the present Earl Grey, in answering the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, hailed the declarations then made by him as evidence favourable to free trade. So, measure after measure, and step after step, had the propositions of the right hon. Baronet been in the direction of free trade; and in all these instances hon. Gentlemen opposite (on the Ministerial benches) had given the right hon. Baronet their unqualified and ready support. They supported him in his Tariff of 1842, and they further supported him in his alterations of that Tariff in 1845; but now, when the right hon. Baronet had brought forward a measure in perfect consistency with the principles of all his former measures, hon. Gentlemen opposite 1451 suddenly stopped short, opposed the right hon. Gentleman, and talked of treachery to his party. The hon. Gentlemen, the Members of the Cabinet that was to be hereafter, had, at their party dinners and protection meetings, maintained the doctrine that, if free trade were adopted, foreigners would give us their corn, but take nothing in return but our gold. This was always represented as a most alarming thing. It was said that by our purchasing their corn we should give employment to their labour, while they would give no employment to ours in return. But he (Mr. Hutt) denied in the first place that the foreigners would require us to give gold in exchange for their corn; but furthermore, in the second place, he would say, that even if they did, still the transaction would be advantageous to us. Gold was only an article of trade. To come to matter of fact, the only trade carried on by us for many years with China was precisely of that sort. We took China teas and China silk, and we paid for them in gold. A Committee was appointed in 1813 to inquire into the circumstances of the East India Company; and it appeared by the evidence then given, that although at that time their trade with India had been most unfortunate, still the Company had traded with China with success. Gold did not grow in England. It was obtained from the people of South America in exchange for our manufactures. It was his intention to give the measure of Her Majesty's Government his most hearty support.
§ CAPTAIN HARRIS
said, to his mind the question very naturally had arisen, to whom was the present state of things to be attributed? Most assuredly to the unexpected conduct of the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government. In June last there was a division of 254 against 123, in opposition to the repeal of the Corn Laws; but then there was no indication of any change of opinion from the right hon. Baronet. The House rejected the Motion of the hon. Member for Stockport, by a majority of 213 to 121—neither was there then any indication of a change. The season passed on until August; but as to any change on the subject of the Corn Laws, there was not the slightest symptom, although there were serious apprehensions that a bad harvest would follow, from two of the summer months being extremely wet. Two months of dry weather having dissipated all serious apprehensions as regarded the harvest, matters proceeded in the usual 1452 way: not the remotest intimation of either a repeal or a modification of the Corn Laws. But the moment there was an alarm about the failure of the potato crop, then the subject began to be agitated. He did not mean to underrate the calamity with which Ireland in particular was visited. He looked upon it as a visitation which demanded the interference of Government. But it being only, as stated in the Speech from the Throne, a "temporary evil," it required for its mitigation or removal, but a temporary remedy. But he would ask Whig, Tory, and Radical—and he believed they all felt an interest for Ireland—whether the proposed remedy would benefit that country? Were the Corn Laws repealed to-morrow, would it place the Irish peasantry in a better condition than they were in at present? His firm conviction was the results would be to them most injurious, Ireland being an agricultural country. It would reduce the value of labour; it would throw numbers out of employment; and, consequently, place them in a worse condition. But suppose the failure in the potato crop was more general than reported to be, was that any argument for the sweeping measure proposed by the right hon. Baronet—was that a reason why there should be so great a change in the whole of that economy which governed the interests of the country? While he did not doubt the sincerity of the right hon. Baronet—while he was convinced on many occasions of his integrity and patriotism, yet he (Captain Harris) deprecated the manner in which the right hon. Baronet dealt with the great question before the House. He did not merely refer to the right hon. Baronet's conduct to those of that side of the House who formerly supported him, but he also referred to what was due from him as a Minister of the Crown to a British Parliament. He said so without one particle of hostility to the right hon. Baronet, who might be driven from power for conduct like the present—whose great career might be suddenly terminated, as the consequence of not acting in accordance with the feelings of the people. He ruled the country for some time with that spirit and with that energy becoming a great statesman; but the introduction of the measure before the House would be a drawback to his great celebrity. He would look to the bearing of this measure on the currency; and he believed its effects would be to neutralize the sound and able legislation of the right hon. Baronet on that subject. Their export 1453 trade to the Dantzic in 1844 was 376,651l.; and the value of wheat imported from the Dantzic was 1,517,512l.; that was an excess of 1,100,000l. of bullion going out of the country: would not that disarrange the currency? The right hon. Baronet had said, that his measure would restore commerce to its natural and primitive state; but the question was, would foreign nations return to that primitive state of commerce? because if not, he apprehended that the advantage would be all on their side. It must be remembered that they gave up now every chance of successful negotiation with other countries; and he was afraid that they were incurring a great risk of losing their place in the scale of nations, for the sake of becoming the workshop and warehouse of the world. The hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade had said, that the approach to free trade had given a great development to our commerce: now, he took no ultra views on this subject, and admitted that that might be the tendency of such measures, always reserving a fair degree of protection to native industry; but the hon. Baronet had made especial reference to France, and he begged to remind him that our trade with France had been increased by a wise development of the resources of that country. Above all things the great injustice of this measure struck him; for whilst with all other things the right hon. Baronet proposed a reduction from twenty to ten, when he came to corn, he repealed the duty altogether at the end of three years. He was surprised that such a measure—so little in accordance with his usually cautious and prudent policy—should have emanated from the right hon. Baronet. Again, he hoped to have heard the right hon. Baronet rebuke those who had conducted the agitation on this subject, for their exciting language; and to have heard the noble Lord who introduced the Reform Bill into that House, rebuke them for tampering with the representation; but, now, on the contrary, he saw the right hon. Baronet and the noble Lord advance hand in hand with the hon. Member for Stockport, dancing like the witches in Macbeth round the precious mess they had cooked for the country. That debate had proved that they had honest and talented men on their side in that House; and their cause was graced by a noble Lord in another place, who had ever acted upon the dictates of his conscience and the impulse of a highly sensitive honour. He spoke with perfect sincerity, when on 1454 the hustings, in 1844, he declared his opinion in favour of the Corn Laws; he had not changed his opinion since; and he should, therefore, give his decided opposition to the measure of the Government.
§ MR. MONCKTON MILNES
said, that this was the second occasion, during a not very long Parliamentary experience, on which he had witnessed the great subject of the Corn Laws come under discussion, encumbered with all the difficulties and dangers of a party question. It was, however, impossible to imagine two occasions more different than those of 1841 and 1846. In the one, this question was agitated us the last hope of a falling party; in the other, it was brought forward as the cause of the destruction of a vigorous and a powerful one. In the one case, it was hardly possible to conceive any other principle upon which a Government could stand; in the other, it was hardly possible to imagine a cause from which a Government should fall. But the little experience he had had of Parliament, and of public life, had been quite sufficient to convince him that it was very difficult effectively to bring great questions before that House, whether of a commercial or other nature, without connecting them with some party motives with which to influence the public mind. We were a practical people, and not given to examine into abstract theory or truths by themselves; we were more inclined to give such matters a serious and earnest attention (and it was of some consequence to set a value on this disposition) when stimulated by the sense of party interests, or when suffering from temporary difficulties. It had been his object, on every occasion since he entered Parliament, to give hon. Gentlemen opposite the full benefit of his appeciation of their motives, even when they brought forward measures which he could not in themselves approve. In no case had he suffered his political feelings to blind his judgment in this respect. Therefore it would not be fair in him to deny the same just estimate of the motives of those with whom he had acted, faithfully and trustfully, for many years. He was not inclined to interpret the actions of Her Majesty's Government so harshly as some of his hon. Friends had done. He was disposed to consider much as unconscious bias, which they regarded as concerted treachery—much as accident, which they regarded as stratagem. And, indeed, considering the peculiar crisis of the laws under discussion, there was little reason to 1455 press hardly on any statesman for changing or modifying his opinion on the subject. Though the hon. Member for Cumberland might maintain the same opinion he did in 1815, very few of those who had mingled practically in political life, had not in some degree modified their opinions. When they saw such singular instances as Lord Fitzwilliam supporting the high duty of 1815; and Lord Spencer, not content with Mr. Ricardo's proposal of a 10s. fixed duty in 1822, insisting on its being raised to 20s.; and Mr. Ricardo himself, who was thoroughly convinced, if any man in the country was, of the truth of the doctrines of free trade, recommending a 10s. fixed duty; they ought not to judge statesmen very hardly and harshly for modifying their opinions. But these peculiarities were not confined to one side of the question. He believed that the opinions of his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme had undergone a modification in a different direction; and he was quite sure that his hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury, if he candidly declared the real state of his mind, would admit he had not always been so strong a protectionist as he was at present. Thus, considering the difficulties of the question, all possible allowance ought to be made for the men engaged in the government of the country. It was hardly for one like himself, totally inexperienced in such difficulties, to estimate the amount and the gravity of the considerations with which they had had to grapple. No one could have heard the right hon. Gentleman's earnest mode of describing his sense of responsibility, without feeling that every allowance should be made for the change in his opinions, from the purity of the motives which dictated it.O faciles dare summa Deos, eademque tueri Difficiles.The House would decide whether, under such circumstances as those under which the country was now placed, they were to allow a statesman to modify his opinions, or whether they would prefer to have the Government constantly changed from the hands of one party to those of another, and leave the country exposed to the inconvenience of all those changes. He was not, however, prepared to take the question in the light in which it had been placed before them by the President of the Board of Trade. He was not prepared to look at the measure before them—the measure proposed by Her Majesty's Government—as a legitimate deduction from their former propositions. 1456 He (Mr. Milnes) had always maintained, while allowing the right hon. Baronet's (Sir R. Peel's) helm to traverse as freely as he could wish, there were two questions which the present Government were nearly precluded from deciding. One was the secularization of the Irish Church, and the other the repeal of the Corn Laws. He thought those restrictions were imposed by honourable engagements entered upon at the time of the discussion of the Appropriation Clause, and at the election of 1841; and only within these limits Her Majesty's Government could be allowed freely to act. He felt this so deeply, that but for the circumstance of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government having resigned power, and of the noble Lord's refusing to accept it, he could not in any case have given his support to the Government; but would have preferred withdrawing from Parliament altogether. Nor could he take the view of the question which had been taken by the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool, and think that Members of that House were bound to follow, on this question, any guidance other than their own judgment. With respect to the influence of party obligations, he would say that the present state of the party to which he once belonged was such, that he did not see how these party obligations could any longer exist. He looked upon the Government of the right hon. Baronet as a Government ad interim, to carry out the measure which had been proposed to them. It was a Government which depended on the sufferance of its opponents—which hung upon their will; and if any sentiment weighed heavily on his mind, it was, that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had thrown away the opportunities for doing good which Providence had placed in his hands. He saw him at one time the leader of a powerful party, and he believed him capable of allaying animosity, suppressing intolerance, and leading to the greatest and most lasting improvements — performing many of those great services to the country which hon. Gentleman opposite were, perhaps, inclined to perform, but which they wanted either the power or the opportunity to accomplish. He had seen the fabric destroyed—he had seen the opportunity lost, and he deeply regretted it. Perhaps it was a vain regret, but he should not have done justice to his own feelings if he had not expressed it. He could not say that it was because he had any longer confidence in the right hon. 1457 Baronet that he intended to give him his support on this occasion. He gave him his support because it was the only course which he could pursue, being desirous as he was to pursue the most consistent course practicable in the emergency; and however he might regret to find himself separated from many of those friends with whom he had so often acted, and who had so distinguished themselves during this debate—unwilling as he might be to vote differently from those friends with whom he was connected by such close ties of private friendship, yet he felt it necessary to support the right hon. Baronet; for he believed that on the conscientious vote of every man on this division depended the settlement of the question, whether or not we were to adhere to the doctrine of protection, not as laid down by the moderate and most prudent advocates of protection, but as maintained in all its integrity, by the Central Agricultural and other associations. Now, he had ever looked upon the Corn Law as a temporary arrangement, and the best, perhaps, for the purpose of educating the agriculture of this country to such a degree that it could compete with the foreigner; and when he saw how much had already been done—when he witnessed what he might call the miracles of physical agriculture which had developed themselves, and which showed that it was not a deficiency in our soil that had retarded our agriculture, he could not think otherwise than he did about a settlement of this question. When he looked at the increasing cheapness of drain tiles, and of other adjuncts to improvement, he thought it more just to suppose that the Corn Laws were approaching a termination, than that they should be permanently and in all their rigour retained. The principles which he on former occasions advocated, he could still maintain; and when the Bill was in Committee, he would hold no other line of conduct. He did not participate in the hopes which the warmest advocates of the measure entertained, no more than in the fears which were indulged in by those who opposed it. No one had satisfactorily shown him that abundance of corn on the banks of the Ukraine, or in the Valley of the Mississippi, necessarily involved abundance of food to the people of this country. There was surely an analogy between the produce of corn and manufactures; and they often saw that, while the warehouses of Manchester were stuffed with goods, the people of Ireland went 1458 cold and naked. He did not, therefore, hope, from the proposed change, the great relief that was expected. There would certainly be a loss somewhere in the change; and in his opinion it must be divided between the landlord, the farmer, and the labourer. It was maintained by hon. Friends of his, that a large proportion of that loss would fall on the labourers; but he did not think that at all proved. Hon Gentlemen had often asserted that they were perfectly convinced that wages would fall in proportion—the fall in the prices of which would be an injury to the labourer; but in his opinion the labourer in many parts of the country could not be worse off than he was at present. He did not know whether it was from seeing the produce of labour in foreign countries that he had imbibed the notion that there was a far greater equality between the prices of labour in England and on the Continent than was generally believed. There was something in the remuneration of labourers which political economy could hardly account for, but which depended on the physical capabilities of the labourers. He was told by gentlemen engaged in railroads on the Continent that they were ready to give to the English labourer half as much more as they would give to the French labourer, provided he would not get drunk. When he saw the Frenchman ploughing with his nightcap, and stopping every five minutes to talk to somebody, and singing if that somebody was not there to talk to—when he compared that to the hard work of the English ploughman, he did not see reason for that great fear that was entertained by his hon. Friends, with regard to the interests of the labourer. The labourer, he did believe, would not be the immediate sufferer in this case. He was sorry to say, that in many parts of England the labourer was already reduced to the minimum of subsistence, and his wages went below the possibility of reduction. He believed that if the hon. Member for Northampton looked to the county of Northampton, he would find—not perhaps in those parts of it to which he extended his benevolent influence — the labourer receiving from seven to nine shillings per week. Here at least they could not find it possible, under any form of Corn Laws, to reduce such wages; and when he came to the labourers in the north of England, where he lived, and where ten shillings was considered very scanty remuneration for work, he 1459 thought that the advantage of the labourers was derived, not from the benevolence of their employers, but from their contiguity to the great manufacturing districts of this country. He believed it to be the tendency of the large manufactures already established, not only to improve the immediate neighbourhood by raising wages, but to affect a very large circle about them. He thought that the hon. Member for Knaresborough would find some difficulty in denying that the extension of manufactures in his neighbourhood, in the course of the last twenty years, had trebled the wages of labour in that district. He was of opinion that the real gist and difficulty of this question was, the effect which it would have on the small and impoverished farmers; and for that reason he would have called upon the right hon. Baronet to have been more moderate and slow in his change. They might tell him that that class was already reduced to the class of labourers, and even below it, by the consolidation of large farms and improved agriculture. That might be so; but here, by this Bill, they were possibly inflicting a very large amount of human misery, which all the benevolence and kindness; of the English landlords would not be able to meet. He had only to make one remark more: he alluded to the gross injustice done to the landlords by the leaders of the manufacturing interest, who had thrown in their teeth that this question was one of rent; forgetting that the rents of the landlords was a means of usefulness, and a means of supporting the poor around them—that rent, too, was the interest of 1460 the landlord's capital, and was the same thing to him as that for which those hon. gentlemen, members of the League, were subscribing their half millions. The land of England was well known to be generally and considerably below its value; and he thought that one of the worst parts of this measure was that it held out to the landlords a great temptation to increase their rental; and this was one of the worst evils which it would lead to, and on which he was sure that the right hon. Baronet had not changed his opinions, which he expressed in such glowing terms some months ago. The landlords, though exposed to such a temptation, would overcome; but it was one that should not have been held out to them. If they only bore this temporary temptation with prudence, and showed themselves ready to employ that wealth which they were now spending in amusements and accomplishments, in the improvement of their estates—if they were ready to make the sacrifices which the present case demanded of them, he believed that all would go well. Possibly, many an old hall would be deserted—possibly, many painful feelings might be excited; but let them be only true to themselves; let them maintain all that was really good and useful, all that was really advantageous in their position, and although they might lose something as the ruling class, yet, notwithstanding that loss, he believed that they would maintain a powerful and prosperous condition in the community, and remain the chief element of peace and permanence amid the fluctuating fortunes of this extending Empire.
§ Debate again adjourned.