SIR C. BURRBLL
said, that as he had, by severe indisposition, been prevented from expressing his opinion on the Corn Law Bill in its earlier stages, he trusted the House would bear with him whilst he briefly stated his objections to it, and his reasons for moving that the Report be taken into further consideration that day six months. He opposed the measure, because he believed its adoption would interfere with the profits of labourers of all classes, whether agricultural or manufacturing. It had been said by the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, during the progress of the debate, that the prices of labour would not be affected by the admission of foreign corn; but long experience and observation as a landholder proved to him that this was erroneous, for whenever the price of wheat and other farm produce was low, the want of fair profit for capital, industry, and skill to the farmer, created a necessity for not only reducing the wages of his labourers, but, what was a more serious evil, reducing their number, and this particularly in the winter months. There was an old saying, that "it is wise to let well alone;" and he asked whether the condition of the country had not been prosperous, before this unexpected change in the opinions and conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers with respect to that protection to agriculture which had been deemed necessary by the wisdom of preceding statesmen, from the time of Edward III. up to the present period? He denied that the partial loss of the potato crop in Ireland offered any sound ground for applying as the remedy, a general and permanent alteration of the Corn Laws to meet a partial and by no means a general evil; and much less was there any justification for the cry of famine, when it was well known that Ireland never had so prosperous a harvest of every description, with the exception of a partial failure of the potatoes in some parts of that country; while in a great proportion good crops of sound potatoes had been grown, as he had been well assured by correspondents and persons well acquainted with the facts. He must say, that if just grounds existed for the fear of a scarcity of food from the partial failure alluded to, the opening of the ports of that 227 country, and the prevention of the export of its provisions, would have been the host and speediest method of averting the evil professed to be apprehended, instead of importing a few ship-loads of maize as a means of relief. But while the alarm of famine was raising the prices, what was passing? Why, immense supplies of oats, of wheat, and of flour, were constantly sent to Liverpool and other English ports, instead of being reserved on the spot—with a saving of the cost of conveyance—for the assistance of the population in Ireland wherever distress for provisions prevailed. If Gentlemen would refer to the low prices of labour in foreign countries from whence supplies of wheat might arise, hey could not deny that these labour prices were the results of low farm profits; and he begged the attention of the House while he stated the prices of labour in some of the countries alluded to, from a document in his hand:—In Spain, the abour wages per day were 7d.; in Portugal, 7d. also; in Russia and Poland, 5d.; at Odessa, 4d.; and in Germany and Denmark, 9d. per day. Would any Gentleman venture to deny that if imports of foreign corn drove down the profits of British agriculture, that, pari passu, the wages of farm labour must inevitably fall in due proportion? And the same fall which affected the agricultural labourers would as inevitably follow and affect the manufacturing operatives. Why, in the earlier periods of free-trade discussions as to wheat, the free trade and Anti-Corn-Law party stated that they could not compete with the low prices of continental labour; an assertion which, if it had any meaning, implied a desire to reduce the wages of the operative by reducing the profits—the fair profits—of the farmer, by cheapening his produce, and especially bread corn; for no one would venture to entertain so absurd an idea as that the Anti-Corn-Law League desired to raise the wages of the foreign labourers to the same or nearly the same rates as those paid in this country. He felt that, considering the peculiar burdens on land, such as the land tax, and the taxes on its produce of hops and barley for malting purposes, not forgetting the poor rates, the church rates, the highway rates, and county rates, chiefly, if not wholly, borne by the land; the land and its cultivators had just and equitable claims to protection against foreign untaxed corn; and if grounds for that opinion were wanting, he might quote the former expressed sentiments 228 of the right hon. Baronet and those of the right hon. the Secretary for the Home Department; but, without dwelling thereon, he would turn to the recorded opinions of two deceased and distinguished statesmen, to whose liberal opinions no exception could be taken justly by any party in the House. He alluded to Mr. Canning and Mr. Huskisson. In the speech of the former, in March, 1827, he said—As to the mode, amount, or degree of protection, many questions may arise; but to the principle that some protection is due, I have never heard an objection raised.In the address of the latter to his constituents at Chichester, he said—I admit that if unlimited foreign import, which the war suspended, were now again allowed, bread might be a little, though very little, cheaper than it now is for a year or two; but what would follow? The small farmer would be ruined, improvements would everywhere stand still, inferior lands now producing corn would return to waste; the home trader and shopman would lose the briskness of retail trade, and while their stocks increased their customers would fall away; and farm-servants and all trades depending on agriculture would lose their employment, and the necessary result of want of work would be, that wages would fall even more rapidly than the price of bread. Then comes some interruption to foreign import, coinciding with the decay of agriculture at home, and corn would be suddenly forced up again to a famine price. Such, I conceive, would be the inevitable consequence of again placing ourselves in a state of habitual and increasing dependence on foreign supply. Let the bread we eat be from home-grown corn, and the cheaper the better. It is cheap now, and I rejoice at it; but, to ensure continued cheapness, we must ensure to our own growers that protection against foreign import which has produced these blessings, and by which alone they can be permanently maintained.Who, then, could be surprised that with such great authorities and such examples, his hon. Friends and himself should object to a dangerous theoretical change in the protective principles, applied not to agriculture alone, but to other industrial interests in this country? The Anti-Corn-Law party had called in question the disposition to improvement in agriculture. For the injustice of such a charge he appealed to the knowledge of every one acquainted with the subject, whether vast sums had not of late years been laid out in under-draining, an improvement to which he could speak practically, as having thorough-drained above 800 acres of land with such benefit, that he now—to speak within compass—had grown an average of eight sacks of wheat an acre, where previously five sacks were considered a good crop. Again, in the article of guano, unknown 229 in this country till within four years, there had been imported as follows:—
Creating a great increase of food, and much additional beneficial employment to our shipping. With these undeniable proofs of the increased spirit of agricultural improvement having been recently carried out, the House would not fail to see the injustice of any accusation of supineness against the agriculturists. A great injury was likely to arise to the warehousing interests from the discovery that by matting the sides of the Baltic ships, and loading them with well-dried wheat, so as to sail for British ports before the severe winter frosts put a stop to northern navigation, and reaching England, they discharged not their corn till a favourable moment, having the power of keeping it in good condition for four or five months; a practice which, while evading all warehouse charges, and depriving the people of their usual employment, could not be adopted by our shipowners, having the opportunity of carrying freights generally all the winter, and more especially as the wages and provisioning of their crews were considerably higher than those of the sailors from the Baltic. In conclusion, the hon. Baronet expressed his utter astonishment that any cause should exist to turn the attention of Irish Members from the benefit, approaching to monopoly and peculiar to Ireland, of having all the English and Scotch ports open to their importations of spare agricultural products, an advantage not formerly enjoyed, and from which Ireland had greatly benefited, and the loss of which, by the proposed measure, could not but be soon felt by the Irish farmers as a most serious deprivation of a peculiar and exclusive advantage. With these opinions, founded on observation and many years' practice as a farmer, he had no hesitation in considering himself entirely justified in acting upon these opinions, and in opposing the proposed measure as being fraught with injury to all descriptions of industrial interests.
Tons. £. 100,000 of African guano, at 8l. per ton, costing 800,000 37,000 of Peruvian guano, at 12l. per ton, costing. 444,000 Total 137,000 tons, costing £ 1,244,000
§ COLONEL VERNER
would not have considered it necessary to have trespassed on the time of the House for one moment, had it not been that he observed so few Members 230 from Ireland, particularly those representing counties or agricultural districts, take part in the discussion; and he feared from their silence it might be supposed that the gentry and farmers of that country were either indifferent or favourable to the measure now before the House. He did not now rise with the presumptuous idea of considering the measure as it might affect the country at large, and all our complicated interests. He wished merely to express the alarm which it was natural to feel when one contemplates an experiment, such as must make a total change in the financial system of a country burdened with such a debt as ours—a country, which hitherto relied mainly on its agricultural resources for a permanent provision to meet its wants, and which was now to see those resources very possibly rendered insecure and unavailing. But there was a topic of a more limited nature on which he could speak with something like the authority of a witness. The perilous effects of this measure upon the nation at large had been already fully and ably described to the House. He would speak of the effect that would be produced by it in the part of the country where he resided, in his own neighbourhood, and upon his own property, and of this he felt it to be his duty to speak. He complained of the effect this hazardous measure would have upon a class of persons whose case he much feared had not met with the consideration it deserved: he meant the farmers and agricultural labourers in Ireland. It was thought by some that a reduction of rents would set them at ease; but those who made use of such an argument were little acquainted with the condition of landlord and tenant in various parts of Ireland. Occupying tennants had at this moment an interest in their holdings, which they would lose by the withdrawal of agricultural protection—and it was not to be expected that landlords opposed to the measure, and sufferers from it, should make good their losses. He did not believe there was a tenant holding directly under him—and he believed the same thing prevailed pretty generally throughout the province of Ulster—who could not have obtained, had he been disposed to part with his farm a few months since, a high rate of purchase, not less than ten pounds per acre from his successor. He would ask, who would become the purchaser when that Bill became the law, and who would remunerate the tenant who had, perhaps, expended his little capital in the purchase 231 of the farm himself, and in cultivating and improving his land, upon the faith that protection would not be withdrawn? Most assuredly not the disabled proprietor. These were some of the grounds upon which he strongly objected to the passing of the measure. Its effects on the country, in common with those who had so ably exposed them to the House, he dreaded; but, for himself personally, he was disposed to bear them without complaint. He felt, as every person must feel, what he believed to be a national calamity; and he felt for the effect it must produce upon the fortunes of men who had, until now, a profitable interest in their holdings—who enjoyed some of the comforts and partook of the feelings of the proprietors, and who were enabled to share with their farm labourers some of the comforts they enjoyed themselves. The measure before the House, if it passed into a law, must create a new order of things. It would not merely deprive the great of affluence, but it would abridge the comforts of the poor: it would take away from a substantial yeomanry all feeling of independence; it would place the whole tenantry of Ireland on the comfortless level of the rackrent system; and it would reduce the condition of the agricultural labourer, who must sink as the classes immediately above him descended. If for these reasons alone, he should feel it to be his duty to oppose the measure; but if the right hon. Baronet was disposed to obtain the consent of the farmers, he would recommend his allowing them to dispose of the produce of the land upon the true principle of free trade. Give permission to the farmer to malt his oats and his barley, which would enable him to compete with the manufacturer, and in this way the right hon. Baronet ought, perhaps, to a certain extent, to reconcile them to the Bill. He could not sit down without joining with those hon. Members who had expressed their regret that the measure had not come from the opposite side of the House—that it had not been brought forward by the noble Lord the Member for London or indeed by any hon. Member except the right hon. Baronet, because he could not divest himself of the feeling that the right hon. Baronet had betrayed those friends who had stood true to him for so many years. He could not avoid expressing his very great disappointment at the course the right hon. Baronet had taken. He ought, perhaps, to feel it more sensibly than many others, but he would state the reason why. 232 It had been his good fortune in early life to have seen much of the right hon. Baronet. At the time that the right hon. Gentleman filled the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland, he was serving on the staff of the then Lord Lieutenant of that country, the late Duke of Richmond—a nobleman universally beloved and deservedly esteemed—whose kindness to him had made an impression which could never be effaced from his recollection but with his life. It was at that period he had frequent opportunities of meeting with, and hearing the opinions delivered by the right hon. Baronet, and always with increased delight. He had been brought up a soldier: the greater part of his early life had been passed in the service of his country, at home and abroad. He did not pretend to any extensive acquaintance with public matters, and he felt much satisfaction to think that he should find, when he entered Parliament, a person to whom he could, with confidence, look for guidance and direction. In 1832 he obtained a seat in Parliament—two years afterwards the right hon. Baronet made this declaration, that, "he would not accept power on the condition of declaring himself an apostate from the principles upon which he had hitherto acted." He considered this conclusive. He had often heard the right hon. Baronet express those principles from which he had declared he would never become an apostate, and he at once enlisted under the right hon. Baronet's banner. For thirteen years he served the right hon. Baronet faithfully; and was it not too much to expect at the end of that period, when the right hon. Baronet had hoisted the standard of the enemy, that he should join him in fighting under it? He could not. As well might the right hon. Baronet expect him, to desert the colours he fought under at the battle of Waterloo. The right hon. Baronet had told the House, that it required three years before he could make up his mind to advocate this measure; and yet the right hon. Baronet called upon his supporters to change their opinions in as many weeks. He admitted that generally every person had a right to change his opinions; but even to this rule there were exceptions, and in his judgment, the right hon. Baronet was one of these exceptions. The right hon. Baronet was, or had been the leader of a great party for many years, and he thought it was due to that party to be informed by the right hon. Baronet when the change had taken place in his 233 sentiments. In the observations which he had felt it his duty to make, he begged to say, that he was not presuming to pass a censure upon the right hon. Baronet's conduct. He had no doubt the right hon. Baronet felt that he was fully justified in the course he had taken; but he felt called upon to stand up in his own defence in these times, when so many and so great changes had taken place. He wished to take the opportunity of showing that he had neither abandoned his principles nor forfeited his character for consistency. So much had been said upon the subject of the state of Ireland with regard to the alleged failure of the potato crop, that he felt himself called upon to say a few words upon that subject, although he had, upon a former occasion, stated to the House what he, from his own knowledge, felt he was justified in stating. He then told the House, that although he had no doubt distress prevailed in many parts, yet that there was in the country abundance of provisions to supply the wants of all—that the potato crop, divested of the diseased portion, was still an average crop; and that there was more grain of every description in the country at that season of the year, the month of March, than had been for several years previous. In confirmation of this assertion, he would ask leave of the House to read an extract from a letter he had received from a gentleman in the county of Armagh a few days after he had made his statement to the House. The letter was to this effect:—You are perfectly correct in your statement to the House relative to the large stock of provisions in this country at present; and what may appear rather strange is, that potatoes are now cheaper in this neighbourhood than they have been for the last four months.This letter was dated 26th of April. He would now ask the permission of the House to read a portion of a paragraph from a highly respectable and widely circulated provincial paper, the Newry Telegraph, which reiterated his words, although the paper was published before the sentiments could be known in Ireland which he had expressed in the House:—No doubt there is, to a certain extent, a deficient stock of potatoes; and the price of the esculent is higher than has been the case, of late, at the same period of the year. But we assert that it is a fact which cannot be controverted, that there are at this moment in the pits of the farmers, generally, large quantities of potatoes of excellent quality. We assert further, that, as compensatory for the deficiency of potatoes, there is in the surrounding country a stock of wheat, oats, 234 and barley, more abundant, by far, than the farmers have ever before been known to have on hand at this advanced period of the season. Moreover, we assert, and can prove from indisputable data, that, considering the effect the panic might naturally be expected to have on the markets, for all descriptions of food, the present cost of provisions, as compared with the prices this time last year, does not at all warrant the assumption upon which those proceed who cry out that famine is impending. Here are positive facts:—First, as to bread:—In the Newry Telegraph of Saturday, the 19th of April, 1845, the market-note for the week shows the average weight of the sixpenny loaf to have then been 3 lbs. 12 oz. The market-note for the week ending Saturday last, the 18th of April, 1846, shows the present average weight of the sixpenny loaf to be 3 lbs. 4 oz., Next, as regards oatmeal—From the same source we find, that in the Newry Mills, this time last year, oatmeal was 12s. 6d. per cwt.; and its present price at the mills is 16s. per cwt. Then, with respect to flour—We quote, from our file, the market-note for the date already mentioned, April 19,1845:—'Prices of flour at Newry Mills—First flour, 15s. 6d.; second, 14s. 6d.; third, 12s. 6d.; fourth, 8s. 6d. From our market-note of last Saturday, April 18, 1846, we find that the present selling-price of the same articles of food are as follows:—'Prices of flour at Newry Mills—First flour, 18s.; second, 16s.; third, 13s. 6d.; fourth, 11s.'He would merely observe, that there could not have been any very great distress in Ireland, when flour was only 1s. 6d. higher in price on the 18th of April, 1846, than at the same period in 1845. He would only trouble the House with one quotation more; it was from a letter he had received yesterday from a gentleman in Dublin, and was as follows:—The Indian meal is nearly as dear as our own in Dublin. It is bought chiefly as a curiosity to taste what sort of thing it is.….One friend of mine, resident in Kerry, informs me, that the price of potatoes have fallen nearly one-third, and that the chief cause of the hitherto high prices in his quarter (Dingle) was, that persons who had them were holding them over for the highest price.He had only now to say, that he was happy to be able to produce authority to bear him out in the statement he had made—of the correctness of which he was fully assured when he made it, as he had never asserted anything before the House that he did not know to be perfectly true.
§ SIR W. JOLLIFFE
would willingly have listened to any Member of the opposite opinions; but the matter under debate was of such importance (perhaps, indeed, the most important of any on which he should ever speak), that he was induced to offer some observations upon it, although there were many present who were much better able than he was to speak on this occasion. It was painful for him to have to reflect on the conduct of Ministers in whom 235 he had once placed confidence. But however he might respect them as individuals, he felt for their conduct in this matter the most decided disapprobation. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had usurped the leadership of the party hitherto championed by the Member for Stockport; and it was to be wished that the right hon. Baronet in assuming that position had adopted the straightforward tone, and taken up the high ground which had been aimed at by his predecessor in the leadership of the Anti-Corn-Law party. It would have been far more creditable to the right hon. Baronet had he at first declared that opinion which he had recently avowed, that the Corn Law was as unjust as impolitic. It would have been far better had the right hon. Baronet openly avowed that opinion at the outset of his Anti-Corn-Law career, instead of affecting to rely on the potato failure, to which this measure had really never any application; for free trade could not, in all its glory, prevent the distress which now existed. It was as deeply to be deplored, therefore, that the right hon. Baronet should have brought forward such a measure on grounds so low, and arguments so inadequate and inappropriate. It was in vain for the right hon. Baronet to make eloquent speeches, delivered with the greatest effect, and in beautiful perorations to call on the agricultural Members voluntarily to sacrifice all the advantages they had enjoyed under the present protective system, and to reap the rich harvest of self-approbation for such an act of "duty," as he described it to be. But they could see no advantage, still less "duty," in abandoning what they deemed to be right and just. They believed the Corn Law had emanated from the wisdom of Parliament, and had effected the distribution of food in a manner beneficial to all parties. Nor could they conceive whence they could expect the satisfaction the right hon. Baronet promised for its repeal. They considered, on the contrary, that the right hon. Baronet was prejudging the case in accordance only with novel notions of his own. The right hon. Baronet, it would seem, had now adopted all the dogmas of free trade; of which the three principal were — 1. That it was the only sound political economy to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market; 2. That cheapness and abundance (or cheapness, or "abundance") constitute the real prosperity and happiness of a people; and, 3. 236 That national prosperity was not possible under a system of protection to native produce. Now, as to the first of these principles, it might be well enough, if it could only be practically carried out, which it could not possibly be; and the right hon. Baronet himself had not attempted to satisfy the House, that by any probable extension of commercial intercourse such a principle could be carried into operation. As to protection being incompatible with prosperity, he would advert to a passage in a letter of the right hon. Baronet, which appeared on the 16th of February last, in which the right hon. Baronet said (addressing one of his constituents:—It is my earnest hope and belief, that the measure I have felt it my duty to propose to Parliament, will contribute to the welfare of the country. We certainly have not prospered under a protective system.Now, on that very day, the 16th of February last, the right hon. Baronet made a remarkable speech in Parliament, in which he dwelt upon the greatly increased prosperity of the last three years, and had used these remarkable words: "Look at your physical advantages! Look at your acquired advantages! You have ten times the capital and ten times the skill of any other nation in Europe." How the right hon. Baronet could reconcile that statement with his previous assertion, that "we had not prospered under a protective system," was as utterly inexplicable as any thing that had occurred in the course of recent events. In reference to the other great dogma of free-trade philosophy, that cheapness and abundance (or cheapness or abundance) were identical with national prosperity—he (Sir W. Jolliffe) denied it to be so sweepingly and generally true; and declared that experience in a great degree disproved it. Without adverting to any more distant authorities on this point, he would refer to the months of January, in 1846 and 1845. It had so happened, that at the former of those periods the price of corn had been unusually high, while at the latter period it had been rather low. Now, he could state that in the district which had come under his own observation, there was a marked increase of prosperity in January, 1846, when corn was high, as compared with what had existed in January, 1845, when corn was low. In the latter period the wages were as low as prices; and the farmer paid as little as possible every week to the labourers—the result, 237 of course, being great distress, which, however, had happily passed away. When the price of corn was rising, the farmers could expend more money in the employment of labour. Nothing could more plainly prove this than the state of the union workhouses at the respective periods referred to; and on this account he had moved for some returns on that head, to which the Government had with apparent readiness assented, but which (though a long period had elapsed) had not yet appeared, nor could he conceive any reason for the delay. But he knew that the returns in question would have demonstrated the truth of the arguments he was enforcing. He could give one or two instances, however, without troubling the House by going into a greater detail. In January, 1846, in the union workhouse of Newbury (Berks) there were ninety-six persons less than at the corresponding period of the preceding year, out of a number of only 320. So, in the union workhouse of Reigate (a union of which a right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury bench was chairman) there were eighty paupers less in January, 1846, than in January, 1845, out of no larger a number than 260. The right hon. Baronet had talked of an imaginary line drawn from Inverness to Southampton, as marking out the division between the productive and comparatively unproductive portions of the country, and had assigned the eastern portion to the wheat growing farmers, who were described of little consequence in a national point of view. Now he belonged to this eastern half of the kingdom so intersected by this imaginary line, and so did those whom he represented, and with whom he was connected; and though they, the wheat growing farmers, might—albeit that they raised many millions of wheat every year—be deemed an unimportant class of the community by political economists, they had some merits to which the people of the other (the westerly) portion of the country could not lay claim. These wheat growing farmers gave their labourers 10s. or 12s. a week; while those of Wilts, Dorsetshire, and Devonshire, gave only 7s. or 8s. The right hon. the Secretary at War had read a letter from an exceedingly experienced and scientific Wiltshire farmer, who declared that the price of wheat had never to his knowledge affected the rate of wages, and that, though he had sold wheat as low as 40s., and as high as 78s., he had never made more difference 238 in the amount of the wages he paid, than from 7s. to 8s. While the farmers, whom he derided as too dependent upon their wheat crops, at all events had the satisfaction of reflecting that they were not influenced in their dealings with their labourers by the principle thus acted upon by the Secretary at War's farming friend. The wheat growing farmers, when they had the money, never grudged their labourers a fair rate of wages; and when wheat reached a remunerating price were far from desiring to reduce and were rather ready to increase their employment of labour, well aware that such investment of capital must be ultimately advantageous. He felt as deeply as any Gentleman on the Treasury benches, that the greatest security for the prosperity of the agriculturists was to be sought for in the general welfare of the community. But he would not consent, that for the welfare merely of the manufacturers, the interests of the producer of food should be sacrificed. He sincerely hoped that the anticipations he had formed as to the effects of these measures would not be realized. But he was so convinced that they were wrong, and that they were fraught with the most imminent peril to the best interests of the Empire, that he could not but give them the most determined opposition. He never could—for party, or for any other purposes — give them that sort of semi-support which some Members had (he was sorry to say) given. He could not be content with the easy excuse, that "the country must be governed"—and that some species of assent to these measures was therefore necessary on the part of agricultural or Conservative Members. He called to mind a declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a recent occasion—"that to support a measure of which he did not approve, would be as unworthy of him as a Gentleman, as discreditable to him as a Minister." He cordially concurred in the sentiment. It was one in accordance with which he felt bound to act, and such was the course he should on this occasion pursue in giving to this measure his most strenuous opposition.
§ MR. BANKES
concurred entirely in the sentiments of his hon. Friend who had just concluded his observations. But he rose more particularly to express the sincere and warm gratification which he felt in listening to the observations of the hon. and gallant Member who preceded him—the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Colonel Verner), who had delivered a 239 speech in reference to the present state of Ireland which he must assume to be in accordance with the truth, inasmuch as the noble Earl the Secretary for Ireland, though sitting in his place, had not offered any contradiction to that speech. They had hitherto, in the discussion on this question, been without the advantage of the presence of one so capable as the noble Earl of giving information, and it might appear that they had been alarmed to an unnecessary degree in consequence of the absence of that noble Earl, and from the circumstance that there had been addressed to the feelings of the House arguments which would not have been offered if one with the information which the noble Earl possessed had been present to refute them. They were now told by the hon. and gallant Member who had so lately visited that country, of which he was so great an ornament, that the distress, though severe in some parts, was far from being general, and that the measures which had been unfortunately adopted by Government, had greatly increased the evil, by creating alarm, and inducing persons who had potatoes to dispose of to keep them out of the market, in the hope of obtaining at some future time a better price. And now, when the real nature of the scarcity was ascertained—when they heard from those capable of giving correct information, that the evil was far below the alarm—that those who had hoarded stores were now bringing them forth, and that prices were falling, the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland offered not one word in contradiction to the statement. It was now their happiness to be relieved during the remainder of that factious debate from that which had pressed most severely upon their feelings during the previous portions of it—the assertion which had been so frequently hazarded against them—that, by the delay which they had interposed to the progress of the present measure, they were starving the people of Ireland. And though they had assented, and readily assented, to the proposition made from the other side to give at once that relief, if relief could have been given by the measure proposed, they had been met by sarcasm. But now all difficulty of that nature was at an end, and they must trust in Providence that the fear of famine no longer existed. During the course of these discussions reference had been made to the year the events of which corresponded most nearly to the crisis alluded to. The year 1822 had very 240 properly been referred to on various occasions. But they had always been told by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government that the analogy between these two periods was not nearly so close as was supposed, and that though there were local failures in 1822, there was nothing to be compared to the scarcity of the present year. They had now reached nearly the middle of the month of May, and he held in his hand a statement which had reference to precisely the same period in 1822. It was an account of the state of Ireland on the 10th of May, 1822, delivered in the House of Peers by Earl Darnley. The noble Earl stated on that occasion that he held in his hand a letter from a gentleman in the county of Clare, in which the writer stated—That the distress here is beyond all description, and there is nothing but starvation in every corner of the county. What is to be thought of the conduct of the Ministers who told them that in one part of the United Kingdom superabundance was the only complaint, while in another the people were starving.Such was the state of Ireland as described by Lord Darnley. A few days after this statement was made, the condition of the poor in Ireland was more calamitous than over; and the hon. Member for Midhurst said in the House of Commons, in the middle of June, that—In the county of Clare there were now 99,639 persons subsisting on charity from hour to hour. In Cork, there were 132,000 individuals who must perish with hunger if they did not receive relief.He was far from saying that, because there was great misery and distress in 1822, they ought to be insensible to anything like the distress of the present year. But he must say it was gratifying to see how the calamity of 1822 was met by the great and generous efforts of the people of this country—300,000l. was raised by voluntary subscription, and transmitted to Ireland. The Speech of His Majesty from the Throne on the 6th of August of that year, would show that the distress had been pretty general in Ireland, for it could not be supposed that Ministers had made His Majesty say anything inconsistent with the truth. His Majesty, in proroguing Parliament, said—The distress which has for some months prevailed in considerable portions of Ireland, arising principally from the failure of that crop upon which the great body of the population depends for subsistence, has deeply affected me. The measures which you have adopted, seconded as they have been by the spontaneous efforts of my people, have 241 most materially contributed to alleviate the pressure of this severe calamity.Such was the language of the Sovereign at the close of the Session. To complete the history of that period, he would next read a Speech delivered by His Majesty on opening the Session of 1823. It was to this effect:—The provision which you made last Session for the relief of considerable districts in Ireland, has been productive of the happiest effects.Such was the history of the distress in 1822. He thought he had proved that the distress of that period was not what the right hon. Gentleman would have led them to suppose. And how was that distress met? The Minister of that day did not think it necessary, in order to relieve that distress, to alter the whole commercial and financial policy of the kingdom; nor did he run counter to the opinions of those who had always followed him. It was not by pursuing such a course that the Minister of that day provided for the difficulty, and led to the result referred to in His Majesty's Speech from the Throne. He maintained that the distress of 1822 was considerably greater than that of the present year; and he felt sure, if the Ministers of the present day had appealed in the same way that the Ministers of 1822 had done to the generous feelings and liberality of the people, they would have been perhaps even more successful, and would have obtained a still greater sum for the relief of the distress in Ireland. There was another course which the right hon. Baronet might have pursued, and which had occurred to him, and which they had never heard explained why he had not adopted, viz., of meeting Parliament in November. If they had done so, they might then have passed those measures for the employment of the people of Ireland, which was all that they required, for he believed they had no desire to live on the generosity of others, if they could procure employment. He had never heard it explained why that course which did occur to the right hon. Baronet was not pursued. He had never heard any reason why that course was abandoned. The right hon. Baronet had told them that he had submitted two proposals to his Cabinet, and that the Cabinet disagreed with him on both. But the Cabinet afterwards rallied round him; and how came it that neither of these two courses was adopted by the reconstructed Cabinet? One of these proposals was the opening of the ports, and the other 242 the calling together of Parliament. They had been told by Irish Members throughout the whole of that debate that employment had been granted to the people too late—that the funds which had been so liberally set apart for the employment of the Irish people had not yet been received by them, and that, consequently, the distress, such as it was, continued to exist. But if the Minister had adopted that course which did occur to him, and had summoned Parliament at an earlier period, employment would have been secured to the people before the pressure of want came upon them. He was not there to deny that there had been want. [The Earl of LINCOLN: Hear.] The noble Lord had found his voice. That was what he wanted. As a Member of that House he had a right to require the noble Lord to tell him what was the real state of Ireland. He was far from venturing to hope that the noble Lord would be able to say that the whole of Ireland was in that state of prosperity in which that part of it was which the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh had referred to; but the noble Lord had not contradicted the statement of the hon. and gallant Member, and the inference was that he acquiesced in it. In the debate the other night the hon. Baronet the Member for Waterford propounded an extraordinary remedy for the distress of his country. The hon. Baronet said that the farmers in Ireland should give up corn-growing, and turn their land into pasture, as that was the most profitable mode of cultivation for the landlords. Perhaps that might be best for the landlords, but their question was what would be best for the people. The hon. Member for Waterford was, no doubt, well read in the history of the Empire, and was aware that that was a subject which at different periods had been most anxiously considered in this country. For nearly 100 years the Statute-book contained proofs of the anxiety which had been felt by the rulers of this country with regard to that very alteration which the hon. Member seemed to think would be productive of so much benefit to Ireland. A wise, an indisputably wise, king, the first of the Tudors, Henry VII., had directed his attention to this point, and in the Statute-book of the fourth year of his reign he found a statute against putting of land out of tillage, which set forth that great evils had arisen in consequence of laying out in pasture land which had been used in tillage, for where in some towns 200 persons had been occupied by their lawful 243 labour in cultivating the soil, there were now kept but two or three herdsmen. Such would be the result of the change which the hon. Baronet the Member for Waterford recommended; the land which, under tillage, gave employment to 200 persons, would, in future, only employ two herdsmen, one per cent of the former population. If this were a landlord's question, the hon. Member might be right in advocating such a change; but if it was a question affecting the people, then he would advise the hon. Member to keep his lands in tillage, for by that means would he be able to find employment for the population. The population might, no doubt, be maintained by other means; but such a result was not to be desired, and was that which the wise king to whom he alluded foresaw, and against which he attempted to provide. It would appear, however, that his endeavours to restrain the converting of tillage into pasture had not been entirely successful, for the enactment was renewed in the reign of Edward VI., and again repeatedly in the reign of Elizabeth, until it became necessary to pass the Poor Law of Elizabeth, and the people were fed by bounty and not by their own free labour. Such was the result of the change from tillage to pasture, as proposed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Waterford. He would recommend, therefore, the hon. Baronet to reconsider the question, and he had no doubt that he would perceive that it was not so much a landlord's as a labourer's question. If it should ever be necessary to enforce the Poor Law of Elizabeth in Ireland, it might be in consequence of a state of things similar to that which had existed in England—viz., want of employment for the labourers. Before they proceeded to any further stage with the Corn Bill, he trusted the House would receive from a Minister of the Crown an account of the real condition of Ireland, now in the middle of the month of May, and thereby relieve the just anxiety which they felt on this subject. He thought he heard the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Brotherton) indulge in merriment. He did not know whether there was anything of a laughable character in the expression of the natural anxiety he felt to ascertain the real state of the people of Ireland. The hon. Member would of course have an opportunity, if he wished it, to explain how he felt on this subject; but for his (Mr. Bankes's) part, he expressed the feeling with the utmost sincerity. He did wish to hear from the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, 244 what was the true state of that country. The state of the country was not, in his opinion, combined with the question of the Corn Laws; but he wanted to know whether the Government still continued to assert the proposition that the present Bill would afford any immediate or future relief to Ireland. If the Government had made any former efforts to serve Ireland, they had not succeeded in their attempts. He had only to express, in conclusion, an earnest hope that the House would, receive some authentic information on such an important subject.
The EARL of LINCOLN
Mr. Speaker, I certainly should have been glad to be spared the duty of rising to address the House on this occasion; not that I have any difficulty in responding to the call that has been made upon me by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes), but because of the fact that I have been labouring under some indisposition for two or three days, and I am afraid I shall not be able to express myself in a manner so satisfactory to the House as I could wish. At the same time, Sir, I feel that it is not possible for me to remain silent, after the sarcastic tone in which my hon. Friend took notice of the circumstance that I had not risen earlier to reply to the statements of the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Colonel Verner). I hope, however, that the House will excuse me, if, for the reason I have assigned, I avoid entering into the whole subject of the Corn Laws on the present occasion, and confine myself simply to replying to the speeches of my ton. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire, and the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh, which speeches were, I think, almost exclusively occupied with a denial of the existence of want among the population of Ireland. Now, with reference to the call made upon me by my hon. Friend who spoke last, I must say I should have thought that on general grounds, if not for the reason I have given, it was not necessary for the Secretary for Ireland, on the first occasion since his appointment that he happened to hear the statements which have been made by the hon. Gentlemen, to have risen to deny them; for I cannot suppose that the hon. Gentlemen could consider that the other Members of Her Majesty's Government are ignorant of the real state of things in Ireland, or that they do not, from time to time, receive accounts from the Government in that country of the real condition of the people; and I did 245 think that it was well known (as is the fact) that I was equally with my Colleagues responsible for the statements which have been made in this House respecting the distress in Ireland, by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, and the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Home Department. I claim my full share of responsibility for those statements, for it has been my duty since I went to Ireland to correspond every day, from Dublin, with one or other of my right hon. Friends, and to state to them the severe pressure that exists, and the severe pressure that must be expected to exist for some time to come. That has been my duty, and I say, therefore, when my hon. Friend expresses his doubts of the real existence of distress in Ireland, that I can remove all doubts on the subject from his mind, if those doubts are sincerely entertained, and that the statements of the distress of the people of Ireland which have been made in this House by Her Majesty's Government have not been exaggerated. I do not say that no statements of distress which have been made on the other side of the water have been overcharged. Some of the statements made there may have been exaggerated. Alarm in some cases, and in others, I am afraid I must say, interested motives, may have induced persons to put forth statements too highly coloured; but all those representations have been carefully investigated by the Government of Ireland; and in my conscience I believe that no statement made by the Government in this House has partaken of exaggeration. Sir, my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire tauntingly remarked, that my right hon. Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government was sitting next but one to the Irish Secretary, from whom he must have learned the truth as to the state of Ireland; and my hon. Friend called on my right hon. Friend to rise and deny, if he could, the statements which had just been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh. Now, my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire is at this moment sitting within four of my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. A. Stafford O'Brien), and I call on my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire to rise and contradict my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire as to the statement he has made of there being no unusual distress in Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire has lately had an 246 opportunity of seeing with his own eyes the state of the people of Ireland. I do not know it for a fact, but I believe that my hon. Friend visited his estates in Ireland at Easter for the purpose of seeing for himself what really was the state of the country; and I think that he could, if he chose, contradict the statements respecting the distress in Ireland on which my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire relies. As I have said, I do not know for a fact that the object of his visit was such as I have mentioned; it may be surmise; and I may be mistaken; but this I do know, that twenty-four hours after my hon. Friend's arrival in Ireland he wrote to me at Dublin a letter so pressing and so urgent, that I can say that in all the applications with respect to the existing distress that I have received from all parts of the country, there had been none so pressing or so urgent as that which I received from my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire. He stated that which he, as a good landlord, was no doubt glad to do, and which I should have been ready to give credit to him for doing if he had not mentioned it, namely, that he was ready to find the means of supplying all the wants of his own tenantry; that not one of them should come on the public purse; but he accompanied that declaration by this statement also, that many of the peasantry around him were in a state of the utmost distress; and that with them it was an affair, not of weeks, nor even of days, but of hours: and he told me further, that if after that warning on his part I hesitated to supply means of obtaining food to the peasantry of that district, where there was no resident landlord, the responsibility must rest on me, and that it would be my fault if famine, and consequently disturbance, should take place. Sir, I will not relate to the House what I felt it my duty to do on receiving that letter. My hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire has already done more than ample justice in speaking in this House, some evenings ago, of the course I took; but I am very confident that my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire will assure my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire of this, at least, that in the counties of Limerick and Clare the distress of the people, so far from having been exaggerated by Her Majesty's Government, is at present most alarming. After all, my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire does not appear to be quite 247 fixed in his opinion about this distress; for at the outset of his speech he almost went the length of denying all existence of distress in Ireland; but he probably felt that so bold an assertion needed qualification, for, when he came to the close of his speech, he said that he was not prepared to deny that there was distress in Ireland, but that he was prepared to deny that it existed in the generality attributed to it by Her Majesty's Government. Now, if by general my hon. Friend means universal, then I tell him and the House that I am not prepared to assert that the distress is universal in Ireland; but that it is general I am prepared to maintain. The hon. and gallant Member for Armagh stated that the price of potatoes in his part of the country is not higher now than at this time of the year is usual, and he denied the existence of distress in that locality. Now, Sir, I am glad to hear of one spot in Ireland in which there is not any distress; but this one fact does not prove that the distress is not general. I am aware that the pressure is not so great in some parts of the north of Ireland as it is in the south-west, and generally in the south portions of the island; and one reason of this, with respect to the north, is, I believe, that the people in those parts of the country are not so generally dependent on the potato for food as in other parts. In the south-west and the south the pressure arising from the disease in the potatoes has been severe; and even in some parts of the north also, to which the disease has extended, the consequent distress has been felt. My hon. Friend must forgive me on this occasion for saying, that he may not be as capable as some other Members of judging of the full extent of this distress, if he compares the state of his neighbours in Dorsetshire with that of the peasantry in Ireland. Dorsetshire will not afford a fair test by which to decide this question. He will find that there also, I am greatly afraid, some distress does exist, if it be not so great as the distress of the Irish poor. He may, perhaps, deny that too; but an hon. Member of this House has written a letter which has been lately published, and which puts the matter in a clear light. From that letter it is now known that the poor in that district usually live on potatoes; and it is well known also that they are living on 7s. a week, and that they have to pay rent out of that sum. Now, though the condition of the people in Ireland is undoubtedly bad, yet, 248 I am willing to admit it is not so bad in all cases as to form a strong contrast to such a state of things at this, however melancholy it may appear to those who are used to see people living in better circumstances; but still proofs of the severity of the pressure multiply upon me. As an instance, I may mention, that I, this very morning, received a most pressing letter from the island of Valentia, in the county of Kerry; and that letter is quite free from any charge that can be imputed to the writers, of having from interested motives made a demand upon the Government. The writers of it state that they had thought that their potatoes in the island would have lasted the usual time, but that they now find they are completely gone—that both what they wanted for food and for seed are completely destroyed. They state other cases of distress. But what is their demand? Their demand is not for the public money; but their simple apppeal is, that the Government should send a supply, by steamer, of Indian meal or oatmeal, which they should sell to the people, at cost price, for ready money. Sir, I say that when the Government of Ireland are daily receiving such accounts as these, we are justified in saying that the distress is great, and that it has not been exaggerated. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire read some papers to show that distress prevailed in Ireland some years ago, in the month of May, to a great extent; and my hon. Friend said he felt he had reasons to doubt whether the existing distress was so great as the distress was then, because the loss, he said, from the potatoes was not so great this year as it was then. Now, I will not debate that point with my hon. Friend: I will content myself with referring him to his hon. Friends the Member for Northamptonshire and the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh, to tell him whether it is not a well-known fact that the month of May is the very month in which, in Ireland, there is the greatest demand for labour, and consequently the least demand for assistance on the ground of distress, if distress exists. And when my hon. Friend taunts us with the remark that the evil day of extreme distress is constantly protracted, let me remind him and the House, that, from the first, it was stated by Her Majesty's Government that the people might be expected to be in a great state of distress in the months of March and April; but that June, July, and August would be found to be the 249 months of the severest pressure. The month of May was passed over, but for what reason? Because the month of May is usually the time, in Ireland, at which the cottiers are either occupied in sowing their potatoes, or are employed on farm labour for wages; and any supply of labour that is wanted at all during that month is usually most fairly paid. It is not, therefore, from any diminution of the distress, or that the potatoes are not so much diseased as was expected, that there has been some diminution this month in the demands on the public purse—though I can assure the House that diminution has been little indeed—but simply from the operation of the cause I have stated. Perhaps the House will allow me to quote another case—a case arising in the county of Cavan. I wish to quote that instance, because it belongs to a district approaching the locality spoken of by the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh. If I had been aware that I should have been called upon to address the House this evening, I might probably have been prepared to state cases arising in the immediate locality of the hon. and gallant Member. A nobleman—I will not hesitate to mention his name—Lord Farnham, a nobleman who is deserving of the greatest possible respect and esteem, and who is as incapable of practising exaggeration as any Member of either House of Parliament, has, within these twenty-fours, placed a paper in my hands, representing a grievous case of distress in a district of the county of Cavan, where there is no resident landlord, who would, like him, have been happy to relieve the wants of the people. Now, my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire has stated that the course taken by the Government had caused those who had potatoes to sell to withhold them from the market, and that the price has been enhanced by the conduct of the Government. [Mr. BANKES: I said, speaking of the Government, that the alarm they created by their measures induced people to withhold their potatoes, and so created a rise in price.] Yes; but at the same time my hon. Friend stated that this alarm was foolishly created by the Government, and that the result has been a rise in the price of potatoes. I therefore concluded that he meant to say—and I think that is the logical deduction—that the enhanced price of the potatoes was the result of the conduct of the Government, Now, really this is a matter of assertion which it is very difficult to controvert, except by an assertion 250 of an opposite character. But let me ask my hon. Friend and the House to call to mind what are the steps which the Government really have taken on this occasion. But first let me point out that there is a great difference in the present state of things in Ireland, as compared with what was its condition in 1823 and the preceding year, to which my hon. Friend has referred; for in those years the loss in the potato crop did not arise from disease, but from the fact of the potatoes having been pitted during a wet season. The potatoes, in consequence of that accident, but, nevertheless, unexpectedly, were found, when the pits were opened, to be entirely gone. On that account no preparation was made by the Government of the day. The loss of the crop was wholly unexpected. That is the reason of the difference between the two occasions of distress, and a reason that amply explains it. But Her Majesty's present Government, previous to the distress being generally known of, as soon as they received information leading them to apprehend it, immediately ordered a supply of Indian corn and other provisions to be stored in various places in Ireland. For what purpose? For the purpose, in the first place, of preventing a deficiency of food. Another purpose the Government had in view was the equally valuable one of producing a reduction of prices by sending these stores into the market when combinations should have taken place, as they foresaw would be the case, and food should have been raised by such means to a famine price, and been rendered difficult of acquirement, even beyond the necessary operation of the loss of the potato crop. On this point I may quote a case which was the first that came under my cognizance after I went to Dublin. A deputation from Limerick waited on the Lord Lieutenant and myself, consisting of the Dean of the Established Church, the Mayor, Sir D. Roche, and Mr. Monsell, a gentleman, whose admirable conduct with respect to the distress cannot be too highly praised. He has acted with a liberality and patriotism that do him the highest honour. These four gentlemen came up as the deputation, and four gentlemen more respectable could not have been selected; they told us that the loss of the potatoes had come upon them in the city of Limerick completely by surprise, and that whilst a fortnight before they had anticipated that their supply would have lasted until the month of May, they now found that it had failed; 251 that the poor of the city were almost in a state of famine; that the works which had been resolved upon could not immediately be begun; and that there was no employment to be had for the people. We told them that the probability was, that parties who had food in their hands might be operating on the markets. Well, the price in Limerick was at that time 7½d. a stone; but what was the reduction consequent upon the supply of meal sent by the Government, and the sum given by the Government corresponding to the subscription raised by the citizens among themselves—a reduction showing that we were right in our anticipation that combination might be resorted to to carry up prices? Potatoes immediately fell from 7½d. to 5½d. a stone; but even after this reduction, I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire, and every other hon. Member who is connected with Ireland, will state that it is impossible for the poor of Ireland to support themselves and their families on prices such as those. Sir, I had not the remotest intention of addressing the House on this occasion; I certainly did feel that refutations of such statements as those put forth to-night, of the small amount and extent of distress, had been so often made by other Members of the Government equally capable with myself of distinguishing the truth, and that even the means my hon. Friend had in his hands, if he had been willing to apply candour in using them, were so complete, as conveying information of the real state of the poor in Ireland, that I did not come down prepared on this occasion with any documents or evidence to reply to the charge that has been made. I will not trespass further on the House; but I must conclude by assuring them, in the most categorical way that I can, that the distress in Ireland, though not universal, is general; and that, as regards the statements which have been made by Her Majesty's Government, they will be found to be fully borne out by facts which before long will be patent and conclusive.
§ MR. FLOYER
had one observation to make in answer to the noble Lord. The noble Lord had thought proper in the course of his speech to make some remarks as to the rate of wages in the county of Dorset, and had, he thought, travelled somewhat out of his way in interposing such remarks in his attempt to answer what he (Mr. Floyer) considered the unswerable arguments 252 of his hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. G. Bankes). He asked the House whether the natural impression produced by the noble Lord's observation was not that the common if not the general rate of wages in Dorsetshire was only 7s. a week? [The Earl of LINCOLN: I was quoting Mr. Sheridan's letter.] He knew the noble Lord was quoting Mr. Sheridan's letter; but as he understood him, the noble Lord agreed with the statement he quoted, and adopted it has his own. If the noble Lord was not prepared to stand by it, he should not have made it to the House. Now he (Mr. Floyer) did not pretend to that extent of property and knowledge of the county which were perhaps possessed by the hon. gentleman who was the writer of that letter; but in his neighbourhood near the county town of Dorset, and in many other parts of the county, he knew it was at variance with the truth to say that the labourers were receiving only 7s. as their weekly wages. He knew no part of the county in which the rate of wages was so low. He must refer also to another remark of the noble Lord's, by which he seemed to infer that the condition of the Dorsetshire labourers was something similar to that of the Irish peasant, so far as that he was compelled to live upon potatoes as his common food: he could state with perfect confidence that there had scarcely been any period at which the condition of the labourers of Dorsetshire was better than it was now; and if it was true that they were reduced to live wholly upon potatoes, it was impossible their condition could be as flourishing as it was. As a representative of the county of Dorset, he could not refrain from rising in his place in that House to give his unequivocal denial to any statement which had been or might be thrown out, that the rate of the wages of the agricultural labourers in that county were universally so low, as the House might be led to believe from the speech of the noble Earl (Earl Lincoln).
MR. STAFFORD O'BRIEN
The noble Lord having in the course of his speech appealed to me, I have no hesitatation in stating that I can confirm what he has said as far as regards the city of Limerick. I believe that, owing to the precarious supply of food, the noble Lord's fears were exaggerated when he expected an outbreak in that city; I believe that the promptitude with which the noble Lord attended to the wishes and remonstrance of the deputation who waited on him, did 253 prevent an outbreak in the city of Limerick; and I believe it was owing to the wise precautions of Government in providing a store of Indian meal that the prices of potatoes and oats were prevented from rising to an extravagant price. So much for the city of Limerick. With respect to the district of Clare in which I reside, when I got there I found on one side a schooner attacked on the river by bodies of armed men; I found on the other cattle guarded by soldiers; I found on the hills near me a starving, and to some extent, a lawless population; and those who know Ireland best, those who have lived in Ireland for several years past, know not only that Clare is liable to these outbreaks, but that that particular district to which I refer has got an unenviable notoriety for heading and promoting those riots. When I found this state of things, I felt that, as an inhabitant—still more as a magistrate, as a custodier of the public peace, I ought not to lose one hour in laying before the Government of Ireland the state of things in that county; and I am happy to say that, by the strenuous exertions and conduct of my noble Friend, the poor people are now in full employment; there is no fear of an outbreak; and I believe that this tranquillity will remain, whatever may be the difficulties with respect to their food. The only inaccuracy in the statement of my noble Friend is, that he says I did not anticipate the distress in Ireland. I did anticipate the distress; for the very night before I left town I distinctly stated that there was distress; but I was certainly not aware of the extent of the distress. I was not aware that the potatoes had not only failed the poor people, but that there was really no food for the present and no seed for the future, and that no language could be too strong to describe the state of distress, misery and starvation existing in that particular neighbourhood. And now, having borne my full testimony to the statements of my noble Friend, I may be permitted to say that I do not conceive them to be in so violent antagonism to the statements of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, as some Members seem to imagine. My hon. Friend, in his speech, read extracts from a letter to Lord Darnley by Sir E. O'Brien in 1822, describing the state of Clare pretty nearly in the terms I have just described it; and here I would beg to say that there was no gentleman connected with the county of Clare who assisted more to render the inhabitants independent of a precarious 254 supply of food than did that gentleman; and I am happy to bear this public testimony to his worth, because I conceive that his memory deserves it. But my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire has shown that whatevever may be state of Clare, it does not necessarily follow that this should be the state of all Ireland. My hon. Friend, in quoting that letter, alluded to the severe distress which at present exists in the county of Clare; but I think he stated in his speech that it was not universal all over Ireland. In the same way I say, that however severe I may have found the distress in my own immediate vicinity—and I only speak of my own vicinity—it may not be so in all parts of the country. At the same time, I do say, and I do not shrink from saying it, that I believe there is very great and severe distress in Ireland; and that we must look, not for a diminution, but for an increase of that distress. I deeply deplore, however—as I have over and over again said—that the right hon. Baronet should, at the commencement of the Session, have made "confusion worse confounded," by mixing up the question of Irish distress with the Corn Laws. If we do on the one hand, in the heat of party debate, give too favourable views of the state of Ireland, the right hon. Baronet must recollect that his cause, in the opinion of many of his warmest friends, would have been as strong, and would have been made more clear, if he had drawn a distinction between a transitory calamity, and the necessity for permanent measures for its relief; nay, that the pressure of a particular case rendered the Legislature less competent to decide fairly and calmly a question of this great extent. But I need not say that I do not rise to enter upon the question on this occasion; but I feel too deep an interest in the welfare and prosperity of Ireland than do otherwise than deplore when I see it mixed up with any subject of an exciting and in some measure of an extraneous character, because it may prevent us arriving at a calm conclusion upon it. I may say also, in reference to that country, that however you may repeal the Corn Laws, or however you may, on the other hand, increase protection to agricultural produce, unless the landlords of Ireland exert themselves—unless they are willing to make sacrifices, to merge their party and political feelings, to soften down prejudices, and to obliterate the bitter memory of the past, the result will do no good to Ireland. I repeat that, while I maintain my own 255 opinion as to the propriety of the course which the Government are inviting the House to pursue, still I do not deny—on the contrary I maintain—that this distress and this misery must be met by the exertions of the Irish proprietors themselves.
§ MR. LEFROY
rose on the present occasion, not so much from a desire to oppose what had fallen from the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, as from a feeling that he would not be discharging his duty faithfully, if he did not state a few facts that came within his own observation, showing that, however distress might exist in certain districts in Ireland, that it was by no means so general in that country as they had been led to believe. He did not intend to contradict the statements that had been made by the noble Lord (Lord Lincoln) in reference to the distress that was said to exist in Limerick and the county of Clare. All that he was prepared to do, was to show that, so far as the circumstances of Ireland were concerned, they did not warrant the measures proposed by the right hon. Baronet; and if they were carried, that they would prove most detrimental to the interests of that country; and that the time would come when they would regret their adoption. He was desirous to state that, from inquiries he had made into the condition of the people in those districts in Ireland, with which he was more immediately connected, he found that the reports of the existing distress had been much exaggerated. He would first allude to the county of Longford; and with the permission of the House would read the following extract of a letter which he had received from a gentleman in Longford, dated Granard, April 14:—For twenty years I have not seen this market better supplied with potatoes, oats, and meal than it was yesterday—the former 4d. the stone, good and sound, and in such quantities that all were not sold; oats 13s. 6d. the barrel of 14 stone; and meal, of which there was a large supply, sold at 14s. 6d. per cwt. This report would apply to the market yesterday week, and yesterday fortnight; and I have no doubt but that the resources of this part of Longford will be found more than enough for the consumption during the summer, leaving a large surplus which may be, as necessity requires, drafted off to some other part of Ireland. I attended the market of Castlepollar last Wednesday, which is ten miles from Granard, nearer Dublin, I there witnessed also a plentiful market, a very large supply of potatoes particularly, which were sound and good, selling at 4½d. per stone. The people, I am happy to say, in his (I mean my own) locality are generally employed, and have taken the precautions, by means of the loan funds, of laying up provisions for the summer. We have, 256 thank God, little or no fever, and very little sickness of any kind now in the country.He might here mention, that he had taken the opportunity which the recesss afforded of going through different parts of Ireland to make himself acquainted with the facts; he visited various market towns in Longford, Sligo, and Roscommon, and from the prices at which potatoes were sold, as well as the supply in those markets, varying from 3½d. to 4d. a stone, good and sound, and in such quantities that all were not sold, he could not believe that distress existed to any considerable extent. He had also written to several extensive land agents in that country, and he would take leave to read letters that he had received from gentlemen of great respectability.I have this day," wrote one correspondent, "purchased twenty tons of meal, at 15l. 10s. a ton, to issue next month, and to be paid back, after the harvest, by weekly payments. At present we have not felt the pressure, though 15s. 6d. per cwt. for meal, and 3s. 3d. per cwt. for potatoes, is a high price; in 1840, I paid 18s. and 20s. for thirty tons of meal. If we have sufficient employment for three months in the summer, I should be in hopes of escaping the anticipated famine. We are better off than many of our neighbours. At present a combination prevails among the labourers for high wages, 4s. 6d. a day; in consequence many remain idle, and the lands not sufficiently tilled.These, he considered, were not famine prices, and further proved that the landlords were not so inattentive to the interests of their poor tenantry as had been represented. With respect to the county of Sligo, he could also state, that potatoes were not selling there at a higher rate than what he had just mentioned; and although at the time of the cholera that town had suffered very severely—perhaps more so than any other town in Ireland—some of the medical gentlemen of Sligo had told him (Mr. Lefroy) that he had not now any violent cases of bowel attacks arising from want of food, or any fever; and the physician who had supplied the statement to the Government as to the existence of disease in that county, could not be considered as competent to do so, as he lived on the borders of the county Mayo, and had no opportunity of judging of the general state of the county. Sir Robert Booth, Mr. Cooper, and Mr. Wynne, gentlemen resident there, had also stated that there was no appearance of famine; and their statements, he said, were deserving of consideration. The hon. Member read another letter he had received from a gentleman in the county of Armagh, who resided in the neighbourhood of the Duke of Manchester's property, to 257 the following effect. It was dated March 27, 1846:—In reply to your inquiries on the subject of fever and famine, I beg to offer the following opinion. Never has there been so shameful an exaggeration on any subject within my memory, as that which has been put forward by the advocates for the repeal of the Corn Laws. With regard to fever, we might ssy, as compared with other years, there is none; and as to famine, there is abundance of food, and the price is moderate. The only pressure is incases of looms being idle and weavers unemployed, partly caused owing to the unsettled state of affairs between America and the British Government, and partly by the suspense caused by the Corn Law question. I shall now give my reasons for the opinion I put forward:—1. As to fever. Whenever our district has been visited with fever to any extent, I am immediately made acquainted with it through one or other of the following channels:—1st. The parochial clergy frequently apply for aid to such persons as they find in fever and requiring aid. 2nd. The medical attendant, who has the care of the tenancy, and to whom they have access, not unfrequently asks for additional bedding to separate members of the same family to prevent contagion. 3rd. The borrowers at the loan fund are obliged to have my signature to prevent fines in case of accidental illness, and especially fever, and in the latter case I never refuse it. And lastly, the poor in fever come to me for jam, tea, sugar, and bread, which are generally supplied on demand, as a gift to those thus afflicted. Now, what is the fact? There has not been an instance of a clergyman recommending any one to me in fever since the potato panic commenced. The medical attendant has called my attention to but one case of fever within the same period. There are not three cases of fever in families connected with the loan fund; and lastly, I have had only one case of clothing and one of food as necessary to fever patients. We shall now turn to the question of famine. When others were laying in oatmeal, I was advised by experienced merchants to buy none. Those who bought at that time (September and October) at 17s. 6d. per cwt. for oatmeal, can now have abundance at 15s. I lately entered into contracts with persons who sell meal, to supply all I should order at the market price each week. The want is so little felt as yet, that I have not issued orders for above 10 cwt. of meal. Those who had diseased potatoes were not altogether losers, in proof of which I may mention this fact, that the steward sold this week the pork fed exclusively on bad potatoes in the castle farmyard for nearly 40l. The pigs cost 18l., so that 22l. profit on eleven pigs, or 22l. each, was a very good return in four months.He had been assured also by a physician residing in the same county (Armagh), in the town of Portadown, that the cases of fever had been less in number than at any former period within his recollection. That gentleman said—Portadown, March 28, 1846.In answering your note of this day, I have to say that, along with all the other dispensary and fever hospital doctors of the kingdom, I was furnished with a number of questions from Dublin Castle respecting fever and apprehended scarcity 258 of food in the neighbourhood; and I am happy to say that my answers did not suit their purpose. The truth is, there has been less illness, and particularly fever, in this part of the country this winter than almost any other I remember; and, of course, I made my answer accordingly, and it is remarkable, that out of 800 cases, they received only 82 answers betokening fever, bowel complaint, &c., and, as you might observe, many of these only in apprehension, which was the way the question was put. Now as to our locality: I can give, after counting up, the number of fever patients in my dispensary-book since the 1st of January, and I find I have had 19 out of 1,400 patients, which I look upon as exceedingly small out of that number of patients, and for the space of three months. The year before last registered somewhat above 800 patients who had fever; but that was an extraordinary year. The year preceding it, and last year, were each about 150; so you can see, take it in either way, the proportion is small. At present I have not three cases in hand; and I am sure there are not ten cases in Drumaree parish, which, according to the census, contains 15,000 inhabitants; besides, this is generally the most subject to fever of any country I know. The district about Jandreyee, I would say, is equally free of fever extending on to Scarva, which is the terminus of my visiting, and within two miles of your own residence; so that, judging from all these circumstances, I would say that your parish cannot be much infected. As to all other sickness, our dispensary report does not exceed last year, nor until the last fortnight did it equal last season in number of patients, which has been increased just lately by a feverish cold or influenza, and a diarrhœa which is just now present, and which I cannot justly trace to unwholesome food.Another correspondent writes—I dined in company with five clergymen on Friday last, who have large parishes, and their decided opinion was, that there never was so little fever as this year. Some of them said they had none; others mentioned one or two cases. They all agreed also in saying that as yet there was no distress of any peculiar degree.Having considered it his duty to make these statements, it was not his intention to deny the existence of distress in certain parts of Ireland, as he considered it did exist in several places; but he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire in opinion, that that distress had in many cases been caused by a combination of persons, who prevented a sufficient supply of food being sent into the markets, which, as a matter of course, tended to raise the prices. He would, however, suggest to Her Majesty's Government, that they ought to take measures for the distribution of the Indian corn and meal, in such a manner as would defeat that combination. [The Earl of LINCOLN: It has been done already.] Some reflections had been thrown upon the resident gentlemen of Ireland, for not having availed themselves of the "special sessions" that had been 259 ordered to be held, for the purpose of affording relief to the distressed people; but he was informed that the reason of their not having done so arose from the fact that the assizes were so near at hand, that had they taken such measures as was expected they would have done, they considered that they would be conferring benefits on local contractors alone, and not on the people who required assistance; and it was to that circumstance their conduct should be ascribed, and not to any indifference regarding the wants of the poor in their respective localities.
§ MR. BORTHWICK
rose to say a few words before the House decided upon the Motion submitted by his hon. Friend. The right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government had declared his intention of walking in the light of the Constitution. He was not, however, one who asserted that the Corn Laws was a part of the Constitution. The right hon. Baronet had declared those laws to be unjust, which, but a short time since he deemed to be only impolitic; and what the extent of his next conviction might be, was most difficult to tell. He would read to the House a few lines written by one of the most celebrated men of the age in which he lived—he meant Sir Walter Scott—when comparing Louis the Sixteenth of France with Charles the First of England, which appeared to him to be eminently characteristic of the conduct of the right hon. Baronet. The hon. Member read the following extract:—Both sovereigns fell under the suspicion of being deceitful and insincere, when perhaps both, but certainly Louis, only changed his course of conduct from a change of his own opinion, or from suffering himself to be over-persuaded and deferring to the sentiments of others. Few monarchs of any country certainly have changed their counsels and measures so often as Louis XVI., and with this unhappy consequence, that he neither persevered in a firm and severe course of government long enough to inspire respect, nor in a conciliatory and yielding policy for a sufficient time to propitiate regard and inspire confidence. It is with regret we mention this, in a character otherwise so excellent.He trusted that the right hon. Baronet, who had at one time declared the Corn Laws to be impolitic, and at another unjust, would, ere long, like Louis XVI., his illustrious prototype, return to his original position; and that the consequences of his changes of opinion might not be visited on his country—he would not say upon himself. He did not accuse the right hon. Baronet of acting upon other than sincere conviction; 260 but it must be apparent to any man who viewed the present state of things, and recollected the past, that it was no light matter which had caused so great a difference between him and a large portion of his followers. Those followers of the right hon. Baronet had given repeated and signal proofs of how desirous they were to remain attached to him. For his financial policy they were willing to do him full justice. They sacrificed many minor considerations and many points of detail sooner than separate from the right hon. Baronet: when the question was not mere detail or of slight import, but one involving a great principle upon which the most important interests of this country depended, they were obliged, however reluctantly, to act for themselves, and to stand by those opinions which they believed to be based upon justice and on a sound policy, and to which they had always adhered. They were, he repeated, prepared to follow the right hon. Baronet wherever he led them, but they were not prepared to see him—in the language of Lord Castlereagh—turning his back upon himself; so long as he walked in a straight and open line of policy—so long as he was guided by the light of the Constitution, so long they were prepared to submit to his leadership; but when he deviated from that path, and would no longer he guided by that light—when he turned into the course selected by his opponents, that party would follow him no further. The right hon. Baronet had stated that what he had before thought impolitic, he now believed to be unjust. This he thought rather a strange expression from one so eminent. For let them consider what it really amounted to—that for thirty years he had been unable to discover what justice was; but notwithstanding this extraordinary blindness, he became suddenly illuminated, so that he was able to discover it in the course of a single debate. Now it might be fairly said, that policy was the birth of circumstances, for what was politic last year might be impolitic this; but justice was eternal and immutable—the same thirty years ago as she was now—the same at the beginning of this debate, as she was at the end or middle of it. He asked the House, was there any man in his sober senses, from one end of England to the other, who would believe that one possessed of the long experience, the acute judgment, the consummate ability, the keen perception of the right hon. Baronet, could not for thirty years, though thoroughly 261 acquainted with the machinery and working of the State, perceive what was just from what was unjust? The best statesman might err as regarded matters of policy; but he who could mistake injustice for justice, wrong for right, must be surely the reverse of all that they believed the right hon. Baronet to be. M. Guizot, in the French Chamber, used these words:—Sir Robert Peel, therefore, proposes to put those branches of national industry which can accept the contest without perishing, to this proof of foreign competition. But do not think on that account that Sir Robert Peel has ceased to be a Conservative in political economy. Do not think that he has abolished, or that he means to abolish, all protecting duties. You can pass in review all the duties established by this new Tariff, as my hon. Friend the Minister of Commerce said yesterday, and you will find that many protecting duties continue to exist in it, and protecting duties of a very efficacious kind. Sir Robert Peel does not mean blindly to give up the market of England to foreign industry. He is not the apostle of unlimited liberty of commerce. He is merely the partisan of foreign competition limited to certain conditions. Gentlemen, that is the true character, the real end of the measures which are at the present moment under discussion on the other side of the channel. What is there in the measures for us to sdopt? The first of these measures, namely, the social reform which interests the manufacturing population, I hesitate not to say is not applicable to us.His noble Friend the Member for Lynn referred to those words to show that foreign countries were not quite so ready to adopt the right hon. Baronet's policy as he seemed to anticipate; and the right hon. Baronet in reply said, and his reply was rather remarkable, that "he never gave a guarantee that at the approach of a new election the French Minister would say that restrictions should be removed." Which amounted to this—that M. Guizot held certain opinions, but would not avow them; that he thought it a better course to secure a majority In the Chamber first, and to betray them after. Surely that was not the conduct of a great statesman, such as they had been assured M. Guizot was. M. Cunin Gridaine, the French Minister of Commerce, speaking on the question of the Treaty of Commerce between France and Belgium, says—The economical reforms proposed in the British Parliament cannot fail to have occupied general attention. Those who think that we should not hesitate to imitate the example given us by the English Parliament, advise a premature and dangerous act. England has never pursued any other line of conduct than that of her interest; and she was right. It is in that particular we should imitate her. From the earliest period it 262 has been the aim of England to extend her manufactures, her navy, her commerce, and to obtain in all cases an advantage over her competitors. She did not suffer herself to be carried away by theories; she consulted facts. She studied her position, compared it with that of other countries, and she acted accordingly. * * * I must here remark, however, that England does not in any way modify her colonial system. That is to say, she continues to reserve for herself the manufactures, navigation, and commerce, which ought to administer to the wants of 100,000,000 consumers.It was no wonder that foreign countries should hail with pleasure the relaxations proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. But the question Was, were they prepared to act in the same spirit of reciprocity? The hon. Gentleman, who was at this portion of his speech but imperfectly heard, then alluded to the following passage of the speech of M. Guizot:—What is the position of France? We do not stand in need of any such social reform, for our manufacturing population is much less numerous than our agricultural population, and is, comparatively speaking, better off than the same class in England, nor is it subject to the fluctuations which periodically affect the British markets. Thus we are not called upon to imitate the social reform now passing in England, and there presenting so interesting a spectacle. Neither are we called upon to imitate her commercial reform, and for this reason, that for a series of years we have been proceeding step by step in the path of industrial reforms, and for the further reason, that the home market is more valuable than the foreign.M. Guizot expressed his surprise at the immense disparity between the manufacturing and agricultural population of this country, deceived, no doubt, by the Population Returns of 1841; and more false returns had never been laid upon the Table of that House, no, not even by the Board of Trade. In these returns, every blacksmith, every man who fashioned the ploughshare and the horseshoe, who, in fact, lived by the farmer, was returned as a manufacturer. Every tailor who made clothes for the farmer and his children—every village sempstress, in short, every description of artificer who lived almost solely upon the farmer and his labourers, was returned as a manufacturer. These people were all returned to that House as a portion of the manufacturing population of Great Britain. The speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), in reply to his noble Friend the Member for Lynn, was a complete failure. To that noble Lord's arguments he did not even attempt a reply. As regarded the Irish famine, of which they had heard so much in the commencement 263 of these debates, he would read an extract from the Kilkenny Moderator, copied into the Morning Post of this day:—Distress, in some few instances deep and dire, no doubt there is, and no doubt it will increase as summer advances; but then it must be taken into consideration that when the seed will have been sown, potatoes must fall in price. There is an abundant stock of sound potatoes in the country, which is merely withheld from the market on the speculation of commanding an increased price hereafter. The following is the return which we have obtained from the Fever Hospital:—
Patients admitted for the quarter ending Feb. 1, 1846 329 For the quarter ending May 1, 1846 246 Showing a decrease of disease for the quarter ending May 1 of 83
This statement did not seem to confirm the prediction of Sir R. Peel, who told them, first, that the famine was to take place in March, then in May, and finally in July. There was, in fact, no such thing as famine in Ireland, and great distress there might be in some parts of the country; but that unfortunately was the case almost every year, and was to a great extent traceable to the social relations between landlord and tenant there. There was plenty of potatoes and plenty of corn in Ireland—there was no deficiency whatever of any description of food in Ireland. He would ask the noble Lord who had spoken on that night (the Earl of Lincoln), whether or no there was not abundance of food in Ireland? The fact could not be denied. But even supposing there was a famine there, how would the present measure relieve it? The want of connexion between the evil and the remedy was so much felt, that nobody had attempted to establish it but the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who said—
And as compared with last year:— Quarter ending May 1, 1845 330 Quarter ending May 1, 1846 246 Decrease as compared with the corresponding quarter last year 84The hon. Member for Liverpool said last night that he could not see that connexion; and the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, following the same track, has also said that he did not see the intimate connexion between the two questions. Will the House, then, allow me to state what was the effect produced on my mind by this inevitable coming scarcity in Ireland? I foresaw, and I am afraid rightly, that it would be indispensably necessary to give to the suffering community in Ireland aid from the public purse of this country to meet this great calamity. Already some advances of the public money have been asked for, and I am afraid that further advances may still be necessary. Then 264 this great question presents itself—Can in fairness any Minister of the Crown propose to the people of Great Britain to take out of the taxes of Great Britain, public money, to aid in the sustenance of their fellow countrymen in Ireland, while, artificially, by laws so designed, the price of the food of the people of Great Britain is enhanced? Other persons may be bold enough to make such a proposition; but I confess that no power on earth should have induced me to be responsible for such a proposal. I told my right hon. Friend that, if such a course should be necessary, I strongly advised the suspension of the existing law; and that suspension, I find, is now generally approved of on this side of the House. The humane, the generous feelings of the landlords of England could not tolerate for a moment that distress, such as that likely to visit Ireland, should not be met.There had been—there would have been—no objection on any side of the House to relieving the wants of the Irish people. The Government would have experienced no difficulty whatever in such a step—they had experienced none. What hon. Members near him complained of was, not that relief had been applied, but that it had not been applied earlier. They further complained that a temporary exigency should be met by a permanent measure—that principles upon which the whole commercial policy of this country was governed should be overturned to meet a pressing but fleeting evil, for which it was altogether unfit. But let them consider the policy of the Government upon another ground. Why should Ireland be made the pretext for introducing this measure at all? If the measure was just, per se, it ought to be supported. If the present law was unjust, it ought to be abolished. If the case amounted to one of justice or injustice, as had been stated, there was no need of dragging in the state of Ireland at all. The right hon. Baronet had, speaking of the agriculture of the kingdom, drawn an imaginary line from Inverness to Southampton, stating that exceedingly little wheat was grown on the west of that line; but such was not the fact. A great deal of wheat was grown west of it, and some of the best wheat in the kingdom, too. But what was to become of those small farmers and their labourers whom, the right hon. Baronet had admitted, this measure would have the effect of destroying? They were accustomed at public dinners to quote the well-known lines of Goldsmith—Princes and peers may flourish or may fade,A breath can make them, as a breath has made;But a bold peasantry, a country's pride,When once destroyed can never be supplied.He regretted to say, that they did not always sufficiently study the interests of the 265 humbler classes of their fellow countrymen; and in this measure it was plain the agricultural population was quite overlooked. He deprecated this measure as interfering with the market for provisions.Of all things," said Mr. Burke, "an indiscreet tampering with the trade of provisions is the most dangerous, and it is always worst in the time when men are most disposed to it; that is, in the time of scarcity. Because there is nothing on which the passions of men are so violent, and their judgment so weak, and on which there exists such a multitude of ill-founded prejudices." "The great use of Government is as a restraint; and there is no restraint which it ought to put upon others, and upon itself too, rather than that which is imposed on the jury of speculating under circumstances of irritation. The number of idle tales spread about by the industry of faction, and by the zeal of foolish good intention, and greedily devoured by the malignant credulity of mankind, tends infinitely to aggravate prejudices which in themselves are sufficiently strong." "It is a perilous thing to try experiments on the farmer. The farmer's capital (except in a few persons and in a very few places) is far more feeble than commonly is imagined. The trade is a very poor trade—it is subject to great risks and losses. The capital, such as it is, is turned but once in the year; in some branches it requires three years before the money is paid. I believe never less than three in the turnip and grass-land course, which is the prevalent course on the more or less fertile sandy and gravelly loams, and these compose the soil in the south and south-east of England—the best adapted, and perhaps the only ones that are adapted to the turnip husbandry. It is very rare that the most prosperous farmer, counting the value of his quick and dead stock, the interest of the money he turns, together with his own wages as a bailiff or overseer, ever does make twelve or fifteen per cent by the year on his capital. I speak of the prosperous. In most of the parts of England which have fallen within my observation, I have rarely known a former (who to his own trade has not added some other employment or traffic) that, after a course of the most unremitting parsimony and labour (such for the greater part is theirs), and, persevering in his business for a long course of years, died worth more than paid his debts, leaving his posterity to continue in nearly the same equal conflict between industry and want in which the last predecessor, and a long line of predecessors before him, lived and died.Now, it was on statements like these, that the right hon. Baronet founded his arguments. He said, if the farmers have succeeded no better than this in their trade, then what has protection done for them? He (Mr. Borthwick) would reply, if manufactures in England have not prospered, notwithstanding all the natural advantages of that country, then what had free trade done for manufactures? These questions answered one another; but he would ask the right hon. Baronet, whether he was prepared to sacrifice at the shrine of the foul idol of free trade, the prospects and 266 hopes of that numerous class, the small farmers of England?—was he prepared to give up the welfare of his country which for centuries had depended upon them? The right hon. Baronet said, that he wished to lay the foundation of a permanent prosperity in trade. But that was impossible, in the very nature of things. The world had stood for six thousand years, yet no man could show a single instance of an empire great and prosperous, that had flourished on the sole foundation of trade. Trade was, in its essential character, as fluctuating and variable as the winds and the waves that bore her traffic to our shores. Trade had left all countries that were dependent upon her alone for their prosperity, in absolute ruin, while those countries which had remained true to those sound principles that were advocated by his hon. Friends around him, had flourished, as this country had continued to flourish. Did they think, if these new views had been adopted three centuries ago, that England would have commanded the world as she did now? He placed these facts in juxtaposition before the right hon. Gentleman, that in the face of the restrictions which they had maintained, the trade of England had risen from nothing to that vast amount at which the world now wondered. Not simultaneously. Not contemporaneously; but on account of that very protection which the right hon. Gentleman now asked the House to remove: and, avowing that from the experience of the last six weeks he has come to the conviction that these laws were unjust, he proposed to strike from the foundations of the country all the props and pillars of her past prosperity. The right hon. Baronet told the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, in his last speech, that he would give the reasons why he continued to persevere with these measures which he had so unhappily brought into the House. But in the whole of that speech, as in the whole of his preceding ones, the right hon. Baronet had contented himself with simple assertions. He seemed, indeed, to be kneeling at the shrine of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton—to be repeating his credo. "I believe," he said, "that the farmers of England will not be destroyed—I believe that westward of a certain line injury will not be done—I believe that the noble Lord the Member for Lynn is wrong in his calculations—I believe that his conclusions are erroneous and inaccurate." But, beyond his own belief, the right hon. 267 Baronet gave them no argument whatever. In looking back upon the history of Her Majesty's Administration, he was almost inclined, to believe that the noble Lord the Member for London was not too severe when, in his celebrated letter, he said that Her Majesty's Government only sought an excuse for the repeal of the Corn Laws. But when the noble Lord the Member for London compared, as he did in a late speech, the noble Lord the Member for Lynn to Gil Blas or Dr. Sangrado, he (Mr. Borthwick) begged to remind the noble Lord that that comparison applied to him, and not to the protection party, who maintained the old system; who believed that the heart of the patient was still in the same place that it was before; who repudiated the notions of bleeding and hot water. They practised the old system—they were followers of the ancient College of Physicians—who, relying upon the constitution of the patient, believed that if they left nature to her own course the patient would recover, and the country would be prosperous. In 1841, Her Majesty's Government had not stepped into the shoes of Gil Bias. Their innocent youth had not arrived at that period of discipline; they stood upon the ancient system. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was at that time duly called in: he felt the patient's pulse; he pronounced his opinion; his nostrums were taken, and the country prospered. The country then sought no change; but from the mere love of change, the right hon. Gentleman, following the example of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, abandoned his former views of the country's prosperity, and adopted new ones. He did not know how to describe the situation of the right hon. Gentleman better than with the comparison with which he lashed another and less distinguishing changeling—Like the vile straw that whirls about the streets,The wretched waverer sticks to all he meets,Coached, carted, trod upon, now loose, now fast,And carried off in some dog's tail at last.The right hon. Baronet had spoken with some indignation of what he chose to call an alliance between the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, and the Member for Limerick. There was no alliance, but it was a singular circumstance that the men who had made an alliance with the Anti-Corn-Law League should have become the champions for purity of alliance. The right hon. Baronet and the League were 268 like Helena and Hermia in the play, not indeed yet seated both upon one cushion. That was to come. But like them—Both warbling of one song, both in one key;Both creating one flower, both on one sampler.Like a double cherry, seeming parted,But yet an union in partition.Two lovely berries moulded on one stem,Two seeming bodies but one heart.He trusted that the noble Lord would succeed in rendering victorious those principles under which this country had grown to its unprecedented greatness, and that the right hon. Baronet would be defeated in his attempt, which, if it succeeded, there would inevitably follow this consequence, that however it might benefit France and foreign countries, it could not fail to involve in destruction the country in which he lived.
§ MR. HENLEY
wished to offer a few observations to the House on this important subject; and as a Member in his position had little chance of obtaining a hearing in a debate on the third reading, he trusted the House would bear with him now for a short time. With regard to the reasons which had induced Her Majesty's Government to depart from the policy which they had formerly pursued, he might remark, that the first argument adduced by the Government had reference to the social position of the country. A great improvement, they said, had taken place in the country within the last four years, and particularly with reference to crime. But he might remark, that the progress of free-trade measures had not been going on for the last four years, but for the last thirty years; and, therefore, if the diminution of crime was caused by the adoption of free-trade measures, then that diminution ought to have gone on for the last thirty years. Now, he would assert that during the last four years there had been a remarkable decrease of crime. In 1842 there were 31,000 commitments in England; and these commitments had diminished by a fourth part during the next four years. But, had the same result been obtained during the last thirty years? On the contrary, he found that crime had more than doubled in that time. And with regard to the last four years, had no other cause been in operation than the progress of free-trade measures? He would not now allude to the construction of railways, though the importance of spending 20,000,000l. in the course of a year for the employment of labour was not to be 269 overlooked. But was there nothing else? To say nothing of the embarrassment and distress which were felt in the commercial districts in 1842, and the numbers who, having emigrated from the agricultural districts thither, had no parochial relief till they got back to their parishes, all of which causes had a strong tendency to increase crime at that period, and were not now in existence, he wondered that the Government took no notice of the strong religious movement which had been going on in the country for the last ten years—a movement which was neither confined to the Church nor to Dissenters, but which comprised one and all in a great effort to do good to their fellow creatures. Was it not likely that the good seed which had been sown during that time was now beginning to bear some fruit? But without alluding to that circumstance, the Government acted on the bare figures; and though they were too clever and ingenious to assert in express terms that this was owing to their commercial measures, yet they led the House and the country to draw that inference, which amounted to the same thing. But he would admit that the real question was whether these measures were good in themselves, and he was quite ready to go into that question. The hon. Members for Wolverhampton and Durham contended, that the effect of these measures would be to cheapen food, and that then there could be no doubt the people would be benefited. The hon. Member for Stockport did not adopt that argument; he said the cheap-food argument was never his; and he believed the hon. Member never used it except on some particular occasions when he found it necessary to get up the steam. The hon. Member's great argument was, that the country would be benefited by an increase of trade. The Government did not exactly adopt either of those arguments. They did not say that corn would be cheaper by their measure; but they said it would be a guarantee against its being dearer. Now, it was a fact that corn was cheaper in this country thirty years ago, before the commercial code was relaxed at all, and also that there was then a greater equality of price than there was now. But had the condition of the people improved? If it were true that the commercial relaxations of the last thirty years had cheapened bread, increased trade, and obtained equality in price, then the condition of the people of this country should be mended. But was it so? To 270 what test must they resort to try this question? He had already alluded to the question of crime, and shown that it did not bear out the conclusions which Government wished them to draw. With regard to wages, it was hardly possible to come to a sound conclusion, there were so many disturbing causes in operation with regard to articles of consumption. The only test he could take was sugar, an article which was in universal use, and the consumption of which ought so have increased, as tea and coffee had to a great extent superseded the use of malt liquors. Now, he found that in 1820 the quantity of sugar entered in this country for home consumption was 2,901,864 cwt.; and in 1840 the quantity was 3,594,000 cwt. Then, what was the state of the case with regard to the increase of population—a test which had at all times been admitted to be a valid proof of the prosperity of the country. In 1821, the population of Great Britain was 14,400,000. In 1831, the population was 16,643,000; and in 1841, the population was 18,840,000. It was clear, therefore, that the increase of the population was going on at a diminished ratio; and if he had taken Ireland into account it would be seen that the diminution was in a still larger ratio. The Prime Minister had told them that the effect of this measure would be to distress farmers without capital or skill. Though he had shrunk from saying what the probable price of wheat would be under his new measure, yet he had told them that men without skill or capital would be distressed; and when he said that, while supporting the measure, it would not be a harsh interpretation to put upon the expression if he said its meaning was, that they would be nearly ruined. They were told that nearly the whole of the 588,000 farmers of Ireland were men without capital and without skill; and of the 900,000 farmers in England, and the 300,000 in Scotland, it might safely be inferred that about one half were in the same condition; and the measure, it was admitted, would have the effect of nearly ruining them. The next thing he looked at was, at whose recommendation were they asked to pass this measure. Those who recommended it were a motley group—Leaguers, Chartists, Irish repealers, statesmen on that side of the House, statesmen on this side of the House; statesmen who had so much changed their opinions that he doubted whether future ages would not define a statesman to be a man who gave up his opinions. These 271 statesmen on both sides of the House were followed by a number of persons who had from the beginning existed in the world, and whose language was, in the words of the poet—If in Downing-street Old Nick shall revel England's Prime Minister, God bless the Devil.And now, with regard to the motives of this motley group. With the Leaguers it was clear as the sun at noon-day that, whatever might be their desire for the good of their country, yet the desire for their own private good was palpable to all. Even as a commercial investment, the subscription of 250,000l. was better fitted to their purpose than a new machine. With regard to the Chartists, they had declared at their great public meetings, that they cared nothing about the Corn Laws, but, like the fraternity who attended fires, they said, "We have no objection to a little mischief;" and if it suited their own views, all the better. The repealers have also said that if the landlords could only be made uneasy, that they would obtain repeal. It might be also difficult to say, if a certain noble Lord whose celebrated publication made so much noise in the world, diffused his lucubrations for the sake of bidding for the affections of the League, or for good graces in a higher quarter. The Gentlemen of Downing-street were ready enough to follow a leader, and many were ready to follow them. He had now taken the opportunity of stating to the House that he could not agree to the measure before it. He could not see the end or effect of this measure. When he saw that an experience of thirty years, with provisions gradually becoming cheaper, and wages becoming lower at the same time, had not produced any great effect, he could not support the present measure. He could not close his eyes to this fact, that to a fearful competition of human beings with machine labour, was now to be added the unrestricted competition of the whole world. If he had found that for thirty years, with an increasing trade, the deterioration of the people still continued, how could he support a measure the object of which was to increase commerce, but at the further expense of the people. The bad condition of Ireland had been quoted in the debate, and the distressed condition of the people of the manufacturing districts had also been mentioned; and he would ask if the intended Bill would improve them? The agrarian population of the county of Wilts had also been shown to exist in a very impoverished 272 and degraded state. The right hon. the Secretary of War, who he believed resided among the people of Wilts, had told the House that the meeting at Goatacre was not an exaggeration. The right hon. Gentleman had said he lived among a population who existed he did not know how, But did not circumstances show that the people of England were approaching to a point as degraded and wretched as the population of the sister kingdom? Did not a large proportion of the people of England live upon the potato, and did they not say, if it were not for the potato they should be reduced to a state of starvation? Did not the farmers run here and there for land? and when they got land, did the wages keep up to a proper level? The manufacturers cried to the agricultural labourers, why don't you come to us? But suppose they went, did the change of locality and work act towards the benefit of these persons? The manufacturers gave high wages, they said; but what did those who were employed by the manufacturers do for their wages? Was not the amount of labour excessive? Statistical returns had been furnished to show the duration of life in the manufacturing districts, and also among agriculturists. In the whole of Lancashire—and much of the population of the county was agricultural and the people very strong—the number of deaths annually was one to every thirty-four of the population. In Liverpool it was one in thirty-four; in London it was one in thirty-eight. Now, with respect to the agricultural districts. In Wiltshire he found the deaths only one in forty-nine; in Dorsetshire one in fifty-six; in Surrey the deaths were one in fifty-two. Look also at the proportion of children who died. In Liverpool it was one in thirty-nine; in Manchester and Salford (manufacturing districts) one in thirty-four. Out of 100,000 children born, 52,198 only attained the age of five years. Surrey, an agricultural county, exhibited a different result. Out of 100,000 children, 79,000 attained that age. Take, also, the tables of the duration of human life, and what did they prove? Just the same result. The duration of life in Liverpool was thirty-six years, London thirty-seven, Surrey forty-five. Refer to the Factory Commission Report, and the condition of the people would be found most abject and most wretched. It was not for so humble a person as he was to give utterance to a prophecy; but he was quite of the opinion of Mr. Gregg, who, in his 273 pamphlet, had given his opinion and prediction, that no good could result from the present measure. "Wages," said Mr. Gregg, "must fall. Without low wages this country could not compete with the foreigner;" and that writer concluded by saying, that—Even with low-priced corn and cheaper provisions generally, with low wages also, prices and the remuneration for labour could not be reduced so much as to allow a successful competition with the foreigner.The Ministry of the country, had, however, introduced a measure to allow competition with foreign produce and foreign manufacture. They had said they had not changed their opinions on compulsion (for the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had once held different opinions upon this subject). But the League existed, and he was of opinion that that body had proved a great compulsion to those at the head of affairs. They appeared to him to possess no moral courage to resist proper enemies. Men find courage to repel the attack of a knife or stick, but to exert moral courage was one of the most difficult of efforts. It had also been said that no sedition had shown its face during their term of office. But if he recollected rightly, something like sedition had existed in Ireland, and which produced the State Trials. He did wish to say a few words upon "honour;" but a great difference of opinion existed amongst men as regarded the application of the term. A Cabinet Minister, and indeed he thought more than one, stated that he had changed his opinion, not for any personal interest, or for personal purposes, but he had given up opinions on honourable grounds. But were Cabinet Ministers only concerned in the question? Was not the question one which affected the condition of the labourer, and did not the measure tend greatly to the injury of that class? If a man extricated himself from difficulty, leaving others in the lurch, that could not surely be considered an honourable course. In conclusion, he would say that at every remaining stage of the measure he should think it his duty to oppose its progress.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that if he thought that if a word of his would add to the length of the debate, he would not utter it, but he wished, without loss of time, to trouble the House on one point; he, therefore, would then only venture to say a few words. With all possible respect for the Member for Oxfordshire, he thought that the observations as to personal interest 274 might as well have been omitted; for he (Mr. Roebuck) did not hesitate to say that he did not believe that that vast array of opposition which now so constantly occupied the forms opposite, would do so without some strong personal feeling. If it was a matter of patriotism only, he could not think that Gentlemen would continue so steadfastly on the benches opposite. But let each talk candidly to the other, and it would soon appear that the real principle at work was self-interest. When the hon. Member for Oxfordshire made his imputation, and said it was the case on that (the Opposition) side of the House, he (Mr. Roebuck) retorted the charge; and if the hon. Member chose to throw about imputations, he might be told that the excitement which was manifested every night on the opposite benches arose because Gentlemen were afraid of their rents being lowered. He would give them the full value of this, for it then appeared that this high and influential party wished to enlist the prejudices of the labourers, and to call up the feelings of the population on their side. They now pretended to be the leaders and the protectors of the people. He had in his time seen many parties play this game. They had first endeavoured to enlist the tenant farmers on their side, but they were too wise to listen to them. Now they called upon the poor labourers to stand by them. He wished to know whether, with all their political feeling for the labourers, they were prepared to entrust the lower classes with universal suffrage on this point? They would not do this: do not let them, then, talk of their sympathy for the people, if they would not give the labouring classes the means of legitimately expressing their opinions. If the labourers decided against him, he should be satisfied. Now they had a great deal of oration on this question, but very little more. The time was to come, but unfortunately the time never had come, when, amongst others, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Disraeli) was about to enlighten the House on all his doctrines of political economy. But the last time the hon. Gentleman enlightened, or endeavoured to enlighten the House, his speech consisted of this sort of proposition—"Now I am of opinion that you are all in the wrong, but this is not the time to prove it." He would leave out of consideration all the garnish that surrounded this proposition of the hon. Member's, because the hon. Member understood perfectly well the temper of the House, and knew that however backward 275 might be his speech—however shallow his reasoning—no matter what fallacies he might put forward—still, if he seasoned it with a little personality, it would be sure to pass. The hon. Member, as a reader, as one engaged in literary pursuits, knew something of the danger of "dipping"—of not studying a book, but merely dipping into it, opening a page and taking a suggestion here and a sentence there, and then appearing very learned by the number of his quotations. The hon. Gentleman in his recent quotations said, that if he had thought of it he would have brought the book with him. Now, the hon. Member did not bring the book, but he brought a selection from it. The hon. Member quoted the work of a friend of his (Mr. Roebuck's), of one for whose opinions he certainly entertained a great respect; so great a respect, in fact, that if on any question (no matter how strong his opinion might be) his friend differed from him, he would consider that circumstance as a sufficient reason for going over, as carefully as he could, those opinions. His friend John Mill had expressed himself in terms which he would by and by quote, on the subject of the laws of interchange of commodities between the nations. The proposition of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury was this: "You cannot grapple with rival tariffs by free trade, and I will show you that you cannot do so on another occasion—I will not show it now, because this is not a proper occasion." One would think, however, that in a debate on the Corn Law, nothing could be more apposite—nothing suited to a discussion of the kind than this very proposition; but the bit of sarcasm had not been sufficiently liberated?—the venom in the teeth had not jet come in sufficient quantity—the time had not arrived for going further on that occasion; and he therefore said, "I will put off this grand display, with the understanding that, on the last debate, and in the last speech to be made on this question it will more suitably come forward." That was a very safe arrangement to make, and doubtless the hon. Member will have much of sarcasm prepared for the occasion. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire had complained of inconsistency in the House of Commons, and had reminded him of the quotation formerly made respecting himself by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, whom he did not see now in his place, "Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione quærentes?" 276 But how applicable would not that phrase be on this occasion! The hon. Member for Shrewsbury said that there was something in the speech of the hon. Gentleman that he had heard before—that it was ringing in his ears—and so it was. It came from the very party with which the hon. Member had been himself engaged as a party man. It came from that (the Opposition) side of the House; and the hon. Gentleman, like many other celebrated actors, had changed his part. He had begun life as a tragedian; but he had since then left off tragedy, and he now found it much more successful to devote his talents to genteel comedy. The hon. Member now forgot his former attachment to the hon. Member (Mr. Hume). The hon. Member forgot that he had been about to follow at one time in the footsteps of the hon. Member for Montrose, and that he had adopted the recommendations of the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. O'Connell). The hon. Member forgot that he had been in the habit of going to meetings at Marylebone spouting radicalism; but if he remembered these things he must recollect that he had heard the sentiments which now seemed to astonish him in their camp, and while these sentiments came back as well-known principles to him, he should recollect that others might have as good a memory as his own. The hon. Member for Oxford-shire said that a statesman is he who is constantly changing his opinions. He should have thought that no Minister could have made up his opinions on coming into office, and have fastened them, as it were, into a faggot, to be thrown aside, or treated as if they were capable of no further improvement. He should, at least, have thought that, at this time of the world, a man should not be twitted about his change of opinion, while another man was found who took up a particular set of opinions, at a time when his own personal interests were concerned, and when he thought he might get something from a party by joining them, and afterwards, on failing by one set of opinions to gain any regard for himself, picks up another, and plays an opposite character from the same motive. For a man to complain of that sort of change was what he could understand; but that change was, he thought, not like a statesman, but like something else. But if it could be shown, and shown clearly, that there could be no cause for a statesman changing his opinion, save a great feeling 277 for the public good—if it could be shown that in that change all personal predilection were put aside, that party relations, and personal attachments, and old friendships, were all at once endangered for the sake solely of the public welfare, then he would say that that change, however painful it might be, deserved the gratitude of the State, and not its condemnation; and that it could with perfect impunity defy the impotent insolence that chanced to assail it. He would now proceed to show the grounds which really existed for the hon. Gentleman's quotation of the opinion of Mr. Mill. In the book to which the hon. Member had alluded, the following passage was contained in the preface. It was in reference to some expression that Mr. Ricardo had used, and which might induce the opinion that the whole benefit arising from free trade would operate to the advantage of the country where produce was admitted. But when, from the combined labour of two countries, they got a greater return of produce than from the labour of both separated, the question arose how they were to divide the advantage of this increased produce between the two countries most advantageously; and, in considering this point, it was clear the question of loss did not come into consideration at all. The consideration was, which of the two countries was to have all the gain? And on this subject how did Mr. Mill write in his very preface? He said—The opinions now laid before the reader are presented as corollaries necessarily following from the principles upon which free trade itself rests. The writer has also been careful to point out that, from these opinions, no justification can be derived for any protecting duty, or other preference given to domestic over foreign industry. But in regard to those duties on foreign commodities which do not operate as protection, but are maintained solely for revenue, and which do not touch either the necessaries of life or the materials and instruments of production, it is his opinion that any relaxation of such duties beyond what may be required by the interests of the revenue itself, should, in general, be made contingent upon the adoption of some corresponding degree of freedom of trade with this country by the nation from which the commodities are imported.The House would thus see that Mr. Mill excludes, in the first place, all protective duties whatever. Then he excludes the necessaries of life, which of course included corn and the materials and instruments of production. Now, he wanted to know how the opinions of Mr. John Mill could bear on the case, or how they were to be enlisted in a debate in favour of the Corn Laws: considering that these laws involved, first 278 of all, a protecting duty; secondly, that corn was a necessary of life; and thirdly, that it operated on production. Either the hon. Member had not read the book, or he had misquoted it. He could not possibly conceive the hon. Member capable of being guilty of misquoting, and, therefore, he should in charity conclude that the hon. Member had never read the book at all. Again the writer, at page 728, says—With a view to practical legislation, duties on importation may be divided into two classes—those which have the effect of encouraging some particular branch of domestic industry, and those which have not. The former are purely mischievous, both to the country imposing them, and to those with whom it trades. They present a saving of labour and capital, which, if permitted to be made, would be divided in some proportion or other between the importing country and the countries which buy what that country does or might export. The other class of duties are those which do not encourage one mode of procuring an article at the expense of another, but allow the interchange to take place just as if the duty did not exist; and to produce the saving of labour, which constitutes the motive to international as to all other commerce.…A protecting duty can never be a cause of gain.This was the book which was to be the support of the hon. Member on some other night when he was to bring forward his own irrefutable arguments, to prove that they could not combat hostile tariffs with free trade. Now, he would ask the hon. Member, when he again entered into the consideration of an author's views, not to quote a work unless he had really read it, and not to enlist any gentleman's name in an argument of that sort, unless he knew what that gentleman's opinions were. He had no doubt but that hon. Gentlemen opposite had learned by this time to value speeches by their length, for if that were not the case the game would not have gone on so long. ["Oh!"] That sort of noise might, perhaps, mean something, but he really could not see what. He had risen merely to correct a former quotation of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, and, having done so, he had no wish to trespass farther on the time of the House.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said: Sir, I am extremely sorry to be obliged to solicit the attention of the House on this occasion. It is a long time since we have had the pleasure of hearing the hon. and learned Gentleman; and I am sure that, although I may not have reason individually to congratulate myself upon the result of his recent retirement, still we are not sorry to see him again among us. The hon. and 279 learned Gentleman has been extremely personal, so far as I am concerned, in the comments which he has addressed to the House. I do not make that observation in the spirit of complaint against the hon. and learned Member. I am quite used to such treatment at his hands. He has seldom addressed the House in reference to myself when he has not indulged in observations which I have passed unnoticed, except, indeed, upon one recent occasion, when, after imputations cast upon me by the hon. and learned Member in one or two instances which I conceived not to be Parliamentary, I felt it necessary to make some remarks, which seemed somewhat to irritate the hon. and learned Gentleman. I cannot presume for a moment to occupy the House with the origin or nature of my political opinions. All I can say is, that the hon. and learned Gentleman speaks upon a subject of which he knows nothing. The hon. Member has heard some stories, for which there is no foundation, and which have nothing to do with the subject before the House. I trust, however, to the generous indulgence of the House, if for a moment I dwell upon the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is easy for the hon. and learned Gentleman to get up and say, alluding to the hon. Member for Montrose, for whom I entertain, and I believe we all entertain, great respect, that I was at one time ready to follow him. Why, suppose it were so, that would be no very serious imputation against me, for the Prime Minister of England has recently given in his adhesion to that hon. Member. But I don't wish to avail myself of any special pleading, nor even to say that, when a very young man, I entertained different opinions from those which I now entertain. I can't say that. I am not in a condition to have had hereditary opinions carved out for me, and all my opinions, therefore, have been the result of reading and of thought. I never was a follower of either of the two great aristocratic parties in this country. My sympathies and feelings have always been with the people, from whom I spring; and when obliged as a Member of this House to join a party, I joined that party with which I believed the people sympathise. My sympathies are the same now as they were when I first addressed a public meeting long before I entered this House; and I have never given a vote in this House which has not been in harmony with those feelings. I know there are many who don't understand the sympathy which is 280 alleged to subsist between me and the hon. Member for the county of Cork; and, therefore, I entreat the indulgence of the House, after this arranged impromptu of the hon. and learned Gentleman, while I explain it. Our acquaintance was an accident; but though there may be a personal quarrel between us, I cannot on that account change opinions which were founded on historical facts; and I did believe then, as I do believe now, that it was the greatest mistake on the part of the English Government to attempt to rule Ireland by a faction. My opinion then was, that you ought to rule Ireland on the principles upon which she was ruled under one of our best and greatest kings—and I think so still. What error was it in me, then a very young man, if meeting accidentally with a great man who entertained similar views, I declared my own opinions with that un-reserve and frankness which I hope I may never lose? Now, to bring these charges against me, if they are properly considered, is perfectly idle; and I advert to them only with a resolution never to mention them again. I continue to hold substantially the same opinions as I have always professed; and when the hon. and learned Gentleman talks of my going into his camp, I never heard that he had a camp. This solitary sentry, who would persuade us he guards a garrison! Who are the Members of this House who sympathise with the hon. and learned Gentleman? What are the opinions he represents? He, a leader of the people! I have always thought there is no greater opponent of real democracy than modern liberalism; and as to popular principles, I believe they are never more endangered than when they are professed by a political economist. But the hon. and learned Gentleman makes a charge against me, because he says that he is the friend of a gentleman whose opinions I have misrepresented. Now, I am in the recollection of the House, whether I spoke in any terms of disrespect of that gentleman; whether I did not, on the contrary, speak of him in terms of high respect; and whether I made any attempt to pervert the meaning of his words. But it was a most unexpected debate, and I spoke without the least previous intention of so doing. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, says that I have not read the book: that is a stereotype sneer; but I think, if he will lend me the book, as I dare say he will, I could quote some passages, if the leaves are cut and open, 281 and the book has been read—quite as germane to the matter as any which he has read to the House. [The book was handed to the hon. Member.] The author, in his preface, states that he proposes to offer some additional considerations upon the question which had arisen between Colonel Torrens and his antagonists. Now, I am sure that the House recollects—I am sure that the Prime Minister recollects, because I remember his speaking to me on the subject in the lobby of the House; and that the noble Lord recollects, because some of the letters are addressed to him—that the principle of reciprocity was the basis of the argument used by Colonel Torrens, on the promulgation of the Whig budget; and Mr. Mill says, that—Opinions identical with those of Colonel Torrens had been long held by him; and that his writings on the subject were only an elaboration of the fundamental doctrine of that essay;and in another place, answering the objections of the pure political economists, so to call them, he adds—It is true that exports and imports must, in the end, balance one another. If imports increase, exports must increase also; but then it is a forced increase, produced by the efflux of money, and a fall of prices. And this fall of prices being permanent, though it may be no evil in a country where credit is unknown, becomes a serious evil where large classes of the people and the country itself are under engagements to pay fixed sums of money.Now, that is only one of the passages which I could quote if I had the time to look through the book; but I cannot now for that purpose trespass further on the indulgence of the House. Surely, then, there never was a misrepresentation which it had taken so much time to prepare. Three months of solitude for an attack upon the consistency of my political conduct—five days of seclusion for an assault on the accuracy of my literary criticism. Was there ever a conception at once so elaborate and so barren! Of all the abortions I have ever witnessed, never was there one to equal this; never was a senator struck with a rhetorical paralysis more remarkable; never was anything more malignant, and certainly never was anything more futile.
§ MR. S. HERBERT
did not rise to pursue the personal altercation which had been carried on on both sides with great powers of sarcasm. He would rather take the advice of the hon. Member who had spoken last, given in the early part of his address, as to the necessity, in the debates in that 282 House, of avoiding all personalities and the use of all violent and intemperate language. With respect to the discussion which had arisen on the doctrines of Mr. Mill, he had no doubt the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, with the ingenuity for which he was eminent, and with the degree of skill he showed on all subjects, would make an excellent case for himself, and show that Mr. Mill was an advocate for reciprocity; but he doubted whether he would show him to be an advocate for hostilities between countries as exemplied by restrictive tariffs. The question the House had to decide was not whether reciprocity was the most favourable system on which commerce could be carried on, but whether they, who were in advance of other countries in the principles of commerce, could induce other countries to assist us by establishing perfect freedom. He would not, however, go into that subject now, as the hon. Member had promised on a future occasion to enter more fully upon it; but if the efflux of money were the evil arising from past experience, the House would bear in mind that those evils had recently arisen, because the demand had been sudden, and we were forced to make exchanges for the purchase of corn we wanted on an emergency by means of specie. He would not repeat the theory of exchanges: nothing had been better put on that subject than it was by Mr. D. Hume in his Theory of Commerce, and he had destroyed the theory, which had been resuscitated for use on the present occasion. He was glad, however, to find that hon. Gentlemen who were such great advocates for native restrictions, could venture to borrow from foreigners, and import their political economy from the other side of the Channel. He rose that night more especially because he had been alluded to by one or two Gentleman in rather a pointed manner in reference to the observations he had made on the first discussion of the Corn Laws; and he congratulated hon. Members on their memory, if they could recollect anything so far back. Yet attacks were made on persons with whom he was connected, in consequence of the observations then made by him. The hon. Member for the county of Oxford had alluded to the state of the labouring population of late years, and had said it was true that the Returns on the Table showed a great reduction of duty, and that there had been a great increase of commerce and a great increase of trade; yet that it had been forgotten 283 to consider other circumstances which had contributed to these good results more than a reduction of the restrictions on imports. But when the hon. Member said that crime had increased with the increased population, he could scarcely have looked at the Returns for the last few years that evening laid on the Table. [Mr. HENLEY: I spoke of thirty years.] He (Mr. S. Herbert) wished to speak of the last three or four years, that he might have stronger proof of the effect of the commercial alterations. There had been—and for the first time for some years—a marked diminution of crime in the country. But there had been an allusion made by the hon. Baronet who sat behind the hon. Member, a reference to the agricultural districts of the south of England, and to the great degree of suffering which existed; and he had said that he (Mr. Herbert) had adduced this as an argument for an alteration of the Corn Laws, and coupled this with remarks not very complimentary to the farmers in his part of the country for their hardness of heart in paying their labourers such low wages. Now, no one could regret more than he did the low wages paid; he had spoken with great sincerity of the suffering in his own county; but one of the hon. Gentlemen had made him responsible for their suffering, and had asked why he did not provide a remedy. Now, with respect to wages, he was not speaking of wages paid by gentlemen among whom the rate of wages was above the current market price, but he spoke of the wages paid by farmers; and he must say, that they could not expect wages higher than the market price to be paid by those engaged in the ordinary farming trade, and it was no discredit to the farmers that they did not force up wages. It was not the men who were to blame, but the system. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire said, that the great test of prosperity was the amount of population; but these low wages existed in the counties where the population bore the largest proportion to the quantity of soil to be cultivated; and he thought, if the hon. Member had watched the course of events in this country and in Ireland on the subject of the amount of population and prosperity corresponding, he would hardly, after that experience, have advocated this opinion: his own opinion was, that the labouring population in the south were most distressed, not from the want of a conscientious discharge of their duty by the farmers, but because protection 284 caused a slovenly agriculture, and thus diminished the labour which ought to be employed on the farms. His right hon. Friend had never stated, as might be supposed from the speech of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, that all the agriculturists, except those who possessed capital and skill, would be ruined by the present measure. What he stated was, that if those who had no skill and no ingenuity chose to go on in the beaten track, then that, leaving competition with foreigners out of the question, they would never be able to compete with those of their own countrymen possessing greater skill and capital. There had been many of these prophecies of ruin to the agricultural interest. Mr. Burke lost his seat for Bristol for advocating free trade with Ireland, which, it was said, would ruin the trade and agriculture of England. The Duke of Richmond predicted injurious consequences from repealing the duty on wool; yet the price of wool and of sheep was never higher than at the present moment. Then there were prophecies of ruin from the importation of cattle, which had no better foundation. The opinion of great agricultural and even protectionist authorities now was, that it would be well if we had much larger importations of foreign cattle. Yes, they were in want of additional stock to furnish manure for their land. It was all very well to say that there had been a murrain in the cattle; that was another reason for importing supplies from abroad. The scientific farmer always said, "We cannot cultivate our farms properly when we have such enormous prices to pay for our stock." These falsifications of previous prophecies had done much to conciliate the minds of the agriculturists to the changes about to be made. The noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) was a master in the science of agitation; but he looked in vain during these debates for a repetition of the statements made at public meetings before Easter, when they were threatened with foreign wheat imported at 25s. per quarter. The farmers, whatever Gentlemen below the gangway might think, were a much more acute and reasonable race than to believe such statements. If any candid Gentleman unconnected with political parties were to perambulate the country districts at the present moment, he would find the prevailing sentiment to be, not the apprehension of inability to compete with the foreign grower, but the wish that this Bill should pass, in order that they might have some certainty 285 in their proceedings. Nor were the farmers the only class who were suffering from the present delay; the manufacturers and every class participated in the injury from this cause. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire had alluded to the question how far the measures proposed by Government were applicable to the state of things in Ireland. But the hon. Member must admit that the noble Lord who addressed the House to-night (the Earl of Lincoln) had given an account of the state of that country which rendered it necessary to take some measures for relieving the existing distress. If it were true that even the seed of next year was scarce, there was a probability, or at all events a possibility, of suffering and want arising from the absence of the staple food of the country, which threatened to become a permanent evil. If so, it was the duty of the Government to apply a permanent remedy. The noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck), in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Limerick, said he was willing to consent to a suspension of the Corn Laws for three months with respect to Ireland. The noble Lord must have had some sounder reason for granting it than that it could be of no use. First, he said it would do no good to Ireland; then he said that no disease existed in the potatoes in that country; but although he avowed his belief that there was no necessity for a suspension of the Corn Laws, and that those who entertained such an opinion were labouring under a delusion, he expressed his willingness to accede to a temporary suspension of those laws with relation to Ireland. He (Mr. S. Herbert) must confess that he did not understand the noble Lord. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire had expressed his opinion that the measures proposed by the Government would not be attended with beneficial results, and had said that he considered the course taken by Her Majesty's Ministers were not consistent with honour. [Mr. HENLEY intimated his dissent.] As the hon. Member for Oxfordshire denied having made such an observation, he must at once admit that he was mistaken. "But," continued the right hon. Gentleman, "this I must say, that Gentlemen, in judging of what constitutes public honour, must look to the situation in which public men are placed, when dealing with great difficulties and emergencies, and they must not consider that, under a great change of circumstances, and in a pressing emergency, 286 when the public interests are at stake, those who are responsible for the conduct of public affairs are to be bound by this or that speech which they may have made on questions of a fiscal or commercial nature. To those who think that the measures of the Government will not relieve the distress they are intended to alleviate, I concede the fullest right to quarrel with our policy. I concede to every one of my hon. Friends—for notwithstanding the obloquy and abuse which have been heaped upon us, I cannot forget that they have long been my friends, politically and privately—the fullest right to act upon their own opinions. All I ask is, that they will give us that credit which all men of honour concede to one another—the credit of having acted from conscientious conviction, and with strict purity of motive. I ask that they will not cast upon us any mean or pettifogging imputations of having acted from narrow and interested motives; but that they will give us credit for having acted like men who look upon politics not as a means of gain or of obtaining distinction, but as affording an opportunity for exercising the noblest functions which in this country can be confided to individuals—of doing all in their power to promote the public welfare. I ask from you, therefore, fair consideration of our conduct. Abuse I am prepared to meet, and there is some of which I would rather be the object than the author. But I am convinced that when the heated passions of these discussions have subsided; when the truth shall have shone through all the mystification with which our measures have been met; when illogical inferences from untold facts are forgotten; when we are no longer puzzled by arithmetical mystification of what seems plain to every ordinary mind; when the lapse of time has caused the great pressure of present exigencies to be fully appreciated; when the effects of these laws during a time of scarcity shall have been experienced—then it will be acknowledged that we should indeed have been traitors to our party and to our country if we had induced hon. Gentlemen, at a moment when hunger and famine were threatening a large portion of the community to oppose the alteration of laws which have for their object the restriction of the import of food, with a view to the enhancement of its price. I do not impute improper or unworthy motives to any hon. Gentlemen who oppose our proposition. I think that, in consequence of the course 287 of legislation adopted in this country at the termination of the war, it was necessary, gradually and cautiously, to relax and remove those restrictions by which the importation of food was prevented. I believe that violent and sudden measures to effect that object, previous to those improvements which science, skill, and experience have enabled us to effect in agriculture, would have been dangerous; but I maintain that we have now arrived at a point when every year we grow our agricultural produce at a less cost; and you will find by an examination of the continental prices during a long series of years, that while our wheat has been produced at a progressively cheaper rate, there has been a gradual rise in the price of foreign grain. The pressure of distress in a neighbouring country now renders it incumbent upon us to afford facilities for the importation of food, that we may endeavour to wean the inhabitants of that country from the low description of diet upon which they have subsisted, and accustom them to more wholesome food. I consider, so far as the state of parties is concerned — whether we look at the agitation of the League, or of the protection of societies—that now is the time when this object may be effected without any imputation being thrown on those who support such a measure of fear of physical violence or submission to mob dictation. In the whole course of my short experience of public affairs, I do not remember any period when these questions were discussed—as all political questions are now discussed—with so much regard to the sound reasons and arguments on which they can be supported or opposed, and with so little reference to the dangerous influence of an unreflecting, but a physically and numerically powerful majority. I need not say that I hope the House will pass this measure; but I trust also, that many of those gentlemen who differ from us toto cœlo as to the grounds on which we are acting, will give that just and fair consideration to our motives to which, as men of honour, we are entitled. I trust they will make due allowance for the circumstances under which it has been our duty to meet existing necessities—if necessities do exist; that they will not consider that we have neglected our duty because we have faced the danger with measures which I admit to be bold and to be vast in their operation; but Which were brought forward at a time when the position of the country was most critical, and which, even before their adoption, 288 have already had a great and sensible effect in checking the evils they were designed to meet, by keeping the price of food within such limits that the poorest labourers in this country and in Ireland have the prospect of obtaining, by the exercise of industry, sufficient food to preserve themselves and their families from the horrors of that scarcity which has resulted from the failure of a crop on which many of them have been accustomed to depend for subsistence."
§ MR. HENLEY
said, the right hon. Gentleman laboured under a mistake in attributing to him the observations to which he had referred in the course of his speech. What he had said was, that two Cabinet Ministers had recommended the hon. Gentlemen with whom he acted to pursue a course which he considered they could not take consistently with honour; but he had given no opinion as to the course adopted by Her Majesty's Government being consistent or inconsistent with honour.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said: My right hon. Friend the Secretary at War has been pleased, Sir, to refer to me, and to accuse me of having excited the public mind. I cannot say that I reproach myself with that, and I cannot claim any merit for not having agitated the country. Sir, I never attended any public meeting, and never addressed any speech, or any written letter, to any party on the subject now before the country—I never uttered a word in public upon it, until I felt it to be my duty to address this House. If, then, I have agitated the country, that agitation is restricted to the speeches I have made in this House. But, Sir, I must confess I was not a little surprised to hear my right hon. Friend taking this tone, inasmuch as I could not but think that the imputation of being an agitator was much more applicable to my right hon. Friend himself, who was formerly wont to be toasted, on public occasions, as equal in eloquence, and superior in honesty, to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman was the agricultural protector; and on him, in the course of last December, when the Government was in a state of dissolution, did the agriculturists rely; and when we call to mind the speeches which my right hon. Friend made both in this House and on the hustings, we cannot be surprised that the whole agricultural mind of England had the notion that he, and not I, was to be its leader. Why, 289 Sir, my right hon. Friend now stands up in this House and holds a high tone on the subject of the Corn Laws; and he would have you to believe that the way to improve the agriculture of this country—and more especially in Wiltshire, where the cultivation of the soil is conducted in a slovenly manner—is to repeal the Corn Laws. It was only on the 3rd of June last that, in answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Ward), my right hon. Friend addressed this House, and called upon it, as well as upon the agricultural interest out of the House, to resist the Motion of the hon. Gentleman to go on as they were then going on, making, as he said they were, the most manful exertions, and to resist the seductions of the hon. Member for Stockport, who had been endeavouring to prove to them that the way to improve their land and to increase their profits was to reduce the value of their produce. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War has referred to the case of Ireland, and has again, as one of the Ministers of the country, repeated the misrepresentation of the motive of the measures which we (the Protectionists) were prepared to pass in regard to that part of the kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that we were ready to suspend the Corn Laws in order to give relief to the people of Ireland. Sir, how often have we repeated that, in assenting to that measure, we were, at the same time, convinced that it would not afford any relief to that country? How often are we to repeat that—at least in our opinion—there is no portion of the United Empire that would be so much injured by such a course as Ireland? ["No!"] What! will Ireland not be injured by a repeal of the Corn Laws? What, let me ask, is going on in Ireland now but the clearances of property and the laying down of tillage land in grass, because it is found to be more profitable to feed cattle than to grow corn? When you reduce the price of wheat and of oats by admitting foreign wheat and foreign oats into competition with them, do you not think that you will be increasing the desire, on the part of those who have land, to throw that land out of cultivation, and to grow cattle instead of corn? And will not new clearances, think you, take place—will not this mischief be scattered over the whole land of Ireland? The noble Earl (Earl of Lincoln) has told you, that he is responsible for all the information that has been given 290 to this House respecting that part of the kingdom by Her Majesty's Government. I think, however, that my noble Friend is a very credulous Minister. He said, when at Falkirk, that he believed in a compact, which had no existence but in the imagination of my noble Friend. I will not charge him with wilful misrepresentation, nor of making a handle of that which he knew not to be true, in order to advance his election at Falkirk: all I will say is, that he gave too ready an ear to all that came near him—and now, when I consider that, I can the more easily understand how it arises that we have heard such exaggerated reports of the famine in Ireland. Sir, we have never denied that there was scarcity in certain parts of Ireland. What we have said has been this—that there is partial scarcity, but no famine—and this I verily believe to be the true state of the case. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford O'Brien) an account of the state of the counties of Limerick and Clare, in corroboration of the statements of the noble Earl; and I rejoice to be able to afford to my hon. Friend some consolation for the fears he may entertain in regard to a famine in Limerick. I have here a return of the produce of Limerick, which has come to England in the course of the last six months. Sir, there have arrived between the 5th of September and the 24th of April last, from the Shannon and its tributaries, no fewer than 71,000 quarters of wheat, 6,000 quarters of barley, 268,000 quarters of oats, 55,000 cwt. of flour, and 34,000 cwt. of oatmeal—making, altogether, upwards of 345,000 quarters of grain imported into Great Britain from the port of Limerick and its tributaries alone—and upwards of 89,000 cwt. of flour. This, Sir, is sufficient to show that it is not food that is wanted in Ireland, but that what that country is suffering from is the want of money and want of employment for the people. I am ready to give the noble Earl great credit for the assistance which he afforded to my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire at a period of necessity; and I admit that the Government has sent some 43,000 quarters of maize to assist the Irish people; but I also find that, in the meantime, 10,000 quarters of oats have been imported from Ireland into the port of London alone—whilst into the ports of Liverpool and Glasgow 40,000 quarters of oatmeal, have 291 also been brought from Ireland; so that in the course of last week there was actually more corn imported from that part of the country which was said to be starving than had been distributed there by Her Majesty's Ministers. What we have said then, and what we now say again is, that there is abundance in Ireland; and I defy the hon. Gentlemen opposite to contradict me. There is, indeed, greater abundance of food in Ireland than has ever been known. Now, if the Government had purchased this grain in Ireland, instead of buying grain at home and having to re-import it into that country, they would have had the advantage of obtaining it at the cost price; and they might have sold it at that price to the advantage of the people. My right hon. Friend is a farmer himself, to a certain extent; and what would he think if he was obliged to get back his oats from the market where he sent them! Now, my right hon. Friend the Secretary at War has made some references, in the course of his speech, to the wages of labour, and has stated what they are in Wiltshire. Though I hold no property in Wiltshire, I am a tenant-farmer on the borders of that county; and, I dare say, I employ more labourers than my right hon. Friend. I know what are the wages we pay there. I know that, in 1836 and 1837, the wages we paid in that part of the country were 9s. a week; but the price of wheat rose—not from 40s. to 78s., as my right hon. Friend has argued, but yet some 8s. or 10s. a quarter—and the wages last year were raised 1s. a week, and I believe I am only paying, in giving that sum, the same wages as others, and that amount I am still giving. At all events that is the rate of wages I am now paying my labourers in that part of the country; therefore I cannot help coming to the conclusion that there has been no little exaggeration on the subject of wages. There is also a great exaggeration on the subject of famine in Ireland. I have said so before, and I will now repeat it. I charge Her Majesty's Government with wilful exaggeration as respects the famine of Ireland. While I am on the subject, I want to know, Sir, why we have not had all the reports which I am aware Her Majesty's Ministers have received. I should like to see the reports of the Commander in Chief in Ireland, of all the Poor Law Commissioners that have been sent there, and of the inspectors of prisons. I know something about these 292 reports, and I am therefore desirous to have an answer to my question. I, too, have had information from Ireland; but it is of a very different character from that furnished by the Government. I hold in my hand the letter of a gentleman carrying on the business of a cornfactor at Youghal, in the county of Cork, and in that letter it is stated that the writer has had communications from houses in Glasgow, stating that the stock of wheat on hand is unusually large. The writer encloses two circulars to that effect, and adds, that in so far as the statement of distress in Scotland is coupled with the cry of famine in Ireland, there is obviously no foundation for it. The writer then went on to state that—He was fully persuaded so superabundant was the potato crop in Ireland, that if one-third of the whole had been destroyed, the loss would not materially affect the supply of food; and that the hue and cry raised by the Government upon the subject, and echoed by the agitators, had contributed very much to the apparent scarcity of provisions, by causing the more opulent farmers to keep back their stock of potatoes with the hope of obtaining increased prices.That is the statement and these the opinions of a man who is interested in the rise of prices of provisions. Coupling this with other information which I have received, I have no hesitation in saying that the Government has greatly exaggerated the case of distress in Ireland. My noble Friend said that the peeople of Ireland are now deriving the benefit of the importation of Indian meal made by the Government, inasmuch as the supply of that article has opened the hoarded potato stores; but I have had a letter from the Earl of Shannon, in which it is stated by that nobleman that potatoes are in abundance in his neighbourhood, only that hitherto they have been hoarded. And it is also stated in it that Her Majesty's Ministers only a week since refused to take the Indian meal out of store, in order to keep up the cry of famine in Ireland, for the purpose of carrying their Corn Law measure in England. Thus the House will perceive that there are two stories in Ireland as far as regards the conduct of the Government. With respect to the importation of Indian meal, in relation to which the Government has spoken so highly of their own exertions—what, after all, does it amount to, taken as a proof of their proposition? If there is, as they allege, a famine in Ireland, what will 40,000 or 50,000 quarters of maize do towards relieving it? Why, there has been 293 as much grain imported from Ireland during the last week into the ports of Glasgow, Liverpool, and London, alone. My right hon. Friend has taunted us with taking our principles of political economy from the French writers—from the other side of the water: but I wish my right hon. Friend and the Government had taken a lesson out of M. Guizot's book, in relation to this measure. If they had done so, the country would have wiser and firmer institutions than it now has. But there are other great authorities besides M. Guizot and M. Thiers, for the protection of native industry: there are Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox, Mr. Canning, Mr. Huskission; and there are other authorities of older date, and farther back in the history of the country: there is Cromwell, and all the great men of his age. The navigation laws, originated by Cromwell, have been the cause of this country's greatness. And, Sir, when I name Pitt, Fox, Canning, and Huskisson, I am only naming those great men whom the two right hon. Baronets were continually in the habit of referring to so long as they were in the vigour of their intellect; and I think I may assert that their advocacy of free trade is only their sexagenarian policy. It was ever the doctrine of the great masters before us—of Canning and of Huskisson—that we should care not how cheap corn might be, so long as that corn was grown at home—and let me tell the hon. Gentlemen opposite that we deny altogether that we are endeavouring, in maintaining protection, to serve our own interests, for that we believe that the manufacturing and the agricultural interests are intimately connected with each other. We believe that the result of these measures will be that the landlords will suffer, that the farmers will suffer, that the labourers will suffer, and that the shopkeepers will suffer. You want to change your old customers for new; but before you do, calmly reflect whether the new will be better than the old. What are the exportations of manufactured goods, of every kind of produce in this country, as compared with our home consumption? Your argument is, "If you will allow us to take grain from abroad, the foreigners who sell us the grain will take our manufactured goods in return. But that argument does not appear to apply now, for you take more produce, as far as value goes, from America, and all the corn-growing countries of Europe, than they take manufactured articles from you. Well, Sir, this is a dangerous principle; 294 for if we are to legislate for the future by the experience of the past, we are not warranted in supposing that the producers of that corn will take an equivalent for it in our manufactures. Your arguments, then, go for nothing; because if you do not buy of your own customers, how can you expect that they will buy from you? You are repeatedly changing old customers for new—you are casting away a substance for a shadow—you are about to verify the old story so happily told by my noble Friend the Member for the city of London—you are like Aladdin, exchanging the old lamp for the new. Sir, these are the reasons which influence me in advocating the continuance of the protective system. I know that we benefit by the prosperity of the manufacturers—I know that when they are prosperous and when your labourers are in the receipt of full wages, they consume more corn and more meat, and the increased demand increases the price of the produce. Our prosperity adds to yours. When we prosper we purchase your fabrics; and are we not as customers worthier by a thousand times than the customers of foreign countries? Is this a time when wheat—no, I will not say wheat, but rye—has risen one hundred per cent, to change the protection laws? Is this the time, when the granaries are fuller than ever they have been known to be at the same period of the year, and when the granaries of other countries are comparatively empty—is this a time, when your prices are equal and steady, while those of other countries are fluctuating—is this the time, I ask, when by prudent laws you have plenty here at home, while other lands are not so well supplied—is this, I ask, the time that you select for destroying a commercial policy which has been so eminently successful in its operation? I said that the price of wheat had fallen in this country. I hold in my hands returns from the 288 towns under the notice of the corn proprietors for four years, and what is the result? I find that in 1842, allowing for the first three months in the year, when there were but 155 towns in the list, that the amount of grain brought to market was 4,568,248 quarters. In 1843, 5,302,298 quarters; in 1844, 5,456,307 quarters, showing a gradual increase in the produce of the land; but in the year 1845, the increase rose to 6,470,469 quarters, thus showing an increase of 1,300,000 quarters on the average of three years. How, then, can 295 it be said that any laws can work better than those which now exist? I will now refer to another return, inasmuch as I find that Her Majesty's Ministers still harp on the Irish question. I had hoped that the Ministers would have given that point up on the ground of the so-called Irish famine being in a great measure an imposture. It seems, however, that we are to hear more of it. Now, I wish the House to understand that I have not sought those returns, that I have not asked for them, but that persons are continually sending them to me by post. Respecting those returns, a Mr. Skipper, of Liverpool, wrote to me; and, speaking of the immense arrivals from Ireland, said, that no less than 10,900 quarters of wheat, 6,000 quarters of oats, and flour and oatmeal in proportion, had arrived lately at Liverpool. After referring to that enormous supply, Mr. Skipper proceeded to gay—The supply sufficiently confirms the universal opinion here, that abundance of feeding stuffs are held in Ireland, and only withheld in anticipation of the scarcity so confidently predicted at the opening of the Session.He further added—I may mention, the import list is made up authoritatively, and not by each individual merchant.So here, you see, this is the present opinion in Liverpool, one of the greatest towns in the country, and one in which the deepest apprehension was at one time entertained respecting the cry of famine. The merchants of Liverpool now, however, find that the cry was originally created for the purpose of raising prices. We know who it was who raised that cry in the early part of the Session. Sir, the documents I have received are not partial ones. I hold in my hand a circular dated from Birmingham, but the signature of which has been studiously erased. It is dated "Birmingham, third of fourth month;" and therefore I presume the author is a Quaker. Indeed, I have little doubt but that Mr. Sturge was the writer. Let us see what it is he says of the state of the corn crop. He states that the corn returns for six months, ending 2nd inst., exhibited an increase of thirty per cent, but that during the last three months they only exhibited an increase of six per cent, as compared with the corresponding three months of last year. This is good authority that there was no dearth in the land on the 2nd of April. My right hon. Friend 296 the Secretary at War has stated, that notwithstanding the alarming statements which have gone abroad, and the agitation which has prevailed on the subject of the repeal of the Corn Laws, that there have been no county meetings held to advocate the maintenance of the present system; but I take leave to ask him whether there has not been an election for South Nottingham? Who carried that election? Was it not the tenant-farmers of the county? Why, all the personal regard entertained for my noble Friend (Lord Lincoln), and all the money spent so profusely by my noble Friend at that election, were utterly unavailing to procure a popular demonstration in favour of the newly-adopted principles of the Ministry. I am not going to charge the noble Lord with bribery; but can he deny it was a most expensive election? [The Earl of LINCOLN reminded the noble Lord that, having already spoken that night, he was precluded by the House from making a speech in reply to such charges.] I am sure the House will permit my noble Friend to have an opportunity of setting himself right with them, in case he should feel himself aggrieved by anything that may fall from me. This indulgence I pray may be granted to him. But, Sir, do we not all know that every electioneering agent in Nottinghamshire was retained in the service of my noble Friend? South Nottingham was taken by surprise; but the tenant-farmers of the county carried the field against my noble Friend, by a majority amounting to something between 600 and 700. And are we to have set against that magnificent demonstration of popular feeling, the assertion that the noble Lord's majority of 121 in the borough of Hamilton has swamped the constituencies of other boroughs, and gives an unmistakeable indication that public opinion goes with the policy of the Ministry? Such an assertion were preposterous. No public meetings! Was there not an election at North Nottinghamshire? And did not Gloucestershire and Dorsetshire follow the example? Who was better entitled to have a seat in this House than my Lord Ashley? And who would have been at the head of the poll in Dorsetshire if he had maintained his ancient principles, so surely as that noble Lord? No one! But Englishmen are true at heart, and detest tergiversation. They hate broken pledges and broken faith, and cannot endure to be betrayed. And when I remember that my hon. Friend who successfully opposed the 297 noble Lord at South Nottinghamshire when last he stood upon the hustings at Newark, congratulated the electors of the county, and made it his first subject of felicitation that they had refused to be cajoled by the last fabrication from the workshop of trickery and delusion, and told them that he gloried in his country, for it was not two counties only which had scouted the cry of cheap bread, but that the cities and boroughs too had refused to be quieted by the last fugitive humbug of a dying faction—when I remember that it was in this strain that the electors were addressed, can I wonder that they, being themselves men of firm purpose, of stable minds, and lovers of consistency in the people's representatives, that they repudiated the noble Lord, and declined to hold communion with those who had become turncoats at the beck of Her Majesty's First Minister? Sir, I am rejoiced that the people of England have shown themselves true to themselves—that they have manifested their irreconcileable aversion to, their unmitigated contempt for, political inconstancy, political vacillation, and political tergiversation; and that they concur with the great Burke—an authority so often quoted in this House—in thinking that he who would seek to act as the representative of a great constituency ought to be a man of stable mind—a man of firm resolve and faithful purpose—fit to be a pillar of the State, and not a weathercock on the summit of the edifice, capable of no other office than to indicate by his own versatility the last shiftings of the uncertain breeze.
The EARL of LINCOLN
Sir, I know it is irregular to rise a second time in the course of a debate; but I trust, after the laboured attack made on me by the noble Lord—after the manner in which he has obviously kept back, for this especial occasion, the envenomed bitterness which I suppose former friendship is considered to justify—after the deliberate and prepared assault made on me by the noble Lord, when he knew that I was not entitled by the rules of the House to rise and reply—I do hope that the House will allow me to trespass on its indulgence for a few moments. I will promise the House not to enter into particulars with regard to any other points than one on which he has attacked me. I shall explain nothing of my hustings speeches; any explanations respecting them will be reserved for another and more fitting occasion, for at any time I do not consider them to be of such importance as to occupy 298 the attention of this House. [Ironical cheer from Lord Gr. BENTINCK.] Sir, I have no objection to meet the noble Lord's charges upon another occasion. I am perfectly ready to meet him or any other man, and it is only in deference to the House, and the rules of the House, that I do not meet them now. The noble Lord is welcome to attack every word and every act of mine; I will justify every word, and defend myself. But I will on the present occasion confine myself to the charge which the noble Lord has made as to bribery at the South Nottinghamshire election. I think the noble Lord might have taken warning by the fate of a friend of his, who made the same charge at the election for South Notts. He made the charge upon the hustings, that I, or some of my friends, had bribed. I distinctly denied it. He stated that he had the fact from unexceptionable authority. I called upon him to give up that authority. He was silent. I said if this charge were true, bribery was punishable by the laws of the country, and that if bribery was committed by me or by my friends, we might be prosecuted. I challenged him to prosecute me or any of my friends. Did he take up that challenge? No: but he replied that the Free Trade Committee of Nottingham had bribed. Well did they sit quietly under the imputation? No; they asked him for his authority; and the hon. Member for Nottingham repeated the demand in this House, and I must say a more miserable appearance was never cut by any person than by him who made the charge on that occasion. It is unworthy of the noble Lord to tread in the shoes of a young man who came forward for the first time in political life by making this charge against me. But I tell the noble Lord, as I told him, that it is untrue, and that not one farthing was spent by me in bribing at the Nottinghamshire election. It was not an expensive election—it was not an expensive election at the rate which county contests necessarily and invariably cost. The necessary legal expenses are always heavy; but, compared with ordinary county elections, the expenses of the Nottinghamshire election were not high. The noble Lord says that I took the county by surprise. Sir, the county was taken by surprise, but not by me. The county was canvassed before I vacated my seat; and it was in consequence of that canvass that it became incumbent on me to engage so many agents. The charge of bribery as 299 against me, is untrue, and there was nothing spent illegally on my part. But the noble Lord may, perhaps, know that something was spent in bribery. He may know that a noble and influential Member of his own family contributed largely to the expenses of that election against me; and it might have been wiser for the noble Lord, recollecting that circumstance, to have abstained from making the charge against me. I need not mention the sum to the noble Lord, for I suppose he knows the amount himself; but, recollecting the fact, I think it would have been more prudent in the noble Lord if he did not touch on that subject. Having contradicted the statement of the noble Lord most peremptorily, and I hope, satisfactorily, I now tell the noble Lord that I shall be prepared to meet any other charges he has to make against me. I feel I may have made only an imperfect reply to the noble Lord's studied attack; but I think I have answered the charge, to which I said I would confine myself, and I hope I have not trespassed too long on the House.
Motion and the Amendment withdrawn. Amendments made by the Committee on the Bill agreed to. Bill to be read a third time on Monday.
§ House adjourned.