§ SIR R. PEEL
Sir, I have two petitions to present to the House; one from Liverpool, in which the petitioners state that the commercial interests of the country are materially prejudiced by the delay of the Legislature in pronouncing a decision in regard to the commercial measures now before them. I am assured that no petition ever left Liverpool more respectably signed; that it received the signatures of the leading men of all political parties; and that some of them are those of gentlemen who have been opposed to our measures, but who now give in their adhesion to the proposals of the Government. The petition received in the course of a few hours 414 signatures of the leading gentlemen in Liverpool. Every banking-house 1440 in Liverpool, I am told, but with three exceptions, has signed it; the managing directors of two of these being out of town. About 214 merchants and shipowners, and 190 brokers, have signed. The petition, which states that the petitioners, having the most extensive experience, find that nearly every branch of trade is paralysed by the delay in carrying the measures of the Government. It further states—That your petitioners, while they disclaim all interference with due deliberation in matters of such vast importance, would humbly pray that an end may be put to their suspense by passing into a law, as speedily as possible, the measures proposed by Her Majesty's Government, and which your petitioners verily believe will prove highly beneficial to the interests of this vast commercial Empire.The other petition is from Manchester. This received its signatures in twenty-four hours, and has 1,122 signatures attached to it. It is signed by all the bankers in Manchester, and by fifty-five members of the town-council. It is also signed by most of the large houses engaged in the manufacturing and spinning trade, in the machine-making in the country trade, and in the East and West Indian, Canadian, United States, German, Russian, and Mediterranean trades. I am informed that the amount of capital represented by the houses who have signed this petition is 30,000,000l. and that the number of persons employed by them is 120,000. The petitioners state that—In common with the entire manufacturing and commercial interests of the country, they have observed with the liveliest satisfaction the wise and comprehensive measures introduced by Her Majesty's Government—measures which will tend greatly to benefit this densely-populated district.The petitioners, therefore, pray the HouseTo put an end to the doubt and uncertainty now existing, and to prevent the occurrence of commercial disasters which may seriously cripple the industry and resources of the country, by immediately passing into a law the Customs and Corn Importation Act.
§ On the Question that the Bill be now read a Second Time,
§ MR. E. YORKE
said, he might well have been deterred by the difficulty of this subject from taking such a prominent part in it; but he was warned by the petition which he held in his hand, signed as it had been by an immense number of his most influential constituents interested in agriculture, not as he had heretofore done, to give a silent vote upon the question, lest the truth of the opinion he held, as to the 1441 principle of protection, should be brought into doubt, and the sincerity of the professions he had made be suspected. His intention was to move, that this Bill be read a second time that day six months. If hon. Gentlemen on his side the House felt as he did, he would entreat them not to be deterred by what had taken place, but that every form of the House should be used, every rule which the forms of Parliament suggested, should be adopted in order to defeat this measure. In approaching this subject he must say, that he preferred experience to conjecture—that which they knew to that which they were taught. He thought that a matter of such deep importance to the people of this country as the providing them with a cheap supply of food should not be treated as matter of hypothetical speculation. If one link of their speculations should fail—if one postulate should not answer their anticipations—if the deductions which they drew should be scarcity and famine, instead of plenty, they would have committed a grievous error, which a life of repentance, however sincere, could not sufficiently atone for. He rejected the Bill because it was a step taken to overturn a principle which had hitherto been recognized invariably by the people of this country as identified with its best interests—because issue had been joined with regard to it on a late occasion with the antagonist party in the State when that principle was recognized and adopted by a large majority of the constituency—who returned a majority of their representatives in favour of that principle—and made those who now sat on the Treasury bench, the organs or conservators of it. He objected to the Bill, because it was intended to repeal law which was based upon that principle of protection, and which its authors proclaimed to be intended to give the people, irrespective of class interest—independent of the remunerative price to the farmers—the first necessaries of life at a cheap rate. He found that the price which now obtained in this country, and which had obtained for some time, was precisely that which was calculated by the right hon. Baronet as the price that marked abundance and sufficiency, instead of scarcity; and he believed that so great was the skill and enterprise of the people of this country, that the present law, if it had not been interfered with, would in a short time have repealed itself, to the great advantage of this country. But they were told that this law was an 1442 error—that the time of repentance was now come, and that the recantation of this error was the only thing that was necessary for the prosperity of this nation. But was it possible, he would ask, that that could be an error in 1846, which was denied to be so in 1842? Was that to be called an error, in a time of great commercial prosperity and general contentment, which was denied to be so in a period of great manufacturing depression? If the result of this measure in 1842 were sedition and discontent, why did they not then attempt to conciliate the affections of the people, by giving up this obnoxious law? It had been stated, in the course of these debates, that no apprehensions were entertained by the agricultural body. Now, he represented a district which was entirely and purely agricultural, and, from his position having had on many occasions to defend the political honour of the right hon. Gentleman—which he did with as much zeal as he would have defended his own private integrity—he had been placed at issue, on more occasions than one, with the body which he represented; and he knew pretty well what their sentiments were on this occasion. The district he represented was about twenty miles in extent, with about 300,000 acres, which was originally one vast morass, inhabited by the winged denizens of the moor and by lawless men; but now it was a happy and fertile district, being one of the greatest corn-growing districts in the kingdom, as authentic returns would show. To obtain this agricultural eminence they had to contend with great natural disadvantages, both by land and water; and to surmount these difficulties, he was informed that not less than five millions sterling had been laid out upon the land. That amount had been laid out in the faith that protection would be continued. But for that the lands would never have been cultivated. He urged this particularly with a view to show that the charge of laziness and indolence brought against the agricultural body was not an honest nor a fair charge. Even now the annual expenditure upon that land was about 80,000l., the local taxes for that purpose varying from 3s. to 20s. in the pound. This was not done to enhance the value of the land—it was done for the sake of security, for there was not a moment in which the waters of the district might not inundate them, and destroy not only the hopes of the agriculturist, but all the benefits which were at present conferred 1443 upon the country through the civilization and cultivation of the district. He had received several letters upon this subject from men practically acquainted with the subject, with which he must trouble the House, in order to show how the measure would affect them if the prices were reduced, which he could show would be the case, not perhaps this year or the next, because the employment of railways had placed an increased consumption of food within every man's reach; but when this enormous demand for labour was withdrawn, and the labour market had returned to its former level, then the trial of this measure would come, and it would be for them and for the world to judge whether it were successful. One gentleman with whom he was well acquainted, said, that the effect of this measure would be to reduce rents one half, and that it would destroy the tenants' capital to the extent of two-thirds. It was difficult to say how it would operate upon labour, as the drainage of the district must be maintained; but it would certainly be reduced to the extent of one-third. Another gentleman mentioned that he knew a farmer in the district who intended to drain a large portion of his farm this year; but he had stopped when he heard of Sir Robert Peel's propositions, as he was quite certain that if those measures passed, the outlay would not be repaid. That farmer considered there would be no alteration of prices this year, though he did not believe there was such a deficiency as was apprehended; but if the harvest of next year should be an average one, the price of wheat would be 40s. to 45s. per quarter, labourers' wages would be reduced 2s. a week, and many would be altogether thrown out of employment. To show that there was great ground for apprehending a fall in the price of wheat, he might state that a gentleman who was well known in Gloucestershire, had recently mentioned that he had imported a quantity of white wheat from Odessa, which, after all expenses were paid, stood him in 37s. a quarter. Now, it was impossible for British agriculturists to compete with such prices as these. He found, from calculations made some years ago, when wheat was 56s. a quarter, that the cost of manual labour which entered into the growth of a quarter of wheat, from the time it was sown till it was brought to market, was 17s. 2d. a quarter. With regard to the burdens on land, he might state that he 1444 had received a letter from a gentleman, who had transferred his capital from this country to France, that he had obtained land as good as the generality of our northern soils; and that, under the four-course system, he found that the burdens on that land were only 21s. 6d. per acre. Now, it was well known that the burdens on land in this country amounted to 60s. per acre. He would ask, then, how was it possible for either landlord or tenant to farm his land under a system of unrestricted competition, when there was so much difference between this country and neighbouring ones? It had been asked what good had the farmers derived from protection? He thought what he had already stated was a sufficient answer to that question. But he recollected well, that in 1822 Dantzic wheat was selling at 30s. a quarter. The British farmer was, at that time, in a state of deep distress; but it was the protection against the introduction of this and other wheat that saved him from utter and entire ruin. In a pamphlet which was published by a gentleman whom he knew very well—one of the most practical farmers in the country—it was stated that the loss a farmer, on a farm of 400 acres, would sustain by protection was 347l. 12s. 8d., while his loss by free trade would be 826l. 9s. 3d., making a gain in favour of protection of 478l. 16s. 7d. a year. He had other calculations from other farmers, to the same effect; one of them in particular, showing that he would lose, by the proposed measure, about 95l. more than his entire rent, for which Sir Robert Peel offered, by way of compensation, about 1d. an acre. It had also been shown that the rate of mortality was greater at a time of a low price of corn than at other periods. Pauperism had been found, beyond the slightest possible doubt, to increase during a season of low prices. Mr. Tooke had also shown the effect of periods of low prices to have been inimical to property. Nor was it alone the records of modern times that showed this effect; for, in the records of the British Museum, in the Papers of Sir Simond D'Ewes, of the date of 1641, the same evils were spoken of. As regarded the operation of the intended measure, what he would ask, was the effect it was supposed it would produce? Was the measure intended to produce high prices or low prices? The intended object surely could not be the production of a high price, because that would not suit the views of 1445 the manufacturers. Still he had a right to conclude that the Ministry desired high prices, because their arguments went to support that point. Relaxation, they said, had shown an increase of price. They had quoted articles where relaxation of duty had caused the rise of price; but he could not avoid noticing that the Ministers, while quoting these articles, had most carefully abstained from naming corn, and had only noticed those articles which were capable of being manufactured. Now, if the Ministerial argument was correct, it should stand thus—that the relaxation of price tended to make articles dear, and that total removal tended to make them dear also. If the argument were applied to corn, the House would see the nature of the change that must follow, that was, if the argument were correct. But it was said, the aim of the change was to obtain a moderate price; but the answer to that would be found in the operation of the present law, which produced moderate prices. Therefore, the alteration of that law was not required; and, indeed, many hon. Members of that House had placed the whole question in its proper light. The hon. Member for Birmingham had said that protection had considerably supported labour. But he could quote another authority likely to be heard on one side of the House at least, no less a man than Earl Fitzwilliam, a great agriculturist; and the opinion of the noble Lord was, that without protection the farmer would be ruined and the labourer starved. He (Mr. Yorke) should scarcely have thought it necessary to extend his observations; but as much of the introduction of the present measures might be attributable to a moneyed combination out of that House, he wished to say he should be ready to resist the attacks of that body as much as possible, and give his opposition to the measure of Corn Law repeal. He would refer to the feelings of the poor with respect to the anticipated measure. Did hon. Members of the House find themselves acquainted with the feelings of the poorer classes? Many persons held the opinion, that nothing was to be dreaded from the feelings of the labourer. If such was the opinion, hon. Gentlemen were highly mistaken. On that question—the question of the feeling of the labourers—he had received a communication from a poor, but intelligent man, who said that in the neighbourhood from which he wrote, there was not a village in which the people 1446 were not ready to assert, by brute force, if necessary, their right to taste of the fruits of their own labour; and he added that every village in the vicinity was ripe for outrage at the first reduction of wages. The working classes, be it remembered, were well tutored by the press—by such papers as the Dispatch, and other publications of a similar nature. He assured the House that great apprehensions existed in the agricultural districts as to the effects of this measure; and he held the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench responsible for occasioning those apprehensions. It was too much for the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) to say, that he confessed his share in that responsibility, and to plead that such a confession should shield him from punishment. This was the first time he (Mr. Yorke) had ever heard that a confession of guilt was an indemnity against punishment. It was true that the fact of confession was often taken into consideration by a Judge, and, combined with proof of previous good character, afforded a reason for mitigation of punishment; but this was the first time he had heard that a confession of guilt was a ground of exemption from punishment; and certainly the arbiter elegantiarum of the criminal law of this country ought to be the last person to introduce such a principle. He did not hesitate to say that, if this experiment should fail, Her Majesty's Ministers would be exposed to the heavy and severe denunciation of those whom they had betrayed. A measure of this enormous change should not be allowed to become law without a searching investigation. Bad as the change would be on agriculture generally, what, he would inquire, would be the effect on the titheowner, whose income had been fixed upon the price of corn some years since. Look also at other relations. The Property Tax assessment reached 200,000,000l.; but this taxation had not been properly or fairly distributed. A fairer distribution, therefore, should be made of the burdens of this tax. All should bear taxation, and bear it equally, and, reminded by proceedings which sometimes took place in a locality in the county he represented, he would say, if the House would permit him, that the nation should be handicapped, and the burdens it had to bear be placed on those who were able to bear them, in order that all might start fairly upon the great national race they were appointed to run. The whole fiscal regulations should be changed if the present 1447 measure passed, and abundant reasons existed for a sweeping change of this character. A well-known public writer, Mr. John Macgregor, stated, that the Excise law, as it stood, might be changed for the good of the nation at large, as also the poor and other laws now pressing so heavily on the community. He would not therefore give his support to the measure of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government without a complete remodelling of taxation. When the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) the Member for the city of London, in 1829, first brought forward his plan of a fixed duty, the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, referring to the Tithe Commutation Act, told the noble Lord that if, when he passed that Act, he had any intention of altering the basis on which it was framed, he was guilty of a gross fraud on the public. And now, adopting the same language, he would tell Her Majesty's Ministers, if, in 1842, when the Corn Bill of that year was passed, they had any intention of altering the basis on which it was framed—and he had come to the conclusion that they had all along been arguing against their convictions—they were guilty of a gross fraud on the country. He wished hon. Gentlemen opposite joy of their new allies on the Treasury benches. They would use them for the purpose of striking this one blow, and when struck they would discard them, having no trust in the metal of which they were composed. The right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury looked to posterity for indemnity, and no doubt the pen of the faithful historian would do him justice. The historian would say of him, that, gifted with great natural and possessing many acquired powers, notwithstanding some slight deviation in former years from the straight course of political wisdom, he was again trusted on account of his professions by a great party, whom he again deceived. He would say that he stood alone against the party he had betrayed;—He stood alone amidst his band,Without one trusting heart or hand.In conclusion, he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
SIR J. Y. BULLER
hoped the House would not think he was intruding on its time, if, on the present occasion, he occupied it for a few minutes. In the year 1842, he supported the proposals of the Government, and he had done so because he had felt that it was for the advantage of 1448 the country; and he had believed that those interests which had been then affected, would not again be subjected to change. Certainly he had presumed that no further alteration would take place while the right hon. Baronet continued in office. When he had heard of further alterations, he had deeply deprecated them. He felt the greatest disappointment that further change should have been meditated, nor had he yet recovered from his disappointment, though taking the course he intended to take. The hon. Member who had just addressed the House, had stated that the constituencies of the country feared the prospect of change. He assured the House that such was the state of feeling in the district which he had had the honour to represent. The measure would create a great alteration in the management of estates and farms. Many would suffer. He did not mean to say that farmers who held large tracts of land were men likely to feel distress, because they were men of capital, and perhaps by the aid of skill and industry would occupy nearly the same position after the expiration of three years as at present. If landed proprietors did not suffer, they would only avoid it by a change in the management of their estates, and by keeping down their outgoings to a very low degree. One of the largest expenses on an estate was the keeping of farming buildings in repair. This, however, could not be followed if this measure passed into a law. One effect of the change would be to make small farms great. It would not be attended by any good result to say that men ejected from a farm could go to the manufacturing districts and there earn their bread. To change the occupation of the mind or body, even in the time of youth, was difficult; but to force a man to do so at forty years of age was but to deliver him over to misfortune and misery. But why had the measure been introduced? It was not because trade had declined. He looked for a reason, and he found it had been stated that a partial destruction of the food of the Irish people had taken place. It would have tended better to have cured a temporary difficulty had the ports been opened, and corn admitted to feed the people, than counselling the introduction of a measure the full effect of which would not be fully felt for some years. The titheowners would be injured, and the agriculturists would be injured; the measure would be fraught with injury, 1449 while to the people of Ireland it would afford no effectual relief.
§ MR. M'GEACHY
could not shelter himself under the wing of that most extraordinary doctrine which had been laid down by the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool, a doctrine mischievous in proportion to the respectability and weight of the quarter from which it had proceeded. Surely it was as individuals that they were responsible, and not as Members of any one sect or party. It might be true that every man in England who had sat in Her Majesty's Councils as a Cabinet Minister, with scarcely an exception, was now agreed as to the impolicy of continuing the existing Corn Laws. Still that would be no justification of his vote in favour of this measure, unless he were himself convinced, as convinced he was, that the measure was in itself both politic and just. In the exercise of an unfettered and dispassionate judgment, and with an earnest and most anxious desire to arrive at a just conclusion upon the subject, he approached the consideration of this important question. Having voted for those alterations in the Tariff which were equally with the present measures of the Government objected to by the protectionist party, and having seen the good effects produced by those alterations, he confessed that he thought there was every encouragement to proceed in the same course, and to attend to that recommendation in the Speech from the Throne which was directly controverted by the Amendment now before the House. The question was not merely of importance in its commercial hearings—a light in which it was too exclusively regarded by the hon. Member for Durham and his associates, but, now that it had been involuntarily proposed to that House by the present Ministry, of still greater importance in its political bearing. It was necessary to look at the question in both points of view; and first for the political part of the case, the importance of which he frankly admitted could not be overrated. In a free country, there was no evil so great, in his opinion, as a loss of confidence on the part of the people in public men. Were there any, he would ask, amongst those who declaimed so noisily on these topics now, who had ever reconsidered a vote, or rescinded a decision, in order to maintain in office a Minister who, as they deemed, would guarantee the maintenance of the existing Corn Laws? He never supported the Minister in the moment of his power 1450 when he thought him wrong, and that was a strong reason why he should not withhold his support from him now, in the moment of his weakness, when he thought him right. His belief was, that instead of a loss of confidence in public men, a fair and calm consideration of the course which had been taken during the last few months would, when the heat of party had subsided, go far to raise the character of public men, and to rekindle once more feelings of confidence in the integrity of statesmen. What were the simple facts of the case? Impressed with the belief that, with an impending scarcity in Ireland, and in the general circumstances of the country, some prompt remedy and some important alterations in our commercial policy were indispensable, the First Minister of the Crown took a step which was, in his judgment, worthy of the responsibilities of his office, and worthy of the Minister of a great country. On the 1st of November, 1845, he recommended to his Colleagues the opening of the ports for the admission of foreign grain. In that proposal the Cabinet did not agree, and the consequence was, the resignation of the Ministry. The difficulty of dealing with the Corn Laws might have been evaded by throwing up office in the first instance; but this, with the prospect of impending scarcity in Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman honourably declined, until he had tried the expedient of the opening of the ports with his own Cabinet. Having failed in this, he resigned office. He gave no opinion as to a successor. But to use his own words—I thought it unfair and dishonourable, under the impression that the noble Lord the Member for London would be the Minister, not to take those steps which I thought would diminish his embarrassments.On the 6th of December the Ministry resigned; on the 8th of December the right hon. Gentleman wrote a letter to Her Majesty——"offering the assurance of his perfect readiness to support, if proposed by others, those measures which he had himself deemed necessary"—And he further added, with a solicitude for the public service most worthy of imitation—That with regard to any increased estimates which the position of the country might render necessary, he would assume any degree of responsibility, present or retrospective, which could fairly attach to him.Those who could take a dispassionate view of the case, and would endeavour to place themselves in the position of the right hon. 1451 Baronet—a position encompassed with enormous difficulties—on the 1st of November, 1845, would not pass any harsh judgment upon the course pursued by him on that occasion. It was mighty easy to be statesmen after the fact—to magnify the claims of party above the interests of the country; but he thought he was perfectly justified in saying that, with his views of impending scarcity in Ireland, and of the advantages to be derived from a change of policy to the Empire at large, whatever might have been the seeming consistency of a proposal to maintain the existing Corn Laws, that proposal would have been the real treachery which you imputed to him, because he had thought it for their interests and for the interests of all to relieve them from the odium of stipulating for those restrictions in such a moment of pressure. There was but one point in the conduct of the political leaders on this question which he viewed with regret, and that was the somewhat unfair position which the noble Lord the Member for London, and the Whig party generally, had assumed for themselves during the course of these debates. They must remember that they were themselves protectionists up to a very late period, as well as those who sat on the other side of the House. But now, what were the alternatives proposed by the opponents of the Government? Their first proposal was a dissolution of the present Parliament. Now, this was a very good subject for declamation, and he had heard of it before. Why, he recollected that when the Government brought in their Bill for the endowment of the Roman Catholic College of Maynooth in the last Session of Parliament, just the same language was held as to the violation of pledges. Such a precedent once set would lead to the most dangerous consequences. What would be the practical results? Would such a course insure the calm, dispassionate, deliberate adjustment of conflicting claims on this or any other important question? Why, the result would be this, that you would have the country governed one year by Exeterhall and the Anti-Maynooth Conference Committee, and the next by No. 17, Old Bond-street, and the Central Protection Society and its affiliated branches. Both to the electors and the elected the evil tendency of such a system would become more clearly apparent from the present embarrassment of many representatives and of many constituencies. Public men in England 1452 would henceforth be content to pledge themselves to do their duty, according to their view of the merits of every question as it was proposed for their consideration; and the electors would remember the advice of a great statesman, no mean authority on questions of constitutional right—Mr. Burke, who declared, that—They are not under a false show of liberty, but in truth to exercise an unnatural, inverted domination, tyrannically to exact from those who officiate in the State, not an entire devotion to their interests, which is their right, but an abject submission to their occasional will, extinguishing thereby, in all those who serve them, all moral principle, all sense of dignity, all use of judgment, all consistency of character, whilst, by the very same process, they give themselves up, a proper, a suitable, but a most contemptible prey to the servile ambition of popular sycophants, or courtly flatterers.There was one resignation which had been both offered and accepted on the present occasion, which furnished a deplorable commentary on the justice of that view. If one man more than another in that House had shown an entire devotion to the public interest—to the cause of the suffering and helpless, wherever they were to be found, that man was the noble Lord (Lord Ashley) who for so many years represented the county of Dorset in Parliament. That noble Lord stood in no need of praise; his name would long live in the best affections of his countrymen; but that cause would hardly commend itself to the hearts of the people of England (and he thanked God that he did not feel it to be his duty to defend it) which involved in its maintenance the exclusion of such a man as Lord Ashley from Parliament. The other alternative proposed by the opponents of the Government was a compromise apparently in the shape of a fixed duty. Now, that appeared to him the most curious expedient for getting out of a difficulty that ever entered the mind of man. Why, the proposal of a fixed duty on corn by the Conservative party would involve precisely the greatest amount of political dishonesty that could by possibility be brought to bear upon the question. Why, this was precisely the point and pith of their contest with the Whig party at the election of 1841, so far as that contest turned upon the question of the Corn Laws, the merits of the sliding-scale as against the fixed duty. How could they, having deliberately made choice of the sliding-scale, now that that scale had slid from under them—how could they with common decency come forward now and propose a fixed duty when 1453 that measure was repudiated by its own parents? Where was the man to be found who would boldly come forward and propose to the country the formation of an Administration on the basis of a permanent fixed duty on the importation of foreign corn? The protectionist party complained of the tortuous and ambiguous policy of the right hon. Gentleman. Now, he asked them what was their own?—Mutato nomine, de teFabula narratur.Was there any man among them bold enough to stand by the sliding-scale? Would they support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Pontefract? The strongest arguments in favour of some change in our present policy was to be drawn from the social position of the country under the existing laws, and more especially from the condition of those for whose especial benefit it was said those laws ought to be maintained. The attack and the defence of the Corn Laws now rested alike on zeal for the good of the poor, and on an enlightened regard for the interests of the great body of the people. It was to be regretted that, in these days, the science of political economy, most important as it was, had come to be confounded too much with the science of government, that more comprehensive science which an eminent writer had so well described in saying—We may lay it down that the popular counsel given in our days to Governments is continually to favour the development of industry; it is to this point that we are now to make all our studies converge. But, according to our views, it is to higher objects that Government should direct its aims; it is upon the whole of what constitutes the national well-being; it is upon the relations, upon the proportions which ought to exist between different conditions, between different classes of citizens, in order that they may mutually aid each other, that all may supply the wants the one of the other; that all may unite hope to the feeling of security; that all, in short, may be enabled, by the development of their energies, to enjoy activity in calm.Now, a good law must surely have produced good effects on the condition of the labourer. We allowed the state of the manufacturing operative to be precarious, that it must still remain such, after they had made this alteration in the Corn Laws; but those who were answerable for his condition were now tenfold more answerable from the tone adopted in the Anti-Corn-Law agitation; they asked them to assent to an alteration of these laws; and, if evil should ensue, they would make them heavily responsible by the projected alteration 1454 in the law of settlement for such contingent evil. He did not say—for he did not believe—that the Corn Law had produced the existing state of things; but could that law be defended by a reference to the state of the agricultural labourers? The extreme lowness of their wages, the difficulty of living, were so notorious as to make it a common expression, "It is a wonder how they live;" and so it was; and so it was also in 1789 with the peasantry of France, as any one might see who would consult the instructive pages of Arthur Young upon the subject. They knew what occurred in the one case: was it patriotic, or wise, or statesmanlike, to shut our eyes to the possible consequences of our own neglect in the other? He would notice one circumstance, which made a deep and lasting impression on his mind. In the month of July, 1844, the then Bishop of Ely addressed a letter to his clergy, in which he said—The accounts received of incendiary fires in Suffolk are so alarming that I feel it my duty to call the attention of the clergy of my diocese in that county to this distressing state of things. At one of the late fires in Suffolk, it is reported that there were great crowds of women and children who jeered the men who were laudably engaged in working the engines; and, as the different parts of the roof gave way, and the flames burst forth with greater violence, they showed their gratification by loud cheering. I am sure that this communication will be read with great sorrow by every conscientious parish priest, and will prove to him the necessity for increased exertions to check this flagrant wickedness.Now, whatever difference of opinion might exist as to the cause, no doubt existed as to the fact of this awful occurrence.Causa latet—vis est notissima.Since he had read that letter, nothing but his feelings of deference to the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman on questions of commercial policy would ever have extracted from him a vote in favour of maintaining the existing Corn Laws. He must be a bold man indeed, who would now, in the teeth of such a fact as that—and it was not an isolated fact—and in the teeth of the unanimous assent of all the loading statesmen of England, maintain a system of laws for the special benefit of the agricultural peasantry, which, to say the very least, had co-existed with such a state of things as that described in the letter quoted from the Prelate who, only eighteen months ago, presided over the diocese of Ely. It was a most fallacious argument to adduce, that the state of the poor in this country was no worse than it was in other countries. The real question was, what was their relative 1455 position with reference to the rich? Had they advanced in their comforts in proportion to the advances made by the classes above them? When the inequalities of social condition in a nation became too great, all history taught but one fearful lesson as to the result. It was very easy to talk of our Constitution as a territorial Constitution; yet the men who now talked most loudly of the rights of electors were, in many cases, the very men who had degraded that most important class—the tenant farmers of England—into the mere political tools of their party purposes. And he confessed, that in coming to a conclusion upon that question, the old Spanish proverb had had considerable weight with him,—"Show me your friends, and I will tell you what you are;" and when he looked to the friends of the Government on the present occasion, what did he find? Was my Lord Talbot, for example, resident amongst the undrained lands and the agricultural helots of the county of Buckingham? Or were many other enlightened agriculturists, who supported these measures, answerable for the condition of Sussex, where a large farmer told a friend of his (Mr. M'Geachy's) the other day, as they were looking at a field in which there was a lamentable preponderance of thistles over turnips, "that he must own he had been very unfortunate in his turnips this year, but that for his part he never saw any harm come of thistles?" It only remained for him to express his earnest hope that, when that measure had passed, they should proceed to other measures calculated to meet the wants of the great mass of the people, their moral and intellectual, as well as their physical wants; and, looking at the state of some of our great manufacturing towns, he thought that there was now a noble opportunity for employing that enormous fund of the Anti-Corn-Law League, now likely to be useless for the purposes for which it was raised, in erecting some peaceful trophy of their victory, and for identifying the names of their leaders, not with the remembrance of a temporary and evanescent and most questionable agitation, but with some permanent establishments for the relief of the poor, the destitute, and the oppressed. For these and other reasons he had come, after full and earnest thought upon the subject, to the conclusion that it was the course most consistent with the duty he owed to the constituency he represented, with the duty he owed to the great interests of the country, 1456 and with that duty which he owed to his own personal honour, to give his cordial and earnest support to the measures now proposed by Her Majesty's Government; convinced as he was that they were measures which would tend to promote the general welfare of all classes of the community, and place the future greatness and prosperity of this Empire upon the one sole foundation upon which that greatness and that prosperity could securely rest — namely, the loyal affections of a contented and confiding people.
§ MR. PACKE
observed, that the hon. Member who had last addressed the House expressed a hope with respect to the appropriation of the funds of the Anti-Corn-Law League. He, however, believed that those funds had been raised for the purpose of agitation, and that they never would be applied to any other purpose. Much as he admired the tact and ability of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, and often as he had supported him upon the other side of the House, and frequently upon this (the Ministerial) side of the House, yet he was compelled to say he had not as yet heard a single argument adduced in favour of a repeal of the Corn Laws. The present state of Ireland had been alluded to as a reason for the proposal of the present measure affecting corn; but he, for one, declared that he could see no connection between a remedy for the distresses of the people of Ireland, and the total repeal of the Corn Laws on the 1st day of February, 1849. The right hon. Baronet had maintained that another powerful argument in favour of free trade was to be found in the national prosperity that had existed for the past three years under the system of relaxed duties. The hon. Member who had just sat down also remarked, that the consequences of such relaxation had been so encouraging that he was prepared to record his vote in favour of still further reductions. Why, did not the hon. Member know that the prosperity of the past three years had been in consequence of that very protection which it was now sought to abolish? Nevertheless, that prosperity was adduced as an argument in favour of free trade. This prosperity had likewise been brought about by the prosperous harvest, and the increased production of the land under an improved system of agriculture. But if the law of 1842 was now to be altered, faith would be broken with the farmers, who had invested their capital believing that protection would be 1457 extended to the produce of their industry. When they were told that they might improve their land, and thus obtain great benefit from the measures of free trade, he must say, that they might be pushed too far, and that they could not improve their land by the same process as they improved their manufacturing system. When the noble Lord the Member for London visited Glasgow, he told his auditory there that the right hon. Baronet had treated the agricultural party with great unkindness, for he had left them to speak for themselves. But he thought, when that noble Lord went back to Glasgow, he would be able to tell them that the agricultural party, both by the number and the excellence of their speeches, had defended themselves pretty well. But he agreed with the noble Lord that the right hon. Gentleman had treated his supporters with great unkindness. If he had told his supporters last December what he was going to do, they would not have committed themselves so much as they did, and certain hon. Friends of his would not have lost their seats in this House if they had known the views of the right hon. Baronet. They had been often told that they ought not to refer to old speeches, as these were altogether beside the question. Now it was very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to complain of their finding fault with Government for having deserted them; but he should be glad to know if the hon. Member for Stockport, or the hon. Member for Durham, were to get up and declare that they had been converted to the cause of protection, would not Covent Garden ring with astonishment and indignation? The election of South Nottingham, and the rejection of Lord Lincoln, was one proof of the feelings of the agriculturists towards the Government. Another was the meeting which was held at Loughborough, on the borders of South Notts, where strong resolutions were passed, and much indignation expressed by the agriculturists at the measures proposed by Government. If a general election were to take place, there would be the greatest possible distrust of the Government and of all public men whatever. He objected to the measure, because as yet he had heard no reason for its adoption; and he believed its effect would be seriously and vitally injurious to the best interests of the country. He objected to it, secondly, because it was a breach of faith with the constituencies of the Empire—and above all, he objected to it because, 1458 in the words of a late Member of the Cabinet—a nobleman who was not only noble by birth, but noble by his political character, he objected to it because he could not support the Government without a violation of his consistency and honour.
§ MR. FOX MAULE
hoped the House would allow him to make a few observations upon this question. He did so from feeling it was right that those who were connected solely with the landed property of the country, and who had nothing else to look to, ought to state the grounds upon which they supported the proposition of Her Majesty's Government. He could not say of that proposition that it had his entire and cordial approval, because it did not go to the extent he wished it to proceed. It fell short of that which he considered requisite to remedy the difficulties it was proposed to meet; but nevertheless, such as it was, he for one accepted it with gratitude, and he should endeavour to give it his most cordial support. He had listened to the hon. Gentleman who proposed the Amendment, and he confessed he felt some difficulty in accounting for the statement he had made with reference to the feelings this measure had created, not only in the breasts of landlords, but in the breasts of farmers and agricultural labourers on this side the Tweed. It had been his duty, ever since the measure had been proposed, to investigate the feelings which existed towards it in that country and among that class to which he more immediately belonged; and he had no hesitation in publicly declaring that the result of that investigation had been this—not only was there no panic among the landlords, or among the farmers, but in spite of all that had been said, agricultural arrangements were proceeding with an increased activity from day to day. He would state to the House, in reference to the observations which had fallen from the other side, a practical example of that which he had mentioned. When this proposition was first made, a document was laid before a public meeting emanating from one to whom, however he might have sometimes differed upon the means he took to advocate this question, he had no hesitation in saying the country was under a very deep debt of gratitude for his exertions. He meant the hon. Member for Stockport. The letter which that hon. Gentleman addressed to the farmers of the kingdom, shortly after this measure was proposed, had been widely canvassed in his 1459 county, at many of the largest markets there; and within ten days after the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had developed his measures, the farmers, who he would not say were in the first instance anxious for them, but after having seen and heard the arguments in their support in that letter, they came to the conclusion, that instead of being put off for three years, their interests would have been best consulted had the abolition of the Corn Laws taken place at once. Such was his own conclusion; and he must say, that he looked with regret upon the proposed measure of the Government, because it contained provisions for maintaining the present Corn Laws for a further period of three years; and he also looked with regret upon the time which had already intervened since the right hon. Gentleman had proposed this measure, and which he feared must yet intervene before even the measure of the right hon. Gentleman could be carried into effect. He could not but remember that on the 1st of November last the right hon. Gentleman had proposed, on account of the apprehended scarcity both in Ireland and in this country, to open the ports for the free admission of foreign grain. We had now arrived at nearly the end of March, and still there was no decided prospect of even the partial remedy of Her Majesty's Government being carried through that House of Parliament. He certainly had anticipated, and had hoped, before that House should separate for the Easter recess, that the measure would at any rate have passed that tribunal; but he regretted to think that, during the next week, they were to have mixed up with that debate another subject of the deepest importance to a neighbouring country; and the experience which he had had of Irish debates, forbad him to hope that the present measure would be read a third time in that House before the Easter recess. Under all the circumstances, he could not anticipate that before the end of May at least, any advantage could be expected to accrue from it. He could not find fault with the length of time which the discussion of that subject had already occupied; for every one had a right fully to speak upon so important a subject, particularly if he felt that his interests were affected. The landlords had stated that it was a question in which they were deeply concerned. He (Mr. F. Maule) must say he believed that in his county the interests of the landlords would be as safe after this measure should 1460 become law, as they were at present; and he not only believed that the alarm which they expressed now was groundless, but he was surprised at the conduct of many of those who had, if he might use the expression, the very groundlessness of it under their own immediate eyes. He knew one noble Lord who had withdrawn his proxy from the Government, and had given it to the noble Duke who led the protectionist party in another place; and yet he knew at the same time that ten days after the right hon. Baronet had made his proposal known to the country, the noble Lord had let two farms upon his own property at an increased rental. He stated the fact, because one fact was worth a bushel of arguments. One farm was renewed for a period of nineteen years. Previously the rent was 480l. a year. Ten days after the right hon. Baronet's proposal was made known, a rent was offered for the ensuing nineteen years of 570l. per annum; being an increase of 90l. a year. Hitherto the rent had been paid half in grain and half in money; the whole increase of rent was conditioned to be paid exclusively in money. The other farm was let within a few days afterwards. He was not acquainted with the precise details; but he was within the mark when he stated that it had been let at an increased rent of 20 per cent. He had consulted nearly the whole of the land agents in the large county of Perth, and they could not inform him of one single instance within their knowledge where the lease of a farm having expired, the offers on it had not risen, and the increased offers had not been accepted by the landlords. He observed that a few days ago a petition had been presented in another place from the county of Haddington, against the proposed measures of the Government; and yet he knew that so far from having been depressed in value, a farm in that county had not many days ago been let upon a new lease at the enormous price of five guineas an acre. These facts concurred to make him think that if the whole agricultural interest of Scotland were fairly to consider the proposed measures, the result would be that they would look forward to the issue of the principles of free trade as to one which would enable them to stand in a much improved condition with reference to the other classes of the community. He looked upon those measures of Her Majesty's Government as calculated to sooth and calm the feelings of irritation which might exist in our own community; 1461 but he looked also upon those measures of commercial freedom, as calculated to reach to a far greater extent, and to secure peace between nations and throughout the world. Let them look to America, and he would ask to what did they attribute the changed tone of America? He attributed it, first, to the calm and dignified manner in which all parties in this country had treated the subject in dispute; but he equally ascribed it to those measures of freedom of trade and commercial liberty which had emanated from Her Majesty's Government, and which he was sure would be found by all parties, whether extended to America or to any other country on the face of the globe, to be their best security for peace, whilst they would eventually secure to this country an abundant supply of all articles which entered into the food and conduced to the comfort of the people.
§ MR. CHOLMONDELEY
, in venturing to offer to the House a very few remarks upon the important question which now occupied its attention, might perhaps be permitted to allude for one moment to a subject to which an hon. Member had referred; the allusion was to a subject which he had had no intention of introducing—a dissolution of Parliament upon this question. There might be many grave objections urged against such a course; but still he could not but think, in spite of those objections, that such a course would have been most safe and most advisable. He might be told that it would be unconstitutional and dangerous — that the House of Commons stood to the country in precisely the same relative position as an individual Member stood to his constituents, and that the same considerations which would prevent the Representative from consulting his constituents as to a particular vote, ought to withhold the House from appealing to the country on this particular question. All this he had no doubt was theoretically true; but how did the matter stand when we came to practical results? He thought it might be fairly illustrated by one particular case—the case of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. On one memorable occasion the right hon. Gentleman had felt it necessary to resign his trust into the hands of those who had committed it to him. He had told the House the other night that he then thought he had taken a wrong course. That might have been the case constitutionally; but did the right hon. Gentleman wish what he had done undone? He 1462 thought not. He had done it because he felt that honour and conscience required it; and for yielding to those dictates he was sure neither an individual Member nor that House would ever lose credit with the country. He thought that by the same dictates of honour and conscience the House was, even at this late period, bound to give the country an opportunity of pronouncing upon a measure which was so important to every one in the country. Surely if this measure was to become the law of the land, the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government would count his numbers with greater satisfaction, when he felt that he could not be accused of taking the country by surprise; and that the majority which enabled him to carry this measure was a majority (which he denied the present would be) which spoke the sense of the country. Having said thus much on this point, he might now perhaps be allowed to state in a very few sentences the reasons why with much regret he now found himself in opposition to the Government. He must say that he saw nothing in the state of the case, and heard nothing in the arguments which had been advanced, to change the opinions which he had always entertained on this subject. He might be met with statements of distress, famine, and pestilence in Ireland, and asked if such matters were to be treated with levity. He did not believe that there was in this country any general feeling of indifference to the state of Ireland. But admitting even to their utmost extent the statements of present misfortune, and, going still further, admitting all the expected calamity, he still thought that the Irish emergency might have been met at a less price than that of a total revolution of the whole agricultural interest, as well as the whole home and foreign trade of the country. When he said revolution, he used the word in its literal sense, a turning over, an absolute alteration, for such it was; it was an absolute revolution for good or for evil: he trusted it might be for good; but suppose it were for evil—suppose the present measure, instead of relieving Irish misery, were but to superadd English to Irish distress—in what a position should we feel ourselves? And be it remembered that this measure, offering in case of failure so terrible an alternative, was brought forward, not at a moment of great national distress, of great depression of trade; it was not brought forward at an emergency when to avoid the certainty of impending 1463 ruin they must embrace the alternative of great possible calamity; on the contrary, it was proposed to them at a period of (with one exception) almost unexampled national prosperity; and with regard to that one exception, with regard to the Irish emergency, it surely would have been better met by the right hon. Baronet's original proposition of opening the ports. He knew that the proposition had once been negatived in the Cabinet; but he could not but think that the powers of persuasion of the right hon. Baronet, which had induced the Cabinet to co-operate in the larger measure, would have enabled him to carry the smaller; and as far as Ireland was concerned, that smaller measure, the temporary opening of the ports, would have afforded more effectual or more immediate relief, putting out of the question the inexpediency of meeting a temporary evil by a permanent enactment. And, as to the difficulty alluded to by the right hon. Baronet of closing the ports again after "the sweets of the absence of protection" had once been tasted, surely that was the most conclusive argument that could be adduced in favour of such a measure; for the degree to which "the sweets of the absence of protection" received the approval or disapproval of the country in general, would furnish the strongest possible justification of the abolition, or reason for the continuance, of the present system of Corn Laws. So much for the state of the case. With respect to arguments, he had promised not to detain the House; and after the lengthened discussion that had taken place, he was not presumptuous enough to suppose that he could offer anything new upon the subject; but there was one point on which he wished to say a single word. In the course of his speech, the right hon. Baronet had endeavoured to prove that a low price of food and high wages went hand in hand, and adduced the last three years in support of his assertion; but the right hon. Gentleman totally passed over the fact, that, during the last three years there had been a cause in operation which, however beneficial, could not be considered as permanent, and, consequently, was not admissible into a calculation of that nature. He alluded to the immense number of railroads in process of construction. These produced an immense artificial and temporary demand for labour, and consequent increase in the rate of wages; whilst good harvests had produced a comparatively low price of food; both great blessings to the 1464 country, but neither of which could be counted on as permanent ones. He had, he must own, great confidence in the sagacity of the right hon. Gentleman; and he was also sure that the right hon. Gentleman had not brought forward any measure of the expediency of which he was not convinced. He was ready to admit, too, that, as far as the right hon. Gentleman had gone, his measures had worked well for the country. He trusted the results of the present measures might be good, for he liked to look at the bright side of every question. At the same time he could not but see that human nature was fallible. The right hon. Gentleman might be right; but then he might be wrong, and that, too, upon a matter of vital importance. With the exception of Irish distress, he believed the country to be in a state of great prosperity. Then, ought they to run this risk, and expose the country to a great danger? He had, he repeated, great confidence in the right hon. Baronet's sagacity, and on ordinary occasions would strain a point, or sacrifice an opinion, to support him; but he could not but feel that this was an enormous experiment; uncalled for by present emergencies; tried, not at a period of great national distress, but at a moment of almost unexampled national prosperity—an experiment that might, and he trusted would be, successful; but one whose failure would be so disastrous, that he could not undertake the responsibility of being one of those who helped to make this measure the law of the land. He trusted that in the few remarks he had ventured to make to the House, he had abstained entirely from all personalities, which had unfortunately prevailed but too much in these debates. A great cry had been got up, more out of that House than in it, against the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government. In this cry he did not participate, for, he said, that if ever there was a man who gave unequivocal proof of his sincerity, by his sacrifices, in bringing forward measures that he believed to be for the good of the country, it was the right hon. Gentleman. He could understand changing—honestly changing his opinion, and openly avowing that change; but that which he did not understand was men thinking one way and voting another. This, he said, was the real mischief—this it was that went far to destroy the bonds of union between the representative and his constituents—this it 1465 was which really destroyed the public confidence in public men. If were to do this—if we were thus to— play fast and loose with faith,And make unconstant children of ourselves,it would do more real mischief to the country, than all the Bills that ever were introduced into Parliament.
§ MR. H. VERNON
said, that if, as it had been argued, Parliament was not in a state competent to judge of this measure, it was the duty of the House to address Her Majesty, praying Her to dissolve the Parliament; and if such an Amendment had been moved instead of that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, it would have been more consonant with the views expressed by hon. Gentlemen. He himself stood in a position of some peculiarity; for he was obnoxious to those shafts to which hon. Members were exposed who had heretofore been ranged on the side of protection, and who had felt compelled, by an imperative sense of duty, to take another course—a course which was not the most congenial to his sentiments, nor most accordant with his foregone conclusions. He had come down to the House the other night in the hope that a 5s. fixed duty would have found advocates in many hon. Gentlemen on the opposite benches. He had always considered that a moderate fixed duty was the best for the agriculturists; but he had been compelled, like all public men, to act with a great body: it was no use to take up an "insulated" position when there was a vast number of important questions which attached a man to his party. Undoubtedly, in early life, he had never attached himself to the party of the First Lord of the Treasury; and he had not become his supporter till in 1836 he had seen the necessity of joining his standard; and, ever since, he had admired the wisdom and integrity of his course. The right hon. Baronet knew that he had never asked and had never received a favour from him—[Sir R. PERL: Hear]—but he had given the right hon. Baronet his best support. With regard to the general question, he frankly stated, that for the last twenty years he had been of opinion that a 5s. duty would not throw any great impediment in the way of the interests of commerce, and would not injure the prosperity of the country, whilst it would stop the evils of speculation, and give, if not a protection, an assistance to the agriculturists; but he had always felt a difficulty, as a representative of an agricultural 1466 district, in reconciling his wish to defer to his constituents with the interests of the country. A fixed duty was not now attainable, and in supporting the present proposal he was under the conviction that he should suffer a loss of from five to ten per cent in his rents. He did not hold that the protection which gave him this was a bane to agriculture; but if there were any truth in political economy it would prove ultimately to be a landlord's and not a tenant's question; and he felt bound to vote for the real interests of the poor, and for what would promote the industry of the country, and, ultimately, its prosperity, notwithstanding any private injury done to his own interests. He must say, also, that throughout America he had found but one feeling among the friends of peace, who said that if we would only interest, by prosperity, the Western States of America, which were invulnerable to our arms, and inaccessible to our commerce—for we had already the interests of the Eastern States in our favour—we should do more to promote the peace of America than all the concessions we should make in the Oregon or elsewhere. He had received a letter from a very intelligent merchant at Boston, who said that the effect of the proposed alteration in the Tariff would be that England would completely fortify herself against all competition in manufactures. Again, it was not the experience of the three prosperous years of 1843, 1844, and 1845, but the experience of the three famine years of 1840, 1841, and 1842, that had convinced the right hon. Baronet of the inutility of the sliding-scale; and it was upon those grounds he should support the second reading of this Bill.
said, that he had entered that House believing that the Corn Laws, as they were then constituted, were for the good of the country, though he had always voted with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton for an inquiry into them, as he conceived that such an inquiry was just and right. However, when he found that the noble Lord whose political opinions had generally guided his own, united with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who, he might say, was one of the greatest statesmen of his time, for one purpose, in which neither of them, especially the right hon. Gentleman, could have any personal interest, he, as a practical man, without pretending to understand, as some hon. Gentleman opposite had pretended to understand, political economy, felt himself 1467 bound to give way to the right hon. Baronet, and to vote in favour of this Bill.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
said, that the hon. and gallant Officer (Hon. Capt. Berkeley), who preceded him, had by his political life in general, and by one memorable vote in particular, entitled himself to respect in all his other Parliamentary proceedings, for earnestness and sincerity, even where he did not carry conviction to his hearers. As to his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Vernon), who preceded the gallant Officer, he (Sir R. H. Inglis) would not follow his speech further than to say, that one more full of the personal confessions of a public man, of the private narrative of his travels, of an eloge on his own high-minded principles and consistency, he had never heard. For the condescension with which he obviously regarded the weakness of those with whom he was now differing, in this section of the House, they all doubtless felt as grateful as they ought; but he would not let off his hon. and learned Friend without one parting observation. He had referred largely to his political life; but the date of his conversion to those views which now, so much to his own satisfaction, authorized him to lecture these benches, was not earlier than the 11th June last year; for, on the preceding day, namely, on the 10th June, 1845, he found his hon. and learned Friend most stoutly denying, in opposition to the hon. and consistent Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) that the Corn Law does restrict the supply of food, or that it is prejudicial to the welfare of the country, especially of the working classes, or that it ought to be abolished. When he saw the name of Mr. Granville Vernon in the memorable list of the majority of 254, nine months ago, he felt that that hon. Member was not the person who was entitled to taunt with weakness those who retained their own and his last year's opinions. Then as to his hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, who had addressed the House with so much earnestness and so much ability, he must deny his right also to be an authority in the matter; since he also, though from his speech it might have been thought that he was one who had always held his present opinions, and was thereby entitled to give lectures to others upon them, was one of the new converts, whose name appeared in the same memorable list in last year's division against the repeal of the Corn Laws. Now, as to his right hon. Friend the Member for the county of Perth (Mr. F. Maule), to whom 1468 that disability did not apply, he had unintentionally omitted a most important element in the statements which he had made respecting the increased rent given for farms in that county within the last few days or weeks, as if such increase proved the confidence of the parties in the measures of Her Majesty's Government, and that agriculture was to flourish even more without protection than with it. The facts proved no such thing. The leases were leases for nineteen years, granted in the period of the greatest depression, and renewed, when renewed, in reference to the current value of all things. On the general subject of the night, after a debate of eighteen days, he was not presumptuous enough to think that on the nineteenth evening he could introduce any new matter; but still there were three or four points to which, though he had been a tolerably regular listener, he did not think that sufficient attention had been paid. They were these: first, the expense of the experiment now under consideration; secondly, the injustice of that experiment as related to one of the great interests of the country, he meant that which was connected with tithe rent-charge; thirdly, the injustice of the measure to the general agriculture of the country in the measure of compensation not being contemporaneous; and, fourthly, admitting, what he denied, the extent of the existing distress, the utter inapplicability of the proposed remedy to meet that distress. On the first point, he did not think that it had been made sufficiently prominent in the debates, that the cost of the present measure, "that enormous experiment," as his hon. Friend the Member for Honiton had called it, was probably not less than 1,500,000l. of yearly revenue. In the account ordered by the House to be printed on the 6th of February last, it appeared that a sum of 357,203l. would, on the 1st of February, 1849, be permanently lost, as duties on corn to the yearly receipts of the Exchequer; there was a further sum of 55,879l. as duties on other articles absolutely repealed: so much for positive loss. Then there was a positive outlay of above 500,000l. sterling annually, in the shape of compensatory boons to the agricultural interests—some, for saving the counties the expense of hanging a criminal — some, 20,000l. in one item—some, 30,000l. in another. But besides this loss and this outlay, there was the risk of enormous reductions on the existing duties on the articles 1469 which were to be admitted at lower rates. The aggregate thus risked was 2,326,105. Now, he would take one item only, that of spirits. Foreign spirits were now admitted at a duty of 1l. 2s. 10d. per gallon; henceforth they were to be admitted at 15s. per gallon. Either the consumption of foreign spirits would remain the same, in which case the revenue would lose 413,791l. every year; or it would rise, according to the diminished price, and, in that case, you would gain the same duty by having distributed more than half a million of ardent foreign spirits throughout the country, increasing the temptations to crime, as well as disturbing many of the existing commercial interests of the people. The second point to which he wished briefly to direct the attention of the House, was the gross injustice of the measure as related to the owner of tithe-rent-charge. His hon. Friend who seconded the Amendment (Sir J. Y. Buller) had with great force and effect impressed this point on the House. He would not weary the House by referring, except passingly, to the measure for the commutation of tithes, which became law only some seven or eight years ago. At the time he stated that, without entering into the question of the divine right of tithes, nothing was clearer than that tithes were the oldest legal property in England. That property the owners did not desire to exchange for any other. Without their request, and against their interest, the Legislature compelled the surrender of this property in exchange for the present rent-charge. A bargain is a bargain whether made with a man in a black coat, or with a man in a blue coat. That bargain you made with the tithe-owner. You told him, that, instead of having the first interest in the soil of England, whether cultivated or uncultivated, whenever it might be brought to bear produce, he should have hereafter, in reference to that land only which at the date of the compact was under cultivation, a certain number of bushels of wheat, at a price varying according to the average of a certain number of preceding years; that wheat being a protected article, protected by the laws for the encouragement of native industry and native produce. What is the case now? You introduce a measure, without the consent of the tithe rent-charge owner, which is, according to your own showing, to diminish the value of that which you have given him, in exchange for an absolute right over all the lands of 1470 England. The owners of the other interests in those lands may possibly—though he (Sir R. H. Inglis) thought not with any certainty—hereafter, at the distance of some years, and with an amount of intermediate misery which has not hitherto been described in these debates, be enabled to recover rents equal, perhaps, to those at present. We have learnt now to produce meat by the plough; the application of science to agriculture has enabled the farmer by his green crops to provide food for cattle, to a degree unknown even fifty years ago; and by the conversion of arable to pasture lands, the actual revenue to the lord may possibly be as great a few years hence as now. But there is one class of proprietors for whom no such resource is open. They are irrevocably bound to receive an unvarying quantity of one article of produce at a lower and a lower price. Is not the object of your measure to ensure lower price? If it be not, and if such be not the result, you have needlessly disturbed all the social and domestic interests of the country; if it be, and if it succeed, you have perpetrated a gross injustice not merely on an unprotected class, but on that very class which, on the faith of your own laws, within the last eight years, you have compelled to exchange their old security on the broad lands of England for a bargain which you are yourselves the first to violate. On the third point, he (Sir R. H. Inglis) would be very brief. He was, in fact, hardly able, as the House would perceive, to make himself heard. He referred to the injustice done to the landed interest, not merely by the measure itself, but by the delay of the measures which ought contemporaneously to have been brought before the House. It was possible that the measure now on the Table might become law; while the compensatory measures, however inefficient they were for actual relief, might not even be proposed. He repeated that he did not much value them: he thought that the transfer of some large portion of the poor's rate to the Consolidated Fund would have been a far greater relief to the landed interest, while it would distribute the burden more equally, as it ought. His fourth point was, the utter inapplicability of the proposed measure to the relief of the evil which it professed to meet. There was no more connexion between them than, according to the popular version of the old saying, there was between Tenterden Steeple and Goodwin Sands, He fully admitted that his 1471 right hon. Friend at the head of the Government was perfectly sincere in his present course. He could have no conceivable motive for it except such sincerity. He was to govern England on his own principles, and not on those of any other man: on his own honest convictions to-day, not on those which he might have held with equal honesty yesterday. But, while he admitted this most fully, he could not repeat, what he had stated on a former occasion, that exactly in proportion as he acquitted his right hon. Friend as a man, he must depreciate him as a statesman—all whose opinions on commercial policy must have been wrong for the thirty-five years of his past public life, if his opinions for the last three months were right. Though he did not think that a case had been made out for opening the ports in November last, that at least was, in point of time, a remedy more near to the disease than the measure now in progress. A famine is threatened in Ireland this spring; and you meet it by a measure which is to take effect on the 1st February, 1849. His right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) said on this day month, that the climax of the distress would be three months onward. How is scarcity to be cured or relieved in Ireland three months hence, by importing corn duty-free three years since? Upon every ground he concurred with the Amendment moved, in a speech of such talent, by his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Yorke), though he did not quite follow him in some of the latter allusions in that speech. He retained his old convictions in favour of his own country, and of the duty of protecting the interests of England, rather than of encouraging those of Poland or Russia. He was not of that school who looked with equal regard or equal indifference to all other countries and to his own——Whose impartial view,Thy interests, Britain, ranks with thine, Peru.He felt persuaded, that the great change now meditated on one interest would materially affect others, which ought to be equally dear: and believing that it would not remedy even the local and temporary evil upon which it was professed to be grounded, he cordially concurred in its rejection.
§ MR. CHILDERS
gave his approbation to the present measure, under the conviction that the price of corn in this country would not be at all reduced by a system of free trade. A return which was prepared at the Foreign Office last year, proved, on the authority of our Consuls, that the price of bread in England was as low as in any part of the world. It was a fact that bread in London was chaper than in Ostend and Antwerp, and that the steamers plying between England and Belgium invariably laid in their stock of bread in London. The price of inferior bread at Dantzic was 2½d. per lb., at Warsaw 3¼d., at Hamburg 2¼d., Amsterdam 3¼d. At Odessa bread was 2¾d. per lb., though corn was only 28s. a quarter, and in each of those cases bread in London was lower in price per lb. Marseilles was comparatively near Odessa, and drew a great quantity of corn from that port; and yet it was a singular fact, corn in Marseilles was at times dearer than in England. Why, then, should we be afraid of the effects of free trade? The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had declared "that there was a remarkable tendency apart from all legislation, to a decline in the price of wheat in this country," Now this was a proposition opposed to his view. The right hon. Baronet had quoted in support of the argument the average prices during periods of five years each, fom 1800 to 1830; but there was a fallacy in this argument. The right hon. Baronet had left the question of the currency entirely out of consideration. When the currency assumed a natural and healthy condition, the prices rose. From 1825 to 1830, for instance, the price was 56s. 7d.; but from 1830 to 1835, the average was 57s. 11d. Wool, and other articles, fluctuated in the same way, and ultimately the same results were produced. He also anticipated great benefit from free trade, by opening the ports of other nations. He felt assured that our good example would be everywhere followed, and that an extension of peace and civilization would be the consequence.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ House adjourned at half-past Twelve o'clock.