§ SIR R. PEEL
moved that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, on the Customs and Corn Importation Acts, and that so much of Her Majesty's most Gracious Speech as related thereto be referred to the same Committee.
§ On the Question that MR. SPEAKER do leave the Chair,
§ MR. W. MILES
said, he wished to ask a question, which he was quite certain would be answered by the right hon. Baronet with his usual courtesy. It was simply this—the right hon. Baronet was 238 about to make a financial explanation, and he wished to know whether the right hon. Baronet intended to take any vote to-night? From what the right hon. Baronet had previously stated, and from the remarks made by other Members of Her Majesty's Government, the statement would no doubt be rather a complicated one; and he hoped that previously to coming to any decision, ample time would be given to the country to consider all the measures, and decide upon them affirmatively or negatively, by the means which the Constitution afforded them. Ample time, he trusted, would be given to the counties to express their opinions.
§ SIR R. PEEL
was quite ready to give the hon. Gentleman any explanation in his power. The statement which he was about to make would be very extensive, and in some respects complicated. It would be rather a commercial than a financial statement. It was not his intention to ask the House of Commons to pronounce an opinion upon any part of the statement which he was about to make. It was his most earnest wish that the matter should be fully and sufficiently considered—that it should be judged of as a whole, as a comprehensive settlement of a great question. He, therefore, did not propose to ask any opinion whatever of the House, either upon the general propriety of the plan, or any of its details, until after the lapse of some days.
House resolved in Committee, MR. GREENE in the Chair. The following portion of Her Majesty's Speech was then read:—
I have had great Satisfaction in giving My Assent to the Measures which you have presented to Me from Time to Time, calculated to extend Commerce, and to stimulate domestic Skill and Industry by the Repeal of prohibitory and the Relaxation of protective Duties.
The prosperous State of the Revenue, the increased Demand for Labour, and the general Improvement which has taken place in the internal Condition of the Country, are strong Testimonies in favour of the Course you have pursued.
I recommend you to take into your early Consideration whether the Principles on which you have acted may not with Advantage be yet more extensively applied; and whether it may not be in your Power, after a careful Review of the existing Duties upon many Articles, the produce or Manufacture of other Countries, to make such further Reductions and Remissions as may tend to ensure the Continuance of the great Benefits to which I have adverted, and by enlarging our Commercial intercourse to strengthen the Bonds of Amity with Foreign Powers.
Any Measures which you may adopt for effecting these great Objects will, I am convinced,
be accompanied by such Precautions as shall prevent permanent Loss to the Revenue, or injurious Results to any of the great Interests of the Country.
I have full Reliance on your just and dispassionate Consideration of Matters so deeply affecting the Public Welfare.
It is My earnest Prayer that, with the Blessing of Divine Providence on your Counsels, you may be enabled to promote friendly Feelings between different Classes of My Subjects, to provide additional Security for the Continuance of Peace, and to maintain Contentment and Happiness at home, by increasing the Comforts and bettering the Condition of the great body of My People.
§ SIR R. PEEL
said: Mr. Greene, whatever opinion may be ultimately formed with regard to the merits of the proposal which I am about, on the part of her Majesty's Government, to submit this night to the consideration of Parliament, I am confident that the extreme difficulty of the task which it devolves upon me to perform, and the great magnitude of the interests which are concerned, will ensure me that patient and indulgent attention without which it would be wholly impossible, either with satisfaction to myself or to the public interests, to discharge the duty which I have undertaken. I am about, in pursuance of the recommendation contained in Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, advised by Her responsible servants—I am about to review the duties which apply to many articles, the produce and manufacture of other countries. I am about to proceed on the assumption adopted in that Speech from the Throne, that the repeal of prohibitory and the relaxation of protective duties is in itself a wise principle. I am about to proceed on the assumption that protective duties, abstractedly and on principle, are open to objection—that the policy of maintaining them may be defended—but that there must be shown to be special considerations, either of public policy or of justice, to vindicate the maintenance of them. I am about to act upon the presumption that during the last three years there has been in this country an increased productiveness of revenue, notwithstanding the remission of heavy taxation; that there has been an increased demand for labour; that there has been an increased commerce; that there has been increased comfort, contentment, and peace in this country. I do not say, that these great blessings have necessarily been caused by any particular policy which you have adopted; but this I say, that the enjoyment of these inestimable benefits has been at least concurrent with your legisla- 240 tion—that the policy acted on has been sanctioned by the House of Commons—the policy, I mean, of repealing prohibitory and reducing protective duties—that I am not now, therefore, by carrying out that policy about to call upon the House of Commons to recede from any course which it has taken. It is a policy which has received its deliberate and repeated sanction; and if it has been productive of public good, it will be perfectly consistent with the course hitherto pursued to persevere in that policy. At the same time, in advising the continued application of these principles, I am not about to disregard this other recommendation in Her Majesty's Speech, namely, that in the the adoption of principles, however sound, we should not be unmindful of the public credit; and that we should take care not to cause any permanent loss to the public revenue. That other recommendation also—that in the application of sound principles we should act with so much of caution and forbearance as not injuriously to affect any of the great interests of the country—will not be neglected by me. Above all, I trust, that that recommendation of Her Majesty — the confidence, rather, expressed by Her Majesty—that this great subject will receive the just and dispassionate consideration of the House of Commons, will be justified by the result. I have already stated, in answer to the question put to me by the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles), that I do not contemplate asking the House of Commons to pronounce to-night any opinion upon the whole or any part of the proposal I am about to submit to the House. It is the wish of Her Majesty's Government, that the whole of these proposals should be deliberately and dispassionately considered. It may be possible that I am about to affect so many interests, that all may unite in the conclusion that this is a rash and improvident scheme, and ought at once to be discouraged. If that be the prevailing impression on the part of those who are about to relinquish the supposed benefit of protection, nothing will be more easy than on the first night when we approach the serious consideration of the question, to invite the House to put upon record their approbation of some principle contrary to my proposition; to meet my proposition at the outset with some such resolution, for instance, as this—not that protection to any particular branch of industry is advisable, but to resolve on a 241 large and comprehensive principle—that protection to domestic industry is in itself a good, and ought to be sanctioned by the Legislature. It may happen, on the other hand, that the conclusion drawn by this House and by the country may be, that, considering all the difficulties of this great question, considering the variety of opinions which exist, considering the nature of the contest which has long existed, and which I fear will long continue, unless a satisfactory and real adjustment take place—it may be that even those who dissent from particular parts of the great scheme which I am about to submit to the notice of the House, may be disposed to accept it as a whole, and that the voice of the country may pronounce this opinion—"Upon the whole this is not an unjust, unequitable, or unwise adjustment, and rather than continue a perpetual conflict we are ready to receive this as a settlement." If this be the conclusion to which the general opinion of the reasonable and intelligent of all classes shall tend, in that case I shall have the confidence of ultimate success. On the other hand, as I said before, if you touch so many interests by the application of that great principle, that protective duties are not in themselves abstractedly good, and ought to be relinquished—if all those interests should unite in opposition to my proposition—in that case, another fate will await it, and the sooner it is disposed of the better will it be for the public interests. Sir, that principle to which I have referred, namely, the relaxation of protective duties, I am not about to apply to any one particular class. I am not about to select that great interest connected with the agriculture of the country, and call upon the landowners to relinquish protection, unprepared at the same time to call upon other protected classes to relinquish protection also. In the confidence that the principle for which I contend is a just and a wise one, I ask all protected interests to make the sacrifice, if it be a sacrifice, which the application of that principle will render necessary. Sir, the House is aware that, during the last three years, the whole scheme of the Customs Duties has been submitted to the review and consideration of the House. In the year 1842 it was my duty, as the organ of the Government, to propose a great change in the then existing Customs of the country. The general plan upon which I then acted was, to remit the duties upon articles of raw material, constituting the 242 elements of manufacture in this country. The principle of it also was to subject in general manufactured articles, the produce of the labour of other countries to duties not exceeding 20 per cent. Not only in the year 1842, but at a subsequent period, the House adopted the principle upon which it acted in that year. Notwithstanding the apprehensions of a failing revenue, we did select some great articles, being raw materials, for the remission of taxation. In 1844, we reduced altogether the duty on wool. In 1845, we reduced altogether the duty on cotton; and there hardly remains any raw material imported from other countries, on which the duty has not been reduced. The manufacturers of this country have now, therefore, an advantage which they have not hitherto possessed. They have free access to the raw materials which constitute the immediate fabric of their manufactures. I am entitled, therefore, to call on the manufacturers to relinquish any protecting duties they may still enjoy. I think there might have been great doubts whether or not you might not have continued to derive the revenue heretofore derived from the duty on the import on cotton wool, even if the duty which existed in 1844 had been continued. But the House appeared to feel that, with the continuance of peace, there would be no formidable competition in that branch of our manufactures. They disregarded the consideration of some 600,000l. or 700,000l. of revenue. They wished to establish the prosperity of that great staple manufacture of this country—the cotton manufacture—on some sure and certain foundation; and they willingly, therefore, consented to forego an amount of duty, so easily levied and causing so little complaint from the great body of the people, without minute inquiries into the effects of the duty; and both with regard to sheep's wool and cotton wool they consented to the abolition of the duty, subjecting the opulent classes to the imposition of an Income Tax out of consideration for the permanent prosperity of our manufactures. Sir, I propose, in taking the review of duties still existing, to which we are invited by Her Majesty, to continue to act upon the principle which this House has sanctioned; and I take in the first instance, those articles of raw material which still remain subject to duty. I mean to deal with them in order still further to enable me to call on the manufacturer to relax the protection he still enjoys. Sir, there 243 is hardly any other article of the nature of a raw material which is now subject to duty except tallow, and perhaps I ought to add, timber. With respect to tallow, which is of the nature of a raw material, and which is largely used in many manufactures of great importance to the comfort of the great body of the people, such as soap, candles, and other articles, I propose to begin by a reduction of the duty on that article. Russia is the country from which chiefly our import of tallow is derived. We import also some from the United States. At present, the duty on tallow is 3s. 2d. per cwt. The subject was adverted to in the course of the discussions on the Tariff; and, mainly with a view to our own interests, but partly for the purpose of encouraging Russia to proceed in that liberal policy of which I trust she has given some indication, I propose, without stipulation, that England should set an example by a relaxation of those heavy duties, in the confidence that that example will ultimately prevail; that the interests of the great body of consumers will soon influence the action of Governments; and that by our example, even if we don't procure any immediate reciprocal benefit, yet, whilst by a reduction like that we shall, in the first instance, improve our own manufactures, I believe we shall soon reap the other advantage of deriving some equivalent in our commercial intercourse with other nations. I propose, therefore, to reduce the duty on tallow from 3s. 2d. per cwt. to 1s. 6d. I am taking the articles which are of the nature of raw materials. Now, with respect to timber: I don't mean to except the duties on timber from the review I am about to undertake. We have admitted timber the produce of our colonial possessions to be imported at a nominal duty; I am about to affect domestic interests by the relaxation of protective duties; and we have a perfect right, I think, if they be protected, to affect colonial interests. Timber is the only article respecting which I have some doubt. It is a very difficult question. I am prepared to make a definite proposal with respect to every other article. I know the advantage of early communication—that communication shall take place—but I am most anxious, in effecting reductions of the duty on timber, to insure to the consumer the benefit of the whole change. The course which Government will probably take will be a gradual reduction of the existing amount of duty, where it shall rest a certain time, lower than at 244 present; the reduction being so apportioned, if possible, as to prevent any derangement of internal trade, by inducing parties to withhold the supply of timber in the hope of realizing a large amount of duty, and yet at the same time, as the importation of timber from the Baltic partakes in some respect, from the nature of the article, of a monopoly, to take care the reduction of duty should be an advantage not so much to the producer as to the consumer. In a day or two, after the opportunity of a more minute consideration of details, the intention of the Government with regard to timber shall be made known. The subject, I have said, is a very complicated one; and it is very difficult to get the requisite information, as it is absolutely necessary to keep your intentions a perfect secret before you announce your plan. I trust, however, the House will be satisfied with my general expression of our intention to make a gradual reduction of the duty on timber spread over a certain number of years; but three or four days must elapse before we can more specifically announce our plan. These are reductions only, they are not the repeal of duties on articles of the nature of raw material. With these exceptions, I hardly know a raw material in respect of which there will remain any duty. Having now taken that course, having given the manufacturer the advantage of a free command, without any impost, of the raw materials which enter into his fabrics, I call upon the manufacturers of the three great articles which enter into consumption as the clothing of the great body of the community, to give that proof which I am sure they will give of the sincerity of their convictions as to the impolicy of protective duties, by consenting to relax the protection on their manufactures. The three great branches of manufacture of which I speak, are those which are immediately concerned with the clothing of the great body of the people—I speak of the linen, the woollen, and the cotton manufactures. I ask these manufacturers at once to set the example to others by relaxing voluntarily and cheerfully the protection they enjoy. Sir, an hon. Friend of mine, the Member for Dorsetshire—and I assure him I shall still call him my hon. Friend, for it shall not be my fault if any unfortunate differences on political subjects interfere with private friendships; without any of the reserves and restraints which appear to embarrass him, I, therefore, at once call him by that appellation by which 245 I have always addressed him—my hon. Friend expressed a hope, being jealous of the expressions in the Speech, that the small interests of the country would not be forgotten. My hon. Friend said, "Her Majesty is solicitous that the great interests of the country should not be injuriously affected, but nothing is said of the smaller interests." Now, I do not mean, in this review of the Tariff, to subject myself to the imputation to which I was subjected before. I mean to affect great interests, and, if possible, to treat with forbearance and consideration the smaller interests. I shall, therefore, fulfil my hon. Friend's views and gratify his expectations, by assuring him that he will have no cause to complain that while the great interests are affected, the smaller interests are neglected. For instance, in dealing with the clothing of the great body of the people, I shall call on the manufacturers of the great articles of cotton, woollen, and linen, to relinquish that protection which they at present enjoy; but with regard to those articles which are made up, and which consequently employ the labour of the industrious classes of this country, I shall propose to treat them with more forbearance, and to continue some protective duty. As the case now stands, the great articles of the cotton manufacture, such as calicoes, prints, &c., are subject to a duty of 10 per cent. on importation; while cottons made up, such, for instance, as cotton stockings, &c., when brought from abroad, are subject to a duty of 20 per cent. With respect to cotton manufacture generally, which is now subject to a duty of 10 per cent., I propose that it should be imported duty free; and that duty of 20 per cent., which now applies to the manufactured articles of cotton in a more advanced state, I propose to reduce to 10 per cent. That is to say, that on the great articles of cotton manufacture, which constitute the articles of clothing for the great mass of the people, there will be no import duty; while the import duty on cotton articles in a more advanced state of manufacture will be 10 per cent. [A VOICE: Take it all off: interruption.] The only favour I ask is, that I may be permitted to state the whole of the plan, without any inferences being drawn at once as to any particular parts. I may have to make qualifications—to adopt precautions, and the first part of my proposal may give rise to erroneous conclusions, unless judgment be suspended until the whole is explained. All I ask, therefore, 246 is, not even that you should suspend your judgment to a future day, but that you should wait until I conclude my observations. I am the more anxious to call on the manufacturers to set this example of relinquishing protective duties, because, according to a very high authority, it was not the agriculturists, but the manufacturers, who called on the Legislature, in the first instance, for protective duties. It was the mercantile and manufacturing interest which set the example of requiring protection; and it is therefore but justice that they should set the example, as I doubt not they cheerfully will, of relinquishing that protection. Nothing can be more remarkable than the observation made by one who had no prejudices in favour of the agriculturists. Dr. Adam Smith, speaking historically, says—Country gentlemen and farmers are, to their great honour, of all people the least subject to the wretched spirit of monopoly.I am speaking now of the origin of this protection; and at any rate Dr. Smith was a most impartial authority, with no leaning or bias towards the agriculturists. Speaking as an historian he states what, in consequence of the interruption I met with, I have the pleasure of repeating, that it was not the agriculturists who are responsible for the restrictive system, but the manufacturers. He says:—Country gentlemen and farmers are, to their great honour, of all people the least subject to the wretched spirit of monopoly. Dispersed in different parts of the country, they cannot so easily combine as merchants and manufacturers, who being collected into towns, and accustomed to that exclusive corporation spirit which prevails in them, naturally endeavour to obtain against all their countrymen the same exclusive privilege which they generally possess against the inhabitants of their respective towns. They accordingly seem to have been the original inventors of those restraints upon the importation of foreign goods which secure to them the monopoly of the home market. It was probably in imitation of them, and to put themselves on a level with those who they found were disposed to oppress them, that the country gentlemen and farmers of Great Britain so far forgot the generosity which is natural to their station as to demand the exclusive privilege of supplying their countrymen with corn and butcher's meat. They did not perhaps take time to consider how much less their interest could be affected by the freedom of trade than that of the people whose example they followed.This extract may excite the laughter of some Gentlemen on the other side of the House; but I believe the statement to be perfectly correct, that restrictions did not originate with the agriculturists, but were pressed on the Legislature in the first in- 247 stance by the mercantile and manufacturing interests; and that the principle was afterwards adopted and extended, as a necessary consequence, by the agricultural interest. I may therefore invite, in the first instance, the manufacturing interest to relinquish protective duties. I propose also to call on the manufacturers of linen and woollen, the two other great articles in addition to cotton concerned in the production of the clothing of the great body of the people, to relinquish, as I believe they can without injury to themselves, protection with respect to the coarser articles of their manufacture. There will be some loss to the revenue by these reductions; but I believe that the importation of some articles, competing with the production of our manufacturers, will stimulate their skill; and with the capital and enterprise of this country, I do not doubt but that they will beat foreign manufacturers. At present, woollen goods which are made up are subject under the reduced Tariff of 1842 to a duty of 20 per cent.; and I propose that, as in the case of made-up cotton goods, the duty on those should be reduced from 20 per cent. to 10 per cent. In the cotton and woollen trade we have given to the manufacturers the unrestricted power of importing the raw material. The same may be said with regard to the linen manufacturers. Flax is free from any duty. I had occasion to say the other night that there is no duty whatever on the import of foreign flax. I propose that in the case of linen as in the case of cotton and woollen, the coarser articles of manufacture — those which are used by the great body of the people—should be permitted to come into the country duty free. With respect to the made-up articles of linen—there are some very fine, some not of general consumption, but partaking of the character of luxuries, such as cambrics, &.c, and other articles used by the rich; but I do not propose even with respect to them to maintain the present amount of duty, but to place them all on a level with the manufactures of wool and cotton. I propose that the amount of the duty now levied on made-up linens should be reduced one-half. There is another article which does not fall within these principles, but with respect to which I think it of great importance, not that we should adopt the same principle, but yet apply to it a great reduction of duty—I allude to silks. The existing duty on silks apparently operates as a protection to the domestic manufac- 248 ture. You have a duty, which is called one of 30 per cent., but which with respect to many articles is a great deal higher: and a false reliance is placed on that as a protection. It is no such thing. There are many houses in Paris and on the coast which will guarantee the delivery of goods in London at one-half the duty. The high duty is, therefore, a clear loss and encouragement to smuggling; and it is also a delusion on the part of the labouring classes employed in the silk manufacture to suppose that they enjoy a protection, of which they are in reality robbed by the smuggler and dishonest consumer. I conceive, by a new arrangement with respect to the silk duties—by a reduction of the amount of the duty levied on silks, we are not interfering with any domestic interests; but we shall, I believe, stimulate skill and industry in this country; we shall diminish the profits of the smuggler, and encourage lawful and innocent traffic instead of one that is immoral and degrading. The general impression is, that the duty is only 30 per cent. on silk manufactures. I hold in my hand an account of the duties on silk manufactures; and though in respect to some the duty may not exceed 30 per cent., and in respect to others it may be less, yet there are many articles in respect to which the duty is much higher. In the case of crape, the duty is not less than from 43 to 50 per cent.; on velvet, from 34 to 50 per cent.; on silk net, from 36 to 78 per cent.; on manufactured bonnets, 145 per cent.; and on turbans, or caps, at least as much. Does any man believe that a French turban, or cap or bonnet, pays that amount of duty? It is no such thing. The article is in common use, but it is introduced by the smuggler. I propose a new arrangement with respect to silks, but I must not at present enter into too much detail. Of course, every proposal I make will be in the hands of hon. Members to-morrow morning. With respect to silks, I propose to adopt a new principle. I propose, instead of the system now in operation, of high duties, after a general review shall be made, enumerating each article of silk manufacture, to impose on it a duty of so much per lb., or to an amount not exceeding 15 per cent. for every 100l. in the value of the imported goods. The general principle, therefore, will be the adoption of a duty of 15 per cent. instead of that variable and capricious duty which is called 30 per cent., which is less on some articles, but which is vastly 249 more on others. Now there is another manufacture which enters into competition with a manufacture of this country, and on which the duties are, I think, quite extravagant. I believe that a qualified admission of the foreign article will do no injury to the manufacturers of this country, while it will be likely to stimulate skill in improving our manufactures. But at any rate, I think, that after the concessions that have been made, the manufacturer here will have no right to claim the enormous amount of duty which is at present in force. I am alluding to the duty on stained paper, or as it is called paper-hangings. There is now a duty of not less than 1s. per square yard applied indiscriminately to all paper-hangings introduced into this country from abroad. Now I believe it is possible to sell for a farthing per square yard some descriptions of that paper. The very finest paper—a paper with gold embroidery—might possibly pay that duty of 1s. per square yard. But as some papers cost not more, I believe, than one farthing per square yard, the uniform duty of 1s. must be considered exorbitant. I propose, therefore, to reduce the duty on paper-hangings imported from abroad from 1s. to 2d. the square yard. I approach now those manufactures which are connected with metals. [A laugh.] Really it is impossible to give the necessary explanations upon those subjects without going into details, which may perhaps be calculated to excite the risibility of some hon. Gentlemen. I must say, however, that I consider it my duty to enter into these details on this occasion. Now with respect to metals, we have greatly reduced the duties on foreign ores; and if we have any manufacturers who ought to compete with foreigners it is the manufacturers of metals. Speaking generally, all manufactures of metals are now charged with a duty of 15 per cent. ad valorem. Now I propose, with respect to them, as well with respect to all other manufactured articles which I do not specifically mention, that the general rule hereafter shall be that no duty shall exceed 10 per cent. The maximum duty, therefore, on all foreign articles, that I do not specifically enumerate, shall be, as a general rule, 10 per cent.; so that with respect to the great mass of manufactures subject to a duty of 20 per cent. by the Tariff of 1842, I propose, as a general rule, that 10 per cent. shall be the maximum duty. It is of course, however, impossible that I could enumerate every 250 article, as I have done in the case of paper-hangings, which I mean to except from that general rule. Within that 10 per cent. duty will fall all such manufactures as those of brocade, of earthenware, and other articles; and also all manufactures of hair. At present there is a duty of 20 per cent. on the import of foreign carriages. Now I consider the whole of those alterations to be a series of equivalents. I am giving advantages to the consumers of this country by the reduction of duties; and I will venture to say that there are no articles here so extravagantly dear as carriages. I am speaking of the prices of carriages in London, as compared with the prices not only in Brussels and other foreign towns; but as compared with the prices in Edinburgh, and some other parts of this country. I must say, that the prices here are most exorbitant; and, considering the command that we have of metal, and our great skill and capital, I see no reason why foreign carriages imported into this country should be subject to a duty of 20 per cent. I propose, therefore, to encourage a competition among the manufacturers of carriages in this country by permitting foreign carriages to come in on paying a duty of 10 per cent. There is another article on which I propose a considerable reduction of duty. I propose to reduce the duty on candles of all descriptions. We have already reduced the duties on wax and on spermaceti; and I propose that the duties which are now levied on candles of all descriptions shall be reduced to one-half of the present amount. I propose also that the duties on foreign soap shall be reduced to one-half of the present amount. I propose that in the case of hard soap, which is now subject to a duty of 30s. per cwt.—I propose, that on account of the excise duty upon soap in this country, the duty shall be reduced from 30s. to 20s.; that in the case of soft soap, the duty shall be reduced from 20s. to 14s.; and that in the case of Naples soap, the duty shall be reduced from 56s. to 20s. I really feel it necessary on this occasion to enter into these minute details, although many of the articles may appear to be of comparative unimportance. There are a great many articles on which I propose to remit the duty altogether. I propose, notwithstanding the great simplification that has been effected in the Tariff of 1842—I propose to carry simplification still further. There were, I think, not less than 1100 articles included in the 251 Tariff, and they still remain there; because it is convenient to the Custom-house officers to take the articles in the alphabetical order, and see whether or not they are to be admitted duty free; but, with respect to 500 of those articles, although they may stand in the Tariff for the convenience of the Custom-house officers, there is actually no duty levied on them. I propose to extend the same principle to many articles still remaining in the Tariff; and subject to a small duty, by admitting them duty free. There are some manufactures still remaining, with which I must deal specially—that is to say, which on account of the present amount of duty, or on account of the nature of the articles, it may not, I think, be advisable to subject to the general duty of 10 per cent. With respect to all articles connected with the manufacture of leather, we propose to make great reductions. I take the important articles of boots and shoes. You have removed the duty on raw hides, and they are now admitted duty free. You have also removed the duty on almost every article connected with the tanning process; and there is scarcely any duty imposed upon any article connected with the leather trade. I propose, at present, to remove the duty altogether on one article that partakes more of the character of a raw material than of a manufacture—namely, dressed hides. I propose, with the view of reducing the cost of an article of clothing which is of great importance and of increasing importance to the working classes of the community—I mean the article of boots and shoes—I propose to take off altogether the duty on dressed hides. Then there will not be one single raw material which the manufacturer in leather cannot command without the payment of a duty; and having done that, I propose to diminish the duty on foreign boots and shoes imported into this country. I must here state, that the prices of boots and shoes in this country at present appear to be unreasonably high; and there cannot be any article of greater importance, or more essential to comfort. I propose, therefore, after having taken off the duty on the only remaining article connected with the leather trade that partakes of the nature of a raw material—I propose to reduce the duty on what are called boot fronts from 3s. 6d. to 1s. 9d. per dozen pair; to reduce the duty on the larger boot fronts from 5s. 6d. to 2s. 9d.; to reduce the duty on boots from 1l. 8s. per dozen pair to 14s.; and to reduce the duty on shoes from 252 14s. to 7s. per dozen pair. The duties on the shoes of women and children will follow the same proportions. I propose also to reduce the duty on foreign hats. I also propose now to carry into effect a reduction which was postponed in the year 1842—and, I am afraid, not wisely postponed—I mean, the duty on straw plait. I propose to reduce the duty on straw plait from 7s. 6d. to 4s. per lb., and the duty on straw hats from 8s. 6d. to 5s. per doz. I said that I intended to propose a reduction on the duty on silk manufactures; but I propose also to reduce the duty on what I consider a raw rather than a manufactured article connected with the silk trade—I mean dyed thrown silk. I think it right to reduce the duty on that article. I think I am convincing the House that I am disposed to act fairly and impartially in respect to the application of this principle of the reduction of protective duties. I believe I have exhausted every article which can be called an article of manufacture, as the word "manufacture" is generally used: and I have stated the general principles on which I propose to act in respect of all articles of general use and consumption. I come now to an article of great importance, which, although a manufacture, yet in common parlance does not generally fall within the denomination of a manufacture. It is an article in respect to which I think the time is come when a reduction ought to be made. I propose to reduce the duty on brandy and foreign spirits. The present duty on foreign brandy is not less than 22s. 10d. per gallon. It is an almost necessary article, and yet the heavy duty has prevented any increase of consumption. At the present moment, I believe the consumption of French brandy in this country is not so great, or not greater, than it was at the latter end of the seventeenth century. I think that is mainly attributable to the exorbitant amount of duty compared with the value of the article. Now brandy, like silk, is an article in respect to which the present protecting duty is delusive. There is no article, speaking of our intercourse with the Continent, in respect to which smuggling prevails so much as in this article of foreign spirits. A diminution of duty, therefore, is not necessarily a diminution of protection to the native producer. It may tend to prevent smuggling, and convert an unlawful into a lawful traffic; but a diminution in the duty is not necessarily a diminution of protection. I pro- 253 pose, therefore, that the present duty on brandy, geneva, and foreign spirits generally, should be reduced from 22s. 10d. to 15s. per gallon. There remains one article to which I will now advert, and in respect to which an arrangement was made only so recently as last year, but which I also intend to submit to the consideration of the House, and to include amongst the articles on which I propose to make a reduction of the protective duties. I allude to the article of sugar. I do not wish—indeed it would be, of course, impossible for me now to enter into detail on matters, each of which must become the subject of a long discussion. I submit to the House in outline at present the intention of Her Majesty's Government, avoiding details. I fear the proposal I am about to make may not at all meet with the approbation and concurrence of those hon. Gentlemen who cheer my announcement respecting sugar. Last year I estimated the probable amount of increased consumption of sugar, in consequence of the reduction of duty, at 50,000 tons. The accounts for last year show an increased consumption of less than 32,000 tons for the remaining months of that year; whether or no during the period which would complete a twelvemonth, there will prove to be so much increase as to bear out my calculation, I cannot undertake to say; still, there cannot be a doubt that there will be a very considerable increase in the consumption of sugar. The amount of free-labour sugar brought into competition with British colonial sugar, has not at all equalled my expectations. I calculated the amount of free-labour sugar, if I recollect rightly, at 250,000 tons; but the amount actually brought in for home cousumption has fallen far short of that. I believe the defalcation may be accounted for chiefly by the failure of the crop in Cuba, and by the consequent increased price of sugar on the Continent of Europe, and the diversion thither of supplies which would have been brought to this country from other parts of the world in which there is free labour. I believe it can be shown, when this subject is further discussed, that this will account, in a great measure, for the diminished supply. Still, I am bound to say, I think British colonial sugar can bear increased competition with sugar the produce of free labour. I am not prepared to make any departure from the principle which I maintained last year with respect to the admission of sugar the produce of countries carrying on the Slave Trade. I still contend 254 for that principle; but with respect to sugar the produce of free labour, Her Majesty's Government have not thought it right to exempt that article from the application of the principle which they propose to lay down with respect to other articles. We propose, therefore, assuming that the competition is to be with sugar the produce of free labour, to deduct 3s. 6d. from the amount of the present differential duty. In the case of Muscovado sugar, the amount of differential duty is, I think, 9s. 4d.; in the case of clayed sugar, the amount of differential duty is 11s. 8d. We propose to deduct from the amount of differential duty in the case of each description of sugar 3s. 6d., leaving the amount of differential duty in favour of British colonial Muscovado sugar, competing with sugar the produce of free labour, at 5s. 10d.; and in the case of the finer, or clayed, we propose to reduce the differential duty from 11s. 8d. to 8s. 2d. Now, in continuing this review of all the articles—at least almost all articles on which import duties are levied, I come to those articles which are connected with agriculture. There are many articles of first-rate importance on which there are very heavy duties, but on which these heavy duties do not operate as a protection. I will take the article of tobacco. In making the extensive changes which, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, I now propose, I do hope that public considerations will have due weight, and that we shall not allow ourselves to be persuaded, however cogent the arguments in favour of reduction on particular articles, into a forgetfulness of these considerations. I hope the House will bear in mind the importance of not breaking down the public revenue. The pressure this year upon the revenue, on account of the reductions which I propose, must be very great. Considerations of public interest—considerations of national defence, leave us no alternative but to propose an increase in the Estimates. The House will bear in mind that I am on the one hand proposing reductions which will cause for the present considerable defalcations of revenue; and, on the other hand, it has become, in our opinion, our duty to propose, not with any hostile intentions, but for the purpose of provident considerations of defence, a considerable increase in the Estimates. I wish these two facts to be borne in mind; and if there are duties extravagantly high still remaining on some of the great articles of 255 consumption, I hope the House will not press for a simultaneous reduction of all. I will first refer to those articles of agricultural produce which are not immediately connected with the food of the people. I take, in the first instance, seeds of grasses and other seeds. I have a deep conviction that the reduction of duty upon agricultural seeds is far from being a removal of protection on agriculture, but on the contrary, will confer a benefit upon that interest. I take the article of clover seed for instance. Surely it would be impossible to maintain that the heavy duty which some years since applied to clover seed operated as a protection to agriculture. In many parts of the country the duty on clover seed is, in point of fact, a heavy burden. Before 1843, if I recollect rightly, you had a duty on clover seed which produced an amount of not less than 144,000l. What a small portion of the agricultural districts of this country was benefited by the levy of that duty! Clover seed is required in those parts of the country where agriculture is most advanced; clover seed is required as conducive to the most improved system of agriculture. In some few counties of England clover seed is produced, but, speaking generally, the duty levied upon clover seed is not a protection, but a burden to agriculture. With respect, then, to all agricultural seeds generally, not for the removal of protection, but as a benefit to agriculture, I propose to reduce the duty, and to apply to all a moderate duty. The duty on clover seed was reduced one-half in 1842; at a previous period it had reached nearly 150,000l. in one year; last year it was 75,000l. As I have reduced the duties on the great mass of manufactures, generally speaking, to a uniform duty of 10 per cent., so with respect to all seeds, for the purpose of simplifying the matter, I propose that the duty generally shall not exceed 5s. per cwt.; that that shall apply to clover seed and to all seeds. In the case of leek and onion seed, the duty at present is not less than 20s. I propose with respect to all seeds, that the maximum duty shall be 5s. I have already spoken of that most important department of agriculture, the fattening of cattle. I believe it is impossible to over-estimate the importance of promoting the fattening of cattle, as instrumental to an improved system of agriculture. The restoration of the fertility of the soil by means of manure is one of the most bountiful of the dispensations of Pro- 256 vidence, and I believe that there is no manure, bring it from where you will, which, in respect of its fertilising qualities, can enter into competition with that directly derived from the soil. You cannot conduce more to the improvement of inferior soils than by encouraging the feeding and fattening of cattle, and thus permitting the application of the manure to the increased fertility of the soil. I propose, therefore, that one article of grain, which, I believe, may be applied to the fattening of cattle, shall hereafter be imported duty free; it is an article, however, of immense importance—I mean maize or Indian corn. I propose that the duty on maize shall hereafter and immediately be merely nominal. Now, Sir, I do not consider that by removing the duty on maize—I do not consider that I am depriving agriculture of any protection. Maize is generally used, I believe, in the United States; it is certainly used principally as human food, but its utility as human food is very much disregarded in this country. There are parts of the Continent in which it is made into most excellent food, and there are parts of the United States in which it is preferred to some of the food we use in this country; but I do believe that, by the free importation of maize, so far from doing a disservice to agriculture, by promoting the feeding of cattle an advantage rather than a disadvantage will be gained. I propose, also, that the article of buck-wheat shall be subjected to the same nominal duty as maize, and that the flour of maize and buck-wheat also shall be admitted free of duty. I propose also that the meal of these articles shall be admitted on the same terms as the grain itself. And if any hon. Gentleman will ascertain the enormous sums which are now paid by many of the best farmers of the country for the purpose of procuring linseed cake and rape cake, I think he will agree with me, that increased facilities for procuring articles used for the fattening of cattle will be of no disservice to the agriculturists. The demand for this linseed cake is so great, that it is gradually rising in price, and the consumption on some farms is immense. On some farms I believe the chief object of its consumption is to provide manure for the better cultivation of the soil. The price of linseed cake, with which I will trouble the House, per ton, in 1843 was from 9l. to 10l.; in 1844 it was 10l. to 10l. 10s.; and in 1846 it was 12l. to 12l. 5s. The price of rape cake per 257 ton in 1843 was 5l. to 5l. 4s.; in 1844 it was 5l. 5s. to 5l. 10s.; in 1845 it was 4l. 5s. to 4l. 10s.; and in 1846 it had risen from 5l. in 1843, to 5l. 17s. 6d. and 6l. Sir, I hold in my hand a letter from a merchant, strongly recommending, on account of its advantage to the agricultural interest, that there should be a free import of some articles used very generally in the United States for the fattening of cattle. He says:—Sir—I take the liberty of submitting to your inspection a small sample of an article called 'rice-feed,' which is very extensively used in the United States for the feeding of cattle. We apprehend that the Act 9th Geo. IV. applies to this article, and would therefore submit to your consideration whether the interests of the farmer may not render a cheap supply of it very desirable. It is the refuse of rice ground up, and is less costly than linseed-cake, which is admitted free of duty. It is an article admirably fitted for the feeding of cattle; but, as it is meal, and not grain, it is excluded, under the operation of that Act.Now, Sir, I apprehend the admission of many articles of this kind, enabling us to enter into competition with the feeders and fatteners of cattle abroad, so far from being a disservice, will prove an advantage to agriculture. Sir, I come now to the consideration of those articles of agricultural produce which are immediately connected with the food of man; and this is the part of this great subject on which, of course, I anticipate the greatest difference of opinion. I have to meet, on the one hand, those hon. Gentlemen who are for no delay or no qualification in the abolition of those duties; and, I have to meet, on the other hand, those who insist that there shall be no relaxation of the present amount of protection to agriculture. My object will be, if possible, to submit to the House some adjustment of this question, on which both sides, now so divided in opinion, may concur. I know that neither side will approve of it; I know that I must meet with the disapprobation, possibly the opposition, of those who sit on this side of the House. I may have to encounter equal opposition from the other side. I can assure both sides that my desire is, without favour or undue partiality, to suggest that which I believe to be just, and calculated to terminate that conflict, the continuance of which I think all must regret; to remove the causes of jealousy and dissension between different classes of Her Majesty's subjects; not injuriously to affect any class, and yet to promote the general interests of the community. I consider that it is for the public advan- 258 tage, at least, to lay the foundation of the final settlement of this question. Sir, I am not about to propose the immediate repeal of the duties which are imposed upon the admission of foreign corn. I am about to propose, as an earnest of the principles on which I shall proceed—I am induced to propose the immediate reduction of duties upon many articles of primary importance which constitute the food of man. And I shall first state those in respect of which I propose there shall be an immediate and total repeal;—with respect to all I propose that the reduction shall be immediate; but I take those first in respect of which I propose an immediate but not total repeal of the duty. I propose that the duties—and I am now speaking of articles of consumption for food—I propose to take an extensive review of all the articles included in the Tariff which enter into the consumption of the people, and I propose to make an immediate reduction in the whole of them. I propose an immediate and total reduction on some articles. I propose, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, that the duties shall be immediately reduced by one-half upon butter, from 1l. to 10s. the cwt.; upon cheese, from 10s. to 5s. the cwt.; upon hops, I propose a reduction from 4l. 10s. to 2l. 5s. the ton; upon cured fish. I propose to reduce the duty to 1s. per cwt. I will now mention the articles of agricultural produce in respect to which I propose an immediate abolition of the duties. I propose an immediate repeal of the duties on all articles which constitute meat; that the duty on fresh beef, on salted beef, on what are called unenumerated articles, salt pork, and fresh pork, on potatoes, on vegetables of all kinds, shall be repealed. From foreign bacon I propose that the duty shall be abolished absolutely and immediately. Upon all such articles I propose that the duties shall be forthwith abolished; that is to say, every thing that enters into the vegetable class, and everything partaking of the animal class, that constitutes food as distinguished from grain, shall be at once admitted free of duty. I believe that in this respect the agriculturists need not fear any competition, nor do I think that they can reason ably complain of such a proposition, inasmuch as they must see that I have dealt with manufactures upon the same principle as I have just proposed to deal with agricultural produce. I have given the farmer increased facilities for meeting foreign 259 competition by removing the duties upon agricultural seeds, and by admitting into the country such valuable articles as maize and buck-wheat. The increasing skill of the feeder of cattle will, no doubt, be considerably stimulated by that kind of competition which will necessarily arise by these alterations. I believe that these changes will give a considerable advantage to our country over any foreign country. I propose now, having reduced the duty upon what may be considered the manufactured article, to at once remove the duty upon the importation of cattle. In short, I propose in respect to all animals, as a general rule, that they shall be imported henceforth from foreign countries duty free. There is, therefore, I think, no necessity for mentioning the duties I propose to do away in respect to horses and asses, still less in respect to other animals. It is, I think, wholly unnecessary to continue the duties upon animals generally; and no one, I think, will question the policy of removing them altogether, as the maintenance of them has, I consider, operated neither for the policy nor convenience of the country. With respect to all animals I propose, as a proof of our adherence to the principle which we have adopted, and in relation not only to the manufacturing interests, but in respect also to the still more material interests of the country, that all animals shall be admitted duty free. Some persons have, indeed, complained of the manner in which the duties upon foreign cattle are at present levied. It is said, that it is not fair to levy an equal amount of duty upon the animal that is fattened and the lean animal brought from foreign countries. And many persons have expressed an opinion that an advantage would be gained in having free access to the lean animals. At any rate, my proposal will redress this inequality. I must say, I think that the increased means which will necessarily arise by these arrangements for fattening the cattle by the importation of grain, the increased facilities that will be afforded of getting lean cattle, and converting them into fatted animals for the food of the people of this country, will prove of the most important and permanent advantage to all classes. I do hope, therefore, that the manufacturer who may be disposed to find fault with my proposition, in respect to his own immediate interest, will consider this arrangement as affording him some compensation by the reduction of the duty upon fat animals. And those 260 Gentlemen who are, on the other hand, connected with agriculture will, I hope, bear in mind the fact that I have already proposed the removal of protection from some of those great and important articles of manufacture that are closely connected with the land. I do, Sir, trust that they will always bear in mind that I have called upon the manufacturing interest first to set the example of relinquishing those duties. They will bear in mind, I hope, that farm servants and the humbler classes over whom they preside, will be thus enabled to command a greater supply of clothing at a lower rate than they could heretofore procure. By such considerations, I hope that they will not be indisposed to follow the example of those upon whom I have first made the call of relinquishing these protection duties. I will now, Sir, state, with the permission of the House, the proposal which I mean to make upon the subject of the Corn Laws. I have already stated that I have exempted some articles now included under the designation of corn, from the payment of duty altogether—such as maize and buck-wheat. I propose, on the one hand, that these articles shall be permitted to enter duty free from the passing of the Act. On the other hand, I do not propose that there shall be an immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. But, in the hope of preventing any of those evils which might arise from so sudden and important an alteration, and with the view of giving time for the adjustment of those interests connected with agriculture, it is my intention to propose that there shall be a temporary continuance of protection to corn. I propose this arrangement under a distinct understanding that, after the lapse of a certain time, foreign corn shall be permitted to be imported into this country duty free. Sir, I am deeply convinced that any intermediate proposition would be of no avail in effecting a settlement of this question; and, indeed, it would have been out of my power, as I have explained on a former occasion, to suggest any modification of the existing laws relating to corn, without at the same time guaranteeing their ultimate abolition. The choice left to me is either—what some persons so strongly contend for—the maintenance, in fact, of the existing amount of protection in everything, or to take the other course, of laying the foundation for a decided and ultimate settlement of the question by a total repeal of these duties. I propose, therefore, that there shall be at 261 once a considerable reduction in the existing amount of protection. And I also propose that the continuance of such duties so reduced shall be limited to a period of three years. I propose that this measure shall contain a provision that, at the period of the year when I believe there will be least inconvenience experienced, these duties shall terminate—namely, on the 1st of February, 1849. That at such period oats, barley, and wheat, shall be subject only to the nominal duty of 1s. which I have proposed in respect to maize and buck-wheat. The next question to be considered is this—what shall be the intermediate state of the law during the continuance of these duties? My opinion, I am bound to say, as to the policy of providing immediately an alteration in the present law, remains unchanged. I cannot admit that I have taken a very erroneous estimate of the wants of the people under the present circumstances of the kingdom. I deeply regret the existence of such a condition. The pressure upon the people will be somewhat great before the next harvest. I think that we are bound not only to look to the prospects of the next spring, but also to the consequences of that deficiency of food which I am afraid will be experienced. I think it is of great importance to take proper precautions, as far as we can, against the contingency of the people suffering from the effects of the present scarcity. It is possible that the results of this scarcity may be much more extensive than we contemplate. Sir, I wish it were possible to take advantage of this calamity for introducing among the people of Ireland the taste for a better and more certain provision for their support, than that which they have heretofore cultivated; and thereby diminishing the chances to which they will be constantly, I am afraid, liable, of recurrences of this great and mysterious visitation, by making potatoes the ordinary food of millions of our fellow subjects. The deficiency here arises in respect to the food of millions. We have yet to consider what provision is to be made for this deficiency—what substitute we will offer to that suffering portion of our fellow subjects. You may think the potato an insufficient article of subsistence; but you cannot, for a period of two or three years to come, dispense with your reliance upon the potato. You must, therefore, adopt precautions in respect to procuring proper seed for next year. I am not here now to propose that which I proposed in November last—the 262 immediate suspension of the import duties upon corn. That might no doubt be done by an Order in Council; but I think it very important to make such reduction in those duties as shall warrant us in expecting that assistance which is now unfortunately so much required. I wish to have but one law enduring for the limited period to which I refer; but I wish that law to take precautions in part, at least, which suspension would not give. I propose, therefore, that there should be, for the present and immediately, a great reduction in the amount of duty, and that the amount, as I said before, so reduced, should endure only for a limited period, there being a guarantee, by express enactment in the Bill, that on the arrival of that period the then existing duty shall be converted into a mere nominal duty. What then shall be the nature of the law which is to endure for a limited period? My Colleagues and myself have approached this question wholly unprejudiced, and with no other object in view than the general advancement and prosperity of the country. Our desire has been to propose a law, temporary in its enactment, which appears to us, on the whole, best suited to meet the exigencies of the present case, and best calculated to provide for the wants of the country during the period for which it is intended to last. The rate of duty under the existing law, on other descriptions of grain, has been regulated by the rate of duty on wheat. We propose, therefore, that the rates of duty on barley, oats, peas, beans, and rye, shall be governed as nearly as possible, during the continuance of this law, if it meet with the sanction of Parliament, by the principles which will apply to wheat; that is, that there shall be a reduction of a corresponding amount applied to all. But I propose that immediately from the passing of this Act, all grain, the produce of British colonial possessions, out of bond, shall be admitted at a nominal duty. I propose that, in all cases, those restrictions which apply to the import of meal from the Colonies, the produce of grain, shall be removed. I presume they were established for the protection of the milling interest of the country. I believe them to be wholly unnecessary. They are not applied to meal the produce of wheat; I cannot see any reason why they should be retained for barley or any other description of grain. Now, on the one hand, then, I offer to those who insist upon the immediate unqualified removal of these 263 laws—I offer the unrestricted importation, at least the importation at a nominal duty, of all kinds of grain, and all kinds of meal the produce of grain from the British colonial possessions out of Europe at a nominal duty. There is one great article, the produce of the United States, an article to the free export of which the United States attach the utmost importance—viz., that of maize. I propose that that should be admitted duty free. This is the provision with respect to other descriptions of grain which we propose shall endure throughout the period that foreign grain is to be subject to duty. We attempted to meet some of the objections which have been made to the varying price of wheat; at the same time to fix any duty which would be considered available would not answer the purpose which I am desirous to attain, of making an immediate reduction, on account of temporary exigencies, in the present amount of price. We propose, therefore, that in lieu of the duties now payable on the importation of corn, grain, meal, or flour, there shall be paid until the 1st day of February, 1849, the following duties, viz.:—
If imported from any foreign country—
I propose, that whenever the price of grain made up and published in the manner required by law shall exceed 53s., there shall then be an invariable duty of 4s. per quarter. That is to say, that there shall be no temptation to hold grain when the price shall exceed 54s., for the purpose of securing the shilling of extra duty. The enactments which we shall propose with respect to all other descriptions of grain will precisely follow the scale which we have adopted with regard to wheat. It would, however, perhaps be more convenient for the House, considering the time I have already occupied, that I should rather refer them to the details which will be printed to-morrow morning, than go through the whole now as regards oats and barley. It may be sufficient for the present purpose to state that the same general rule will be 264 adopted in all. There would now, therefore, be levied on wheat, instead of a duty of 16s., one of 4s.; and every other grain at the present prices taken out of bond for consumption in the home market, would be subject to a merely nominal duty. That is the arrangement for the adjustment of this great question, which Her Majesty's Government are induced to offer for the consideration of Parliament. We propose to accompany that arrangement with other provisions, calculated, I will not say to give compensation, but calculated, in my firm belief, materially to advance the interests of that portion of the community which, after the lapse of three years, will be called upon to relinquish protection. I believe it to be possible to suggest arrangements, not affecting the interests of other parts of the community, but materially benefiting the agricultural interests, and to introduce reforms in the levy of duties and the application of burdens which will be of material advantage. I thank the House for having permitted me, without interruption, to state all those portions of the law which might appear to bear too heavily. I am obliged to them for the forbearance with which they have permitted me to go through that part of this great question. I will now state what are the measures with which we propose to accompany this great present reduction and ultimate extinction of protection—measures which I believe will be greatly for the advantage of the interest in whose welfare this country is deeply interested. Let us review some of the burdens which do fall immediately upon the land—the burdens which are, in my opinion, some of them, at least, capable of alleviation, not by their transfer to other parties, but by introducing reform in the administration of the expenditure. First, let me take the existing arrangement with respect to one great source of expenditure—to one great burden which is constantly and justly complained of by the agriculturist; I mean the amount of rate which is levied for the highways. Is it not possible, without subjecting other parties to the expense of the rate—is it not possible to introduce useful reforms into the administration of the expenditure, which shall be a relief to the landed interest? I believe it to be possible. What is the law and practice now with respect to the highways of this country? There are 16,000 different local authorities, each of which has the charge of the highways. These highways are be- 265 coming of increased importance as railways advance. In some cases the turnpike road is becoming of diminished importance, and the highway, for which each parish is subject, is becoming of increased importance; but what can be more defective than that, where the highway is a continuous channel of communication, passing between different parishes, the same highway shall be under the control of every different parish, and the total number of parish authorities is not less than 16,000? What is the advantage? There is the nominal advantage of the appointment of a surveyor in each parish, who absolutely knows nothing about the construction of highways. That each portion of the highway should be subject to a different parochial authority seems to us as most evidently opening a road to great abuses, to a lax expenditure, and to a bad system of repairing the roads. Sir, there is one Act of Parliament which permits the voluntary union of parishes into a district authority, for the supervision of the roads. But as it is only voluntary, as it is merely a permissory Act, and as there are so many local interests affected by entering into the voluntary arrangement, the result is that hardly in any instance is the arrangement made. What I propose—and I do it for the benefit of the agricultural interest, not merely as a relief from a burden, but as a means of greatly improving their means of communication—what I propose is, to make that which is now voluntary compulsory. I propose to compel the union of parishes into districts for all the purposes of the roads. The size of the districts is a matter of detail for further consideration; but we think that districts may be so formed as that we may have 600 local authorities, having cognizance of the roads, in place of 16,000, as we have at present. When, however, the local authorities shall have been constituted, we will permit them, or rather require them, to appoint a surveyor, a competent professional man, who shall have the charge of the whole of the highways of the district to which he has been appointed. There are some instances in which a voluntary union of parishes has been entered into, and some do now exist. I should wish to state to the House what has been the result in one of them of the substitution of a central authority in place of many parochial authorities. In a district of the north the parochial authorities, by their own consent, were superseded, they having 70 miles under their superintendence; and this was the result, as 266 stated to me in a report I hold in my hand:—
WHEAT. Whenever the average price of Wheat, made up and published in the manner required by law, shall be for every quarter Under 48s. the duty shall be for every quarter 10s. 0d. 48s. 49s. the duty shall be for every quarter 9 0 49s. 50s. the duty shall be for every quarter 8 0 50s. 51s. the duty shall be for every quarter 7 0 51s. 52s. the duty shall be for every quarter 6 0 52s. 53s. the duty shall be for every quarter 5 0 53s.and upwards the duty shall be for every quarter 4 0The effect of the change has been remarkable. Formerly, the expenditure under the local parochial authorities, was from 6d. to 9d. per pound rental, and the money was literally thrown away. Now, the case has been completely altered. The roads in the whole of our districts, are as good as any in England; the management is good, and all is performed to the perfect satisfaction of the ratepayers, while the expense does not range higher than from 1½d. to 3d. in the pound of rental; while in the nine adjoining townships, in which the roads are not so good, it is from 4½d. to 5d.Well, Sir, that is not a mere transferring of the burden; it is an advantageous arrangement which, by the aid of the Legislature, will relieve the agriculturists from a burden which presses heavily upon them without transferring it to any other. That, Sir, is one of the advantageous arrangements which Her Majesty's Ministers propose to make, and which we believe will prove a relief to agriculture. I come now, Sir, to a law grievously complained of, and justly grievously complained of, by the agricultural interest. I mean the present law of settlement. Under the present law of settlement, the population of a rural district, in times of manufacturing prosperity, is invited to emigrate to some great manufacturing town. The prime of a man's life is consumed in those manufacturing districts—all the advantages to be derived from his strength, his good conduct, and his industry, are derived by the master manufacturers in the towns. A revolution in manufacturing affairs takes place, a reaction ensues, and the trading and manufacturing interests do not prosper—then what takes place? The man, together with his family, who were removed from the agricultural districts in a season of manufacturing prosperity, are sent back to the agricultural districts; and that man, the best of whose life and energy has been spent in the manufacturing district, that man who perhaps had not been provident in his prosperity, must return to the rural district unfitted for rural occupations; that man, greatly to his annoyance and suffering, is transferred to a former home which probably he has forgotten—to a place with which he has lost all connexions, and where he has not the means of getting employment—and not only is a great injustice inflicted upon the rural district, but a shock is given to the feelings of every just and humane man. We propose, therefore, not only to relieve the land from a burden, but we propose to do an act of justice to the labouring man by altering the law of 267 settlement. We propose, Sir, that an industrial residence of five years shall not only give a claim to relief, but that after such a residence the power of removing him shall be taken away; and that his legal claim for support shall not be on the place of his original settlement, but on the place to which for five years his labour and industry were given. Now, Sir, I dare say many will remember what took place in 1842. In 1842 there was great distress in the manufacturing districts; the practice then followed was, that the person employed in manufactures who had a settlement in the agricultural districts, should be returned to those districts for the purpose of obtaining relief. Now, Sir, I conceive that the alteration we propose will be a moral improvement of the law, just in itself, and a great relief to the rural districts. It will be a great advantage to the agricultural interest, while, at the same time, it will be the remedy of a gross injustice under which the labouring man now exists. On the part of Her Majesty's Government, then, I propose that from and after the passing of this law, no person who shall have resided five years in a parish shall be removed from that parish; and that residence in a prison, barrack, lunatic asylum, or hospital, or any residence in a poor-house, during which the person shall have been in the receipt of relief, shall form part of such five years, and be no interruption to the period. I propose, not only that there shall be no power of removal to the land, but that the children of any person, or the children of his wife, whether legitimate or illegitimate, under 16 years, residing with the father or mother, shall not be removed, nor shall the wife of any person be removed where such person is himself not removable. We propose, therefore, that the children and the wife shall not be separated in such case from the husband, and that he who has an industrial residence of the term of five years shall have the right to relief for himself and his family, not from the place of his rural settlement, but from the place of his last industrial residence. At present, immediately upon the death of a labouring man in a manufacturing district, the widow can be removed to her settlement. We shall propose that, after the passing of this law, no widow who shall be residing with her husband at the time of his death, shall be removed within the ensuing twelve months. There is one point more. At present, when the working man is ex- 268 hausted by the labours of a lifetime, an apprehension often arises in the minds of the parish authorities that he will become chargeable to the parish, and they immediately set about his removal. Now, we propose that there shall be no power of removal on the ground of chargeability, on account of accident, or by sickness of a man or any of his family, from the manufacturing to the agricultural districts. Here again, by the alteration of the law which we propose I think that we shall be gaining a great social advantage, and also relieving the agricultural districts from a burden which is certainly very great. We propose to grant this relief, while at the same time we are taking means of preventing injustice being done to the man whose five years' labour has tended to enrich the district made liable for his maintenance. I approach now another matter on which we are prepared to advise an alteration, and one which I think can be carried into effect without loss to agriculture. In fact, I anticipate not only that the alteration will be an advantage to agriculture, but a benefit to all parts of the country. There is a dread—a natural dread—of competition on the part of agriculturists. It is impossible, I think, for any man to deny that agricultural science is yet in its infancy in this country. But there are means of meeting this competition which is so much dreaded, by the application of capital, skill, and industry; and by the adoption of those means I feel persuaded that both the agriculturists and the labouring man will be enabled to meet the competition they will have to encounter; and, in order to facilitate this effect, we propose that the State shall encourage agricultural industry. Let any one read the evidence taken before a Committee of the other House, which sat last Session, and of which the Duke of Richmond was chairman, with respect to improvements on entailed estates. That evidence shows that in immense districts the means of improvement are greatly neglected. Among other means, I believe draining might be employed so as greatly to increase the produce of the land. There are many difficulties in the way—these are shown in the Report of the Committee to which I have alluded. Various schemes have been proposed to overcome them, some of which originated with my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire; but, in addition to other sources of difficulty in making these improvements, there have arisen great 269 difficulties in consequence of the necessity of the intervention of the Court of Chancery in cases of trust estates. Now, with respect to cases of these descriptions, we shall recommend that the public should, for the purpose of facilitating these improvements, advance sums of money to parties applying for assistance, not, however, subjecting the public to any ultimate loss; but advancing sums of money for the purposes of improvement, upon sufficient security. Now, I attach great importance to the principle that no loss shall fall upon the public. Besides the general effect of facilitating improvements in agriculture, by these means improvements throughout the country will be stimulated to an extent which would not easily be capable of being overrated. I propose that the Exchequer Bill Commissioners should have the power to lend a given amount of money upon tangible security; and I should recommend that, to arrive at a conclusion as to the parties to whom money may safely be lent, you take advantage of a board lately instituted—I mean the Board of Commissioners of Enclosures. I should propose that those proprietors of land who may contemplate improvements on their properties should make application to the Enclosure Commissioners to the effect, that they contemplate the improvement of their land by drainage. We have arranged that the preliminary survey shall be made at the expense of the individual who applies for pecuniary assistance in the manner proposed. We have, I say, arranged that the original expense be borne by the party applying for relief. We propose then, that after an inquiry has been made, after an investigation has been held by the Enclosure Commissioners, that upon a certificate being issued by the Commissioners of Enclosures it should be a warrant to the Exchequer-bill Loan Commissioners to advance a certain sum, provision being made for the repayment of that sum at a moderate rate of interest, and, at the same time, of a repayment on small instalments annually of the principal. These provisions are to be guarantees to the public of the repayment of both principal and interest. And we also propose that this advance be considered as a prior charge on the land—that it have priority on all other charges on the land, excepting in the case where any party who has a charge upon the land should think fit to make objection to such application being granted. I believe, however, that the cases would be rare where 270 such objections would occur; because parties could not but feel that such an application for the improvement of the land would be a new guarantee for the security of their claims. Still we feel that when these advances are applied for, the power of interposing ought to be given to those having a preceding claim on the land; that they should have power to make an objection to that which would constitute a prior claim to their own. We propose, therefore, that parties having an estate in tail or a prior charge upon the land should have power to object to that which will constitute a charge on the land prior to their own, and that in that case the loan should not be had without the consent of the Court of Chancery. We believe that by an arrangement of this sort we shall be able to obviate obstructions that arise in case of entailed estates, wherein enormous expenses are incurred in appeals to the Court of Chancery, and a multitude of impediments are found to arise to parties seeking advances and loans of money from private companies. And we believe that this will be found to be the foundation for great agricultural improvements. I confess I do not limit the contemplated amount of improvements that will be made to the mere cases on which these actual advances may take place. I believe they will be found to promote greatly the spirit of improvement; that when a man sees his neighbour having the cultivation of his land carried on under scientific direction — that when he sees him thus effecting great improvement in his estate, and this through the intervention of a loan or advance made to him on the part of the Government, that this will tend greatly to lead to a spirit of agricultural improvement. This then is another mode by which we propose to enable the landed interest to meet the competition with which they are threatened by the law that I am about to propose. And now, with respect to direct local burdens. Her Majesty's Government have given their serious consideration to that subject, and on their part I must say that I cannot advise any material alteration of the system under which the assessments now take place. There is no doubt that there are immense sums of money now levied on land under the name of poor rates, which go to meet other charges than those for the relief and sustenance of the poor. Another objection is made, when it is said, and said with apparent justice, that these 271 are charges on the land, and that therefore there ought to be some great alteration of the manner in which these levies are made. In point of fact, the charges are not charges upon the land. So far as this charge is concerned, the opposition is not between land and houses; the opposition is merely between real and personal property, because it is not land alone that is subjected to the burden, but it is real property; including houses, and including mines, and quarries, and manufactories, which are subject to the payment of the assessments under this head. If, indeed, the Government were to take the rate upon themselves, and levy it as a tax uniformly, it might perhaps be justice, and might be an advantage to make personal property pay. But recollect that this is a local charge and not a general charge; that the land would gain nothing if the property in Manchester, for instance, contributed to the relief of the poor in a manner different from what it does at present; that there would be no advantage to any part of Yorkshire, if the principal towns in England bore a different assessment, such as Halifax, Huddersfield, and Stockport, or any other town. It would be merely a different distribution of the burden within that locality. You may subject personal property to this charge; but if you do, you must make personal property so subject to it, not only in the towns, but in the rural districts. But how are you to levy such a charge for a small local burden? You cannot do so, as you do it with a great public contribution for a public purpose, like the income tax. You cannot, I say, do so; for when you come to levy minute sums for the relief of the poor, depend upon it that you will find, in the rural districts, that it is a kind of imposition which will not be borne; and so far from being a benefit to the land, to raise minute sums by means of an inquisition into a man's private circumstances, carried on and raised by the local authorities, would be a burden that would be felt to be intolerable. I willingly admit that there may be found persons possessing great property in large rural districts, and also in large manufacturing towns, and that personal property ought to be made to contribute where individuals are so situated—that assessments should be so made as to make these contribute to local charges, and that by so doing the burden would be more equitably distributed. This may be so; but I am not prepared to sug- 272 gest a remedy by which I think this injustice can be remedied. I do not think it can be attempted; and considering that the charge is local; that if you wish personal property to contribute, there must be an inquisition into private affairs; and that if you choose to do this—then there must be not only an inquiry into the profits of the trader, but there must also be an inquiry into the profits of the farmer. You certainly had at one time a charge upon personal property in the counties—you had that, but what did it produce? You were obliged to abandon the charge upon personal property; for you found it impossible to collect it. I conceive, then, that it would be no advantage to the agricultural interest now to propose any such charge. I am sure that for the State to take upon itself the maintenance of the poor—I am sure that any such plan would be open to the gravest objection; that to alter that charge—to attempt to make it general instead—would be a change that, in my firm conviction, could not benefit the land. I am not prepared, therefore, to propose any material amendments of the law, or the principle on which the rates are levied; but though I cannot propose any alteration in this respect, I think that there is a fair claim on the part of the land for direct relief from some portions of the local burdens to which they are now subjected—that there should be taken off some of those burdens on the land. I cannot maintain this proposition as a direct compensation to the land; but when we are laying the foundation for a great social improvement, I say that we may take and place upon the public some of the charges that are now thrown upon the land. Some of these charges were brought under the notice of the House last year by the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles). I was obliged, then, in opposing his proposition, to object that as long as the land was benefited by protection, I advised the agricultural interest not to claim relief from these charges—that the relief sought for was in itself comparatively small. But now, when it is determined to expose that interest to competition, then we have a right to look to these charges; and, when you have the power to do so, to relieve it to a certain extent; and in doing so, we have, at the same time, the power of conferring a great benefit upon the community, and for laying the foundation for a great improvement in the administration of the law. You have already taken off one-half the 273 expense of maintaining prisoners in Great Britain and Ireland, who are under sentence for felony or misdemeanour; and I propose to relieve the counties of this charge altogether, and take from the Consolidated Fund the expense of the maintenance of such prisoners. I propose, in order that there should be a constant and vigilant check, that this and other similar charges shall be provided for by an animal vote. We estimate the sum of which these will relieve the counties at 64,000l. per annum. And now, in respect to the expense of prosecutions in England, one-half of that charge is already paid by the public Treasury. In Scotland, the charge is borne altogether by the Treasury, whilst in Ireland there still remains a portion of the charge which is borne by the land. We propose in the case of England, and in the case of Ireland, that that portion of the charge of the expense of prosecutions which is now borne by local rates, shall be borne altogether by the public Treasury. It is true, the relief is not great; but I think the change is of importance, as it undoubtedly affords increased means of establishing some control over prosecutions; and you will be amply repaid, in a social point of view, by acquiring that increased control over any sum you may grant. In Scotland, you have an admirable system of checking prosecutions by means of a public prosecutor. In Ireland, you apply a principle of the same kind, by requiring that, in respect of all prosecutions borne by the public, there shall be the assent of a public officer of the Crown. Now, for the purpose of relief, and for the purpose of combining with relief the means of introducing an improvement of your criminal law, I propose that the whole of the remainder of that charge shall be taken from the land, and be borne by the country. The amount will be, in Ireland, about 17,000l., and in England about 100,000l. a year. Now, in the case of Ireland, if there be any part of the United Kingdom which is to suffer by the withdrawal of protection, I have always felt that that part of the United Kingdom is Ireland. Its capital and enterprise are almost exclusively directed to agriculture. And if, in the intended measures, with regard to the burdens on land, there should appear, at first sight, to be any undue favour shown towards Ireland, let us bear in mind that Ireland has not the means which other parts of the United Kingdom have of employing labour in manufacturing pursuits. But again, I propose no relief from burdens which are not ac- 274 companied with some great social advantages. At present you have a great police force in Ireland. The expense of a portion of that force is borne by the land in Ireland; the expense of the remainder is borne by the public Treasury; and it certainly is a most anomalous system for one portion to be borne by the public Treasury, and the other portion by the land. I believe that it will be an immense advantage to place the police force directly under the control of the Executive—to prevent the possibility of all interference by local bodies; to make it as perfect a system as you can, excluding all power of local nomination or local interference, taking the whole control on the Executive Government; and, in order that you may make that control complete, paying the expense out of the public Treasury. This was strongly recommended last year by that Commission over which the Earl of Devon presided, without any reference whatever to the law of protection; and Her Majesty's Government are disposed to recommend to the House that the whole charge for that rural police in Ireland shall be borne by the public Treasury. There is another charge borne by the land in this country, of which again, for local purposes, we propose that a share shall be borne by the Treasury. I allude to the medical relief in parishes. There is no part of the administration of the Poor Law which I think has given more dissatisfaction than the administration of medical relief. There seems to have been great unwillingness on the part of the guardians of the poor to afford relief, under the impression that their immediate concern was with the relief of absolute distress, and giving sustenance to those who were in danger of starvation. I am sorry to say that there have been frequently just grounds of complaint in respect to the administration of medical relief. The state of medical relief in Scotland occupied the attention of the House in the course of the last Session. And, for the purpose of meeting the views of those who object to the present system, and for the purpose of giving the Executive Government a greater degree of control over it, and gradually introducing an amended system, we propose to take one-half of the charge of the payment of medical officers upon the Treasury. Thus we shall be enabled to meet the objection of those who demur to the exercise of Government control and to the expense, by offering, on the part of the public, to contribute one-half. In that case I estimate that the amount of charge will be 100,000l. in England, and 275 15,000l. in Scotland. Ireland is under a separate law with respect to medical relief. I believe the whole subject requires reconsideration, and that it is likely to occupy the attention of both Houses of Parliament in the present Session. With regard to Scotland, there is a separate charge, which I think is for the prison of Perth. The amount is very small, but the "principle" is what they object to. The charge of the prison at Pentonville is borne by the public Treasury, and Scotland, therefore, objects to bear the expense of the prison at Perth. Now it will be a satisfaction to this feeling, even if it be no great relief, if we apply the same rule which is applied to Pentonville and Parkhurst prisons, and other prisons not immediately used for local purposes, and relieve Scotland from this charge by taking it from the public Treasury. There is only one other item of expense which I propose to place on the public; and I think that in that I shall have the general acquiescence of the House. I believe that in every parish workhouse there is great ground for complaint, at least in many of them, of inadequate provision for purposes of education. In many workhouses there are no schools—in many others some person perfectly unfit to be intrusted with the education of youth is appointed as master or mistress, at a salary perhaps of 10l. Now, we propose in no way whatever to interfere with the right of appointment. We wish to avoid the possibility of raising any religious question. The right of appointment of a schoolmaster or schoolmistress shall remain with the guardians of the poor. But we are ready to take the expense of providing proper schoolmasters and schoolmistresses. We require qualification. We require the right of dismissal and the right of inspection; but we are ready at the public charge to provide a competent and decent salary for those who are to have the charge of the education of the poor. We propose that a grant of about 30,000l. a year shall be made for the purpose of providing competent salaries for schoolmasters and schoolmistresses for the children of the destitute in each Union, taking at least so much of control (without interfering with religion in any degree beyond what at present appears to be the case under the existing law) as to require that the party shall be competent—that there shall be some examination as to qualification, and some inspection of and control over the management of the school. Then again, with respect to the auditors of Unions, we propose that the charge for 276 the salary of auditors shall be borne in like manner by the public Treasury, which will require about 15,000l. Now observe, that, in almost every case in which I propose any remission of the burden which falls on the land, I propose also the attainment of some great object connected with the public advantage. If this general scheme which I now propose shall meet with the approbation of the House, observe what it does for the great body of the people. At a very early period many of the restrictions which apply to the importation of food will be at once repealed. Instantly, in respect to clothing, there will be perfect liberty to purchase clothing in the cheapest market. With respect to medical attendance, we propose an arrangement which, I believe, will greatly improve the administration of the Poor Law. Before these propositions be rejected, therefore, I hope that both parties will well consider—even if their immediate views cannot be accomplished—yet, that both parties will well consider that instantly, with respect to many articles of food, there will be free importation. In respect to all there will be a perfectly free importation at an early period. In respect to all the main articles of clothing there will be free importation, with liberty to purchase wherever clothing can be obtained. And with respect to medical assistance, there will be considerable improvement on the existing practice. Well, these several propositions appear to me to be calculated to confer great benefits upon the country at large. Whether or no they are sufficient to induce both parties, those who entertain different views, to support them, I cannot undertake to say. I wish, however, that the whole should be fairly considered; that on each side you will well reflect upon the consequences of the immediate rejection of this scheme. I ask for the expression of no opinion at this moment; but I do hope that after an interval of some days we shall approach it with that entire consideration which shall lead to a fruitful result, and in the same temper of mind with which, on both sides, you have listened to my observations to-night. Now, let me conclude with two observations: one connected with our foreign policy and the interests of our commercial intercourse with foreign countries; and the other having reference to our own domestic circumstances. I fairly avow to you that in making this great reduction upon the import of articles, the produce and manufacture of foreign countries, I have no guarantee to give you that other 277 countries will immediately follow our example. I give you that advantage in the argument. Wearied with our long and unavailing efforts to enter into satisfactory commercial treaties with other nations, we have resolved at length to consult our own interests, and not to punish those other countries for the wrong they do us in continuing their high duties upon the importation of our products and manufactures, by continuing high duties ourselves, encouraging unlawful trade. We have had no communication with any Foreign Government upon the subject of these reductions. We cannot promise that France will immediately make a corresponding reduction in her tariff. I cannot promise that Russia will prove her gratitude to us for our reduction of duty on her tallow, by any diminution of her duties. You may, therefore, say, in opposition to the present plan, what is this superfluous liberality, that you are going to do away with all these duties, and yet you expect nothing in return? I may, perhaps, be told, that many foreign countries, since the former relaxation of duties on our part—and that would be perfectly consistent with the fact—foreign countries which have benefited by our relaxations, have not followed our example; nay, have not only not followed our example, but have actually applied to the importation of British goods higher rates of duties than formerly. I quite admit it. I give you all the benefit of that argument. I rely upon that fact, as conclusive proof of the policy of the course we are pursuing. It is a fact, that other countries have not followed our example, and have levied higher duties in some cases upon our goods. But what has been the result upon the amount of your exports? You have defied the regulations of these countries. Your export trade is greatly increased. Now, why is that so? Partly because of your acting without wishing to avail yourselves of their assistance; partly, because of the smuggler, not engaged by you, in so many continental countries, whom the strict regulations and the triple duties, which are to prevent any ingress of foreign goods, have raised up; and partly, perhaps, because these very precautions against the ingress of your commodities are a burden, and the taxation increasing the cost of production disqualify the foreigner from competing with you. But your exports, whatever be the tariffs of other countries, or however apparent the ingratitude with which they have treated you—your export trade has 278 been constantly increasing. By the remission of your duties upon the raw material—by inciting your skill and industry—by competition with foreign goods, you have defied your competitors in foreign markets, and you have even been enabled to exclude them. Notwithstanding their hostile tariffs, the declared value of British exports has increased above 10,000,000l. during the period which has elapsed since the relaxation of the duties on your part. I say, therefore, to you, that these hostile tariffs, so far from being an objection to continuing your policy, are an argument in its favour. But, depend upon it, your example will ultimately prevail. When your example could be quoted in favour of restriction, it was quoted largely; when your example can be quoted in favour of relaxation, as conducive to your interests, it may perhaps excite at first, in Foreign Governments, or foreign Boards of Trade, but little interest or feeling; but the sense of the people—of the great body of consumers—will prevail; and, in spite of the desire of Governments and Boards of Trade to raise revenue by restrictive duties, reason and common sense will induce relaxation of high duties. That is my firm belief. I see symptoms of it already. Our last accounts from the United States give indications of the decline of a hostile spirit in this respect. Look to the report made by the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. It shows to you that your example is not unavailing. In the report made by the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Walker, a report containing very enlightened views on the subject of commerce, that gentleman thus speaks of restrictions upon trade and import duties:—By countervailing the protective system," says that gentleman, in the report to which I refer, "we injure our own cause, and we sacrifice our own agricultural and commercial classes. As well might we attempt to engraft a monarchy and an aristocracy upon our Constitution, as to enforce a protective system in the United States. Let, therefore, our commerce be as free as our institutions. Let us proclaim our commerce free, and nation after nation will follow our example. If I were asked who began this system, I should answer at once, England began it by her repeal of the duty on our raw cottons, and the reduction of the duties on our bread stuffs; and although we cannot now take the lead in this enlightened policy, we may, at least, be amongst the first to perceive its advantage, and to follow it.Here is an admission of the correctness of the course you have adopted in making reductions without stipulating or making any preliminary negotiations. You have reduced the duty upon cotton, and now the United States admit the time is come 279 when they must follow your example. In other parts of Europe, where the form of Government is totally distinct from ours, I can give you proof that your example is producing effect. I could give you the instance of a country as opposed with respect to the institutions of government as any country could be to the United States. In Naples, for instance, liberal views are beginning to prevail. I must say, in justice to the Sovereign who now rules over that country, and who himself takes a personal part with respect to these commercial questions—I have seen a document written by him containing as free principles with respect to commercial intercourse as could come from any professor of political economy—and that he is constantly urging the relaxation of the duties which now apply to foreign imports; and I do not despair that, at a very early period, foreign nations will receive tariffs more favourable to our interests. In Norway, exertions to obtain a relaxation of duties are increasing. In Sweden, and many other countries, there is a disposition to follow the same course. Austria, too, shows some disposition, at least, not to follow other countries in their restrictive policy. Hanover, also, has taken her own course; and I do not despair of the early arrival of the period when your example shall tell upon the conduct of other countries, and when they shall quote our example of relaxation as a course for their Governments in commercial affairs. I trust that this improved intercourse with foreign countries will constitute a new bond of peace: and that it will control the passions of those European Governments who still indulge themselves in the visions of war. I do hope that the friends and lovers of peace between nations will derive material strength from the example which I have advised, by remitting the impediments to commercial intercourse. But observe, if that be the effect, I think in all probability that the continuance of permanent peace will expose us to more extensive and more formidable competition with foreign countries with respect to manufactures. During war we commanded the supply of nations. Peace has introduced not only new consumers, but also formidable manufacturing interests. In order that we may retain our pre-eminence it is of the greatest importance that we neglect no opportunity of securing to ourselves those advantages by which that pre-eminence can be alone secured. Sir, I firmly believe that abundance and cheapness of provisions 280 is one of the constituents by which the continuance of manufacturing and commercial pre-eminence may be maintained. You may say the object of these observations is to flatter the love of gain, and administer merely to the desire of accumulating money. I advise this measure on no such ground. I believe that the accumulation of wealth, that is, the increase of capital, is a main clement, or at least one of the chief means by which we can retain the eminence we have so long possessed. But, I have attempted to show that abundance of provisions, and security (which is the main thing) for continued abundance, not only contributes to the accumulation of wealth, but that it is directly conducive to the alleviation of public burdens, by increasing the revenue; to the alleviation of local burdens by diminishing crimes; but, above all, that it is conducive to the spread of morality, by diminishing those temptations to crime which arise from distress and poverty. I ask you, therefore, to give your consent to this measure, not upon any narrow view that its principle is connected with the accumulation of wealth—I ask you to give your consent to this measure on far higher principles; on the principle that, incumbered as we are by heavy taxes, that, solicitous as we are to provide for the public credit, we feel the true source of increased revenue to be increased comfort, an increased taste for luxury, and that unseen and voluntary taxation which arises from increased consumption. I ask you to consent to this upon proof advanced to you, that abundance and cheapness lead to diminished crime and increased morality. I could adduce to you many instances of the beneficial effects of this comparative cheapness. It is said there is no danger of scarcity, and why then should we interfere? Now, what is scarcity? It is a relative term. That which is not scarcity to us may be scarcity to others. But remember this, the lapse of three years of abundance is an important era in the history of a country. Three years of abundance and comparative cheapness of provisions, have materially altered the circumstances and feelings of the people. That which was not scarcity in the hard winter of 1842, would be scarcity now. That which was not then a denial of comforts, though they might almost amount to necessaries, would be felt severely now. There would be much more real suffering felt in 1846, after the enjoyment of three years of comparative abundance, by being now put upon a short allowance, than there would have 281 been in 1842. Then, I advise you not to check the genial growth of that prosperity we have now enjoyed for three years. Do not mistake me. I am not insensible that that prosperity has arisen from the favour of Providence towards us. I do not say that without importing grain from foreign countries you could not have a sufficient supply; but I entreat you well to consider whether or no that should constitute a reason why, if there should be danger of an insufficient supply at home, we should not remedy the evil as well as we can by admitting imports from abroad. I was much struck the other day by an illustration afforded on this subject. I was told that in one battalion of the Guards, in this town, there had been a great increase in the application for furloughs by the private soldiers, within the last three years; and that the furloughs granted in 1845 were nearly double the usual number. Upon inquiring the reason, I was told that the friends of these soldiers were in so much more comfortable circumstances than formerly, that the soldiers were continually invited to pass some time in the country with their relations, and that they availed themselves of these invitations. Now, this may be comparatively a trivial circumstance, but it seemed to me a striking instance of the moral advantage of a period of abundance in facilitating the intercourse of kindly feelings, and permitting those who are divided, and could not do so in periods of difficulty and distress, to revisit their homes, and return, probably, with feelings better qualifying them for the performance of their duties. I was asked the other night why I was disposed to disturb that state of prosperity which I have said exists? "If," it is said, "there has been during the last three years comparative abundance and prosperity, which have coexisted with the Com Law of 1842, where is the necessity of disturbing that arrangement?" My answer is, that up to the month of October last all these indications of prosperity did exist; but in that month, and three or four months subsequently, there has been a considerable change. I find a passage in one of the trade circulars from Manchester which explains this state of things, and which I will read to the House. It is dated the 22d of January, 1846. It says—The anticipations which we ventured to make in our last annual circular, as to the prospects of the year we had then just entered upon, were fully realized for the first nine months, during which 282 we enjoyed not only a continuance of the prosperity of 1844, but had reached to a degree unexampled in our manufacturing history—extending to every branch, and acting powerfully on the social condition of our teeming population. The causes which combined to produce this state of things were, as in the former year, steadiness of prices, with a demand constantly keeping pace with the supply; low rates for the raw material, abundance of money at a moderate rate of interest, with a discriminating and careful management of our banking institutions; regular and full employment for all classes of our operatives, with cheap and abundant food, and the absence of any political event threatening either our domestic peace or foreign relations; to which may be added, the wise and comprehensive fiscal measures of the last Session of Parliament. Unhappily, we have lately experienced a reverse in several of these elements of prosperity, which, acting on each other, led to a state of embarrassment under which we laboured for the last three months of the year, and are still labouring, though in a mitigated form.Our home trade demand, up to the end of September, was on an unprecedentedly large scale; but, from the causes above-mentioned, an almost total suspension took place for the two succeeding months, which have been followed since by a moderate business only.We are not, therefore, to conclude that these indications of prosperity continued. I admit that this change since the month of October is one of the grounds on which I have adopted the conclusion to which I have come. These, Mr. Greene, are the proposals which, on the part of the Government, I offer for the adjustment—the ultimate adjustment of this question. I cannot appeal to any ungenerous feeling—I cannot appeal to fear, or to anything which will be calculated to exercise an undue sway over the reason of those to whom these proposals are made. There may be agitation, but it is not one which has reached the great mass of the labouring classes, there being among them a total absence of all excitement. I admit it is perfectly possible that, without danger to the public peace, we might continue the existing duties; therefore I cannot appeal to fear as a ground for agreeing to these proposals. But this I do say—there has been a great change in the opinion of the great mass of the community with respect to the Corn Laws. There is between the master manufacturers and the operative classes a common conviction that did not prevail in 1842 or at a former period—that it will be for the public advantage that these laws should be repealed; and while there is that union of sentiment between them, there appears at the same time to be a general contentment and loyalty, and a confidence in your justice and impartiality. As far as I can judge, the example which you set in taking on 283 yourselves great pecuniary burdens, in order that you might relieve the labouring classes from the taxation they are subject to, has produced the deepest impression and the most beneficial effect on their minds; and they have a perfect confidence, as I said before, in your justice and wisdom. But because this is a time of peace; because there is a perfect calm, except so far as an agitation among the principal manufacturers may interrupt it; because you are not subject to any coercion whatever, I entreat you to bear in mind that the aspect of affairs may change; that we may have to contend with worse harvests than that of this year; and that it may be wise to avail ourselves of the present moment to effect an adjustment which I believe must be ultimately made, and which could not be long delayed without engendering feelings of animosity between different classes of Her Majesty's subjects. From a sincere conviction that the settlement is not to be delayed—that, accompanied with the precautionary measures to which I have referred, it will not inflict injury on the agricultural interest—from those feelings I should deeply lament, exclusively on public grounds, the failure of the attempt which, at the instance of Her Majesty's Government, I have made on this occasion to recommend to your calm and dispassionate consideration these proposals, with no other feeling or interest in the ultimate issue than that they may, to use the words of Her Majesty's Speech, conduce to the promotion "of friendly feelings between different classes, to provide additional security for the continuance of peace, and to maintain contentment and happiness at home by increasing the comforts and bettering the condition of the great body of the people." The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving the following Resolution:—
§ Resolved—That in lieu of the Duties now payable on the importation of Corn, Grain, Meal, or Flour, there shall be paid until the 1st day of February, 1849, the following Duties, viz.
§ If imported from any Foreign Country;
|Whenever the average price of Wheat, made up and published in the manner required by Law, shall be, for every quarter—|
|Under 48s. the Duty shall be, for every quarter||10||0|
|48s. and under 49s.||9||0|
|49s. and under 50s.||8||0|
|50s. and under 51s.||7||0|
|51s. and under 52s.||6||0|
|52s. and under 53s.||5||0|
|53s. and upwards||4||0|
|BARLEY, BEER, OR BIGG:—|
|Whenever the average price of Barley, made up and published in the manner required by Law, shall be, for every quarter—|
|Under 26s. the Duty shall be, for every quarter||5||0|
|26s. and under 27s.||4||6|
|27s. and under 28s.||4||0|
|28s. and under 29s.||3||6|
|29s. and under 30s.||3||0|
|30s. and under 31s.||2||6|
|31s. and upwards||2||0|
|Whenever the average price of Oats, made up and published in the manner required by Law, shall be, for every quarter—|
|Under 18s. the Duty shall be, for every quarter||4||0|
|18s. and under 19s.||3||6|
|19s. and under 20s.||3||0|
|20s. and under 21s.||2||6|
|21s. and under 22s.||2||0|
|22s. and upwards||1||6|
§ >RYE, PEASE, AND BEANS:—
§ For every quarter;
§ A Duty equal in amount to the Duty payable on a quarter of Barley.
§ WHEAT MEAL, AND FLOUR:—
§ For every barrel, being one hundred and ninety-six pounds;
§ A Duty equal in amount to the Duty payable on thirty-eight gallons and a half of Wheat.
§ BARLEY MEAL:—
§ For every quantity of pounds;
§ A Duty equal in amount to the Duty payable on a quarter of Barley.
§ For every quantity of one hundred and eighty-one pounds and a half;
§ A Duty equal in amount to the Duty payable on a quarter of Oats.
§ RYE MEAL:—
§ For every quantity of pounds;
§ A Duty equal in amount to the Duty payable on a quarter of Rye.
§ PEA MEAL AND BEAN MEAL:—
§ For every quantity of pounds;
§ A Duty equal in amount to the Duty payable on a quarter of Pease or Beans.
|If the produce of and imported from any British Possession out of Europe;|
|Wheat, Barley, Beer or Bigg, Oats, Rye, Pease, and Beans, the Duty shall be for every quarter||1||0|
|Wheat, Meal, Barley Meal, Oat Meal, Rye Meal, Pea Meal, and Bean Meal, the Duty shall be for every cwt.||0||4½|
§ And that from and after the said 1st day of February, 1849, there shall be paid the following Duties, viz.
|Wheat, Barley, Beer or Bigg, Oats, Rye, Pease, and Beans, for every quarter||1||0|
|Wheat Meal, Barley Meal, Oat Meal, Rye Meal, Pea Meal, and Bean Meal, for every cwt.||0||4½|
§ SIR R. PEEL
again rose and said: I wish to fix such a day for the discussion 285 as will be most convenient, ond at the same time give ample time for consideration. [Several hon. MEMBERS: "Monday, Monday."] We have no wish to hurry on the discussion. Perhaps this day week will be a convenient day. My speech will, no doubt, be in the possession of every one to-morrow morning.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
said, there was one point on which it was important that the public should be informed. Although the right hon. Gentleman's statement was commercial, it was impossible not to see that the ultimate object involved financial considerations also. He wished to hear from the right hon. Baronet in some general terms the amount of the burden which it was proposed to lay on the country by the direct expenditure which it was intended should be assumed by the State. It appeared that not only was there to be a great remission of revenue, but also a direct expenditure of about 600,000l. a year in the aggregate, of the different items.
MR. S. O'BRIEN
entreated the right hon. Baronet to consider whether that day fortnight would be too soon to take the discussion? [Hon. MEMBER: No!] He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the agricultural interest was the least able to assemble together, and as to which the longest time was required for those connected with it to ascertain the opinions of the general body. The right hon. Baronet had referred to some advantages that were to accompany the proposal. Whatever opinion the farmers of England might form upon that head, it was impossible that their voice could reach the Legislature in less than a fortnight. That House was now in its fifth year, and, whatever changes there might be in the opinion of those who came into power immediately on its assembling, it was most important for those who might be prepared to support the right hon. Gentleman, even though they might run counter to the opinion of their constituents, to be no parties to hurrying a measure of this kind through the House before the opinions of the constituencies could be known. Considering the time it had been usual to give for the consideration of measures of similar importance, surely one little fortnight was not too much to ask for this. And he was sorry that the other side, who said that they had all the argument and popular feeling with them, should seem to shrink from discussion by opposing that request.
§ MR. HUME
could assure the right hon. 286 Baronet that that side of the House were far from being afraid of discussion, and, if the hon. Member wished to postpone discussion till he heard from the provinces, he would find himself in a wrong position. He was in that House to judge for his constituents, not as a mere delegate. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would meet the discussion manfully and fairly, and not try to postpone nor to obstruct the measure.
§ SIR R. PEEL
Whatever may be the differences of opinion on this measure, I hope the proceedings will be allowed to pass to-night without any discussion of an angry character, and that the hon. Member for Montrose will forgive me if I ask him to allow me to conduct my own case. The success of measures of this kind will not be promoted by angry remarks. Monday next was suggested by some hon. Members behind me connected with agriculture, and I named a day beyond that. The hon. Member will, I am sure, see that the decision on this measure will be founded on the opinions of the great body of the community. My wish is that it should undergo the fullest discussion. On the other hand, great inconvenience would ensue to the country, particularly to the agricultural interest and those, who trade in corn, from not knowing what the result is likely to be. To meet the wishes of the hon. Member I would propose Thursday week.
§ MR. MILES
also urged a longer delay. He spoke not merely for the agricultural interest, but for other interests which were greatly interested in the question of the Corn Laws. Those interests had not the voice in the Legislature which agriculture had, and therefore it was highly necessary that they should have time thoroughly to weigh the new proposals. Not only for the sake of that portion of the community with which he (Mr. Miles) was connected as a representative, but for the sake of all classes, he trusted that the right hon. Baronet would see the propriety of giving some definite estimate of the results which were expected to attend the proposed reductions, and of the amount which would become chargeable on the Consolidated Fund.
§ SIR R. PEEL
I need not say all my feelings are in favour of affording the fullest opportunity to every party of expressing their views; I can have no objection to resume the subject on Monday week instead of this day week; and, so far as the Go- 287 vernment is concerned, I shall then feel it my duty to proceed de die in diem. I have so often been disappointed in making estimates of revenue that I am unwilling to enter on any hastily in the present instance. My calculations of the loss on Customs and Excise in consequence of the reductions formerly made were not verified by the fact; for it appears that the revenue on the particular articles in favour of which these reductions were made, increased so much more rapidly than a Chancellor of the Exchequer could calculate, that I am unwilling to make an estimate at present as to the effect of the reductions which I now propose. The reductions made in former years have led to such increased consumption, that the estimated loss had not occurred. To the question of my hon. Friend, so far as regards an estimate of the results which are expected to flow from the proposed reductions, I cannot give an answer. The charge upon the Consolidated Fund which I propose will amount to 530,000l.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
It is not my intention to enter at present into the subject before the House. I wish only to understand whether, when this discussion recommences, the other Resolutions with regard to manufactured articles will be considered immediately after the Resolutions with regard to Corn, or whether we shall proceed to dispose of the Corn Resolutions before entering upon the consideration of the others?
§ SIR R. PEEL
All I can say is, that whatever course can be suggested to enable the House to pronounce its judgment most effectually on the propositions I have submitted, would be by far the most acceptable course to Her Majesty's Government. If it be thought advisable to take the Corn Resolutions into consideration first, to that I will most readily assent. I will take any course which may best enable those who dissent from the Resolutions to bring out their dissent—which may be most conducive to the expression of its opinion by the House—on some great leading principle.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, that he must, at any time, feel considerable difficulty in dealing with so complex a question as that which had been submitted to the House by the right hon. Baronet; and though he rose with the greatest hesitation and diffidence, yet he trusted he might be permitted to ask for some indulgence, in order that he might be enabled to explain his opinions upon a proposed measure of such 288 importance as that which had been propounded to the House. He must assure them that he felt the greatest pain at the position in which he was placed, because he found himself impelled by a conscientious sense of public duty, which was wholly irresistible, to offer his humble opinions in opposition to those which had been expressed by Her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of that Government, would, he was sure, do him the justice to admit that he had not had a more faithful, or a more staunch supporter than himself in that House. He had supported the right hon. Baronet, not only since he had entered office in the year 1841, but also, in 1837, when he led the Opposition from the benches before him—indeed ever since the year 1830—and never, until the present moment, did he feel cause for regret. He had supported him, even by anticipation, in the changes which he had made in the Corn Laws in 1842, as he was satisfied that, at that period, the agricultural interest could well afford to submit to some relaxation of the protection they then enjoyed, and he had, under that conviction, gone so far as to prepare his constituents for the coming change. He had supported the right hon. Baronet, too, in the alterations he had made in the Tariff—in all those reductions of duties on the admission of foreign articles—and, lastly, he had supported him, and with still greater confidence, on the Canada Corn Bill. But in all these changes, with the exception of those which appeared to be justified by the arguments which were brought forward, he had kept steadily in view the principle of protection to British industry and British agriculture. He had never permitted himself to lose sight of that great principle. In all his addresses to his constituents—and they had been frequent—he had never lost sight of that great principle, and had never abstained from enforcing the value of it, and with the greater confidence, not only because he had felt that he had the sanction of the support of the Minister in regard to those questions to which he had referred, but that he had the support of truth, of justice, and of right, which he still more highly valued. To the very last moment, then, he had continued his confidence in Her Majesty's Government. A meeting called by the friends and supporters of protection had been recently held in his own county, which was presided over by a noble Duke (Cleveland) with 289 whom he was on terms of intimacy and friendship, and whose services in the cause of domestic agriculture would be at once acknowledged and appreciated by all. He (Mr. Liddell) had been invited to attend that meeting by personal friends; but so resolved had he been to remain unfettered—so determined had he been not to pledge himself blindly in reference to measures of which he knew nothing—that, in spite of all the solicitations of his friends, he abstained from presenting himself to the meeting. And even now he felt himself at liberty, if, indeed, he could do so in honour to himself and in justice to his own feelings, even now he felt himself at liberty to support the proposition of the right hon. Baronet. But when he heard, on the first night of the Session, the language of the noble Mover of the Address in reply to Her Majesty's Speech, as well as that of the right hon. Baronet, in which he formally abandoned, as no longer tenable in argument, the principle of protection; he felt that the time had arrived when he could no longer look forward with hope and confidence in regard to measures of this character. Nothing could possibly be more painful than the position in which he now found himself placed; and he trusted that he might be permitted to have that opportunity accorded to him which was ever afforded to a Member under such circumstances, of stating the reasons which compelled him now to take a course so painful to his own feelings, but, at the same time, the only course which appeared to him to be consistent with justice and with honour. He was perfectly ready to admit that the first question which ought to occupy the attention of every lover of his country was the great and important question that the poor must be fed. That question he had never lost sight of. It ought, as he had said, to be the first question with every statesman; and unless he could show, and to his own satisfaction, that the support of the principles he advocated was consistent with that great question, he felt that he should not be justified in thus pressing his opinions upon the attention of the House. The right hon. Baronet had admitted a distinction between the policy and the justice of continuing protection to the agricultural interest. The policy of protection, he had said, he could not any longer undertake to defend. He had urged that he could not any longer have refused to entertain the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers), 290 as regarded the question of the policy of protection. In regard to the question of the justice of protection, the right hon. Baronet had admitted the propriety and necessity of compensation. Now, let them consider for a moment those two questions; and, first, with regard to the policy of protection. With respect to the necessity of providing for the maintenance of food for the poor, he (Mr. Liddell) still held that the policy of protection could be defended on the ground that, under a system of protection a regular, cheap, and constant supply of food had, for many years past, been provided. And could it be denied that protection had been defended on these grounds by the right hon. Baronet and his Colleagues? Or was it possible to deny that on these same grounds the policy of protection could be defended at the present moment? The policy of protection had been a principle in operation for a long series of years, and during that period this country had been threatened with scarcity of a worse description than that which was to be apprehended from the present failure of the potato crop. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, in a most able speech on the subject of protection, had, on a former occasion, shown that under the Corn Laws, at no period had corn been required in this country that it did not come in—that at one period as many as three millions of quarters had been imported in less than ten months; and there was no reason whatever, why, under the provisions of the existing law, we should not, if we required it, be again able to obtain as much, if not a greater supply than that, from foreign countries. At all events he had as yet heard nothing advanced in any quarter which showed that such was not the case. Let the House look again at the improvements which had taken place in the agriculture of this country—at the amount of capital that had been expended in the improved cultivation of the soil. And who were the parties that must first be the sufferers if any great change should take place in that range of prices which had enabled them hitherto to pursue their occupation with profit? But he would not rely on his own opinion alone; but would remind the House of a speech made by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) in 1842—the period at which he introduced the present law—and who then made use of the following language:— 291The protection which I propose to retain I do not retain for the especial protection of any particular class—protection cannot be vindicated on that principle. The only protection which can be vindicated is that protection which is consistent with the general welfare of all classes in the country. My belief, and the belief of my Colleagues, is, that it is important for this country—that it is of the highest importance to the welfare of all classes in this country, that you should take care that the main sources of your supply of corn should be derived from domestic agriculture; while we also feel that any additional price which you may pay in effecting that object is an additional price which cannot be vindicated as a bonus or premium to agriculture, but only on the ground of its being advantageous to the country at large.Now, in those principles he cordially concurred. Those were the grounds on which he advocated the principle of protection—and notwithstanding all that had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, he confessed he saw no reason why from those principles they should depart. Now, what occurred to produce this somewhat sudden change in the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman? What was it induced him, in consequence of the success which he urged had attended the relaxation of the restrictions on commerce which he had effected by his Tariff—what was it that inclined him towards a still greater removal of such restrictions? The immediate cause, he had told them, was the failure of the potato crop in Ireland. Let him (Mr. Liddell) assure the right hon. Baronet that he had not the slightest desire or intention to address to him the language of reproach, and that what he urged was uttered more in sorrow than in anger; but he could not but feel that the remedy which he proposed for the relief of the suffering poor of Ireland—for the cotter who depended for subsistence on the few potatoes which he grew in the patch of ground attached to his home—could not be in any degree a benefit to them. He could not see that they would derive any advantage from the opening of the ports. If, on the other hand, they could supply the means of a considerable expenditure of money and employment of labour by undertaking public works in Ireland, in such case he could conceive that much advantage would arise to the poor of that country. But he repeated he was at a loss to conceive how the labouring population of Ireland were to be benefited by the contemplated measures of the right hon. Baronet. They well knew that, in former years, the failure of the potatoes in Ireland had been the cause of much anxiety, and that on those occasions ex- 292 traordinary steps had been taken to relieve the distress that ensued, great public subscriptions, aided by the Treasury, having been set on foot—steps which might have been repeated in the present instance, and with a success, in his opinion, greater than before. Now with regard to what the right hon. Baronet had stated in respect of the success which had attended his own measures. He was not prepared to follow him through the whole extent of his arguments; but surely the right hon. Baronet could not intend to urge that the prosperous state of prices that had prevailed, and the activity which had displayed itself, were the consequence of those large importations of foreign produce to which he had referred. It was scarcely possible that he could mean that. All that the right hon. Baronet could fairly urge was that there were other circumstances which, acting concurrently with his own measures, had, together with them, contributed greatly to the improvement and prosperity of the country. In that he was ready to concur with the right hon. Baronet; but he could not consent to admit his argument to the extent to which he had taken it. He would draw a parallel between his arguments and those used on the other side, when the right hon. Gentleman first introduced these changes in the protective laws. In 1842, he would perhaps recollect, the greatest disappointment was expressed by the Gentlemen opposite, who said that in spite of the distress which prevailed, the right hon. Baronet would continue the obnoxious Corn Law impost of which they then complained. The answer of the right hon. Baronet was, that he admitted the distress, but denied that it was the result of the law of which they complained. Other causes, and particularly the great falling-off of our export trade to the United States, were fairly alleged by the right hon. Baronet in explanation of the existing distress. Surely, in the same manner it might now be argued—at a time when the right hon. Baronet took credit for the success of his measures—that other causes might also have operated in producing that prosperous condition of the country in which he was sure they all rejoiced, and which he, for his own part, never remembered to have seen equalled; for he never recollected a period when wages were so high and prices so reasonable, or when the labourer enjoyed to such an extent the necessaries, he might almost say the luxuries of life, 293 as he did at the present time. Now, if the right hon. Baronet could show, in connexion with his own arguments, and in corroboration of the views he had taken of these matters, that the price of grain at this time showed any indication of a supervening scarcity, it would have certainly been a strong argument in favour of the opinions which he had brought forward. For how did the right hon. Baronet vindidicate the change which he made in the Tariff, in regard to the introduction of foreign cattle? He showed what were the prices of meat then, how great a rise in price had taken piace in the markets, and how desirable it had become that the people of this country should be supplied more liberally with animal food; and a majority of the House supported him in his views upon the measure he proposed. Now, let this apply to the present price of grain. In 1842, in introducing the new Corn Law, the right hon. Baronet endeavoured to fix upon some average price as that which would be remunerative to the agriculturists, and, at the same time, satisfactory to the consumer. He said that, taking the average of seven years previously, it was found that the price of wheat had been 56s. 8d. per quarter; that the average price of ten previous years had been 56s. 11d.; but that in the latter calculation was included that of the last three years in which corn had been higher in price than it was desirable to see it. And the right hon. Baronet concluded that, on the whole, the price ought to oscillate between 54s. and 58s.; that an average price between those two figures would be a reasonable average. Now, he (Mr. Liddell) had looked that day at the last Gazette, and he found that, for six weeks ending with the 15th day of January, 1846, the average price amounted to the precise sum of 56s. 8d.; and when the price of wheat was at this fair, reasonable, and just average—were they to be frightened by an apprehension of scarcity, from the maintenance of a system of protection under which all the best interests of the country continued to thrive? He feared, however, that he had detained the House too long with these considerations in regard to the policy of the right hon. Baronet's proposed measures. The right hon. Gentleman had, however, given them his hopes of what would be the effects of his proposed change; and he must permit him (Mr. Liddell) to give him his fears. He had seen an un- 294 bounded improvement in the cultivation of the land; and in the North of England, in the rich country on the border, he had seen miles upon miles of draining tiles laid down: and how, let him ask, was the agriculturist to look for profit and return for expenditure of this kind, if the security which the principle of protection afforded him was to be taken from him? He trusted, with the feeling of one of a somewhat sanguine temperament, that the hopes expressed by the right hon. Baronet might be realized; but he felt, at the same time, that he could not desert that great interest which he was sent to that House to protect; and he asked the right hon. Baronet, if any considerable extent of land should, by the operation of these contemplated measures, be thrown out of cultivation, who would be the parties that would be the principal sufferers from such a calamity? Those parties would not be the owners of large estates—those great proprietors who were daily vituperated by the Anti-Corn-Law League as having no other interest at heart but their own—but those, on the other hand, who, not having any very large amount of capital, should have expended all they had in the improvement of their property: these would be chief sufferers—with those small landowners who could not carry on their agricultural pursuits without availing themselves of every improvement, they would be the parties who would feel the change; and he (Mr. Liddell) only feared that a transfer of property far greater in extent than the right hon. Baronet seemed to imagine would take place—and if that transfer should take place, he for one, would not live to hear the reproach of those whom he represented in that House; and who would, if he supported these measures, and such should be the lamentable result, justly accuse him of having caused their ruin, instead of taking, as he ought, means to ensure to such parties the enjoyment of their property. He would not appear before his constituents in any other character than that of an honest and conscientious man. If he could conscientiously give his support to the right hon. Baronet in these measures, he could easily find abundant reasons for giving him the same support he has hitherto done: the only objection he had to do so was, that it would not be honest. But there were other points to be considered in connexion with this subject. He saw a great reduction likely to ensue in the means of doing good, by a reduction of the income of the clergy. Were the clergy—who in general were not 295 an overpaid body—prepared to undergo the loss of income which would result from the withdrawal of the protection now afforded to agricultural produce? He saw in the future diminution of the revenue of the clergy, a strong objection to the proposed measures. He also apprehended that those measures would cause a great falling-off in the supply of home-grown corn. If that would be their effect, then all those arguments drawn from the prosperity of the country by the right hon. Baronet, in favour of relaxation, would tell with fourfold power against himself; for a diminution in the supply of homegrown produce must be attended with a diminution in the demand for agricultural labour, a thronging of the labour market, and a placing at the disposal of the manufacturing interests a greater amount of labour at reduced wages. These were among the fears and apprehensions which he could not help entertaining; and he thought he only did his duty in standing up in his place in Parliament, and placing those fears and apprehensions before the right hon. Baronet. It was altogether out of his power to go through the long list of articles from which the right hon. Baronet intended to withdraw protection. No doubt a great number of them had been selected with his accustomed judgment, and the removal of the duty from many of them would give great satisfaction to the country. He particularly concurred in the policy of placing the whole of our colonial possessions on the same footing as Canada. He regarded the Canada Corn Bill as a far-seeing act of policy. Why did he so regard it? Because, so far from its being an abandonment of the protective system, it was a means of extending it to the remotest parts of our distant colonies. That measure not only cast the broad ægis of protection over the Colonies themselves, but over the seas which connected us with them. Our fleets and commercial marine derived important advantages from that measure. The shipping interests at large regarded that law as most favourable, inasmuch as it occasioned a considerably increased demand for the employment of our commercial fleet, and caused, together with other circumstances, during the last eighteen months, a greater improvement in British shipping than had taken place since the changes made in the navigation laws in 1826, by Mr. Huskisson. In the wise policy of the right hon. Baronet, in extending the same system to the whole of our Colonies that had been adopted with regard to Canada, 296 he most cordially concurred. He was not, however, reconciled by any arguments he had heard, to the announcement that on the 1st of February, 1849, the whole of the present Corn Laws were to be repealed, and wheat and other grain admitted duty free—a limited protection, gradually diminishing, being retained up to that period. Neither was he reconciled to those changes by the proposed compensation. What was the nature of that compensation? The right hon. Baronet, in speaking on that point, commenced with the unprofitable and wasteful expenditure on the highways. He said there were 15,000 local surveyors, who spent their time in mismanaging the roads and wasting the rates; but did we want a repeal of the Corn Laws to remedy such an evil? In consequence of a communication made to him by a noble Friend of his, now a distinguished ornament of the Upper House (Earl Grey), the last act he did before leaving the country was to make arrangements, which were now being carried out, for the consolidation of the highway trusts, in the whole of his district, under one surveyor. Those changes in the existing law did not necessarily require an alteration in the Corn Laws. The right hon. Baronet would find great difficulties in a compulsory enactment for appointing district surveyors. It would be practically impossible for any one surveyor to superintend a district commensurate with each of the Poor Law Unions. No one man could undertake the duty of surveying so extensive a district as many of those Unions comprised. It was, therefore, better to leave to the parishes and townships the task of making their own arrangements, and appointing their own surveyors, than, by compulsory enactments, to subject them to the inconvenience of a system which could not be carried out. With respect to the law of settlement, what the right hon. Baronet said was most just, humane, and proper, but it was wrong to mix it up with the Corn Laws. As to the advancing of public loans for agricultural improvements, he (Mr. Liddell) had strong objections to such a course. Indeed, such a course must be altogether unnecessary; for persons able to find a satisfactory security for the loan, would always find money enough in the present state of the money market. But was it necessary to repeal the Corn Laws in order to give public loans for the encouragement of agriculture? There was no material change to be made with respect to the 297 poor rates. The charging on the Consolidated Fund of the expenses of public prisons, costs of public prosecutions, medical relief of the poor, and education of children—amounting altogether to 500,000l.—were also enumerated among the proposed methods of compensation. Some of these measures might be recommended, and others objected to; but he did not think they should be taken in the light of compensation to the parties affected most materially by the proposed changes. He had now stated why he could not conscientiously support the right hon. Baronet in those changes. His (Mr. Liddell's) opinion was, that the country ought to be appealed to before this question was settled. It was a question of such great importance, that it ought to have the deliberate consideration and be stamped by the approval of the country, before the Government attempted to carry it through Parliament. He was convinced of the correctness of the views he entertained on this question, and therefore could not join in the popular cry, so pertinaciously dinned into the ears of the masses by the Anti-Corn-Law League. He was not afraid of meeting those gentlemen on the question on any proper occasion. He knew he was threatened with a serious opposition in the county he had the honour of representing, and that a noble Lord, high in rank and occupying no less a position than that of Lord Lieutenant of the county, did not think it inconsistent with the dignity of a Peer of Parliament to make a canvassing speech against him in the face of his constituents, and in behalf of his own son. Upon the propriety of such a proceeding, he should forbear to make any comments in that House. But whatever might be the inconvenience that might result to him personally—to whatever dangers or difficulties he might be exposed on account of the opinions he entertained on this great question—he should never present himself to his constituents as an advocate for popular favour by supporting measures of which he did not approve. He should again appear before his constituents as the honest advocate of those opinions on which alone he had asked for and received their support.
§ CAPTAIN ROUS
said, that when the right hon. Baronet was surrounded by such questionable friends—when in the neighbourhood of Gentlemen who had not yet made up their minds as to which side of the House they would honour with their notice—it might not be unacceptable for 298 him (Captain Rous) to declare that he would support him, and the measures he proposed, heart and soul; and he would do so, because he was satisfied they were measures for the welfare of every class of Her Majesty's subjects. On many occasions he had opposed the right hon. Baronet, but in the general scheme of his policy he had almost invariably concurred; and what was now submitted to the consideration of the House, he could most cordially approve. Some of the Gentlemen on that (the Conservative) side of the House, had been in the habit of voting without reference to the reasons assigned for or against the proposition before the House. He recollected two instances in which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stafford O'Brien) behind him, had gone first into one gallery and then into another, on a division, without at all caring about the justice or injustice of the case. Last Session, when the question was before the House whether Australian wheat should be admitted on the same terms as Canadian, the Gentlemen who now advocated protection voted against the admission of Australian wheat, but not one of them uttered a single argument in justification of their conduct. He regretted being in opposition to many of his old friends and relatives upon this question; but ever since last September he was so convinced of the necessity of abandoning the protection system, that he could not help rising and expressing his opinions on the present occasion. He also regretted to be in opposition to his old friends the Suffolk farmers, who had always supported him, and over whose county he might at this moment, if there were a vacancy, walk with the greatest ease. He would not, however, represent any body of men, unless he went heart and soul with them. He recollected making, in 1842, in that House, his maiden speech in favour of the Corn Laws. He was then trying to be very facetious on the subject of the 8s. duty, which he did not think applicable to the emergency of the case. When the potato crop failed in Ireland, and in parts of England when the destruction of the wheat crop was threatened, he was satisfied that something was necessary to be done for the salvation of the country. If the population of this country were increasing beyond calculation, while the area of land was limited, would it not be impossible to provide them with a necessary quantity of food if protection were not removed? He had heard something about 299 2,000,000 of acres being thrown out of cultivation in the event of free trade. ["More than that."] He had no fear of any such thing taking place, for he was well assured, and all the country Gentlemen must be aware, that so long as there was a labourer in the parish—and labourers there always would be—the land would never be left uncultivated. But the country Gentlemen, who were in the habit of saying so, did not seem to be aware that there was no labourer who would not pay 50 per cent. more for land than its estimated value, and cultivate it with his own hands. Arable land would always produce three times the amount of food of grass land, and that was the best argument against its being thrown out of cultivation. But if there were unemployed labourers in the country, the land would not go out of cultivation, for they would cultivate it on their own account. It could not be expected that he should, that night, speak on the subject; but as he had seen hon. Members on all sides of him, who had come to the House ready primed with a speech before they knew, or could know, upon what they were to speak, or what was the measure they had determined to reject—when he saw those hon. Gentlemen, and heard them declare that they would use all their efforts and all their skill to defeat that measure, whether justifiably or not—he would not have done his duty as a man and as a Member of that House, if he had not stood up, and used every constitutional means in his power, to secure to the proposition of the right hon. Baronet a full and fair hearing. The hon. and gallant Gentleman brought his observations to a close, by saying that in the event of the right hon. Gentleman failing in his plans, of a dissolution of Parliament, and of the noble Lord the Member for London becoming Prime Minister, he (Captain Rous) was prepared, and would be glad to give to that noble Lord the same support which he now offered to the right hon. Baronet.
MR. S. O'BRIEN
remarked that as he was the Gentleman behind the hon. and gallant Member, who had been alluded to as having voted without giving reasons for so doing, he (Mr. O'Brien) wished to remind the hon. and gallant Member, that having reasons to give, and the propriety of giving them, were matters of distinct consideration. If, however, the hon. and gallant Captain wished to serve the right hon. Baronet, he (Captain Rous) would not allude to former votes or sentiments—he 300 would let bygones be bygones. The allusions to past votes and former opinions could not be very satisfactory to the right hon. Gentleman. In reference to the past, none of them had great reason to be satisfied. The hon. and gallant Gentleman alluded with apparent pleasure to the facetiousness which he had exercised on the 8s. duty; but the recollection of what had passed since the last election could hardly be satisfactory to those who on the other side of the House had supported that duty; nor could he (Mr. O'Brien) think that those on the Ministerial benches had much reason to rejoice in the pleasures of memory. The hon. Member for Stockport might rejoice, perhaps, that his hour of triumph had come; but that triumph had been greatly marred, inasmuch as the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) had said over and over again that not one of his (Mr. Cobden's) arguments had had the least effect on his (Sir Robert Peel's) mind. He (Mr. S. O'Brien) said this not only in reference to their want of effect on the right hon. Gentleman, but also to their want of effect on the country. The hon. Member for Stockport said the protectionists were stupid in mind, because they were not converted by his arguments; but it was a remarkable fact that almost the sole point of identity between them (the protectionists) and the right hon. Baronet was that particular structure of mind—that idiosyncrasy—which prevented them from being accessible to the arguments of the hon. Member for Stockport. In this, almost the sole point of agreement between the right hon. Baronet and the country gentlemen (veteres revocamus amores), the Prime Minister and the country Gentlemen were alike deficient in intellect, and alike incapable of appreciating the soundness and cogency of the hon. Member's reasoning. He did not intend to enter into the merits of this question, nor should he have risen at all were it not for the personal remarks of the hon. and gallant Member. But there was another question mooted by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hume) to which he (Mr. O'Brien) wished to allude. When he said that time ought to be given to enable hon. Members to consult the opinions of their constituents, up leaped the hon. Member in a transport of indignation, and said—"What, are we here as an assembly of delegates? Have we not the power to judge for ourselves?" But if he (Mr. O'Brien) were prepared to deal with his constituents as the hon. Mem- 301 ber had been dealing with his, he (Mr. O'Brien) might hold the hon. Member's doctrine, and find great facility in carrying on his electioneering proceedings. But the hon. Gentleman was, perhaps, the Member in that House who had shown himself most fickle with regard to constituencies. It was his (Mr. O'Brien's) design to remain with his constituency, being ambitious of no higher honour than to represent North Northamptonshire, and so long as their opinions coincided with his own, to act upon them. But if he were prepared to go all over England in search of a constituency then the doctrine of the hon. Gentleman might be more convenient. He was, in fact, the very butterfly of the representative system — a gay and gaudy creature, all sportiveness and change, who did not confine himself to borough or to county, nor even, in his adventurous daring, to this island; found sporting among the nursery gardens of Middlesex, then among the potato fields of Kilkenny—[Mr. HUME: I was never there in my life]—now among the heather of Montrose. This gay being, so fond of sunshine and variety, was surely no standard for ordinary constituents. But if Gentlemen on that (the protectionist) side of the House wished to preserve their seats they should vote according to their implied opinions; and if they had changed those opinions they would no doubt perceive it to be their duty to give back the trust committed to them by their constituents.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
asked the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government whether he had formed any estimate of what the price of wheat per quarter, or of flour equivalent to the quarter of wheat, would be in this country, when the full operation of the measure now proposed by Her Majesty's Government should have effect?
§ VISCOUNT INGESTRE
had listened with great attention to the speech of his right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel), but did not hear what provision he had made for taking the averages with respect to tithes.
§ SIR R. PEEL
said, it did not necessarily follow that, because the Corn Laws were to be altered, therefore the averages should be abandoned. They were still necessary for determining the amount of tithes.
§ VISCOUNT INGESTRE
felt it his duty to 302 make some observations in accordance with the principles he had publicly professed when he had the honour of being elected to the seat he now occupied. He did so, not from any wish he had to protect, in a selfish way, the agricultural interest, but for the sake of protection to native industry, which the right hon. Baronet had so ably advocated on a former occasion, and which he (Lord Ingestre) conceived necessary for the salvation of this country. In the speech of the right hon. Baronet tonight, and also in that made on the opening of the Session, there was not a single argument that could convince him (Lord Ingestre) of the necessity of the great organic change to which the House was now called upon to consent. The agricultural interests were only now beginning to recover, in some degree, from the prostrate condition in which they were placed by the Corn Law of 1842. The farmers were beginning to get some remuneration for their produce; the consumers had abundance of food, and labourers abundance of employment. Under such circumstances he could not see the necessity for proposing this great organic change. Neither did he see that what was called the compensation afforded any reason for supporting so great a change. It was with deep regret that he felt compelled, by a strong and paramount sense of duty, to vote against this measure of the right hon. Baronet. Since he had been in Parliament, he always looked up to the right hon. Baronet as his political leader. He had served in his ranks with fidelity—not with a servile fidelity—but with the fidelity of principle; and in now fulfilling what he believed to be his duty, nothing would induce him to join in those expressions he had heard uttered against the right hon. Baronet. He could not conceal from himself that with great energy and talent the right hon. Gentleman had governed this country; and he must ever gratefully remember the exertions which the right hon. Gentleman had used to stem the tide of revolution during the Reform agitation of 1831. The right hon. Baronet, in his speech the other evening, said he could not consent to be the pilot of the State vessel, unless perfectly unfettered. He applauded him for that. He (Lord Ingestre) had joined the ship's company, on the understanding that he was to follow that pilot; but believing that the landmarks and beacons had been removed, and that the ship was going in a false 303 course, he hoped he should not be accused of mutiny and sedition, if, having signed the articles for a different purpose, he declined being instrumental in weighing the anchor or hoisting the topsails to let the ship go down the stream of destruction. He could not avoid entering, at this early period, his protest against any diminution of protection to native industry.
§ MR. F. SCOTT
regretted exceedingly that the statement made that night by the right hon. Baronet was not such as to induce him to abandon the system of protection to native industry—a system which, under the auspices of the right hon. Gentleman, he had hitherto supported, and which he believed had in a great measure contributed materially to the prosperity of this country. He had given no pledges at the late election; but as he conceived a promise stronger than a bond, so he regarded an implied understanding as being to an honourable mind even stronger than a pledge. Had it not been that he thought he should be not acting on principle, he should have still followed in the wake of the right hon. Gentleman, whom he looked upon as the Gamaliel at whose feet he (Mr. Scott) ought to sit. Giving the right hon. Baronet credit for great talent and experience, still he was unconvinced by the evidence adduced by the right hon. Baronet of the necessity of the change he was about to introduce. At no former period since he had taken office were there higher wages for labour—was corn so steady in price, and so accessible to the poor. At no former period was there a greater degree of contentment; and this state of things was urged as a reason, not for continuing the course we had followed hitherto, but for abandoning that course. If the circumstances which produced the change in the mind of the right hon. Baronet were unable to convince his Colleagues, he (Mr. Scott) must question whether they would produce any change in the minds of hon. Members of that House. Abundance of corn grown in our own soil had, more than anything else, contributed to the welfare of the country. The new measures that were introduced, the improvements in chemistry, and the increased knowledge of geology, would greatly contribute to increase the produce of the soil; and if protection were only continued for ten years, our powers of production would have outstripped the requirements of the population. He could not conceive what had 304 produced such a revolution in the mind of the right hon. Baronet, and which induced him to come forward to call on his supporters to change their principles, and to abandon all their former proceedings. The right hon. Baronet had introduced such a variety of topics, that it was quite impossible, at once, for him (Mr. Scott) to be prepared for that reply which they unequivocally demanded. It was stated by the right hon. Baronet that the reduction of duty on articles of manufacture, had been about 50 per cent.; but he would say that the reduction which had taken place, as regarded the protection to agriculture, was even greater, and, therefore, both were not placed on equal grounds. If it were considered the vast amount of capital which was invested in the land, and which could be only reproduced by the soil, great caution should be observed in the introduction of measures which might render it useless and valueless. But he had other objections to the measures of the right hon. Baronet—because they were of an inquisitorial character, and by which the Government of the day would have it in their power to inquire into the title-deeds of property, as well as into other details of a very objectionable character. He objected to what was called compensation, because it afforded the means to make an inquisitorial search into private means and private liabilities, to meddle with all that was really interesting in that Constitution which was the glory of England. But the topics were so numerous, it was impossible to grasp them all, especially as he came down to the House without the slightest intention of then addressing it; but from what he had that evening heard from the right hon. Baronet, however willing to afford him every possible assistance in carrying out his measures, and after giving the various subjects introduced that calm and dispassionate consideration which their importance demanded, he was—and he said it with regret—obliged to oppose the right hon. Baronet. He could not do otherwise, unless he would compromise his duty to himself and to his constituents.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
was understood to say that the right hon. Baronet was well aware that the average price of wheat for the last seven years was 58s. 8d.; and presuming that the measure of the right hon. Baronet would tend to reduce the price of wheat to 45s. a quarter, it would require fully seven years for the averages 305 on which tithe was to be paid, to work it down to the 45s.; therefore for a period of seven years the agricultural interests of the country would be paying tithe on the 58s. 8d. He would, therefore, wish to ask whether the right hon. Baronet was prepared to propose any measure which would effectuate that arrangement as to the equitable payment of tithe; and which, by his legislative enactments, might be brought down to 45s. the quarter, instead of what it now was, 58s. 8d.?
§ SIR R. PEEL
said, he did not propose to make any alteration in the law as to tithes. In the first place, he was not prepared to assume that there would be any material alteration in prices. It might be so. But the same question might have been put to him in 1842; he might have been asked in 1842, when a great reduction was made in the amount of protection, whether he was prepared to make any alteration in the arrangement as to tithes. The noble Lord assumed that there would be a great falling-off in the price of corn; he did not concur in that opinion. In the case of wool, the repeal of the duty had not led to a reduction of the price of wool, and the Tariff had not occasioned a reduction of prices. He was not prepared to say, that there might not be such an increased demand for corn that it would prevent the reduction of prices. He hoped the result of the measure would be so much of increased consumption that there would not necessarily be any reduction of the prices of agricultural produce which would materially interfere with the agricultural interests. He hoped that the measure, by occasioning an increased demand for produce and for labour, would benefit the great body of the people, without any prejudice to the interests of agriculture.
§ SIR J. TYRELL
rose on the Opposition side of the House, and said, with respect to wool, he had certainly had the honour to be one of a deputation which had waited upon the right hon. Baronet, who had, as it were, put a pistol to the head of the Duke of Richmond by a direct reference to the price of wool, and had said, that as the price of wool had risen since the abolition of the duty, why might it not be expected that there would be a rise in the price of wheat? And the right hon. Baronet had repeated on one or two occasions, that by taking off the duty on wool, there had been a rise in the price of that commodity. He had always understood the principle to be, as had been stated by the hon. Member for 306 the West Riding of Yorkshire, that a certain description of foreign wool was necessary to the manufacture of coarse cloths in England; and therefore a very large importation of foreign wool was required to enable our manufacturers to manufacture a great quantity of coarse cloths; consequently, it was a fallacy on the part of the right hon. Baronet to put that as a parallel case with corn. He regretted the prolongation of the discussion, as it could not end in the House's coming to any conclusion upon that occasion; but he must say, as the right hon. Baronet had complained that his antagonists had not confined themselves to argument, but had employed vituperation, he felt, for one, as he imagined persons would have felt in the Peninsular war, if the Duke of Wellington and the greater part of his staff had gone over to Marshal Soult. Such was the feeling which he (Sir J. Tyrell), as an agricultural Member, felt at the situation he was placed in. He was satisfied that the right hon. Baronet would force his measure on the country. If the right hon. Baronet had made any appeal to the country upon this question, he would then have put the agricultural interest in the same position as before; and they would have had no ground of complaint. The Duke of Wellington, and a noble Lord who had quitted the Government, seemed to have entertained an opinion in conformity with his; they did not think that the right hon. Baronet was pursuing a course consistent with the integrity for which he had always had credit, by bringing forward such a measure as he had introduced into that House without an appeal to the country. The right hon. Baronet appeared to him to assume that the prosperity which recently prevailed in this country was owing to a relaxation of the import duties. Now the reasoning upon which the right hon. Baronet seemed to found this assumption was reasoning which he believed that the country would regard as wholly unsatisfactory and inconclusive. When the right hon. Baronet propounded that doctrine, he followed it up by a mass of figures for the purpose of showing that the lower the duties were, the higher did the prices rise. To his mind, it appeared that if that argument were good for anything, it went to show that high prices were not a bad thing for the country. But then let the House look at what he said about his Income Tax; he told those who were likely to suffer from that impost that the low prices of provisions would compen- 307 sate them for all the loss which they might possibly sustain from having to pay the Income Tax. Of course he need not remind the House that this turned out to be a complete failure. The right hon. Baronet would have done better, and the House, perhaps, would do well to consider what were the opinions entertained by merchants in the city, and by men largely connected with the monetary transactions of the community. Their opinion was, that by means of steam navigation, and by reason of railroads, the operations of trade were wholly changed in their character from what they had formerly been. Every one knew that the intercourse which Bristol and Liverpool carried on with the metropolis, had of late years been accelerated far beyond what the most visionary of mankind could in a preceding age have imagined. Trade was, therefore, no longer carried on upon the old principle. People did not in these times come up to London twice a year to lay in stock. On the contrary, that operation was performed much more frequently than twice a year; and the result was, that there were now, comparatively speaking, no locks-up of capital; and a capital of 2,000l. would now suffice for carrying on a trade which formerly required 5,000l. The obvious consequence of all this was, a vast increase of prosperity. The formation of railways gave employment to great numbers of agricultural labourers who formerly were unemployed. But the right hon. Baronet seemed to take advantage of all this, for the credit of his own system. He must say, it was rather too much for the right hon. Baronet to assert, that he was warranted in making his proposed changes; after a short experience of three years, it was too much for him to say that he had made out a case sufficient to sustain the plan that he had propounded to Parliament, and still less had he made out a case to justify him in placing the agricultural Members of that House in the humiliating position in which they found themselves at present placed. They who had so long supported the right hon. Baronet were now told that if they did not continue to support him, they must submit to be exhibited in the most disadvantageous contrast with the Gentlemen behind him—the Whigs and Radicals, if he might so call them without offence. Those Gentlemen might now enjoy an opportunity of seeing what amount of ingenuity might be exercised, for the purpose of drawing the agri- 308 cultural Members through the utmost possible quantity of dirt. If he possessed more ingenuity he could, perhaps, devise a happier phrase; but at that moment it was not in his power to use any other; nor could he, in any way, conceal from himself the fact, that the country Gentlemen were placed in a most humiliating position. He confessed it occasioned him no small surprise, that the head of the Government should have been the only Member of the Cabinet to explain the why and the wherefore of the sudden change which had come over them. The noble Lord the Member for London was in Scotland: suddenly he seemed to suffer from great irritation, as if unexpectedly afflicted with that complaint with which gentlemen in Scotland are supposed to be occasionally troubled. The noble Lord immediately wrote a letter to his constituents, whereby the right hon. Baronet was placed in a considerable fix. The right hon. Baronet said, that that was a very unfair proceeding on the part of the noble Lord. But within a short time from the issue of that letter, the noble Lord found himself commissioned to form a new Government; and then he was told by the Liberal party that he must include the hon. Member for Stockport in any new Ministerial arrangements. The Liberal party insisted upon that. ["No, no!"] He believed he could prove it; but any one could easily imagine how much that embarrassed the noble Lord, for he well knew that in acceding to such a proposition he should lose as much with the old constitutional Whigs as he could possibly gain with the Liberal party; and it was well known that under such circumstances he would not dare to appeal to the people. To proceed, however, from that to a topic entirely different, he confessed that he could not help calling the attention of the House to the fact, that the right hon. Baronet had not now dwelt on the state of the potato crop; on the contrary, his favourite topic appeared to be the allegiance which his followers owed to him. In 1841, they certainly owed him every allegiance, as the architect of their party; but now it would be a difficult matter to discover upon what ground he could claim their allegiance, seeing that his public conduct was in complete accordance with that of the hon. Member for Montrose, for he voted that black was white, and white was black. Looking, then, at all the proceedings of Ministers, he saw no reason why he should continue 309 to support what very fairly might be called the potato-Peel Government. When it was said that the great interests of the country were to be supported, he could not held regretting that it should have been thought necessary to introduce so important a speech as they had heard, with so much pompous preparation; and he confessed that he saw no reason for waiting a fortnight before he delivered his opinion with regard to the propositions of the Government. He could do it now as well as a fortnight hence. As for compromise, the measure might be a compromise with the Anti-Corn-Law-League, but certainly not with the agricultural interest of this country.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, it was well known he was not a very warm supporter of the League, yet he had received a letter from them that morning marked "private and confidential," but which, as he did not choose to consider private and confidential, he should read to the House. The hon. and gallant Member proceeded, amidst the laughter of the House, to read the following letter:—
§ "PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL.
§ "National Anti-Corn-Law League.
§ "East Surrey Parliamentary Registration.
§ "My dear Sir—The operations of the League in the qualification of free-trade electors in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Middlesex, and other trading counties, having secured a majority in favour of their principles in these important constituencies, and the whole of the qualifications made through the agency of the League having been established on claim before the Registration Courts, the Council feel justified in applying to the supporters of their principles to co-operate in extenting the application of a plan the success of which has been so satisfactorily proved.
§ "As the result of the labours of less than two months, the Free Trade Registration Society of East Surrey were enabled to establish 553 claims and objections on the last registry of that county, and, as another association also substantiated many free-trade claims and objections, it is now ascertained that a vigorous effort made to create new qualifications will rescue the representation of East Surrey out of the hands of monopoly.
§ "I am, therefore, directed by the Council to take the liberty of urging on you personally the importance of immediately obtaining a freehold qualification for East Surrey, and of qualifying competent members of your family. I would also suggest that many of your relations and friends may be induced, by your strenuous recommendation, to follow your example.
§ "As in all probability the registry of 1846–7 will be that on which the legislation of the country will turn for the ensuing seven years, and as qualifications for that registry must be completed before the 31st of January next, I need scarcely point out the importance of great despatch.
§ "Requesting the favour of an early notice of this communication,
§ "I remain, my dear Sir, very faithfully yours,
§ "(By order of the Council)
§ "A. W. PAULTON.
§ "Office of the League, 67, Fleet-street,
§ "London, 1845.
§ "P.S. On the payment of the sum of 561. at these offices, 40s. freehold qualification will be obtained for you, which will entitle you to vote for the Eastern Division of Surrey.
§ "The above sum will also include the costs of conveyance.
§ "Application may also be made to Mr. R. Russell, 82 High-Street, Southwark."
§ This delectable composition he had received that morning; and he felt that he would be guilty of exceeding great selfishness if he had not submitted it to the consideration of the House. He was unable to say whether the letter had been transmitted to him by direction, or at the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government; but if the fact were so, he begged leave to assure that personage that he had mistaken his mark in sending any such communication to him. He had not the slightest hesitation in declaring that in his opinion the conduct of the right hon. Baronet, in delivering the speech which had fallen from him that evening, was such as to excite the disgust and indignation of the British public. He trusted that the English people would combine as one man in an effort to make the Prime Minister understand how odious to them were his proceedings. He would, at some future day, avail himself of a more fitting opportunity of expressing in detail his opinions on this subject. On the present occasion, he would not trespass at any length upon the attention of the House, but would sit down, contenting himself with this simple observation, that a greater insult—a grosser indignity—a more audacious mockery—had never been attempted to be put upon the House of Commons, even by the right hon. Baronet himself, than that which was conveyed by the whole tone, tenor, and matter of the hon. Baronet's speech that evening.
The EARL of MARCH
said he could not think of trespassing on the time or attention of the House, at that late hour, by entering into a consideration in detail of the arguments which could be adduced against the changes which it now appeared were in contemplation; but he could not forbear saying that never, in the whole course of his existence, had he been so 311 much horrified, distressed, or astonished, as he had been that night, in listening to the propositions which had emanated from the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government. He was intimately conversant with the feelings and opinions of his constituents upon the subject of protection to domestic industry; and he begged leave to assure the right hon. Baronet that any invasion of the protective system would be viewed by them with feelings of unmitigated hostility. They would never consent to accede to the propositions of the Minister; and he thought it right now distinctly and deliberately to apprise the right hon. Baronet that any movements which he might think fit hereafter to make, with a view to the repeal of the Corn Laws, were sure to encounter his most strenuous, violent, and unceasing opposition. Statements explanatory of the motives and considerations which had induced Ministers to the singular course which they had recently adopted, had been made in that House, and in another place. The right hon. Baronet had stated that his opinions on the subject of protection had undergone a change; and that this was the fact there was now no room for doubting. It was passing strange what revolutions time brought about. In the month of June last, the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had made a powerful and irresistible speech in opposition to the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He had listened to that speech with great pleasure; but it never could have entered into his imagination that in the November following, so strange, so wild a change should have come over the spirit of the orator's dream. He did not mean to attribute improper motives in any quarter, but he certainly must say, that in his opinion, that House and the country at large had a right to expect from the other Members of the Administration an explanation of the reasons, arguments, and considerations, which had induced them to change their opinions on a question in which the interests of this Empire were so vitally involved. It had been stated elsewhere that it was only a minority of the Cabinet that had voted with the Premier. The public should know how the facts really were; and most assuredly that House had a right to demand from the other Members of the Administration, as well as from the hon. Baronet at the head of the Cabinet, an explanation of the motives which had induced them to abandon their old policy, and adopt one 312 diametrically opposed to it. He held in his hand a newspaper containing a report of certain expressions which had fallen from the Secretary of War (Mr. Sidney Herbert) in the month of February, 1845, in a speech which he delivered before his constituents, who entertained him at a public dinner on the occasion of his accepting office. With permission of the House he would read a few passages from that speech, that they might comprehend how startling, how amazing was the change which had recently been wrought in the mind of the hon. Gentleman on the subject of free trade. The noble Lord read as follows:—He was not about to excuse himself for his vote upon that question. He then thought that the amount of protection was so excessive, that it could not be maintained; that the 23s. duty was more than could be maintained, because no foreign nation could pay it; but he frankly owned that in this he was mistaken, for he did not think that that protection was one bit larger than it ought to be, and he did think that there was this advantage in the present law, that it rallied round it many who would not have rallied round it if that protection had been larger, while no one could say that that protection was too large, looking at the burdens on agriculture; besides, it gave a greater stability and firmness to the law; and he did hope and he believed that there was among the people of this country, as there certainly was by Her Majesty's Ministers, a determination to uphold that law.So spoke the right hon. Gentleman on the 15th February, 1845; and the report assured the public that he resumed his seat amidst a storm of applause. He would be curious to know what demonstration of feeling was likely to await the hon. Gentleman if he were to go back to his constituents on the 15th February, 1846, and to describe to them the opinions which he now held upon the subject of free trade; most assuredly they would hear much that would be calculated to excite their amazement.
§ MR. S. HERBERT
I think it will be most becoming in me, and that it will be most agreeable to the House, if I do not in this stage of the proceedings enter at any length, or in any detail, into the grounds on which I have formed my opinions on the question now before the House, and which have induced a change in the opinions upon these great commercial subjects which I have advanced year by year. I say, in the first place, that this will be the most satisfactory course to me and to the House, because in the discussions which will come on I shall be able to state explicitly, simply, and amply, all the reasons which have weighed with 313 me, and the grounds of the change of my opinions on this subject, rather than give a mutilated statement which will not be satisfactory to the House, and certainly not to myself; and next, because it will not be for the convenience of the House to enter prematurely into a discussion of these enlarged plans, for every argument upon the whole subject has induced me to form the opinion I now hold, and I cannot enter upon the reasons for that opinion now without anticipating the arguments. Of this, however, I can assure my noble Friend, who has asked me for an explanation of the manner in which I imagine that I shall be received by my constituents after I have advocated the measures brought forward by my right hon. Friend to-night—that my belief is, as no man can impute to me any but disinterested motives upon this occasion; as there has been neither any possibility nor wish for power which was in the first instance forfeited, and now rendered at any rate very precarious; as I am certainly not currying favour with a constituency which is purely agricultural: and as likewise I have a constituency among whom I have lived with the personal ties of the greatest friendship, who have trusted me, and, as I had from them, as they had from me, regard and respect, that, even if there should be a difference of opinion between us upon any point, they will never have any other feeling towards me than that which, during my whole life, I have endeavoured to inspire in those with whom I have had to deal. This I will add, that it was after the greatest anxiety I adopted the course I have taken; that I came to the deliberations which preceded the differences which led to the resignation of the Ministry with my mind perfectly made up as to the course I should take; that the opinions which I urged in Her Majesty's councils are embodied in the measure now before the House, and they are opinions which I am ready deliberately and explicitly to defend in this House. The same opinions without reserve will be the passport with which I shall offer myself to the notice of my constituents; and I am further of opinion that when the question shall be regarded, as soon it will be, calmly and dispassionately, by many of those who take an interest, almost an exclusive interest, in agriculture, they will think that I have neither neglected my duty to them nor to the public at large by giving a hearty, a disinterested, and an honest 314 support to the measures now before the House.
§ Mr. P. HOWARD
said, he had listened with attention to the many able and elaborate explanations given by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel), and he confessed that he thought the equivalent offered to the agriculturists, in lieu of protection, was rather less than he could have wished; yet, considering the circumstances of the country—considering, also, the success which had hitherto attended free-trade measures—he was prepared to give his assent to the Resolutions to be submitted to-night; and he would beg of the agriculturists to consider whether a measure of this kind, prepared by a strong Government, with the sanction of the Crown, could ever, in the long-run, be defeated. For them the wiser and more salutary course would be to enter into the discussion of these measures with a view, if possible, to secure the adoption of such modification as, without materially diminishing their popularity, might render the shock consequent upon the change less sudden and less violent. He thought the period of three years too limited, and that the minimum of protection was rather scanty, for Mr. M'Culloch, the greatest of free-trade authorities, in his celebrated pamphlet or treatise on the Corn Laws argued on the supposition that a fiscal duty of 5s. the quarter might be retained. He (Mr. Howard) deemed that the proposed alteration in the law of settlement would be a great boon to farmers and others living in the vicinity of manufacturing towns. He trusted the proposed measure would receive the deliberate attention both of the agriculturists and the manufacturers, and that they would be made palatable to the one, and not injurious to the other.
§ MR. WODEHOUSE
inquired whether the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had any intention to lay on the Table of the House any of those communications which had been stated to have been received from some of the crowned heads of Europe, expressing their opinions on free trade, because, as yet, the House had no assurance that any such communications had ever been received, except the statement of the hon. Member for Bolton (Dr. Bowring). He also wished to know how the moiety of the payment for medical relief, to be paid by the Government, was to be managed. In other words, how was the parish doctor to make out his bills?
§ Sir R. PEEL
replied, that the charge 315 on account of medical aid would be provided by a vote of the House of Commons, the other moiety being provided by the guardians of the poor in the different parishes. This would be at once a check against extravagant outlay, while it would afford a means of a more liberal allowance to medical men. With regard to the other question, he (Sir R. Peel) would undertake to lay on the Table any convention or engagement entered into by any of the crowned heads of Europe. There had been some strong expressions made use of by the Secretary of the American Treasury, with regard to a relaxation of the American tariff, and he expected shortly to be able to lay on the Table a Convention with Naples in favour of free trade.
§ MR. GROGAN
wished to put a question, as an Irish Member, to the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury. The whole of the statement which the right hon. Baronet had made to-night was one of reductions; he, therefore, wished to know whether the right hon. Baronet would furnish a document containing a column showing the aggregate amount of these reductions, and another column setting forth the mode in which he proposed to make good the deficiency in the revenue which those reductions would occasion. Very considerable alarm existed throughout the country upon this point; and great apprehensions were entertained that the right hon. Baronet would be driven to a proposition for increasing the Income Tax. He was, therefore, anxious to know how the deficiency which would be created was to be made up.
§ Sir R. PEEL
I really hope that from some of the reductions there will be an increased rather than a diminished revenue. I have already said that I consider it very inconvenient to enter into explanations on particular portions of the general proposition submitted by Her Majesty's Ministers to the House of Commons; but I may observe that it by no means follows that a diminution of duty on importation is followed by a diminution of price of the homemade article. On the contrary, it can be shown that in those years in which there has been the greatest importation of foreign produce, the best prices have been obtained for similar articles of home production. It may be taken as a rule, that in every year where the price of domestic produce has increased, there has been a proportionate increase of importation of the same articles from abroad. I have said that I 316 will not enter into any detailed explanations; but I will answer the hon. Gentleman in respect to what he has said with regard to the Income Tax, by at once frankly declaring that it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to make any proposition with respect to the Income Tax. That, fortified by the result of the experience of the past—although the effect of the proposed reductions upon the revenue may be to cause a temporary deficiency, yet—I am quite satisfied from the elasticity of the commercial energies of this country, and the consequent increased abundance that will be enjoyed from the reductions proposed, that those reductions may be made without the imposition of any new tax whatever.
§ MR. CURTEIS
thought the right hon. Baronet had very unnecessarily provoked the hop-growing counties in proposing merely a reduction of duty, when he might have received their support had he repealed the duty altogether. He represented the largest body of hop-growers in the kingdom; and he would, in their name, say—Give us perfectly free trade in hops, and take off all protective duty on foreign hops! He called upon his hon. Friends the Members for Kent and East Sussex to see justice done to the hop-growers; and let them not be doubly flogged, both as to corn and as to hops. He came down to the House, expecting the right hon. Baronet would propose to reduce the duty on corn; and that he would have fixed a duty, in the first instance, of 6s., and, by an evanescent scale, have finally abolished it. He would have supported such a measure, and as it was, he would give the proposition of the right hon. Baronet the most candid consideration. He was most anxious that this question should be finally settled; but he sincerely hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would take the state of the hop-growers into consideration, otherwise he would raise a very hostile feeling in Sussex and Kent. He would not press the right hon. Baronet to answer him at the present moment.
§ SIR R. PEEL
But I must give you an answer—and, if we were in private, I would earnestly advise the hon. Gentleman not to encourage the hop-growers in Kent and Sussex to agitate this question. The duty on foreign hops in 1842, was 10l. I in that year proposed to reduce it to 4l. 10s. That was opposed, and I was told that it would ruin the home hop-growers. 317 But, what is the fact? Why, that the reduced duty of 4l. 10s. is as complete a prohibition as the duty of 10l. The whole amount of duty paid on the importation of foreign hops, at the reduced duty of 4l. 10s., has only been 10l. Therefore, having first reduced the duty on foreign hops from 10l. to 4l. 10s., which proved still to be a prohibitory duty, I have now proposed to reduce it still further to 2l. 10s. With respect to the excise duty on homegrown hops, which is at present 18s., I think the hon. Gentleman will see, that the state of the revenue will not admit of any further reduction in that item. I am sure the hon. Gentleman, when he considers, conscientiously, the importance of maintaining the revenue, will at once admit, that I cannot, and ought not, to reduce the excise duty on hops below the present charge. I do think, that a duty of 2l. 10s. on the importation of foreign hops will be a very fair protection to the home grower.
§ MR. BENETT
thought the right hon. Baronet had forgotten the interests of those who consumed the hops. He came down to the House with the full expectation that the right hon. Baronet would have proposed a repeal of the malt-tax altogether. It was a tax which fell most peculiarly on the labourers of the country. Malt was a necessary of life to them. It was a most oppressive duty, and its repeal would have been a boon, not only to the agricultural interest, but to the labourers. He was deeply disappointed that the right hon. Baronet had not made any such proposition. The object avowed for repealing the Corn Laws used to be that it would reduce wages; but the right hon. Baronet had now said that you could have high wages and low prices. He knew the contrary from long experience. He knew that the price of labour had always followed the price of provisions. But new doctrines were now laid down—doctrines contrary to those laid down by the right hon. Baronet himself in former days. But these new doctrines were contrary to those of Adam Smith, and of his own experience. He had always contended, and would still contend, that the labouring classes might, consistently with the interests of every class, enjoy all the common luxuries of life; and he certainly had expected that the right hon. Baronet was going to give them the power to enjoy them, but he had been grievously disappointed. Still, he hoped the right hon. Baronet would recon- 318 sider the matter of the malt-tax, whatever might be his determination with respect to the duty on hops, which was a matter of comparatively minor importance. He wished also to express his indifference as to the protection of home-grown hops against foreign hops; his feeling was that there should be no duty on hops, no duty on malt, no duty on anything which affected the welfare of the labourer.
§ MR. ESCOTT
expressed his satisfaction that the consideration of the proposal was to be adjourned for a fortnight, as, in that interval, the constituencies of the country would have an opportunity of declaring their sentiments. He would not attempt to comment on the speeches of the right hon. Baronet and other hon. members; but he would, in one word only, express his extreme thankfulness to the right hon. Baronet for having embodied in his proposition that remission of the duty on Indian corn, of which he had given notice last year. For since he had given that notice, he had made further inquiries into the question; and the result had been such as to satisfy him that, for the interests of both the farmers and the farm labourers, in reference to which the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had expressed himself so feelingly, no one measure could possibly be proposed which was more likely to promote the real interests of both those classes than the one now submitted by the right hon. Baronet. He was exceedingly glad the scheme embodied the resolution he had referred to; and he hoped that not only would hon. Members employ the fortnight that was to intervene in making themselves acquainted with the proposition; but that the country at large, when they saw the great advantage which it would produce to the agricultural interest, would look on it with particular favour, and that it would be carried by a decisive majority.
§ MR. WAKLEY
Mr. Greene, I am a little surprised at the speeches we have heard from the other side of the House, because I am quite convinced it is utterly impossible that hon. Gentlemen can have heard the scheme, as propounded by the right hon. Baronet, without feeling the strongest possible approval and admiration. They cannot have heard the whole plan, as he has laid it down, without in the main points agreeing with him in the proposition he has made. There may be some points, without doubt, of disagreement; there may be some few arrangements which may call for further attention in the future 319 discussions that will take place; but when they hear that in three years there is to be a total repeal of the Corn Laws, and that there is to be a previous repeal with reference to the duties on other articles that form the food of the people, it is utterly impossible, I say, that they should fail to express the strongest approval of the scheme as a whole. Now, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire, who has just sat down, has expressed his astonishment that the right hon. Baronet has not proposed a repeal of the malt-tax; he expressed his doubt whether what the right hon. Baronet proposed would be for the benefit of the working classes of the country; and he says he is disappointed in the proposal of the right hon. Baronet, because it does not come up to his view in that respect. Why, it is because I am firmly persuaded that it is for the benefit of the millions of this country, that it is for the benefit of trade—that it is likely to conduce to the peace of the world—that it will promote and advance the social condition of the millions, and create new markets for their labour—that I, for one, am prepared at once, and without further hesitation, to say, (and I represent nearly 300,000 of the inhabitants of the northern part of this metropolis,) that I feel towards the entire proposal of the right hon. Baronet the strongest possible favour. I feel firmly persuded that no proposal was ever made in Parliament, as a whole, more conducive to the happiness of the people of this country, than that of the right hon. Baronet. But does the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Wiltshire, consider that the scheme is not calculated to improve the condition of the people? Why, is it not for reducing the price of bread? Is it not for reducing the price of meat? Is it not proposd with the hope of improving the condition of every family? But if that proposal had been made, with regard to the malt tax, which the hon. Gentleman has referred to, would it have obtained for the right hon. Baronet the support of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire, with reference to other branches of the proposal, other departments of the scheme? On the contrary, my firm conviction is that it would not. Now, I can clearly see that the next fortnight is to be expended in agitation, and not very peaceful agitation. I can see clearly enough, that an appeal is to be made to the passions of the electors of this country. In carrying on this agitation, I wish the hon. Gentlemen opposite to bear in 320 mind under what circumstances the appeal will be made. I wish them to recollect one little fact with reference to the constituencies of this country. Let them bear in mind, if they do excite the passions of the electors in the agricultural districts and of persons unconnected with agriculture—if their agitation shall extend, not only into the most remote parts of the kingdom, but also into the cities and towns, and shall influence there the feelings of persons who believe that they are dependent on what is called agricultural prosperity, I would beg of them to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who are the consumers of food—not the sellers, and who have no votes at the elections. Now, I would wish to ask them if they are prepared to arrange every hustings in the kingdom as an an instrument of torture to the feelings of the poor man who has not a vote? I say, let them remember that they are about to make an appeal, in my opinion, of a most dangerous character, if it is to have any influence. For the poor man will say, "See what happens:—the parties who return the Members to the House of Commons, are the sellers of food, and we are the consumers of food—they have the votes, and we have none." Do you believe if an appeal of that kind is to be made, that it can do other than lead to a state of feeling of the utmost exasperation, and one, in my opinion, that is likely to be attended with the utmost danger to the peace of society, considering that the millions of this country are the parties who have no votes. They already complain of class legislation; they say that their interests are not protected in the Houses of Parliament; they say, that they have no voice in electing those who are to govern the country. They say, that they have been the victims of class legislation; and yet you are about to call upon the sellers of food to determine whether the consumers of food shall have justice done to them with regard to commercial legislation. I merely throw out these intimations now, because I am convinced, if the appeal be made to which I have referred, and if strong excitement be the product of that appeal, that it will be one of the most dangerous character, and will, in my opinion, threaten the peace of society. Now, Sir, if the hon. Gentlemen are sincere with reference to the feelings of the masses of the people on this question—if they really believe what they say—if they really do consider that the masses of society will be op- 321 posed to the scheme of the right hon. Baronet—I ask them, are they prepared to extend the suffrage to the working people—to those who are the main consumers of food in this country? No, Sir, they are not prepared so to extend the right of voting; and I say, under those circumstances, let them be cautious how they excite feelings of indignation on the part of the millions, and induce those millions to believe that they are, with reference to the legislation of this House, the victims of oppression. Believing as I do that the scheme of the right hon. Baronet has been propounded in a sincere desire to benefit the nation at large, without reference to particular classes or individuals, but for the benefit of all—believing that it is one of a just character; believing, in fact, that there is nothing of injustice in it to any party, I shall give it my most cordial support in every stage of the proceedings; and I am sure that if the right hon. Baronet maintains the noble and high ground which he has taken, the millions of the people will carry his proposition for him.
§ MR. BENETT
said, as he had been asked a question by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, he would state that he had come to the House perfectly free; he had given no pledge, and expressed no opinion; he had purposely abstained from it, thinking he might possibly consider it his duty to vote with the right hon. Baronet in what he did propose. He had pursued an honest course for forty years, in public as well as in private, and nothing should have induced him to do that which he could not have done honestly and conscientiously. He had certainly expected more from the right hon. Baronet; but he was perfectly free now, if he approved of the proposition, to vote for the repeal of the corn tax. The only pledge he had given was to do that which he considered the best for the people of this country. He had not attended a single meeting in favour of agricultural protection, either in the country or in London; nor had he given a single intimation, by word or letter, to anybody, how he should vote on this occasion. His hon. Friend talked of agitation, and seemed to think the friends of agriculture were about to agitate. Had the hon Gentleman never heard of agitation before? Had no agitation been going on the other side? Had not the emissaries of the League been sent into every village? He had had them in his own village, at his own 322 door, getting hold of his own labourers and seducing them. But the agitation might now be turned another way, by the good sense of the labourers. There was, recently, a meeting at Goatacre, in the north of his own county, of which much had been said, but to which no weight was to be attached, for the accounts that had been given of it were incorrect. A bricklayer was there who was receiving 40s. a week, and other labourers who were well paid. The hon. Gentleman proceeded to say that the farmers had a dislike to agitation; and, whatever their feelings might be, they would not attempt to promote mischief.
§ MR. GISBORNE
wished to offer a remark in reference to what had fallen from the hon. Member the Coroner for Westminster as to the Members of the Anti-Corn-Law League having received the explanation of the right hon. Baronet with solemn silence. [Mr. WAKLEY: Stubborn silence.] It might be stubborn; but on a subject of so complicated a nature, and involving such a vast number of subjects, it was scarcely possible to express an opinion without having some time allowed for deliberation. He had himself left the House perfectly satisfied that hon. Gentlemen on the bench opposite, who still continued so strenuously to oppose any alteration in the Corn Law, would require at least a fortnight to consider the measure, and that they had no intention of raising a debate on the subject that evening. It was merely by accident that he happened to hear that such a debate was going on, and he returned to the House merely to listen to it. He was sure that hon. Members connected with the League could not be accused of any want of respect either to the hon. Gentleman opposite, or to the right hon. Baronet, in having taken no part in the debate on that evening.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he was prepared to act in conformity with the course which the hon. Member who had just sat down had declared he expected would have been taken. He had intended, therefore, to confine himself to asking a single question which he thought to be of public importance, and which he had addressed to the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government. He could not, however, pass over an observation which had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley). The hon. Member deprecated an appeal to the opinion of the country; but why, he would wish to know, did the hon. Member 323 apprehend dangerous agitation? On what ground did the hon. Member make his powerful appeal to the feelings of his countrymen against the danger of inflaming the passions of the working classes? Did the hon. Member know Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side of the House to be those who were accustomed to excite such angry feelings? Had the hon. Gentleman forgotten 1842? Had he forgotten that period when the yeomanry and gentlemen of England had been mainly instrumental in preserving the peace of the country, disturbed as it was by those who now supported the Anti-Corn-Law League? Had the hon. Member forgotten what he (Mr. Newdegate) had at that time stated out of that House, and for which he had been attacked in that House, and in another place, without notice and in his absence; but in support of which he had afterwards produced evidence, which had satisfied that House that the Anti-Corn-Law League had been implicated in exciting the people? Had he forgotten that it was the agricultural interests which had saved the country on that occasion from the consequences of the attempt thus made? As he was on his legs, and as the question had been mooted, he would take the opportunity of calling the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the circumstance that when the consequences of their present measure became apparent to the country, and when the property of the agriculturists was sacrificed by it, the Government might perchance not meet with that cordial support from the agricultural interests, when danger threatened, which they had hitherto received. Those who now furnished themselves the means of protecting the country might perchance no longer have the means of doing so; and they would also be taught to bear in mind, on future occasions, that the present measure of the Government had been mainly promoted by agitation. The right hon. Baronet had stated, that he had carefully prepared the mind of this country for the introduction of the measure of 1842; who, he would ask, if the country was prepared, had prepared the country for the measure of 1846; who, but the Anti-Corn-Law League? Was agitation, he would wish to know, to be employed against the agricultural interests alone? He might be told that the agricultural Members were ignorant—that they did not know their own interest; but were they so dense that they could not read the volumes which had 324 been prepared for the information of that House, or so dull that they could not form any judgment of their own? And if such were the case, were they not to be permitted to consult their countrymen? He thought the demand made by the hon. Member for Somersetshire for time was a most reasonable one; and he could scarcely believe the right hon. Baronet could have forgotten that on a former occasion—namely, when he had brought forward his banking measure of 1844, he gave a full month for the country to consider its provisions. The course which the right hon. Baronet thought proper to recommend with regard to banking had been announced for five weeks before it came again before the House; and yet the interests concerned had scarcely time in that interval to form their opinions upon it. Were not the agriculturists, then, justified in requiring that time should be given for a due consideration of this question? For his part, he was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Finsbury and the hon. Member for Montrose pressing forward this great measure, involving as it did so many and such important interests, as if they were afraid that the country should have time to express an opinion upon it. His own impression was, that when a Minister had cast aside the experience of a long life, and had declared himself to be prepared to act on the experience of four years, during which, as he had stated, the principle which he now advocated had not been acted upon—the least which the interests affected by his measure might expect was, that time would be afforded them for a due consideration of the propositions that it contained. He would say more. He would say that when the right hon. Baronet had changed his opinions so lately, he would have better consulted the interest of his own character—that he would have better consulted the character of that House—if he allowed a full expression of public opinion on this occasion. He would also add, that the noble Lord the Member for London had, by the production of the letters and evidence which he had brought before the House, paid the first instalment of that gratitude which he felt to his Sovereign, by at once vindicating Her position before the country and before Parliament. He could not sit down without again repudiating the threat of implication, that those with whom he acted were about to endanger the country by stirring up the passions of the people. 325 The hon. Member for Finsbury had challenged him to extend the suffrages of the people; but he would tell him, what he had before stated in the House, that if the pressing effects of foreign competition, united with the heavy burdens that weighed upon the country, part of which he considered to lie in the monetary system—(and, by the by, he believed the present measure had been framed with some view to relieve the pressure likely to follow from the banking Bill of 1844)—if this oppression proved such as he anticipated, he, for one, would seriously consider the propriety of extending the franchise lower than it was at present.
§ MR. WAKLEY
begged to assure the hon. Member that he had never attended a meeting for the repeal of the Corn Laws except one, and that happened to be a parish meeting. He felt really ashamed to offer this explanation; and if it were in any way offensive to any of the Gentlemen of the League, he would withdraw it, for he felt too grateful to them to make use of any expression which, even by implication, might prove offensive in any way to their feelings. What he had stated was, that if hon. Members opposite were about to make an appeal to the feelings of the electors, they would be appealing to a class who were in reality the sellers of food; and they would thus be incurring the risk of raising the indignation of those who were the purchasers of food.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
hoped the hon. Member would not class him with those who thought that under no circumstances it could be hereafter justifiable to extend the franchise by lowering the qualification.
COLONEL THOMAS WOOD
said, he did not wish to detain the House, but he rose merely for the purpose of saying a few words on the subject of agitation. He supported the proposition of the right hon. Baronet, because he thought it would tend to take out of the arena of politics a question which was now dividing the two great interests of the country—namely, the agriculturists and the manufacturers. As an humble Member of Parliament he entirely approved of the course which the right hon. Baronet had adopted, and he was determined to give him his very best support.
§ VISCOUNT NEWPORT
considered that those hon. Members who intended to support the policy enunciated by the right hon. Baronet to-night, contrary to their own conscientious convictions, and the actual or 326 implied pledges they had given to their constituents, would be guilty of a great dereliction of duty. With reference to one remark which had been made, he would observe that no other appeal than a constitutional appeal to the country was contemplated by those hon. Gentlemen who entertained similar opinions with himself. He must say that he did not think the right hon. Baronet was justified in bringing forward such a measure as he had propounded that night without appealing to the country and taking the sense of the constituencies on the question.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
regretted that this subject had been treated as a class question. Some hon. Gentlemen on the other side spoke as if they were the only persons who cared for the agricultural interest; but since the propriety of abolishing the Corn Laws was mooted in 1832, he had known many hon. Members who were not only wholly unconnected with commerce or manufactures, but who derived their subsistence entirely from landed property, who were the strenuous and consistent advocates of a repeal of those laws. He believed that the Gentlemen connected with the Anti-Corn-Law League had, by reason and argument, made many converts to the same opinions, even among the county constituencies; and he believed that, a few years hence, the conduct of those Gentlemen would receive the approbation it so justly merited. The only objection he had to the efforts of the League was, that they had treated the question rather too much as a class question than as a general question. But, however that might be, they had done great service by enlightening the people of this country on the subject of protection. Had the right hon. Baronet treated the question as a class question, he should have felt bound to oppose his view of the case; but as the right hon. Baronet had treated it, he looked upon it as a great step made towards free trade; for which, as it affected the best interests of the country, he tendered the right hon. Baronet his most cordial thanks. He believed, also, that a large mass of the agriculturists would do the same, because he was satisfied they would find the benefit from it returned to them a thousand fold. He (Mr. Aglionby) conceded to the hon. Member for Wiltshire, that it was highly desirable that the malt tax should be removed; but at the present time he was not disposed to press its repeal upon the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. Before 327 many years had elapsed, however, he hoped that the country would have the advantage of that repeal, as it was a tax that certainly bore hard upon the industry of the poor man. As far as he (Mr. Aglionby) could then judge of the measures of the right hon. Baronet, he tendered him his most cordial thanks for the great step he had taken in the right direction.
§ MR. G. BANKES
said, as the hon. Member had stated that he had no fear of appeal to the constituencies of the country, and as his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government had laid it down in the course of the evening that the question was one which would be entirely decided by the feelings of the country, no difference existed, and therefore there ought to be no hesitation in making that appeal in a legitimate manner. The hon. Gentleman had said, that he would have no difficulty in appealing to the agricultural constituencies. Let him, then, join with them to obtain that appeal; and they would be content to abide by the issue. His right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel)—for, after the kind manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded to his observations the other night, he thought he was justified in using that term—had said that he would convince him that this scheme gave due attention to the little interests of the country. He (Mr. Bankes) would ask, what provision was made in this scheme for maintaining the interests of the farmers in general; and, above all, of the little farmers of this kingdom? He could find nothing in it to that effect, or which appeared to have any such purpose. The compromise offered to these interests—to the tenant-farmers—was the consolidation of the highway rate, the payment to medical officers, and the provision for parochial schoolmasters; but what relief would that give to that class of persons? It had been said, that the support to the measure was not confined to the mercantile class, but was participated in by the landowners. Some of the great landowners certainly approved of it; but it was because they were great landowners, and would not suffer by the change; for, by the system of bailiffs, which was cheaper than that of tenants, they would be enabled to get their rents the same as usual. The tenant-farmers would in reality be the sufferers, because their whole class would, in all probability, be swept away by the measure of the right hon. Baronet. As chairman of the quarter-sessions of Dorset, he had received an account of the amount 328 which the criminal prosecutions had cost the county for the last quarter: it was only 377l. 0s. 2d. How trifling, then, the compensation which was offered them in that item! So, also, the alteration to be made in the auditors' charges, and the highway rates would afford them no relief whatever. Suppose that those trifling modes of relief were carried into effect, had they not a right to complain that they should be so mixed up with the great questions opened by his right hon. Friend that night? He said, that if protection was to be forcibly taken from the agriculturists—if native industry was to be left wholly unprotected—then, he said, the class which he represented had no claim whatever to compensation; because, if they were not entitled to protection for national purposes, for the national good, they were not entitled to it at all. That was the ground upon which they had always opposed the taking of an account of the peculiar burdens which pressed upon their interest. They were asked yearly for an increase in the navy and the army, which they cordially supported, though such augmentation was not wanted for the purpose of protecting their fields, but for the protection of the Oregon, which was wanted not for the purposes of the agriculturist, but for those of the manufacturing interest. They, however, gave their support to those augmentations, because they considered that what benefited one interest, benefited all. They had defended, and would defend, the principle of protection to all, and they repudiated the notion of compensation. They claimed to go to the country upon the principle of protection. It might be all very just to amend the poor law, which wanted it very much; it might be all very well to consolidate the highway boards; but it was a miserable shift to mix them up with such complicated matters as had been done by the right hon. Baronet. If they were to be deprived of protection, let it be upon known and intelligible grounds. The grounds upon which the proposition before the House was rested, was not fairly stated; and they were placed most unjustly in a very invidious light before the public, when they were made to appear anxious for such a miserable and paltry compensation as was now offered to them, but for which they had never asked. It was a question to be settled by the voice of the country; that voice was not heard in that House, and he called upon his right hon. Friend to make an appeal to the nation.
§ House resumed—Committee to sit again on Monday, 9th February.
§ House adjourned at twelve oclock.