LORD J. RUSSELL
then moved the Order of the Day for going into Committee of the whole House on the Corn Importation Act.
§ House being in Committee,
LORD J. RUSSELL
said: Mr. Greene, so favourable an inclination was shown by the House, on the first day of the Session, to adopt the proposal I shall have to submit to them to-day, that I shall not trouble the House with many details which I should otherwise have thought it necessary to lay before them. I will, however, state, as well as I am able, what has been hitherto, and what is now, the general prospect of the supplies of this country, and the reasons why I shall propose to this House to suspend for a time the duties upon foreign corn. I will, in the same statement, give my reasons for proposing the suspension of the navigation laws, the two subjects being closely connected together; and immediately after the Speaker has resumed the chair, I will propose that the House shall go into committee on the navigation laws. I will state, therefore, generally, that upon the termination of the harvest, the prospects and statements led to the conclusion that the harvest of wheat would be somewhat 211 below an average, but that the crop was of very fine and superior quality; and that the produce of barley and of oats was in many parts of the kingdom deficient, particularly with regard to oats, in which, in some districts, there was a considerable deficiency. But the greatest loss which occurred, was the failure of the potato crop—a failure which was considerable in England, which was far more considerable in some parts of Scotland, and which was to the extent, it is said, of three-fourths of the whole crop, but the amount cannot be accurately ascertained—I have no doubt in saying, however, of considerably more than one-half the whole produce in Ireland. Of course this great failure in the potato crop had a material influence upon prices. It was impossible not to expect that the price of the corn required for the consumption of Ireland would be materially affected by the deficiency in the potato crop; but, on the other hand, there was, in the course of last year, a very large importation of foreign corn and flour, amounting altogether, according to a paper which has, I believe, been laid before this House, to the very large quantity of 4,800,000 quarters. This very large supply did not, for some time, enter into consumption. The harvest was remarkably early. It is reckoned by some that as much as six weeks' consumption of grain was still in store when the produce of the late harvest was brought into consumption; and, therefore, for a considerable period the corn imported from foreign ports, and which was admitted at the low duty of 4s. after the passing of the Corn Bill last Session, did not come into consumption. It was for this reason, as I conceive, that for some time there was no very considerable rise of prices; and the apprehension recently entertained that there would be a great rise in prices, was not then generally felt. You will see that, with respect to this country, the prices in October and in the course of November did not cause any very considerable apprehension with regard to the prices of wheat. The price of wheat in the first week of October was 54s.; in the second week, 56s. 10d.; in the third week, 59s. 10d.; in the fourth week, 60s. 10d.; and in the fifth week, 61s. 9d. In the first week of November, prices were 62s. 3d.; in the second week, 61s. 5d.; in the third week, 59s. 8d.; and in the fourth week, 59s.; thus showing rather a decline of prices from the middle of October to the end of November. But from that time 212 there has been a very considerable rise in prices—a very considerable rise indeed when we consider what were the prices which occurred immediately after the time of harvest. The price of wheat in the first week of August last was 47s.; and it appears from a return I hold in my hand, that in the first week of September it was 49s. It has risen, during the present month, in the first week to 64s. 4d.; in the second week to 66s. 10d.; and the average price for the week ending on the 16th inst. is 70s. 3d., being a rise of 21s. since the first week in September. That rise of price in wheat justifies, as I conceive, very considerable apprehension as to the sufficiency of the supply. The rise in the price of barley has been still more remarkable. I have here the prices of barley for some years last past, which will show the very great increase of price in the present year. In the first week of January, 1842, the price of barley was 29s. 7d.; in the first week of January, 1843, it was 26s. 5d.; in the first week of January, 1844, it was 32s. 7d.; in the first week of January, 1845, it was 34s. 2d.; in the first week of January, 1846, it was 31s. 11d.; while in the first week in January, 1847, it was 44s. 3d.; in the second week, 46s. 5d.; and in the third week, 50s. This price of 50s. does not at all represent the prices that have been given for malting barley, which has fetched 66s., 67s., 68s., and up to 70s.; and still higher prices, I am told, may have been paid for it. This rise of price is very remarkable; because, in my comparison of prices, I have not taken solely years of great plenty, but years in which scarcity was felt to a considerable extent. I have said that this rise of price was, to a great degree, unexpected by those who were engaged in the trade. I should say, likewise, with regard to the neighbouring kingdom of France, where there is at present considerable apprehension of a very great rise in prices, that such an apprehension did not appear to be entertained in November, according to the best accounts the Government can obtain. I hold in my hand a translation of a circular of the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, dated "Paris, November 16, 1846," from which I will read two or three passages. The Minister says—In the first six divisions, which comprise fifty-seven departments, the amount of produce in wheat, meslin, rye, and barley, has been generally below the average of an ordinary year.In another passage he says— 213Thus, as last year, the grain-producing districts are those which have suffered least, particularly the second division, from which Paris is principally supplied, where the harvest may be considered as having produced as much as in a good ordinary year.With regard to the failure of the potato crop, after stating that there are not more than fifteen departments where this root has not partially failed, either from drought or disease, he adds that the total loss does not appear to be more than from a quarter to a third of the produce of an ordinary year. It appears, therefore, that there was in France, as in this country, a belief that the harvest was generally deficient, but not any apprehension that prices would very materially rise. Referring to the very great failure of the potato crop in Scotland and Ireland, which has given rise to those scenes of misery of which we have heard so much, and which have given us all so much pain, I will speak now as to the effects which that failure has produced on the general supply of food, and the want which it has occasioned. There are various statements made as to the extent of the failure of the potato root; but as to the money value of the loss, the general average statement is, that it is not less than 12,000,000l. sterling; and that not less than from 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 quarters of grain will be equivalent to supply the deficiency. I have already stated, that we have had, during the last year, a supply of 4,800,000 quarters of grain; but in reference to the supplies we may obtain during the remainder of the present year, before the next harvest, it is to be considered by the House that there are but very few parts of the world whence those supplies can be expected. The effects of a deficient harvest have been felt in France, in Germany, and in a very great part of the west of Europe; and measures have already been taken in many countries to supply the deficiency of food by permitting the freest importation of it from foreign countries. A regulation has lately been passed in France by which the duty on the importation of wheat into that country is now about 7d. a quarter; and another regulation has been made allowing ships belonging to foreign nations to enter the ports of France with grain. In many of the countries on the Rhine a similar law has passed; and in some, laws have likewise been adopted prohibiting the exportation of grain and potatoes. The stock of corn at Dantzic has been remarkably low, 214 and would not furnish any very great supply to this country; and the last information, I think, that I had concerning it was, that the owners still retain it. Consequently, considering that the amount of grain is so small, and that it is retained from an expectation that very high prices will be obtained, there is no likelihood of any supply being sent thence to this country immediately. There are, however, two quarters from which considerable supplies can be expected. One is Odessa. Very considerable supplies have already been sent from there to France, which country has very much encouraged importation from Odessa; and the result has been that very large supplies have been sent to France from Odessa, amounting, I believe, to nearly 700,000 quarters. It is expected that in spring further supplies of corn will be sent to Odessa, which are not there now, and which may be available for this and other countries. There has been a very abundant harvest in America of all sorts of grain. The harvest of wheat has been abundant, and that of Indian corn has perhaps been the largest ever known. But at the same time we have not had hitherto any very great part of that supply sent to this country. There are, however, ships now in America, and other ships have been sent there from Liverpool and other ports, to bring to Europe the American wheat and Indian corn. It appears to me, that such being the state of the supplies, and such the deficiency in this country, we ought to remove every impediment in the way of the supply of this country from foreign ports. It might seem at a first glance that a duty of 4s. a quarter is not considerable, and, from the very large importation of last year, it might certainly be maintained that it had not prevented a considerable importation of foreign corn. But there are circumstances and cases in which that duty may, to a certain extent, limit the supply which may be brought to this country. For instance, for some time there has been a very nice balance between the prices in this country and in France. For a short time English wheat was sent from the eastern counties to France. That exportation lasted a very short time: the price rose, the balance was turned the other way, and corn was imported into this country; and in course of time the corn in bond here rose in price within 1s. of the price of the corn which had paid the 4s. duty. It is evident, with prices 215 so very nicely balanced, that those who look to make a profit by the sale of a cargo of wheat, may be influenced by just the turn of price which this 4s. duty makes. For instance, supposing that the price at London of wheat were 63s. a quarter, while, at the same time it was 62s. at Havre, the price at Havre would make it more worth the importer's while to take the cargo to Havre; and thus the amount of the 4s. duty makes a difference. In many circumstances, supposing that there had not been this want in France—I should say, in most ordinary cases, even under the visitation of such a calamity as has now happened to this country, that the 4s. duty would hardly have prevented any quantity of grain from being brought to this country; but when there exists a competition for the food brought from America and other places, the imposition of a restriction to that amount may make a difference—be it inconsiderable or considerable—in the quantity imported into this country. I say that it is hardly in our power to speculate as to what may be the quantity of corn brought to this country by the removal of that restriction on its importation. It might be said that it would not be much; that it would be but a small quantity; and that, therefore, it is not worth while to legislate with respect to it; but I maintain, that in the circumstances I have stated, it is enough to say that the duty is a restriction on the importation of grain; preventing thereby corn which would otherwise come to this country for the food of the people being brought to it. Under these circumstances, I say that Parliament ought to take that duty off. I shall propose, therefore, that all duties on foreign corn shall be suspended by law till the 1st of September in the present year. I think that that will afford sufficient time for bringing the corn from foreign countries; and it will be left for Parliament afterwards, at another period of the Session, to decide whether it will be necessary to continue the suspension, or to revive the existing law. I do not, from the disposition shown the other night by the whole House, expect any opposition to my present proposal; and I do not think that there is any party in the House, which, according to its principles, ought to oppose the proposition. With respect to the advocates of protection and corn laws, they ven when they declared the policy of Parliament was in favour of restriction and protection, never denied that there might 216 be circumstances in the state of the country which ought at once, at the request of any Government, to lead to the suspension of the duties. In 1756, 1766, 1791, 1800, and at various other periods, those protective laws had been suspended; whilst those who proposed the suspension were the advocates of protection. With respect to those who take the view that there ought to be no restriction on the importation of corn—who have agreed that in February, 1849, those duties should be reduced to 1s.—they certainly can have no difficulty in saying at the present time that those duties ought to be suspended; because they could hardly hold that that which they consider a good law in times of the greatest abundance and plentiful harvests—viz., a law allowing the free and unrestricted importation of foreign corn—ought not to be the law at a time when great pressure exists, and when there is a difficulty in obtaining a sufficient supply of food for the people. I will now pass to another subject, which is, as I have stated, closely connected with that on which I have just been addressing the House, viz., the Navigation Laws. With respect to those laws, I should likewise say that the present state of things leads to considerable difficulty with respect to the importation of corn, owing to the very high rate of freights demanded. In some instances these rates have been enhanced by particular circumstances. In the United States, for instance, they have been enhanced by the demand of the American Government for shipping to take guns and stores to the coast of Mexico; but the demand for shipping for the importation of foreign corn has of itself raised the rate of freights. I will state to the House what is the ordinary freight for a quarter of corn from various places to this country, and what is at present paid. From the Danube the ordinary rate of freight is 10s. a quarter; but the present rate is 16s. 6d. to 17s. From Odessa the ordinary rate is 8s., and the present rate is 13s. to 13s. 6d. From the United States the ordinary rate is 5s.; the present rate is 12s. 6d. to 13s. From the Baltic the ordinary rate is 3s. 9d. to 4s. 6d.; the present, supposing the navigation were open, would be from 5s. to 5s. 6d. The increase in the rate of freight is still more remarkable as affecting the supply of Ireland. For instance, the ordinary rate of freight from London to Cork varies from 1s. to 1s. 3d. a quarter, and at times is considerably below that; 217 but at present the rate of freight is from 3s. to 3s. 6d., and at the same time there is considerable difficulty in finding vessels. Now, it is obvious that if we should permit corn to be imported in the ships of all foreign countries, thereby suspending the navigation laws, we should to a certain degree lower the rates of freight, and likewise allow of some more vessels to be employed in the trade between England and Ireland, from which the shipping is at present diverted by the high rates to be obtained for carrying from foreign ports. At this time of pressure these impediments ought not to exist, and I therefore propose the suspension of the navigation laws as regards the importation of grain from foreign countries till the 1st of September next. With respect to the existing law relating to the importation of grain, I do not propose to make any comment either for or against it. All I maintain now is, that whether that law be politic or impolitic, the present occasion is one when its operation ought to be suspended. I do not know that I need say more at the present moment. I do not wish to provoke any hostility by anything that may fall from me on this occasion, and I shall, therefore, conclude by proposing—That the Chairman be directed to move the House that leave be given to bring in a Bill to suspend for a time to be limited, the Duties on the Importation of Corn.
§ MR. BANKES
rose to second the Motion of the noble Lord, and in presenting himself to the notice of the Committee he felt no difficulty, in consequence of the tone in which the noble Lord had made his proposition. The noble Lord had stated the other night that from this temporary suspension of the duties on corn he anticipated no essential benefit; and he could not but expect that such was the feeling of the noble Lord, because, if the noble Lord had thought that any essential benefit would be derived from the suspension, Parliament would have been called together at an earlier period. The noble Lord was aware that those who maintained the principle that duties were for the benefit of the country imposed on the importation of corn, were, throughout the whole course of last year, at any period when the pressure on Ireland was adverted to, ready to concur in the immediate suspension of the duties. Consequently the noble Lord must have known that, if in the exercise of his duty he had thought it expedient to bring Parliament together at an earlier period, 218 though it might have been inconvenient for the Irish Members to attend, yet the English Members, on behalf of Ireland, would, with the greatest readiness and good will, have sanctioned a measure for the suspension of the corn duties, or any other measure which could have been proved to them to be beneficial to Ireland. With respect to the navigation laws, he confessed it did appear to him that the noble Lord had a greater difficulty in excusing himself for not calling Parliament together at an earlier period. For they were told now, and had heard before, that there were quantities of grain to be obtained in different parts of the world, which were only not in this country on account of the difficulty of transport, and that consequently, a benefit was to be obtained by the suspension of the navigation laws. Now, it was difficult to conjecture the reason why a vigilant Ministry did not take the earliest opportunity of affording facilities for the introduction into this country of that grain which they knew was to be had, the only difficulty being the means of conveying it. If, therefore, so much benefit was now to be derived from a suspension of the navigation laws, he asked why was a single week unnecessarily delayed in promoting that measure, for, as he had already observed, if it had been inconvenient for the Irish Members to attend, the English Members would have been ready to give the Government every facility with respect to such a proceeding? In reference to the result of the last harvest, his information differed in one respect from the account given by the noble Lord. He believed that there was more than an average crop in the west of England, but that the quality was not particularly fine. The quantity, however, was, he trusted, sufficient to supply the whole of that part of England, even to the extent of making up for the deficiency of the potato crop. With respect to the rise of prices, whatever might have been the opinion of the Government, he must be allowed to say, that in the part of the country which he had referred to, this rise in price was in a great degree anticipated. He did not know whether this anticipation was owing to the contiguity of that part of the country to France causing the people to be aware at an earlier period of the dearth apprehended by their neighbours; but this he did know, that by the farmers there a rise of prices was anticipated; and he might mention it to the credit of these farmers, that they did not 219 withhold their grain from the market, but continued a regular and steady supply, rather larger than on ordinary occasions, notwithstanding the expectation they entertained that higher prices might, at a more distant period, be obtained. In one respect, at least, the anticipations which had been entertained by those who had advocated protective duties on corn, had not turned out to be fallacious. It had been their view that at the period when in this country the want of corn might be felt, it would be found that the parties holding corn in the northern countries of Europe, would still retain and guide their prices by the prices in the British market, however large might be the quantities they possessed. Such appeared to be the case now, and it was to other and more distant countries this country had now to look for the supply of grain required. He had sincere satisfaction in expressing on this occasion his full, free, and entire concurrence in the proposition of the noble Lord; but he shared with the noble Lord the apprehension that no great benefit would result from the suspension of the duties. Nevertheless, if the suspension could be of the smallest benefit, it ought not to be delayed one moment. The period for which the duty was to be suspended, was certainly longer than had been generally anticipated; but it would not be proper to cavil about the precise time or period. They must rely on the Government having used a sound discretion with respect to the proposition now made; and all he had to add on his own part, and he believed he spoke the sentiments of many others, was, that his acquiescence in the Motion was given with the greatest possible good will. It had been said the other night by the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth was entitled to the greatest credit for his foresight in respect to the famine in Ireland. Now, all he had to observe with respect to that remark was, that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth met with no opposition in regard to any remedy he proposed for the relief of famine in Ireland. The only measure as respected Ireland in regard to which he met opposition was the Coercion Bill; and he did not know whether the hon. and learned Member for Bath considered that the passing of the Coercion Bill would have relieved the famine in Ireland. He thought it right to remind the hon. and learned Member, that, with regard to famine in 220 Ireland, so far as it was anticipated by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, that right hon. Baronet met with no opposition whatever. Every measure he proposed for the relief of Ireland was instantly acquiesced in; and the offer made over and over again by the agricultural Members to consent to the suspension of the duties on corn, was rejected by the right hon. Baronet. Under these circumstances, the advocates of protective duties would not appear to the Irish Members to deserve any blame. They had never stood in the way of relief to Ireland, and never would. Ireland would find none more ready to co-operate for her benefit.
§ SIR H. W. BARRON
only regretted that Parliament had not met sooner, and agreed to this Motion at an earlier period. In Waterford last week the price of corn was 82s.; how could a man, with a family of five or six to support on 10d. a day, buy enough of it to furnish them with a subsistence? Thousands of unfortunate labourers on the public works were living upon one scanty meal a day. The House and this country were not yet aware of the frightful distress and destitution of millions in Ireland. At a poorhouse in the union of Waterford, last Thursday, 107 applicants were refused, through want of room to receive them. The medical officers reported to the board that it would be dangerous to the lives alike of the applicants and inmates to admit any more persons into the already overcrowded wards. The board, however, taking a stop beyond the law perhaps, engaged a large store on the next day, capable of containing 1,100 individuals, and hoped thus to be able now to relieve every individual who applied. It had been stated in the House flippantly, but most ignorantly, that the landlords of Ireland had not done their duty on this occasion. He had attended as chairman in four baronies in his own county, and begged to state most emphatically to the House, and to this great and generous nation, that there was not a breath of dissent from any one of the landlords or ratepayers in taxing themselves to the very last shilling their property would bear, for the relief of the distressed. In one of those baronies in which he had property himself, the landlords and ratepayers taxed themselves without a dissentient voice for the support of the poor, for only three months, to the amount of 28s. in the pound upon their rental. He had attentively observed their proceedings in three counties, and had not 221 seen a single landlord stand up and withhold his assent to the great principle, that the property of the country was bound to support the destitution of the people. When he heard the assertions which were dealt out by the press of this country, and retailed in the House at second-hand by some second-rate lawyer, he must protest in the strongest terms that the courtesy of the House, or of Gentlemen, would permit, and say that there was not a single word of truth in these calumnious assertions. A body of men never existed who showed themselves more devoted to the interests of the poor than the landlords of Ireland, and more willing to sacrifice every shilling of their property for the support of the destitute. Never did a body of men come forward so magnanimously as they had done on this most trying of trying occasions. Though great was the calamity impending over his unfortunate country, he hoped that great good might ultimately flow from it, and that when the ordeal was past there would be found to spring out of it something which would raise the condition of the people, and lead all to unite for the general welfare of that kingdom.
§ MR. GOULBURN
felt it to be perfectly natural for an hon. Member who had recently arrived from scenes which sufficiently affected even those who heard of them at a distance, to press upon the House the extent of the calamity which had visited his country, and to feel irritated by observations reflecting, in his opinion, upon the character of his countrymen, and take the earliest opportunity of indignantly repelling those reflections; but the hon. Baronet must not suppose that he was in the least degree indifferent to the sufferings of that country, if he did not think this the fit occasion for entering into a discussion upon that subject. The distress in Ireland was universally acknowledged; and every hon. Member, the English Members as strongly as the Irish, felt the necessity and propriety of acting upon that knowledge, and doing all that could be done by way of relief and assistance. Entirely concurring in the measure proposed by the noble Lord, he thought it so essential that the concurrence in the measure should be universal, and should carry with it to the minds of the Irish people a conviction of the interest felt in their welfare, that he would not even take the opportunity which the present discussion might afford to advert to a past period when the House might have been assembled, and when a proceed- 222 ing of this kind might have been resorted to with greater advantage than at present. He was prepared to make allowances for the Government, in their postponing it to this time; and he would not interrupt the unanimity which prevailed by showing how much more effectual it might at an earlier period have proved. The question before the House, was, were we likely to derive advantage from the measure still, if not to the same extent as we might once have done? To the proposition that we were likely, he gave his entire assent. Although the stock of corn upon which we had to operate was now less than it would have been at an antecedent period, and great part of it was already sold, and engaged to be delivered to customers in the various nations competing for it, there was a surplus disposable at the present moment, and it was desirable that we should obtain possession of it; and, as the continuance of the duty might by possibility divert from our shores, to other distressed countries, that further supply which we might have a prospect of obtaining, it was right that the duty should be suspended. With respect to the suspension of the navigation laws, the argument applied with even additional force; for France had suspended her navigation laws for the purpose of admitting corn, and therefore we had not the same benefit of our own shipping as we should have had if France had not made that arrangement. The British ships, which formerly could not have carried American corn into the ports of France, owing to the regulations of that country, had now ample opportunity of doing so; and even though loaded in America with the intention of coming to this kingdom, they would hear at the first port that they might proceed to France; and if the price at that moment should be more favourable there, we should, unless our navigation laws also were suspended, deprive ourselves of supplies coming to Europe in British ships, and actually intended for us. In order, therefore, to put ourselves upon an equal footing with foreign countries, the suspension of the navigation laws during this urgent period of distress was a measure from which no one could be disposed to withhold assent, and, for his own part, he assented to it most willingly. The House would not suppose that he interposed with any objection or obstacle, if he added that he reserved his right to discuss the question of any further suspension of the navigation laws, or of the propriety of interfering with 223 them upon any other occasion hereafter, either in the matter of corn or with respect to other commodities; nor must he be precluded by this vote from considering any point which might hereafter arise with regard to those laws. He had only further to express his hope, that these measures might be the means of adding to our supply of food, and that those who were now suffering the greatest distress in the sister kingdom would see, in the readiness with which interests in this country had given up points heretofore contended for as most important, evidence of the strong liberal feeling of the British Parliament towards a part of the empire suffering, under the hand of Providence, the severest calamity that could be inflicted upon a nation; and he trusted that the unanimity with which Parliament was acting upon this occasion would create a degree of satisfaction that might tend to alleviate the misery which all were so anxious to mitigate.
§ MR. EWART
had listened with some surprise, and some incredulity, to one statement in the speech of the hon. Member for Dorset (Mr. Bankes), that the farmers had benevolently brought their corn to market, at a time when they anticipated that prices were about to rise. Free-trader as he was, he hardly knew how he should have had the heart to go to the extent he had sometimes done, if he had been aware that he was dealing with such generous-minded individuals. But, with all respect for the hon. Member, this case (to use the language of the newspapers) "required confirmation." The conduct of the commercial Minister of France in the suspension of the navigation laws had been worthy of all praise, and yet, although the example had long been before the eyes of the Government, they did not follow it until three or four months after the necessity had occurred. He had been one of those Members who had supported the principles of free trade from the first in that House, and he was cordially pleased to find that the hon. Member for Dorsetshire had voted for a temporary suspension of the navigation laws. As an advocate for total repeal of commercial restrictions, he preferred that plan to a temporary suspension. He only regretted that Her Majesty's Ministers had not come to a resolution for that total repeal; and he thought the same observation might be applied to the navigation laws. Since, however, the Government would not consent to the total repeal, however much he 224 regretted it, he would assent to the temporary measure. There were no old associations to justify the retention of the navigation laws. They only took their rise in the reign of Henry VII., and were confirmed in the time of the Protector, and in that of Charles II., he believed, simply in consequence of our enmity to the Dutch at that time. He repeated that he would much rather the Ministry should have substituted, for temporary suspension the entire abrogation of those laws, yet he did not wish to disturb the unanimity of the debate by making any Motion on the subject. But he could not help observing that labour in this country could never be sufficiently rewarded until they did away with the restrictions on commerce.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
, though very sensible of the forbearance of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) in not dwelling upon the conduct of the Government for not earlier proposing this measure, yet thought that upon a question of this importance it was desirable that he should state what were the grounds upon which they deemed a sufficient necessity for it not established in October, and those altered circumstances which rendered it, in their opinion, an imperative duty at this moment. In September, the price of corn was low; and in October, the prices of corn rose, apparently owing to speculation; for as soon as the determination of the Government not to open the ports was known, prices immediately fell, and continued to do so through the month of November. At the end of October, also, intelligence came from the United States of very large supplies having come down to the ports ready for shipment, and which were likely to come to this country, and at no great distance of time. Inquiries were made of the merchants at Liverpool and elsewhere, and the Government were told that a considerable number of vessels had gone out, attracted by the high freight from America, and that in all probability very large arrivals would take place shortly. Much more recently the number of vessels loading in America, which had gone out from this country for the purpose of bringing home corn, was very considerable. He had in his hand a letter from Liverpool, dated January the 14th, stating that at that time there were at New York, loading for Great Britain and Ireland, no less than thirty-seven vessels, of a tonnage of 25,000 tons; and at New Orleans, thirty-three vessels, of 19,000 tons; and that, in addi- 225 tion to that, twenty-nine vessels, of 17,000 tons, had sailed from Liverpool for America within the preceding week; and it was extremely probable that the cargoes with which they would return would be corn. That would be upwards of seventy vessels that were now loading, which would, in all probability, bring home corn from America. There did not seem, therefore, in October, to be any likelihood that large supplies would not be brought into this country, or that, so far as corn could be brought thence before the navigation closed, there would be any want of supplies. It was true, that the expectations held out to the Government by the merchants, had been to a considerable extent disappointed; corn had not come to the extent anticipated, though the imports had considerably increased within the last two or three weeks, as was shown by a return just laid on the Table. At the present moment, however, we were in what might be called the dead part of the year; the spring trade would begin before long, when there would be a much greater demand for freight, and therefore it was become much more necessary to relax these navigation laws, which might prevent the importation of corn in the vessels of any nation at a time when there would be a greater competition for shipping. The navigation was closed for the winter in the interior of America and in the Baltic; but these and other parts, as, for instance, Odessa and Galatz, would soon be open, and corn would be brought down to the seaboard, for the shipment of which to this country facilities might be afforded by the employment of foreign vessels which were nearer to these ports. He was very confident that in the spring and summer this country would receive large importations of corn. Up to the present time they had not received any Indian corn of the crop of 1846, which was described as the largest crop ever known in the United States. He believed that nearly the whole disposable crop of 1845 had been brought to this country; but the crop of 1846 would not be available for exportation till December or January. The supply through New Orleans would arrive before many weeks had elapsed; but that which was expected from the northern parts of the United States could not be brought to the seaboard till the internal navigation was opened. These considerations showed the great advantages which might be anticipated from the adoption, at this time, of 226 the measure now proposed, and which could not have been gained by any earlier suspension of the navigation laws. He was anxious to take the present opportunity of stating to the House the course which the Government had pursued, with the view of promoting the importation of corn into Ireland and providing supplies for that country. So much misapprehension had prevailed, and so many statements had been made on former occasions in reference to this subject, that he hoped he might be permitted to offer an explanation of the course which the Government had taken with regard to Ireland. It would be remembered that at the close of last Session of Parliament, the Government was asked whether it were prepared to undertake to supply Ireland with corn? And the assurance his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) had given—an assurance he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had afterwards repeated—was to this effect, that the Government would not be importers of corn—that whatever corn they might buy, should be bought in this country; but that certainly they would not be importers. In regard to the proceedings of the late Government, they, under different circumstances, had taken a different course. They imported Indian corn with the view of introducing a new trade and a new article of consumption for the great benefit of Ireland; and one element essential to the success of the experiment, was, the secrecy with which the operations of the Government were conducted. Apprehensions were naturally entertained by the merchants last summer, that similar operations might be repeated; and when the question was put to the Government by merchants in different parts of the country, it became absolutely necessary to form a definitive resolution on the subject. No half measures were possible, because a partial interference would have paralysed the exertions of private individuals; and experience had always shown that the enterprise of private individuals served far more effectually to secure an adequate supply of food than any Government agency which could be devised. His firm conviction was, that by the private enterprise of merchants a larger supply of food would be brought into the country, than could be secured by any exertions which the Government might make. But there were peculiar circumstances which rendered a deviation from ordinary rules advisable in regard to the west coast of Ireland, which was 227 difficult of access in winter, and which was not likely to obtain a supply by the ordinary means of trade at that period. The Government, therefore, undertook to send supplies of corn to the west coast of Ireland. In pursuance of that determination they had been perpetually and continually buyers of corn in this country from a very early period in the autumn; but they had entered the market so as not to raise the price of corn to the poor; and it must be remembered that it was not only the poor of Ireland who were in want of an adequate supply of food—there was great distress in many parts of Scotland; and, if the Government had come into the market as avowed purchasers of food, they would have enhanced the price to the people of this country, who, by means of their own resources or private charity, had to obtain the necessaries of life; so that the result might have been, that, instead of having to support a large number of poor in Ireland, they would have had to maintain those whom their own operations had deprived of a supply of food upon reasonable terms. The orders, therefore, which were given were to buy, always following, but never leading the market. The Government bought all the Indian corn which was to be found; for some weeks there was none to be had except a small quantity held at a fancy price. They then bought barley, then rice; and lately hardly any of the latter article was to be bought either in London or at Liverpool. By these means the Government had been able to supply the depôts upon the western coast of Ireland. His noble Friend had stated that the quantity of corn, consisting of wheat, Indian corn, &c., which had been imported by private merchants into this country in the last seven months of last year was 3,728,000 quarters. The average consumption of foreign corn for that period was about 468,000 quarters; and if that were deducted from the quantity brought in, and assuming that whatever quantity there was of potatoes could serve only for two months and a half, the quantity actually imported into the country would be sufficient for the support of 8,500,000 of the people for four months and a half. The quantity actually imported was more than could have been expected, more than any one seemed to have imagined. Among extensive purchasers for the supply of Ireland he might mention Mr. Russell, of Limerick, who had uniformly given a large price 228 in the English market. It was difficult to obtain any account of the quantity imported into Ireland; but there was not the least doubt that it was very considerable. In the beginning of December, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had received a letter from Liverpool, stating that thirty-three vessels were loading there with provisions for Ireland. One great deficiency as regarded the supply of food in that country, was the want of mill-power. This year the Government had left all the Irish mills for private grinding; but since the beginning of autumn they had employed the Admiralty mills at Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Deptford, and to some extent at Malta; and others on the river, and in Essex also, had been constantly at work throughout the autumn preparing supplies of Indian corn, meal, and barley. At an early period nine large depôts had been established in different parts of Ireland. Up to the present time there were twenty-six depôts in all; twenty-five of which were to the west of the Shannon. There were four in Donegal, two in Galway, two in Clare, three or four in Cork, besides one at Banagher, a reserve depôt at Dublin, &c. Therefore, as regarded either the supply of food, or the establishment of depôts, which an hon. Gentleman seemed to think the Government had entirely neglected, measures had been taken for meeting the emergency when the time arrived to fall back on the resources thus provided. It was perfectly true that, generally speaking, those depôts had not till recently been opened. Last year there was a pressure to open the depôts at an early period of the year, which was resisted by the Government. It was thought desirable that the depôts should be reserved for the coming emergency; and that so long as the people could they should be left to maintain themselves. Some of these depôts, however, never had been closed throughout the whole autumn. The depôts in Galway were opened from time to time in the course of the autumn, as were also those in Westport and Sligo. But in many cases it was found that the moment the Government interfered, all private enterprise ceased. Of one place where there was a depôt, it had been stated that—The destitution in the neighbourhood of Castletown (Bearhaven) has been greatly aggravated by the arrival of a commissariat officer, rumours having gone abroad that the Government was about to open a food depôt, which has prevented commercial people from sending in supplies of food as heretofore. The consequence has been, 229 that the supplies in the town are exhausted, and the whole district is now without food.It was believed that up to about Christmas there would be food to be obtained, but that after Christmas the Government must open their depôts. Orders had been issued to open them, then, so soon as it should be found necessary, towards the end of December. Gentlemen had spoken in terms most unwisely chosen of forestalling and regrating. It was impossible, except at high prices, to obtain a large supply of corn, when corn was scarce and had to be brought from distant and unusual sources of supply; and if that was about to take place, which he anticipated, namely, that the Irish people would not maintain themselves to the same extent as hitherto, on food grown by themselves, it was absolutely necessary, for the existence of that people, that there should be those who would supply them with the food, which in their altered circumstances they would have to purchase. The greatest benefit which could, indeed, be conferred on the population of Ireland was to encourage the establishment of small dealers and shops in every village to supply food; and the propriety not only of abstaining from interference with efforts to establish these, but of encouraging their establishment where they did not exist, had been pressed upon the relief committees. When it was asserted that no measures had been taken to supply food, Gentlemen should recollect that at this moment half a million of able-bodied men were supported on the relief works. Their wages supported themselves and their families. Where retail dealers did not exist, the relief committees were established to perform the functions of such persons; and without local agency, without the co-operation of those who were acquainted with the people, it was utterly impossible that the task of affording them relief could be adequately performed. In various quarters the remark had been made that the Government had taken no steps for the relief of the aged and infirm poor out of the workhouse. It had been said the previous night that, if any such steps had been taken, they could have been so only within the last few days. But particular provisions had been made for the aged and infirm when the workhouses were full, by means of the relief committees making a gratuitous distribution of food. Though the Government did not permit relief committees acting with money contributed by 230 the Government to sell food under market price; when the pressure became severe, they had not restricted the relief committees from giving food; and latterly they had strongly urged them to do so. In a return which would, he hoped, be laid the following day on the Table of the House, he found a letter, from the commissariat relief officer, in Dublin, dated so far back as December the 3rd, in which it was stated, that—The regulations of the Government only authorize gratuitous relief out of funds to which the Lord Lieutenant adds a donation, when limited to the actually infirm poor, and then only in unions where the workhouses are full.He next came to the case of Skibbereen. Among the papers, in the return of which he had spoken, was a report from Mr. Inglis, assistant commissary-general, dated Skibbereen, December 21. A Government officer had been sent down to that place; and the misfortune in Ireland was, that nobody seemed inclined to move till a Government officer made his appearance. Mr. Inglis, referring to a local relief committee, said—Together with this committee I have had the able assistance of several of the most respectable persons in the place, who have subscribed 85l., and paid it into the bank, and I have met them with a similar sum, making 170l., which will enable us to open two large establishments for the daily supply of soup, to a large and starving number of people, for nearly two months. And I have made them a further promise, that if they comply with the conditions I have made with them, I will solicit leave to give them a further sum.There was another report, from which it appeared that the mortality in Skibbereen had occurred among a certain class. There were considerable numbers of people in the outskirts of towns in Ireland who were understood to subsist without regular means of obtaining a livelihood on the surplus potatoes given to them in charity, and who were thrown into a state of absolute destitution when this resource no longer existed. It was upon charity that such persons subsisted; and it was only through the agency of the relief committees that they could be reached. They were found in and about all the towns of Ireland. The mortality was mentioned in a report, dated Skibbereen, December 23. "But," it was added—But you must recollect that this mortality is confined to a certain class of persons, who are always to be found in and about all towns in Ireland, such as the labouring people and beggars. The country people, generally, never looked more healthy, and, I am told, will have provisions till about May next.231 And when the officers in Ireland were accused of not having taken such measures as they ought, to promote this mode of relief, he begged to read an extract of a letter, dated December 28, from Sir Randolph Routh, in which it was stated, with reference to a previous letter, that—The object of it is to extend to all those remote places at the south-west the advantage of the same arrangements as those now in force at Skibbereen for the establishment of soup-shops, which, indeed, in the inability of these people to purchase the more expensive food, are almost their only resource.On December 30, he reported that—The soup system promises to be a great resource, and I am endeavouring to turn the views of the committees to it.And of the same date he wrote to Commissary General Hewetson:—In the distribution of soup, I think the precedent established at Skibbereen may very properly be carried out by the committees in the county of Clare." "We must understand," he observed, "that the depôts in the western districts are to be henceforth opened for the sale of food, as far as may be prudent and necessary; and on all these questions you will keep me well informed, so that the authorities here and at home may be aware of the course we are pursuing, and the grounds on which we act.Writing to the officer stationed in the counties of Roscommon and Leitrim, on the 2nd of January, he says—The Government regulations allow of gratuitous issues to the infirm poor, to widows, orphans, and to children where the supporting member of the family is incapable, from sickness or other cause, to maintain them. If any case, where a small subscription only can be raised, should appear to you of great emergency or distress, you will not fail to represent it, so that the extent of the grant may be brought under special consideration, and be recommended more in accordance with the amount of distress than the amount subscribed.Then, referring to a letter which had been received about the distress at Skibbereen, he said, in a letter to Mr. Trevelyan, dated January 7, that the writer must be in some error:—He says it is all want of food; whereas at Skibbereen there is a Cork house, George and Co., whose agent is Mr. Swanton, who are proprietors of two large mills, and are retailing meal in any quantity required; and our store is also open. So that food is not wanting, but rather the money to buy it. Only one of our soup-kitchens was at work by last advices from Skibbereen, the second cauldron not having arrived from Cork. It was feeding about 1,500 persons daily.Speaking of the same district, on January 11, Sir Randolph said—Before Mr. Inglis left, two soup-kitchens were established, but to one of them a new boiler is expected 232 from Cork, and must be now in operation. One boiler supplied about 1,200 persons daily with a quart each. Mr. C. C. Hughes advises me by this day's post that money is almost daily arriving for the soup fund; but he had not been able to ascertain the actual amount received. I observe the issues from his depôt this past week were, fifty-four sacks of Indian corn meal (about seven tons), and ninety-seven cwt. of biscuit.He begged the House to observe the amount of food which this supply contained. It was about 26,544lb., being sufficient for 3,792 persons for a week, at the rate of a pound a day. Elsewhere private exertions had produced the best results. Mr. Bishop, addressing Sir Randolph Routh, on the 9th of January, with respect to the parish of Kilmoe, said—The Kilmoe committee bring large supplies from Cork, and upon a very limited fund they have purchased and sold eighty-five tons of meal within a short time. At present they are nearly out of meal, in consequence of the severity of the weather preventing any vessel touching here from Cork. I have recommended an issue to them from the depôt at Skibbereen.The same course was taken elsewhere; and he believed that when the papers were laid before the House, hon. Members would see that the Government had not been neglectful of their duty. He assured the House that Government would continue to do all in their power to mitigate the evil; but he did hope that the landlords and gentry would exert themselves also, for, without that, all that Government could do would be of little avail. Much depended upon local effort, and where that was found in operation, Government would not fail to aid the parties liberally. That the whole population would be preserved from starvation, even if they did their best, he was not sanguine enough to believe. The calamity was such, and so extensive, that he feared many victims must fall; but without local efforts, he repeated, that it was impossible the Government could expect any measure of success at all.
§ MR. HUME
said, that a great deal of time and discussion might have been saved on the two previous evenings had the papers which had just been read by the Chancellor of the Exchequer been put in possession of the House as soon as it had met. There was, in his opinion, great neglect in not laying these papers before them at once, as the time wasted in hearing the charges brought against the Government, to which they furnished a complete answer, would have been appropriated to something more useful to the country. Such a course would have had another 233 good effect, inasmuch as it would have prevented the impression from going abroad that the Government had been doing nothing, with Ireland on the brink of starvation. He would state to the House and to the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), that he had seldom been so much disappointed as he had been that night. He had hoped that the propositions of the noble Lord would have been of a far more comprehensive and permanent character than he was sorry to say they were; that the ports were to have been at once thrown open, and in perpetuity, instead of still leaning to old and antiquated notions of trade, and keeping the trade of the country bound and restricted by these notions as long as it was possible to keep it. He would submit to the noble Lord, that the country expected of him that he would throw open the ports, not only as a temporary measure, but as one of a permanent character. The protection still afforded to the agriculturists had now only two years to exist; and was this to be regarded as an obstacle in the way of a measure which, unless it was of a comprehensive and permanent nature, would not answer the purpose for which it was designed? He would state candidly to the noble Lord that he was dissatisfied with the limited measures which he had just proposed. With regard to the navigation laws, he certainly did expect a more liberal exposition of Ministerial policy. It was utterly impossible for any man, who read the proceedings at Montreal, and the proceedings which had taken place in other colonies, in reference to this subject, to believe that the Government could long maintain the authority of the mother country over some of these colonies, if it deprived them, as they were now deprived, by the restrictive provisions of the navigation laws, of adequate means for the free and speedy transit of their produce to the English market. What was the situation of the colonial farmer in America, as compared with the American farmer? Why, the American farmer had at this moment an advantage of no less than one dollar (4s. 2d. sterling) per barrel on flour over the Canadian farmer. The English merchant found it preferable to buy flour at four dollars a barrel in New York, to purchasing it at three dollars in Montreal. The Canadian exporter had this additional difficulty to contend against—in that he had to pay about 4s. 6d. per ton for shipping, when his competitor could get as much tonnage as he wanted for 3s. They had taken from the colonies what they 234 considered to be protection, and it was now the least that we could do for them, to enable them to export their produce to our markets in cheap shipping. He submitted to the noble Lord, that this was a question which must yet occupy the attention of the Government and of the House. He (Mr. Hume) expected that along with such a measure some hints would have been thrown out of other measures which would enable British shipping to compete with and to trade to the whole world. Let them take off the duty now chargeable upon timber, and from off the other articles which enter into the construction of vessels, and he should be glad to know what there was to prevent England, so eminent in every other branch of manufacture, from being able to compete, and that too with the most complete success, with the shipping of the whole world. She would do this beyond all question if her Government could only be prevailed upon to place her shipwrights and her shipowners on their proper footing. In reference to this all-important subject, he begged leave to refer the noble Lord to the evidence adduced before the Import Duties' Committee in 1840. One witness in his evidence before that Committee stated that it was utterly impossible, with the disparity existing between the vessels of this and of foreign countries, as regarded their cost, that our ships could freely and successfully compete with those of foreign countries with which they were nevertheless forced to compete. At Rio Janeiro there were at one time 140 vessels, of which number one half were British, their hulls costing 50 per cent more than did the hulls of those with which they were compelled to compete. Why should not the noble Lord carry out to their fullest extent the free-trade principles which were now supposed to regulate the policy of this country? Why should he not come to the conclusion, which to him (Mr. Hume) appeared but a reasonable one—that if the Government gave our shipbuilders and shipowners the advantage of being able to procure the materials necessary for the construction of ships at the same price as foreign owners got them for, they would have as good and as cheap manufacturers of ships in this country, as they had good and cheap manufacturers of many other articles? Another witness before the Import Duties' Committee, Mr. Mitchell, from Leith, himself, he (Mr. Hume) believed, a shipbuilder, stated that he could not build ships but at an expense of 40 or 50 per cent higher than in Swe- 235 den. This gentleman strongly advised a removal of all duties pressing upon the construction of ships. All that the shipbuilders of this country wanted to enable them to set competition from without at defiance, was cheap timber. The planking which they used in the construction of ships was, most of it, taxed about 100 per cent, and the hard timber about 50 per cent. It was impossible, when such was the case, to expect that they could have a free and fair competition with other countries, unless some such steps were taken to relieve the shipowners. If the Government would only have the courage to do this, England would speedily become the manufactory of ships for a great portion of the world—to the same extent as she now supplied so large a portion of it with other manufactured articles. It was certainly a very inconsistent course, to use no other term, for the Government to pursue, to have prayers offered up throughout the land to avert the impending famine, whilst it was at the same time permitting obstacles to exist in the way of an adequate supply of provisions. Let the Government take a comprehensive view of the whole subject, and repeal those laws, both as regarded the colonies and the mother country. He had no hesitation in saying that if they had been repealed five months ago, we should have had much larger supplies of food on hand than we had at present, and that unless they were finally and completely repealed, little or nothing effective could be done in the way of remedying the evils which were now pressing upon the country.
LORD J. RUSSELL
The propositions which have just emanated from the hon. Gentleman are not characterized by his usual good sense. I have already stated to the House that my object and desire under existing circumstances, with the present dearth of provisions in Ireland, were to take immediate measures by which the evils of famine might be speedily and effectively remedied. Now, my hon. Friend tells me, that this is not the proper course for me to take. I am told by him that I should not have thrown myself upon measures of immediate relief, but that there are three separate and distinct questions with which I should have grappled. The first of these is the total repeal of the corn laws—for which I spoke last year, and which I should have been glad to have seen effected; but in reference to which I came to the determination that it was then impracticable, and that the best chance of 236 getting them repealed lay in assenting to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) then at the head of the Government, postponing that repeal until 1849. If I now proposed that repeal, we should have the same struggle over again which we had last year, with fewer chances of success. The next thing which the hon. Gentleman proposes is, that the Government should advise the abrogation of the navigation laws, and thus encounter the opposition just suggested by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn), together with that of all those who are in favour of the continuance of these laws. My hon. Friend then tells me that the abrogation of the navigation laws would be of no use unless I also took away the timber duties. He tells us that British-built ships are at a disadvantage of about 50 per cent when compared with the shipping in Brazil and in other foreign ports; that the mere repeal of the navigation laws would be but giving an advantage to foreign ships in our ports against our own ships, and that the remedy for that would be to abolish the timber duties, and all other duties which press upon shipbuilding and upon the trade in shipping. That might be a very proper course to pursue with regard to the interests in question; but the consequences of following it up at present would be, that I should have to propose taxes and imposts of another kind to a considerable extent, to replace the revenues which would be lost upon timber. Instead, therefore, of proposing one measure for the immediate relief of the country, my hon. Friend wants me to propose three measures, each of which would certainly meet with the most strenuous opposition in this House, and neither of which would have any very great chance of success. I have great respect for the advice of my hon. Friend, but I cannot promise him that on this occasion I shall feel it incumbent on me to follow it.
§ COLONEL CONOLLY
said, that with every respect for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was bound to state that his representations with regard to the destitution of Ireland were, so far as many districts of that country were concerned, entirely destitute of foundation. A great proportion of the county which he represented was, at that moment, in a state of fearful destitution, with the wages paid to the people totally inadequate to provide them with a sufficient quantity of provisions with which to meet their immediate 237 wants. Much had been done to relieve that destitution. He had sent to Sligo and to Liverpool for provisions. To Liverpool he had sent 3,000l. with which to purchase food for the starving people in the county of Donegal. He wished to say nothing discourteous of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but he felt bound to say that the misrepresentations which had been made to him were not in accordance with the real state of the facts. A long line of coast, from the Bay of Donegal round to Derry, had been left in a state of awful destitution. They had heard much of mills and factories; but in that district there were neither mills nor factories, nor great nor small traders. It was evidence of gross ignorance on the part of the Commissary General, when he directed the people to go to them, to direct them thus to places and persons having no existence. And when provisions were brought into the country, they were sold to the people at three times their real value. The Government had, at this moment, thousands of tons of provisions at Sligo. They would not part with a pound of it for any consideration, and the people were obliged to go to the retailers for food. Under these circumstances, the seller might sell at any price he pleased. When the people went to the retailers, they were compelled to go away with only a part of what they expected to get for their money. But such was the destitution pressing upon them, that they were obliged to put up with every imposition, and take what they could get for their money. The principle of prudence had been carried so far, that the people were likely to starve before they could be admitted to the enjoyment of the provisions which had been reserved for them. If they were only to relieve, three months hence, those who were likely now to starve, they would certainly be carrying their precautionary policy to a ludicrous and extravagant extent. He would distinctly state that the officers of the Government had been all along endeavouring to make it appear that the existing destitution was not so great as it really was. It had greatly increased since its fatal commencement; and the present enormous price of provisions deprived many persons of the means of sustaining themselves, because they had three prices to pay for what they purchased instead of one. Many persons, who some months ago were in ordinary and comfortable circumstances, were now, from the outrageous rise in the price of food, rapidly sinking in condition; 238 and yet the public officers had declared that no person who had even a cow, or other means of acquiring money, should receive any relief.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
observed, that the Government had established extensive depôts; that many of them had not opened until the month of December; but that they were then generally brought into operation. Some of them, however, had been open throughout the autumn. To these few words of explanation he must add, that the hon. and gallant Member had completely misrepresented his sentiments, in stating that he had denied the wide-spread nature of the distress in Ireland.
§ COLONEL CONOLLY
admitted the existence of the depôts, but denied that any food had been distributed from them. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he would be sorry to call in question anything which he stated; but he must be allowed to observe that the officers acting under the Government in Ireland had generally shown a disposition to disregard the complaints of the country. Up to last Thursday no distribution of food had taken place from any of the depôts in the port of Sligo, or on any part of the coast of the district with which he was connected. There was a depôt on his own estate, and no provision had been distributed from that, although the ordinary prices were more than tripled.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
assured the hon. and gallant Member that the depôt in Sligo had been open from time to time throughout the autumn.
§ COLONEL CONOLLY
said, that the right hon. Gentleman was misinformed. It was true that the depôt in Sligo had been opened, but it was only for the purpose of transferring some of its contents to another depôt; none had been given to the people. He could declare positively that up to Thursday last not a pound of Government corn had been tasted by any of his constituents.
§ MR. GRATTAN
thought it most extraordinary that if the statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were correct, he had not brought them forward on the first night of the Session. If those statements should prove to be well founded, he would have an action against the hon. Member for Donegal, for upon the faith of representations which came from his county, he (the hon. Member) had last week been accessary to voting a sum of money. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech 239 was totally at variance with all the information which had hitherto reached him from the district in question, and with a letter which a magistrate of the county had addressed to the Duke of Wellington. What was the use of establishing depôts if no food was issued from them? Why was not oatmeal sold from the depôts at 2s., when the retailers were selling it at 3s.? There was no wisdom in the system pursued in Ireland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that 3,700,000 quarters of grain had been brought into England up to the month of November. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: I said the 31st of December.] Well, giving the Chancellor of the Exchequer the benefit of thirty-one days, he (Mr. Grattan) would ask how many lives had been sacrificed in that period owing to the non-distribution of food? He did not complain that the Government had not done what they wished, but he complained that they had not done what they ought. He complained that they had not followed the example of the King of the French. He bought corn and gave it to his people—our Government bought corn and put it in their depôts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that it was not until the Government officers had entered upon their duties, that the Irish gentlemen had commenced operations. He would beg leave to tell the right hon. Gentleman that before any commissary came into Ireland, the Irish gentlemen were actively employed in relieving the destitute. The officer that was sent to his part of the country was thoroughly ignorant of the country, and so supercilious in his manner that he was anything but agreeable to the gentlemen of the country. They granted the money asked, and having sent their corn to the Government to be ground, that corn was kept there four months before they could get a single pound of it delivered to the people. He trusted that, without any reference to party feeling, some good would be speedily done for Ireland.
§ MR. P. SCROPE
said, he had brought some complaints against the Government for not adopting precautionary measures to prevent the misery which was about to arise from a deficiency of food in Ireland. It appeared to him strange, that if the precautionary measures spoken of by the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been generally adopted throughout Ireland, such an amount of destitution and death should have been heard of. From another side of the House it was stated the other 240 night that the population of Skibbereen was decimated. It had been stated that many had perished from famine. If the precautions taken by the Government were so effectual, he could not for the life of him understand how so many deaths could have occurred. He had strong feelings on this subject—he could not understand how any country like this, with a Government possessing such enormous power, with all the resources of this vast empire at its command—considering all the agencies it would employ, the facilities of communication it possessed, and the means of transport at its disposal—he could not but wonder how such a country could allow numbers of individuals to perish from famine in any quarter of the empire. After having heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he (Mr. Scrope) could not but entertain the opinion that most of the evils had arisen from the faults of the Commissariat. The wages allowed by the Board of Works were insufficient to enable the people to purchase food. But the main evil consisted in the Government not having availed themselves of the organization of the poor law established in 1837, by which out-door relief might have been provided for the poor. The Government, however, had thought proper to give the poor law agency the go-by, and had endeavoured to improvise, on the spur of the moment, a system of Government agency aided by voluntary relief committees (provided with no compulsory powers), which had lamentably failed. The only remedy for present and preventive of future evils, was the extension of the poor-law system in Ireland.
§ MR. GRATTAN
said, that he would make peace with the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he would send 100,000l. worth of corn to the south of Ireland.
§ MR. BRIGHT
wished to put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, namely, whether it was intended to suspend the navigation laws with respect to vessels carrying other cargoes than grain exclusively? His reason for asking the question was this—he understood that insurance-offices refused to insure ships laden entirely with grain. Ships frequently brought other articles of merchandise, say 500 bales of cotton, besides a large quantity of grain. If, therefore, the proposed suspension of the navigation laws should apply only to vessels laden altogether with grain, a great portion of the benefit which had been anticipated from the measure would never be realized.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
241 said, that under the proposed suspension of the law, grain might be imported into this country in the vessels of any country for home consumption. It would be perfectly immaterial what the vessels might carry in addition to grain. All corn that might come from anywhere, in any vessels, would enter free of duty; but if the vessels should bring other articles which were liable to duty, those articles would not be admitted free of duty.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that the point to which he had called the right hon. Gentleman's attention was not a question of duty. He merely wished to know whether, under the circumstances he had stated, vessels would be admitted into port, and might discharge their cargoes. If a Dutch ship were to bring from the United States into the Mersey a cargo partly of cotton and partly of corn, would it be allowed to discharge the whole of its cargo?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The vessel will be allowed to discharge all the corn it brings, which will be admitted free of duty; but the rest of the cargo will remain under the operation of the ordinary laws.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, it was evident the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not understand the question. The question referred to the navigation laws, and not to the duty on corn. The navigation laws prevented the produce of a foreign country from being brought into England except in a ship which belonged to the country where the produce was grown. Suppose a Dutch bottom were to go to the United States, take in there a cargo partly of corn and partly of cotton, would she be permitted to come into the Mersey with her cargo and discharge it?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had already answered the question. He could only repeat that the vessel would be allowed to land the corn duty free, but not the cotton.
§ MR. BRIGHT
thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not have paid much attention to this part of the subject, or he would not have given such an answer. The opinion of persons well informed on the subject was, that such a suspension as that proposed would be of very little use, with regard to the United States especially. When they were about making a change of this kind, why did they not do it wholly and completely? When things were in such a state, when the Government had called on the Arch- 242 bishop for a prayer to Heaven for plenty, when vast sums were being sent from the Treasury to Ireland, and a part of the nation was supported by voluntary contributions, Ministers would not be justified in the sight of the country—they could not be justified to themselves—unless they gave the freest possible entrance to the corn of all foreign countries.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the clause in the present Act merely followed the Act of 1817, which the right hon. Gentleman read, in which it was recited that corn should be allowed to be imported free of duty, no matter to what country the vessel belonged in which it was brought.
§ MR. BRIGHT
asked why they should adhere to the Act of 1817 at all? The circumstances might not be the same, the pressure might be less or more; they would shut out a large quantity of produce if they kept to the restrictions of that Act.
§ MR. M. PHILIPS
hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would reconsider the subject, as under existing circumstances the greatest possible difficulty might be experienced by vessels to meet with an entire cargo of corn in foreign parts to meet the present exigencies of the case; so that unless they legislated so as to make that point clear, so that there might be no misunderstanding on the subject, as regarded vessels coming in with corn, and that they were entitled to all that freedom which belonged to English vessels, the House would be dealing partially. He was not one of those who would stand up to impugn the conduct of the Government as to what they had done to meet the existing difficulties, not fully foreseen even by the country itself; for so late as the 1st of October of the last year the prices of grain did not indicate any change that would cause alarm to the public, wheat being at 18s. the bag, or three bushels (as we understood), an extremely low price. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the export of grain from Ireland to this country was less this year than it had been for any other. He was glad, for the sake of Ireland, that such was the case, as he could not participate in those feelings entertained by some, that some of the grain of that country should be transmitted here; as the very fact of its coming here had the tendency to keep down prices. Notwithstanding the present state of Ireland, in consequence of the failure of the potato crop, yet it would be better to leave mat- 243 ters, in some measure, to their natural course; as too much legislation, even with the most benevolent intentions, might only aggravate the mischief. He was sure there was not one among them who did not sincerely sympathize with the afflictions now endured by the sister country—and although much had been said in Ireland as to the ill-feeling which England had manifested towards her, he hoped that what England was now about to do, prepared to do, and most willingly to do, would be such as not only to alter that unfavourable opinion, but to show that there were no grounds for it at all. It was to be hoped that England would now so relieve the distresses of Ireland as to draw closer those bonds which should ever closely unite the two countries; and not only so, but attention should be turned also to the future, so that, by sound legislation, they might prevent the continual recurrence of those evils which have ever placed that country in a situation to be regretted. It was not for him to offer any suggestions to the noble Lord at the head of the Government; but still he could not help observing that it would be most important that means should be devised to secure seed for the next season, and to that amount which the wants of the people would demand, so that seed should be secured in such a way as not too much to enhance the price of grain.
LORD J. RUSSELL
With respect to the point which has very naturally been raised by the hon. Member for Durham, there is certainly a difficulty. The Act previously passed must be looked on as a precedent, and every clause of it must be considered and not adopted without due deliberation. The Act of 1817 provides that corn should be introduced in any vessel of any country at a reduced duty, or free of duty. But it is now said to be desirable to give a greater latitude to that Act. But how is that object to be accomplished? The House would not, I presume, desire that, under the appearance of suspending the corn law, there should be an evasion of all navigation laws. Now suppose a vessel came in with a single quarter of corn, and all her other cargo of a different description of article, would not it be clear that the owners would merely seek their own advantage, and not a freer importation of corn, if they claimed to have their vessel excepted from the navigation laws? Again, suppose it was laid down that half or two-thirds of the cargo should be corn, how difficult it would be to say whether the conditions were fulfilled, 244 and whether, if the rule laid down was violated, any corn brought by such a vessel should be admitted? I own these difficulties struck us very much, and we thought on the whole that it was better to follow the precedent which was before us, than propose a clause which would lead to the total abrogation of the navigation laws. If the hon. Member for Durham can suggest any practical solution of the difficulty, I shall be glad to consider his suggestion.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
The noble Lord should bear in mind that it is high freights which prevent the freer importation of corn. What stands in the way of our bringing it in at a cheaper rate? The navigation laws. The bold, clear, common-sense way of effecting this object is by abolishing the navigation laws. Oh! but you say, "your object is to import corn, and some other article may be brought in in vessels nominally freighted with corn." The question is the lowering of freights; for that once effected, corn, like every other article, will come in more readily. Keep your eye on that single matter—that it is the lowering of freights you want to effect, without reference to what is brought in.
§ MR. T. BARING
thought that, if the navigation laws should be in every respect suspended, the proposal would be a very bold one, and would, in his opinion, meet with a strong opposition. Such a change would open our ports to every article of every country, no matter in what vessel it came. Thus American ships with tea cargoes would come into competition with teas imported by the traders of this country in British ships. It was true this might benefit the consumer, but it would interfere with the regular course of trade—with the very basis on which all transactions for the last year proceeded. The example of France should be kept in mind, which suspended the navigation laws as regarded corn only. He should vote for the proposed change, as showing a practical sympathy for Ireland at a great emergency, but he thought it would be all but inoperative, and that its advantages would hardly counterbalance the evil of unsettling things that were now settled. As regarded our great source of supply, the United States, it was well known that their ships, which now came in free, were, with our own, the great carriers of the world. He had not heard that ships of other countries had offered to bring corn at a lower rate than those of America and England, and therefore he feared that the abolition of the navigation laws would induce a much larger 245 number of foreign ships to be employed in the trade between England and America than there were at present.
§ MR. BRIGHT
could assure the noble Lord he did not mean to attack the navigation laws by a side blow. His object was that corn should be brought in in as large quantities as possible. If they had an honest intention to get as much corn as possible, what great difficulty was there in saying that a ship bringing a certain quantity of cotton with it, according to certificate, should be allowed to discharge it? The hon. Member for Huntingdon—and he never felt more gratified that he was not Member for London than when he heard his predictions in that House on matters of commerce—had pronounced an opinion on the proposed change, which he thought ought to be received with some reservation. The hon. Gentleman was equally confident that a fixed duty of 10s. would be satisfactory when the change in the corn laws was proposed; and though the hon. Member was the representative of one of the largest mercantile firms in London, he begged to remind the House he was not any better authority as to the sort of cargoes like to be brought into our ports, or as to the cost at which they could be so introduced. He knew as a fact, that there were at that moment ships discharging cargoes of cotton and corn; but after the change in the law, such ships must go to some other country to land their cotton. He had been told by the Member for South Lancashire (who was more largely engaged in this trade than any other merchant) that it was quite common to charge an extra rate of insurance on vessels carrying corn alone.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
thought it required some degree of assurance in the hon. Member for Durham to charge his hon. Friend with ignorance of the question on which he spoke; the House would recollect that at every meeting of the Anti-Corn-Law League the hon. Member for Durham assured the people the effect of the repeal of the corn laws would be to give them a large loaf and cheap bread, and increase the export trade of the country. When they heard that in one county alone, in Lancashire, 500 mills were working short time, and that the exports of the country had fallen off 5,000,000l. sterling, in the face of a free trade in corn, he thought it did require considerable assurance in the hon. Gentleman to charge his hon. Friend, who knew more of mercantile affairs than any Gentleman in the House, 246 with ignorance in the predictions he had made. With regard to the navigation laws, he was prepared to support the noble Lord, if the measure was restricted to the importation of grain alone; but if it should be attempted, under the pretence of importing grain, to get in the sharp end of the wedge, and abolish the navigation laws altogether, then he could not give him that support. That was a great political and national question, and though he had always predicted that free trade in one thing would be followed up by a demand for free trade in everything else; and though he had always expected and foretold, when the shipping interest joined the late Government, and the Anti-Corn-Law League, in forcing a free trade in corn, that their own turn would come next; yet he would not be tempted to avenge the cause of the agricultural interest by lending his aid to a repeal of the navigation laws. He did not forget that there was a time, before the navigation laws were enacted, when the Dutch had the whole carrying trade of the world; and by possessing that great mercantile marine, they were enabled to send Admiral Van Tromp, with a broom at his masthead, to sweep the Thames clear of British commerce. He should resist any attempt, under any pretence, to repeal the navigation laws, the object being to let the cotton of America be brought over in any ships that could bring it at the cheapest rate. He agreed with those who said, if these laws were to be suspended, that it would have been better had it been done some months ago. But as he could not admit, and did not credit, that up to the 3rd of August last there was one man in the country who in his heart believed such a calamity as the present was impending over them, he could not join in any strong censure of Her Majesty's Government for not having foreseen this famine. With respect to the suspension of the 4s. duty, he was prepared to withhold his opposition to Her Majesty's Ministers, and to give to that proposition his consent. He yet begged to be distinctly understood as protesting against the supposition that the consumer would get corn one farthing cheaper on that account; and therefore he did not censure the Government for having so long delayed the decision to adopt this measure of the suspension of the remaining duty; on the contrary, his regret was that they should have been led away by clamour, and forced by the pressure from without from their original intention to maintain that duty. He was not now viewing the 247 question, either as an agriculturist or as a protectionist, but as a financier; he was convinced that the duty when remitted would not be saved to the consumer, but would go into the pockets of the importers, and that, consequently no reduction in the price of the article would follow upon the plan proposed. This being the case, he could not give his approval, though he gave his vote for the measure. He could not help auguring, from the silence of Her Majesty's Ministers on the subject of finance, that the pockets of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were not now so overcrowded with surplus revenue as to enable him to part, safely, with that portion of the revenue derived from the existing duties on corn. Let them look, in calculating the gain to the consumers, to what had happened yesterday in the city of London, on the announcement of its being the intention of the Government to repeal this duty. He held in his hand that day's corn circular of one of the most eminent corn factors in the city, Messrs. Usborne and Son, and the information it gave spoke volumes. It stated, that "the effect on that day's market was to depress barley and malt, in which scarcely a transaction had taken place;" that "bonded corn had advanced in value to an extent which would be equal to the reduction in the duty;" that "there had been a fair business in all kinds of corn, at full previous averages;" and that "floating cargoes of wheat near at hand rose 2s. to 3s. a quarter." Now, this was indisputable evidence that every fraction of the remitted duty would go into the coffers of those very corn-merchants and factors—those engrossers, and regraters, and forestallers, of whom they already had so much reason to complain. That would be the result; he did find fault with the Government that their sympathies seemed to have been too strongly developed in behalf of these corn merchants, and that at this moment, when, as he apprehended, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in extreme need of a surplus revenue to meet the distress in Ireland, they were taking from him a great help, and, with no benefit to the objects of their legislation, putting still greater profits into the pockets of the dealers and speculators in corn. No one could be deceived in the result; no man, rich or poor, wearing a fustian jacket, working either in the fields or the streets, could doubt when he read the statement quoted, that the direct effect of the remission of duty would be to make an unnecessary present to the corn merchants of that 248 revenue which otherwise would have been levied for national purposes. And assuming, as they might assume, that no less than 4,000,000 quarters of grain would be imported in the course of the next twelve months, the result would be a loss of 800,000l. to the revenue, and nothing whatever done to improve the position of the consumer. He was far from thinking that this desirable end, the benefiting the consumer, could not, by any other measure, have been attained. He, for one, held that, if the old corn laws had been maintained, the Government of this country would have now been in a condition of less difficulty. He did not refer merely to the increased revenue which they would have obtained, amounting to upwards of 1,300,000l., instead of 650,000l., which, as he understood, had been received since the 5th of July last; but he did most firmly believe that, had the old laws not been repealed, they would now have had in bond upwards of 3,000,000 quarters of corn. And this would have been a sufficient stock for the hour of need, and on this the Government might have laid their hands for the purpose of supplying food to the people of Ireland. The duty under the old régime had never been lower than 10s., to which it had for the first time fallen that week: the Government might then have purchased that corn; they might have paid out of one pocket the 10s. duty, and rendered it back into the other; thus the country would have suffered no loss, while the effect of this enormous amount of grain in bond hanging over the market, manifest and patent to all the world as it would have been—as it had often been before when there was an immense store in bond—would have been to retain at a reasonable rate those prices by which the poor were now screwed down. He doubted not in the slightest degree that this would have happened, that if they had maintained the old laws, they would have been in a very superior position, and that then it would only have required the will of the Government to prevent the death by starvation of a single human being in Ireland. Therefore the loss by the change of the former law was the loss of 3,000,000 quarters, which would now have been at their disposal in bond; but while regretting this, he must allow that the present Government could not be charged with, and were not responsible for the misfortune. That for which, however, he did blame the Government even more than for determining to uphold the 4s. duty, was their neglect in 249 not having stringently prohibited the export of grain from Ireland. How did that matter stand? They talked of the benefits which had been, and necessarily would be, derived from their free trade; and yet, by a paper before him, he found that whilst there had been imported only into Ireland between 400,000 and 500,000 quarters of foreign and British corn, full 1,700,000 quarters had been exported from Ireland, and that within the last eleven months.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
doubted whether this return contained the imports which had gone directly from foreign ports into Ireland without having touched the English markets.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
believed the return to be a complete and accurate return of all the imports of corn into Ireland, and certainly of the exports from Ireland to this country; and he thought that, on inquiry, his right hon. Friend would find the statement to be essentially correct. It would be seen, then, that there had been a balance, in the whole trade, of 1,300,000 quarters of corn exported from Ireland into England; and it could not be denied that, if this export had been prohibited, they would at once have saved a sufficient quantity to maintain 2,500,000 of the Irish people from this time until the next harvest. In this respect, therefore, Her Majesty's Government had made a great mistake. It had been said, indeed, that if all the countries in the world had had their granaries ransacked, the required supply could not have been obtained; but what had the President of the United States declared to Congress on the 8th of December last, in reply to this single assertion? The President, after having referred to the deplorable condition of the suffering people of Europe, and to the very opposite position of the farmers within the Union, had stated "that the home-market alone was inadequate to the consumption of the immense supplies of food, corn, and other articles which had been produced, even supposing them to be offered at the most reduced prices, for the simple reason that the number of home-consumers was too limited." "The United States," continued the President, "was enabled, so great was the over-stock, to supply, not alone the home-market, but the deficiencies of the harvests of the whole world." Then they had the official (American) statement of the crop of 1845, with the further statement, admitted by all, that the crop of 1846 was considerably in excess of that of 1845. According to the documents furnished by the 250 Board of Trade at Washington—and he thought the statistics of the United States would be found to be quite as accurate as the statistics of Great Britain — no less than 796,600,000 bushels of corn of various descriptions were grown in the year 1845, being equal to about 97,000,000 quarters; and it was stated, upon the authority of the Government journal at Washington, "that this was a quantity exceeding, by tens of thousands of bushels, all that was required for the consumption of the United States." Under these circumstances, and with these facts before him, he, for one, could not think that there was any great danger of prices rising any higher than they were at present; and it would have been only necessary, in his opinion, for Government to furnish the different districts in Ireland with larger depôts of food to keep prices down in that country. He had received that day from a gentleman who had been travelling all over Ireland a letter, which informed him that even there the stacks in the stackyards of the farmers were more numerous than was usual at this period of the year; but that this tended little to vary the markets, inasmuch as the farmers, like others, were holding back in the expectation of a still further advance in prices. It was averred that there was scarcely a port in Ireland at which some one, two, or three corn merchants had not cleared 10,000l., 20,000l., or 50,000l. a-piece within the last three months, by holding corn and selling at the present enormous prices. Now, he thought the great error of Her Majesty's Government had been, in owning allegiance to these hard doctrines of political economy. He was even inclined to say that the policy pursued by the eastern despot had been on the whole more merciful than that adopted recently by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell). All who had read eastern history would remember the story, and how that in the days of Nadir Shah, one of the wisest and most practical administrators of justice the world ever saw—albeit a tyrant, a great famine raged throughout Persia—And the people cried and perished in the street, and it was told to the Shah that there was much corn in the stores of the rich merchants; but they refused to sell, for they said, 'The price will rise higher.' And Nadir answered and said, 'These men have done well to store up food to preserve the people, I will reward them; make proclamation 10,000 tomauns shall be given to the good man who has the greatest store of food. Many sent in their claims, but the prize was won by an Armenian; he had more corn than any other; and although people died daily in the streets, he had refused to sell, saying, 'Prices will 251 yet rise higher.' 'Bring the money in gold from the treasury, and pay the Armenian,' said the Shah; and it was done. 'Sit down friend, and count it;' and the Armenian did so, and made answer, 'It is all right, O King!' But Nadir frowned, and, turning to the chief executioner, said, 'Lay hands upon him — take him forth—tie the 10,000 golden tomauns to his feet, and hang the rich merchant to the gate of the Ark of Teheran, that all men in Persia may see the Shah's justice on him who trafficks on 'the judgment of God.'And this was the course, in a milder form, which, had he (Lord G. Bentinck) been one of Her Majesty's Government, he would have adopted towards the forestallers and regrators, the political economists of Ireland, who had let the people starve that their profits might increase. He would have had recourse to a more lenient expedient, by forwarding large supplies to Ireland thus competing with those dealers in corn, and giving the starving people a chance of purchasing provisions at something nearer to a just price than at this moment, when they were paying 9s. a bushel for the corn which cost the importer only 4s. Had this course been taken, they would not now have had to lament the distress, and even the deaths, of so many thousands of Her Majesty's subjects in the sister kingdom; for they had suffered not so much from the absence of food in the country as from the want of means wherewith to purchase it, at the exorbitant prices demanded for it by the corn speculators. He was not about to offer any opposition to Ministers; but he could not have given his support to the measure without observing that in his opinion there would be no other result from the measure save this—the putting into the pockets of the corn merchants, and especially into the pockets of foreigners, to whom he still more grudged that advantage, the entire amount of the remitted duty—without declaring that he could not have supported the Government; and had he been in power, he, for one, would have maintained the duty, and, if required, would have applied the duty so obtained, amounting to 800,000l., to the subsistence and relief of those for whose sake they were now suspending it.
§ MR. W. BROWN
would not have ventured, at that period, to address the House, did he not totally dissent from the inference, and deny the asserted facts, put forward by the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck). The noble Lord had been pleased to tell them an eastern story. He would meet it with another. It would be remembered that during the reign of the Emperor Julian, Antioch happened to be 252 in the same position as, unfortunately, Ireland was this year, and that then the policy now recommended by the noble Lord was adopted by the emperor. Large contributions were levied from the public purse, private interests were interfered with, the Government became a dealer, and it was found that the Imperial Government had attempted much more than an emperor could possibly manage. Instead of making things better, the meddling made them much worse, the merchants finding that if they brought corn to feed the Antiochians, they could sell it only at the government price, which was much below the price in the surrounding country; and the consequence was, that they could not resist the profits to be made elsewhere. The farmers shunned the city for the same reason; the emperor kept to the price; and so the inhabitants were starved through his kindness. Such a summary mode of proceeding as that recommended by the noble Lord, would, he could assure him, never answer. There was another eastern story, quite as good as that of the noble Lord, and with a better moral: it was in reference to what had occurred in Bombay some years ago. There was there a stock of rice for fifteen months in store, when it was learned that Guzerat, a neighbouring province, was in a state of starvation. The Council at Bombay deliberated if they should take those steps now urged on the Ministry by the noble Lord—if they should keep all the corn at home, or open the markets and relieve the distresses of the starving Hindoos. After much consideration, the policy of the noble Lord was decided to be objectionable. They concurred that it was best for Bombay to have free trade, and to let the corn go wherever it was wanted, resting satisfied that they were, as was our island, in the highway of nations, that every ship sailing to India would look in to see if there was a good market at Bombay, and that, in this manner, they would not want a sufficient supply at all times. And, of course, it was soon known along the coast what was going on. Not a day passed without a ship dropping her anchor at Bombay, and, if the port was found full, they reserved their cargoes of grain for those who were in want. He thought that the Council at Bombay had acted much more wisely than the Persian Shah, and that it would be more advisable for the Government to imitate the policy of the former, rather than that of the latter, in regard to the Irish corn markets. An 253 hon. Member had stated that one great cause of the difficulty of obtaining the necessary supply, was the impossibility of loading the large ships usually crossing the Atlantic with grain cargoes in the American grain ports, in consequence of their draught of water in those harbours and rivers being too great; but though this, in reference to some English, American, and continental merchantmen, might be quite true of the southern ports, yet those ships comprised a very small proportion of the marine engaged in the corn-carrying trade. In his opinion the Government had done all that it was possible for a Government to do in the present emergency; and he trusted that the measures they now brought forward would receive the ready sanction of the House. Some reflections had been cast on the dealers in grain, but he considered them a most useful class. It was only amid the ignorance and misconception of former times, that this class of men were called extortioners and so forth, and at present such charges could only be regarded as ridiculous. These men, with capital at their command, were able to buy grain in times of plenty, and, by storing it up, were able to supply the country when periods of scarcity came round, thus producing a most desirable effect upon the community; and every shilling of duty now taken off grain would enable them to send a greater number of vessels to America and Prussia, and the ports of other countries, and to pay, when found necessary, a higher price for the grain they purchased. The hon. Member concluded by referring to the advantages which a suspension of the navigation laws would confer upon the country, by facilitating the introduction of grain.
§ SIR C. NAPIER
said, the noble Lord opposite had told the House that he foresaw, when the right hon. Baronet at the head of the late Government attacked the agricultural interest, that the shipping interest would soon be attacked. It was his opinion that protection had been the very bane of the shipping interest, and he should not regret to see the noble Lord's prediction realized. He felt perfectly satisfied that if the navigation laws were totally abolished, there would be much more exertion and enterprise on the part of our merchants than there was at the present moment. He would say further, that the seamen of this country would get more protection, be better paid, and better treated, as well as that we should build 254 better ships than were now built and building, when it was known throughout the world that our navigation laws did not exist. Perhaps the noble Lord was not aware that there were, at the present moment, notwithstanding our navigation laws, from 50,000 to 60,000 British seamen employed on the coast of America and in American ships. If our navigation laws had acted in that manner, drawing away the best seamen from this country to America, he should be glad to know how it was possible for the noble Lord, or for any person connected with the commerce of this country, to support laws that had been of no benefit or use to us whatever. If they only looked at the vessels built now or some years ago in this country, which were hardly fit to be compared with the fine ships built in America or other countries, he would even say in Greece, he should like to know of what benefit the navigation laws were to this country and our merchants. There was a notion that if we opened the trade, we should put down our own seamen; but he thought there was so much exertion, energy, and intelligence among British merchants and seamen, that he had not the slightest fear that, if we destroyed the navigation laws, we should find any nation in the world, except America, able to contend with us. What had we done with respect to the Americans? We found the ships that used to trade to America far inferior to the American ships that traded to this country; but our merchants set all their energy to work, constructed some of the finest steam-boats in the world, and founded a trade between the two countries of which the Americans themselves had never thought. He was surprised that the noble Lord at the head of the Government, entertaining the opinion that it was proper to allow a perfectly free trade in corn, did not see the absolute necessity of suspending the navigation laws four months ago, by Order in Council. The noble Lord should have considered that ships were not to be found the moment they were wanted; even now it would take a long time to divert ships from other trades, and employ them in bringing food to this country. Odessa had been mentioned as a port from which it was probable that we should obtain a great quantity of corn. Any person well acquainted with navigation knew that ships going from this country, or even from some of the Mediterranean ports, to Odessa, might have to wait for months at the Dardanelles before they had an opportunity of proceeding 255 to their destination for corn; but if the navigation laws had been suspended several months ago, we should by this time have had a large importation. The Mediterranean nations being mostly averse to trust themselves to carry corn from Odessa to this country, the trade was confined entirely to British vessels, and it was easy to see that there was not time to send ships to Odessa for a supply that would reach us when it was most needed. He hoped to see the noble Lord at last come forward with a Bill to abolish the navigation laws, and that they would never be re-established again. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, there would have been no use in suspending the navigation laws in October and November, for that then Odessa was shut up. But the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken; Odessa was not shut up in those months, but now in January, he believed, it would be shut up perhaps for months. The hon. Gentleman who had spoken with reference to America was perfectly correct; the rivers and canals were frozen, and corn could not arrive at New York for some time.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
, if ever he entertained any doubts as to the capacity of the noble Lord opposite (Lord G. Bentinck) to govern the country, felt that what had that afternoon taken place must have settled all his doubts, or the doubts of any other person, upon the subject. The noble Lord spoke of the assurance of the hon. Member for Durham in doubting the extent of the knowledge possessed by another hon. Member; and he then went on to state his own opinion as to what Her Majesty's Government should in present circumstances do. Now, just let the House mark the course pursued by the noble Lord: first, he said, he did not believe this measure would do the slightest good, but that on the contrary he believed it would be mischievous; that was his first proposition, "because," said he, "it will not lower the price of food to the people of Ireland, but put money into the hands of forestallers and regrators;" and then he went on to say that, were he in power, he would do in a milder form what he described Nadir Shah to have done. Nadir Shah hanged such people with 10,000 tomauns about their necks; but the noble Lord would do the thing in a milder form—perhaps send them to prison. But this was not all. The noble Lord said that the Bill of last year was a mischievous Bill, and for this reason—it raised the price of corn. [Lord G. 256 BENTINCK had not said so.] The noble Lord said, that if the corn law of last year had not passed, there would have been at this time so large a quantity of corn in this country that the price would be lowered to the consumer in Ireland. Then, what was that but saying that the present corn law had raised the price of grain? Why, the noble Lord denied the statement he (Mr. Roebuck) had first made, and now he acquiesced in it. Then if the corn law had raised the price of corn, how had it done so? He said, that but for that law they would now have had a large importation of grain in bond, and available for the use of the country. Now he held in his hand, in a return to the Government, a statement of the average prices regulating the duty on wheat, barley, and oats. This return extended from the 25th of June to the 14th of January, and he would read parts of it for the edification of the noble Lord, who had said that the law of last year enhanced the price of grain. In June the rates levied under the present duties were 4s. per quarter; under the old law they would have been 18s. In July, under the present law, they ran at 5s. and 6s.; under the old law they would have been 18s. and 19s. In August, under the present law, 7s., 8s., 9s., and 10s.; under the old law 20s. In September, under the present law, 9s. and 10s.; under the old law 20s. In October, under the present law, the rates were 8s., 7s., 5s. and 4s.; under the old law, 20s., 18s., and 16s. In November, under the present law, 4s.; under the old law, 15s., 13s., and 12s. In December, under the present law, the duty was 4s.; under the old law it would have been 12s. Now, he wanted to know of the noble Lord, who presumed to take the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and who came to the House of Commons with so much inflated phrase and gesticulation and extraordinary modulation of voice, and declared that he would have profited under a different law from that we now possessed, and grounded that declaration upon erroneous statements—he wanted to know how the noble Lord could reconcile that declaration with the facts he had now read? And, then, that any one should gravely propound the doctrine that he would punish a man for carrying on, according to the old English principle, the ordinary business of a merchant; that for carrying on his business in an honest trade he should be sent to prison, if not hanged! Why, he should like to know if we were to come to that state of things in this country? The 257 course of the noble Lord put him in mind of the story of an old chess-player, who gained his game by being so long between his moves that his adversary always fell asleep, so that the latter, on awakening, moved in such desperation that he lost the game. Now he hoped, that the noble Lord would not imitate this sleeping chess-player. The noble Lord had recited an eastern story for the benefit of Ministers; and perhaps he (Mr. Roebuck) might also be permitted to refer to an oriental tale, which probably was familiar to the early recollections of many hon. Members. It told of a damsel who set her heart on some object of attraction which was placed at the top of a high mountain, and sent her brothers to a cave which contained the treasure. The moment they began to ascend this mountain, they were assailed by a torrent of abuse and vituperation from some unseen beings, and on attempting to redescend, they were turned into pillars of marble. The sister next made the attempt herself to ascend the mountain, and be thought herself of the expedient of stopping her ears with cotton; she did so, and succeeded. If the noble Lord at the head of the Government would pursue a steadfast course, unalarmed by vituperation and violence, not turning aside to the right hand or the left, but pursuing that steady and honest policy which the great exigencies and present interests of the country demanded, he would attain his end in safety, without being driven to that oriental despotism of hanging the unfortunate merchant who was successful amidst the miseries of his country.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I shall endeavour to imitate the speakers who have preceded me in one respect at least: it is neither my duty nor my desire to offer any obstacles to Her Majesty's Ministers. Gentlemen have risen from both sides of the House, some of them accounted very zealous supporters of the Government, who have addressed you with some criticism which, if it did not speak disapprobation, hinted dislike that the measures of the Government had not been matured at an earlier period. It is very possible, had these measures been adopted at an earlier period, that greater benefit might have accrued to the public; but the question which the House has to decide is, whether any body of men placed in the circumstances in which Her Majesty's Government were placed, could have acted on the whole with more prudence, with more discretion, and, 258 I will add, with more enterprise. Her Majesty's Government succeeded to power under circumstances that were not anticipated; and I believe I may say, a very few months before that event, they did not in any way imagine that a combination of circumstances could have placed them in the position they now occupy. When I remember what happened on this side of the House when we were in opposition, when I remember that we were for more than ten years drilled on these benches, that not a phrase was uttered — far less a measure proposed — that was not weighed well beforehand, lest those who were to succeed to the then Government of this country should be committed—it would be, I will say, the basest hypocrisy in Members on this side now to rise, and when they see a body of Gentlemen called to the government of this country under circumstances like those before us—called to regulate fortunes so momentous, and in a conjuncture so difficult—to suppose that we are to bring to the consideration of their policy that pedantic and captious support which some have offered. I think, on the contrary, we ought to feel under great obligations to them for having accepted the reins of government under circumstances of this nature; and I think every man in this House is bound to give a consideration to their measures when they are proposed—I will not say the most indulgent, for that may be thought an offensive expression—but is bound to meet those measures in a spirit not only devoid of all party feeling, but with an anxiety to find in them some scheme that may really advance the public happiness of the United Kingdom. I think the two measures brought before us to-night have been proposed to us by the noble Lord in a tone so unexceptionable, so exemplary, have been conceived and expressed in a tone so becoming a statesman, that I, for one, would have been extremely glad, and I believe the public would have sympathized with that feeling, had this discussion been as brief as possible, and had not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by the speech he made, led to a discussion which may induce the public out of doors to suppose the existence of any difference of opinion as to the measures this evening brought forward. It is well it should be thoroughly understood, that upon these measures there is no difference of opinion; that, decided as our principles may be on the navigation laws of England, unchanged as our principles may be as to 259 the protection we think due to the industry of this country; still, in acceding to the proposition of Government, we have been actuated by a wish to give our support to measures framed to meet a remarkable exigency. We are desirous to support the Government in the measures they propose under these circumstances, and those who are out of doors should understand that their representatives have seen that the people are suffering, and that their only desire is to adopt such measures as may be believed the most remedial to the occasion. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has produced some discussion, and my noble Friend near me has very properly expressed his opinions on the subject brought under our notice. The hon. Member for Lancashire, who sits opposite to me, seems to have been offended by some of the opinions which my noble Friend has expressed with respect to the commercial transactions of this country. The hon. Gentleman has told us, that had the principle supported by my noble Friend been followed, Antioch probably might have starved; Bombay, too, possibly, instead of being well fed, might have suffered considerably; and these are the instances he brought forward to illustrate the course we ought to pursue respecting Ireland. The hon. Gentleman forgets that Antioch was not starved—that Bombay did not suffer—but I believe there is no doubt that Ireland is suffering, and almost in a state of starvation. The hon. Gentleman has performed his duty in advocating those principles of political economy which the school that sent him here naturally, to the last, will uphold; but he must understand—and I appeal to every Irish Member here, whatever be his creed or his race—that the great object of these discussions, as far as we can influence public opinion, is to give a heavy blow and great discouragement to those principles of political economy, the best part of which I willingly believe is, that they have contributed to send the hon. Gentleman among us. That is the question which, under one of its many multitudinous forms, is before us. It is a part of the great struggle between capital and labour; and we understand and accept it as such. The Members for Ireland, whoso-ever send them here, accept it as such, and the two nations will ultimately ratify our decision upon that subject. The hon. Member for South Lancashire seems annoyed that my noble Friend should have ex- 260 pressed a feeling adverse to forestallers and regraters, and talks of such a feeling being a feeling that existed in barbarous days. It is very true that it was 600 years ago that statutes against forestallers and regraters were passed. But what does that prove, when you hear expressions adverse to those classes at this moment, but that there is a strong national feeling opposed to that system? And I tell this to the hon. Gentleman, that all his philosophy will not be successful when opposed to the national conviction. I, for my part, am convinced that the hon. Gentleman himself is not a forestaller. I feel persuaded the hon. Gentleman is not a regrater. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is not a great capitalist who has invested his capital in corn. But I tell the hon. Gentleman this, if those sentiments had been expressed by one in such a situation, the speech would not have been forgotten by the people of England. And when the right hour arrives, he will find that his principles of political economy will be subjected to a kind of criticism he will not find within the walls of this House. Perhaps I ought not to sit down without also alluding to some expressions used by the hon. and learned Member for Bath, who has this Session appeared before the House in a new character. The hon. and learned Gentleman avows himself a critic; but if he is a critic, it appears to me that he is one who less resembles Aristarchus than Thersites. The hon. and learned Member for Bath, who spoke of the modulation of voice, and the gesticulation of another, and who exhibits to us on every occasion tones so measured both of mind and voice—the hon. and learned Member, so classic in all his conceptions, so happy in all his expressions, so temperate in all his views, so choice in all his phrases, whose criticism upon a Secretary of State is that he "writes a shocking style," and whose answer to the leader of an Opposition is that his voice does not accord with the musical gamut—this hon. and learned Gentleman, showing, as he has this Session, so feverish an impatience that he has lost no opportunity of giving expression to his opinions, as if he were labouring under the sense of some impending dissolution, and so was reluctant to relinquish any opening for astonishing the empire by the brilliancy of his sarcasm, and that great power of argumentation which even a Member for a University has at last vouched for—the hon. and learned Member has replied to the apologue introduced by my noble Friend by a quotation 261 from the Arabian Nights — a quotation whether more apposite than the illustration employed by my noble Friend, I leave the House to determine. The point of my noble Friend's story may not, in the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, have applied; but the House must have observed that the hon. and learned Gentleman gave no point at all to his "pillar of marble" with which he favoured us. Whether it was emblematic of the hon. and learned Gentleman's new position as a "monarchical politician," I cannot take upon myself to decide. Perhaps the appearance of the hon. and learned Gentleman in this new phasis may raise the funds to-morrow. But what will they say to it at Bath? A great writer has told us that the corruption of a bad author makes a good critic. Whether this aphorism be applicable in politics as well as in literature, I will not inquire; but if the corruption of a bad poet do make a good critic, it is possible that a radical philosopher may turn into a monarchical politician. Sir, when the hon. and learned Gentleman rises with such facility, and lectures Ministers of State, and those who, as he voluntarily engages, shall be Ministers of State—when the hon. and learned Gentleman indulges in these free exhibitions of his critical powers, it would be well for him to remember that others may be criticized as well as those who are the subjects of his sarcasm; and when the modulation of the voice, the exquisite temperature of the character, the sweetness of the phrase, the softness of the manner, are admitted to be legitimate subjects for Parliamentary discussion, then the hon. and learned Gentleman opens a field of animadversion upon himself, which I, for one, have no wish to pursue, and which, for the sake of the decorum of our debates, I hope he will not in future prosecute.
§ MR. B. ESCOTT
thought the reflections cast upon the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) were unjust. If he had been in fault, it was in allowing too much interference with the food of the Irish. The noble Lord the Member for Lynn talked of the measure about to be taken as founded on a popular delusion, and said it would confer no benefit upon those whom it sought to benefit; and the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. T. Baring) denied that the measure would produce any great effect, or benefit the consumer. That evening he had received a letter signed "Thomas Baring," requesting him to forward his subscription for the aid of the starving people of this 262 country. What did the hon. Member for Huntingdon mean? He denied that the measure could benefit the consumer, and he sent a letter begging for aid to the consumer. And the noble Lord (Lord George Bentinck) said, that not only was this doctrine of trade wrong, but that the very measure he was going to vote for would not benefit the consumer at all. He blamed not the Government; he blamed the House for the delay complained of. The noble Lord the Member for Lynn would not say that last Session there was no apprehension of famine. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) he believed, said so, but the noble Lord was mistaken. It was last Session that he called for an extraordinary vote to save the people from starving; and when the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, and others, censured the Government for not earlier bringing forward the measure and opening the ports—[Lord G. BENTINCK dissented] — he begged pardon, the noble Lord did not say so; he said it was a foolish thing to do so now, and yet he was about to vote for it. But the hon. Member for Limerick said so. Was not that hon. Member a Member of the House last August? Why was not that hon. Member in his place to support that small band who had seen last Session that the famine was approaching, and were ready to agree to any measure to avert it? But of all those who had attacked the Government on this head, he (Mr. Escott) was most astonished at the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Member for the University of Cambridge, who had said that the ports ought to have been opened in August last. Why, in November, 1845, the noble Lord had been ready to open the ports, and had written a very memorable letter on that occasion. He (Mr. Escott) thought the noble Lord had misjudged his power at that juncture; for had he proposed such a measure he would have carried it. But there were others who then wanted to open the ports. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth would have opened the ports, and the noble Lord would have supported him. Why had it not been been done? The reason was, that there were only a few Members of the Cabinet ready to support the right hon. Baronet. Who had been his opponent? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge. He had been the opponent of both Governments in their attempts to give free trade in food. Such being the fact, it was rather 263 too much, now that there was a pressure upon a Government the right hon. Gentleman did not choose to support, that he, who had been the serious practical impediment to the opening of the ports, should now accuse the Government of delay. It was said that the corn ought to be sent from this country to Ireland; but if there was one point more than another which he wished to impress upon the House, it was this—that too little had been said concerning the suffering of this part of the United Kingdom. Did not the noble Lord know that a forced importation of corn to Ireland must deprive this country of the quantity sent? The noble Lord utterly miscalculated the amount of food lost in this country by the destitution of the potato crop. He believed the food of three-fourths of the people of the western counties had been potatoes; and by such an extraordinary interference with trade as the noble Lord had proposed, he would himself become a forestaller, by buying up the food of the people in those counties to send to another place. The distress of the people here was great. There was not a parish in the west of England in which subscriptions were not collected to save the people from starving; and he appealed to the noble Lord, as he valued fair dealing, to consider whether it were just to accuse the Government, or those who supported them, of being the cause of the deaths of the people in Ireland, because they had refused in a time of great pressure to prohibit sending corn out of this country.
§ LORD GEORGE BENTINCK
declared he had never charged Her Majesty's Government with being guilty of the deaths of the people in Ireland. He appealed to those who had heard him whether there had been any spirit of vituperation towards the Government in any part of his speech. It was very far from his intention if it were so. What he had said was that if he could have prevented the late Government from repealing the old corn law, there would have been in the summer, when wheat was at something like 45s. a quarter, an enormous quantity of wheat in bond waiting the reduction of the duty by the natural operation of the sliding-scale, and the opportunity would have been given to the Government of the day to lay their hands upon that large stock of foreign grain so remaining in bond; and then he had gone on to say that if that corn had been purchased and sent to Ireland, it would have prevented all the calamities which had occurred. 264 As to charges against Her Majesty's Ministers, from first to last he had not made any. He had said that they had come into office very much by the means of his own Friends; without any solicitation on their part, and under circumstances of the greatest possible difficulty; and he had also observed, what he now again repeated, that so far was he from blaming them for not introducing the present measures at an earlier day, that he did not believe that either the one or the other of them would be of the least advantage now, or would have been so had they been earlier adopted. He had not cast the slightest censure on the Ministers; on the contrary, he had been most distinct in expressing it as his opinion that, up to the 3rd or 4th of August, that which caused alarm to the officers of the Government was, that the late Government would be overwhelmed, not by the necessity of providing for a famine, but by the unprecedentedly low prices which it was expected would prevail in the home market next harvest. So far were they from anticipating a famine, that their anxiety had been excited by the apprehension that they would not be able to get rid of the stores of meal and corn which they had on hand even at 10l. a ton. Under these circumstances, he had a right to say, that no honest or truth-loving man could pretend to assert that before the 5th of August the Ministers had the least cause of apprehension of any potato blight and consequent famine this year. He trusted he had acquitted himself of the charge of having said anything in vituperation of Her Majesty's Ministers, or of having charged them with being guilty in any way of the murder of the Irish people.
LORD J. RUSSELL
I acquit my noble Friend of any vituperation of the Government. I think his opinions were exceedingly erroneous, but I do not think he expressed them in a manner at which the Members of the Government could feel themselves offended. With respect to my noble Friend's opinion about what the conduct of the Government ought to have been, I think it extremely erroneous. I was almost tempted to take my noble Friend to task for proposing to us the example of Nadir Shah. Holding the position he does, and having many commercial men attached to his party, the allusion to the hanging by Nadir Shah was a piece of rashness I could not have anticipated from him. That was a sort of declamation which, when known to-morrow morning, might detach from 265 his party some hundreds of commercial men. They would fear that if his noble Friend was in power, he might perhaps be influenced by the example of the Persian; and they might dread even the lightest form of punishment which his humanity might prescribe to them. I am the more surprised at my noble Friend's doctrine, because at a banquet recently given to the hon. Member for Sunderland, he panegyrised that hon. Member as one who had benefited the community by his mercantile speculations. I was happy to hear the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Brown), who gave an admirable reply to my noble Friend's observations. I must say, that I am very glad to find so much knowledge and good sense added to our store of information as the hon. Gentleman is likely to contribute. I feel it unnecessary to say more; and, finding the proposal of the Government well accepted, I venture to propose to the House that they should agree to the Resolutions; that the Chairman, when the discussion is over, should report to the House that the Bill should be brought in, ordered to be printed, and to-morrow go through all its stages.
§ MR. FINCH
complained that the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had not correctly explained the speech of his noble Friend (Lord G. Bentinck), and said his noble Friend by no means meant to cast any imputation upon fair and just commercial enterprise. He was willing to encourage such profits as were advantageous, but not such as were detrimental to the public, which was just the difference between the regrater or forestaller and the hon. Member for Sunderland, of whom his noble Friend had spoken in terms of deserved eulogy.
§ Resolution agreed to. House resumed. Resolutions reported, and Bill ordered to be brought in.
§ House in Committee on the Navigation Laws.
Lord J. RUSSELL
moved—That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow, for a time to be limited, the Importation of Corn from any Country in Foreign ships.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
was anxious 266 to vindicate the Irish Members in that House and the Irish proprietors out of doors from the imputation of not attending to their duty, which had been cast upon them by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had thought fit to convey an inuendo that the gentlemen of Ireland would not do their duty; but he spoke in ignorance of the facts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to be unaware of this fact, that the gentlemen of Ireland were reducing their establishments universally throughout the country, and were to a very great extent, and in some cases altogether, supporting at their own charge the poor of their respective districts. With respect to this now late measure (for so he would call it) of opening the ports, he had on a former occasion expressed it as his opinion that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had not done his duty in not having taken the step as long ago as the month of November last. It would have been a much wiser proceeding, and one more worthy of a provident Ministry, to have opened the ports at that time, when the proceeding might really have been attended with beneficial results, than to have come forward at this hour of the day, for the purpose of exhibiting sympathy for the Irish people by doing that which, as matters now stood, was declared to be nothing better than a mockery and delusion. Few knew the real state of Ireland. The fact was, the people were dying by thousands, and crime and death were every hour increasing. He knew a district which, though in the county of Tipperary, was one tranquil and well conducted, but in which scenes were now enacted which rivalled the Jacquerie risings in France. A letter from Dr. Jacob stated that under the horrors of starvation not only were the bodies, but even the minds, of the people becoming every day ineffective. He narrated a horrible story how, a few days since, near his own gate, two women had been roasted, and a man beaten almost to death for two shillings. And these things were done by wretched beings hunting for food. And yet the Ministers for a long time folded their arms listlessly, and did not take the proper measures for giving relief at the proper season. Very possibly they were deterred from doing so—as was insinuated by their daily organ a few mornings since—by a fear of the agriculturists and the shipoowners. He did not wish to insinuate anything unworthy against the Government; but the 267 fact was, people here in England would never credit what was passing every hour in Ireland until they saw the evidences of it at their own door. The charges of the hon. and learned Member for Bath he threw back, not with contempt, for it was impossible to feel contempt for so amiable and good-natured a Gentleman, but certainly with feelings of the strongest reprobation; for, bearing in mind the scenes which he had witnessed in Ireland—the wild frenzy of men driven mad by hunger, and the exposure of dead children upon the table of the board-room in the poorhouse of the union where he officiated as a guardian—he found it impossible to restrain his feelings, or to speak in language of calmness and moderation. The Irish proprietors, take them for all and all, were doing their duty nobly. They were laying down every superfluity—they were surrendering every luxury. To be sure, it was nothing more than their duty; but it was even meritorious to do one's duty; and they should not be compelled to endure the philosophical smiles of people who had not these calamities under their own eyes, and who themselves suffered nothing. He warned the Government not to carry their fallacies of political economy too far; for if they did, they would be awakened from their dreams by a revolution to which he could see no end. Talk of Antioch and Bombay indeed! What similarity was there between them and Ireland? In Ireland there was no trade whatever. There were no merchants there. In the great inland town of Clonmel, there was only one merchant to retail the Indian corn. That corn, he (Mr. B. Osborne) had bought for 8l. 10s. the ton last year, whereas he was obliged to pay 19l. 10s. the ton this year. This rise he attributed to the erroneous representations which were made and the false hopes which were held out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in his Treasury Minute of the 22nd of August promised that meal should be procurable for a penny a pound. He had not the minute about him, though he usually carried it as a memento of the Government's infatuated policy; but he well remembered the erroneous representations and the false expectations which it held forth. In conclusion, he had only to remark that it ill became the hon. Member for Bath, or any other hon. Member who was utterly ignorant of the real condition of things in Ireland, to cast censure on the men who were sacrificing their property, and would 268 willingly sacrifice their lives, to mitigate the horrors of the calamity by which that country was now afflicted.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
explained that he had never promised that meal should always be procurable for a penny a pound. What he said was, that meal at the period in question was actually procurable for a penny a pound; but he had never held out any promise that for the future it was at all times to be had at that price.
§ MR. B. OSBORNE
still adhered to his original statement. The right hon. Gentleman had expressly held it out as a reason for not interfering with the trader, that meal would always be sold for a penny a pound.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ The House resumed.
§ Report received forthwith, and Bill ordered to be brought in. Both Bills were brought in and read a first time, and ordered to be read a second time on the next day.