§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I have to present a petition from 200 owners and occupiers of land, who recently met at Great Marlow, representing the unprecedented depression of all classes connected with the land, begging the House to remedy their sufferings, by placing them, firstly, on an equality, in point of taxation, with their fellow-subjects; and, secondly, in their own market with the foreigner. I have also a petition from the Buckinghamshire Society for the Relief of Real Property, signed by nearly 1,000 members, but, having perceived an informality, I am prevented presenting it. Mr. Speaker, the depression among the classes connected with agriculture, referred to by the petitioners whose prayer I have just now placed upon the table, continues. Since the meeting of Parliament, when that depression received no sympathy from Her Majesty's Government—I may say no recognition—it has become even darker and more lowering. The 300,000,000l. of capital invested in the cultivation of the soil yield no profit to the cultivators of the soil. The value of the fee itself is deteriorated; and that factitious employment of the labouring population in the rural districts, which, to the honour of this country, has taken place, necessarily and naturally diminishes daily. Since these topics were last adverted to in this House, the report of the 1027 Poor Law Board, to which the Minister on that occasion confidentially referred, has been placed in the hands of Members, and we have there seen the data upon which the Government then founded their argument. I am bound to say that from almost the commencement of this year I have myself received—and I believe I only represent the position of every Gentleman immediately connected with agricultural constituencies—I have received reports from considerable unions in the country, which convey a different result from that which is accurately reported in the document to which I have referred. But the House will remember that the date of the aggregate of facts which was thus presented to our notice, was only the first day of this year. It is since that time that that employment, which I have ventured to describe as factitious, has in my opinion greatly diminished in the agricultural districts of the united kingdom. It was, indeed, with reference to this point, my intention to have moved in this House for a return similar to that which we are in possession of up to the 1st of February; but, upon inquiry, it was represented to me that such a return, if consented to, would entail upon a branch of the Administration that has already greatly exerted itself in order to afford the most recent and authentic information to the House and the country, exertions so enormous, that I felt bound to relinquish my purpose. And, indeed, although I wish the office had fallen upon a Member of greater influence in the House than myself, I would venture to make a remark upon the general conduct of that branch of the Administration. For so many years the central management of the poor-laws has excited in this House so much controversy, and indeed, I may say, so much odium, that I think it must be a satisfaction to the House, to the Government, and to the country, to contrast the position which that branch of the Administration now occupies with reference to public opinion, with what it did three years ago. I have no wish to enter on this occasion into any invidious comparison, or attempt to investigate the causes which have produced a very different result; but the Government must be repaid for the concession to opinion which they wisely made, and which they wisely carried into effect, with respect to that department, when they observe that a branch of the Administration so intimately connected with the condition of the great body 1028 of the people, should be conducted, as I believe it now to be, in a manner which entitles it to public confidence. But we have to-night to inquire what is the best course to remove, if possible, certainly to mitigate, that unprecedented depression to which the petitioners have referred. Upon this side of the House we believe that that depression has been occasioned by recent legislative enactments, by the recent repeal of the laws which regulated the importation of foreign agricultural produce. We believe that the surest course, the most safe, the most efficacious, the course which in the long run would be most advantageous to the community and most popular with the community, would be the re-establishment of laws regulating the importation of that foreign produce. And that being our conviction, we may be taunted, as we have already been taunted, with the circumstance that we shrink from maintaining our conviction by argument in this House. The taunt is one easy to make, and it is not one very hard to bear. Speaking for those Gentlemen with whom I have the honour to act, I can say that we do not in any way shrink from an argument upon that subject. We have seen nothing at all which in our opinion confutes the conclusions which in good report and evil report we have attempted to advocate in this House with regard to that great subject. We still believe that the principles upon which you have constructed your commercial code are fallacious. We still believe that the time will come when you yourselves will acknowledge the truth of that assertion. But, although I am myself of opinion that discussion is the soul of this House, and, indeed, of this free country; though I believe that there are occasions when discussion, and mere discussion, may be the highest duty and the most sovereign policy; still I must express my opinion that, as a general rule, it is not advantageous that this House should become a mere debating society, and that, generally speaking, discussion should not be originated here, unless connected with some practical object of immediate attainment. Now, I will speak with perfect frankness upon this point: and I do not speak only for myself. After the divisions that occurred on the Address in both Houses of Parliament, we were of opinion that only one conclusion could be drawn from those facts; and though in neither House was the division called upon the merits of that industrial system which is popularly known 1029 by the name of "protection," still we could not shut our eyes to the practical conclusion that it was the opinion of a large majority in both Houses of Parliament not to disturb at present the settlement which this country has recently arrived at in that respect. Under these circumstances, representing a great body of the people who are suffering, in our and their opinion, by those changes in the law; having arrived at a conviction that no abrogation of recent legislation could be obtained at present from the present Parliament, it became our duty to consider what course might be taken, which, without controverting the conviction of the majority of the House, might at least be, as far as the fortunes were concerned, of a remedial character. Since this great controversy first commenced in this House, I have always, assuming that those laws which regulated the industry of the country might be repealed, seen looming in the distance a great alternative, to which I have been surprised that our most eminent statesmen have shut their eyes. I have always felt, if we thought fit to repeal those laws, and especially the laws which referred to the agricultural industry of this country, that the cultivators of the soil, that all classes connected with the cultivation of the soil, would offer this alternative to the Government:—"If you deprive us of that system of legislation under which for so long a period, with various modifications, we have enjoyed our property or pursued our industry, we shall ask this of you in the name of justice, that you should, at least, adapt our position to the altered circumstances in which you have placed us, and that you should revise the system of taxation that prevails in this country, with reference to its more equal and just distribution." I do not think that the claims of the classes connected with the soil can be placed before the House more neatly or more concisely than in the petition which I presented to it today. The classes connected with the soil demand of the Government of this country two things: first, that they should be placed upon an equality with their fellow-subjects; and, secondly, that they should be placed in their own market upon an equality with the foreigner. They refer, in the first instance, to that enormous system of peculiar taxation from which the majority of this country are exempt, and which they have borne; they refer, in the second place, to those fiscal restrictions 1030 which, when you have placed them in direct competition with the foreigner, prevent them from exerting their utmost energies, and freely availing themselves of their complete resources. Now, it appears to me that these are claims logically expressed, and founded on severe justice; and if those who hurried on, as I believe unhappily hurried on, the repeal of the laws which regulated the importation of foreign agricultural produce, did not at the time sufficiently and completely consider the consequences of their course—if they had not well weighed what must be the inevitable result of the new system which they have sought to establish—much as I regret the want of foresight in men so eminent, great and even perilous as may be the consequences of that inattention upon their part, I cannot, as the representative of an agricultural constituency, refrain from doing my duty to those who sent me here; and in the House of Commons, where there may be a majority of economists, I cannot think I am acting wrong if, notwithstanding their economical convictions, I have still confidence in the justice of Englishmen. Sir, my business to-night is to touch, and to touch only partially, one portion of the great theme which will, I believe, for a considerable time amply occupy the attention of Parliament, and before I advert more specifically to that portion, and to the measure which, with reference to it, I, with unaffected humility, shall presume to propose for the consideration of the House, I shall make one or two observations on the opinions that have been often expressed of late with respect to the nature of that taxation to which I am about particularly to call your attention. We are all well aware that recently, when that portion of our taxation popularly known as Rates, has been brought under the notice of Parliament, considerable controversy has occurred with reference to the classes on which the weight and burden of these imposts fall. Some hon. Gentlemen have informed us that the proprietor of the soil alone paid them; others have maintained that they were paid by the occupier, and they have advocated their repeal because the cultivator of the soil would be benefited by that repeal. But time, which generally brings with it truth, has removed in a great measure the difficulties connected with this question. The hon. Member for Montrose, who, in the first year I took the liberty of making a Motion on this subject, moved an 1031 Amendment declaring proprietors alone paid rates, last year was the father, as he is this year the godfather, of a new representative system, which he is about to introduce throughout the country, in order that the occupiers, whom he now maintains to be the real payers of the rates, should exercise a control over the funds which they mainly furnish. Appealing, therefore, to the legislative proposition of last Wednesday on this subject, I might fairly assume that there was no longer any difference of opinion between hon. Gentlemen opposite and myself as to the incidence of this class of taxation. But I am not willing to rest my argument on so narrow a basis, or to offer the proposition it is my duty to lay before you on so partial an admission. I think, Sir, the time has come when we must view this question a little more profoundly. As long as you passed laws in this House the tendency of which, according to your opinion—was, in your own language, to raise rents, you bad, perhaps, even if that opinion were fallacious, a right to analyse the relative interests of the owner and of the occupier of the soil. But the moment you swept those laws from off your Statute-book—the moment you resolved that the land of England should enter into free competition with all the soils of all the kingdoms of the globe, I think you were estopped from considering the relative interests of occupiers and owners, and that, instead of busying yourselves with the interests of landlord and tenant, you had from that time to deal only with the interests of the land. There have been and still are, I may say, two opinions prevalent in this House, or at least in this country, on the subject of that species of property which we popularly term "land." There are those who hold that there is a distinction between land and all other species of property. There are those who hold that distinction absolutely and under all circumstances. There are, Sir, many who hold it with reference to the land of England as a great political principle, which an Englishman ought not to relinquish. Considering that all our institutions spring from the land—considering that the Throne, that the estates of the realm, that the great scheme of our juridical institutions, the inheritance of the poor, the sacred spires, as it were, of our ecclesiastical establishment, all have their origin in the same source—considering that, in fact, we have a territorial constitution, 1032 they always have been of opinion that it was the first duty of a British statesman to sustain the industry, the property, and the influence of our territorial population. It is for this reason they have ever been of opinion—an opinion strictly constitutional—that we should in all our legislation which refers to or regulates the distribution of power, consult the preponderance of the landed interest. They thought so because they considered that preponderance the best security for order and liberty, and, in addition, the best security for that political stability which is a still rarer quality in the history of nations than order and freedom. These are opinions which I know are considered somewhat old-fashioned in the House of Commons, but which I believe have not yet forfeited their hold on the great majority of the people, and I humbly venture to share in and adhere to them. There is another class of opinions not so popular or so prevalent out of the House, but in the House maintained with great vigour and ability with respect to land. The Gentlemen who represent this opinion hold that there is no difference whatever between the land even of England and any other species of property. They maintain that all those considerations to which I have referred respecting the maintenance of order, of liberty, and of the stability of States, are mere superstitions; that the land is to be considered, to use a phrase which the hon. Member for the West Riding very erroneously imputed to me, as raw material, which we ought not to regard as endowed necessarily with any peculiar quality whatever. I have never admitted, nor do I now in any way admit, the truth of this opinion; but I accept it in argument, for nothing, I think, is more convenient in discussion than to draw your conclusions, if possible, from the admissions of your opponents; and for that reason alone, having heard it in this House from persons of great authority, and finding similar opinions promulgated by literary organs out of doors of great ability, I said, if the land indeed were a raw material, we claimed for it the application of the same principle you extend to all other raw materials. To that remark I am bound to say, Sir, I have not yet received a satisfactory answer: great subsequent silence on this subject in the House—out of the House, among those organs of which I have spoken—similar silence also for a time, then a denial that the land was a 1033 raw material, or assertions, if it be so, it is a raw material peculiar from all others, because it produces a quality called "rent." Now what I want to impress upon the House is this—that from the moment you forced the land of England into competition with the land of all the world, you have no business to inquire into that quality called "rent." According to our opinion, and to the opinion of many of the most influential men opposed to the agricultural polity we would recommend, the consequence of your recent laws will be to throw a great quantity of land out of cultivation. The difference between us on this head is only one of degree. According to all, there is one class of land which is certainly doomed to sterility. Well, what I wish to urge on the House is this, that the amount of this peculiar taxation, styled local taxation, may make the exact margin which permits that land to be cultivated, or dooms it to a barren existence. It is on these grounds I maintain that you have no right now to consider what may be the effect of your legislation on rent. All you have to do with regard to the land, is to act with justice, and consistently with those economical principles which are the foundation of your commercial code. I say the House has no longer any right to speculate on the amount and nature of rent. It is a subject which, owing to your recent legislation, is swept from your consideration. And, Sir, nothing astonishes me more than the tone assumed in this House on this subject. If I did not know I was addressing a society which must necessarily be a society of gentlemen, on the whole, the ablest and best informed in the country, I should sometimes suppose that in this House existed some of those prejudices which are to be found elsewhere with respect to the character of landed proprietors. On another occasion, when a similar subject was under discussion, I ventured to request that the House would consider the elements composing that class, because certainly the tone taken in debate, when speaking of them, is one which applies only to a limited, luxurious, indolent, and aristocratic class—a class whose rights, however, even if they should be thus justly described, should, I conceive, be treated in accordance with the principles of justice. But it is well to consider if this prevalent character of the proprietors of the soil is a just one. I took occasion recently to mention, that, following the researches and conclusions of the most eminent writers on this 1034 subject, I calculated the number of landed proprietors of the united kingdom as probably about 250,000. Now, I ask the House to consider what is the aristocratic element of this numerous and important class. You cannot, perhaps, take any better mode to ascertain a fact of so much importance than the following:—Calculate the number of manorial estates. It is a subject on which you will probably find no return ready to your hand; but we all know that in the united kingdom, generally speaking, every parish is a manor, though every manor is not a parish. Allowing, then, one-fourth for manorial estates not parochial, which I have every reason to believe is a liberal allowance, we may assume that there are 20,000 manorial estates. These form the aristocratic clement; these are the estates of that squirearchy of whom we hear so much, and whose personal interests, we are told, are alone considered when we legislate for the land. Well, you find that they are thus exactly one-twelfth of the class of landed proprietors. But divide the complete rental of the united kingdom, according to the returns, by the number of these proprietors; take the rental at 60,000,000l. a year, and you will find that you have a body of proprietors at 240l. a year each. But as we all know there are many who have much more, it follows there must be a great number who have much less. Yet this is the class who are always painted to the passions of the community as a luxurious, limited, privileged, and aristocratic class, though they are, on the contrary, the most thrifty, the most industrious, the most hard-living class as a whole that probably exists in the united kingdom. I maintain, then, that with respect to this class you should legislate according to justice, and to the principles you are perpetually parading; that no inquiry respecting the incidence of taxation, as to whether it falls on the owner or on the occupier, is necessary for you in order to decide what you should do; that you should henceforth act in accordance with the principles of political justice, and with what you consider economic truth; that in taking the course which justice and policy alike recommend, you are not to regard the owner or the occupier, but to consider whether you are doing justice to that most important interest, the land of England; whether the land which you have thrown into competition with all the soils of all the countries of the world, can be worked 1035 in a remunerative manner, and not whether the profit goes to the landed proprietor or to the occupying tenant. Now, Sir, with these opinions, I proceed to call the attention of the House to the first part of the important subject to which I have adverted, namely, the relations of the agricultural interest in all its classes to the local taxation of the country. I have on a former occasion taken an opportunity of calling your attention to the general subject of local taxation in England. The facts I then placed before you were not controverted at the time, nor have they since been disputed; and indeed many Gentlemen of official authority who took part in that debate, acknowledged their accuracy. On that occasion I stated that the property connected with the soil of England, independently of contributing to the general revenue, contributed to another revenue in England alone to the amount of 12,000,000l. sterling, and that all the objects for which this second revenue was raised, were objects of general interest and national concern. I then included the land tax in the aggregate amount. I assumed the land tax to be virtually two millions per annum, which was admitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as it must be by any one who had given attention to the subject; but I acknowledged that though it was a tax on the land, and locally raised, there was a difference between it and other sources of local taxation, because it was paid into the imperial exchequer. I shall not dwell on this point on the present occasion, because it does not immediately concern us. The land tax is only another instance how the land of England has been at all times made to pay more into the exchequer than it ought, since the law entailing the land tax was originally a law which equally applied to all other species of property. It would not be difficult, indeed, to prove that since its introduction more than 100,000,000l. have been paid by the land under the machinery of the land tax than the land ought to have contributed. But, taking the annual local taxation of the united kingdom, setting aside the land tax, at 14,000,000l., I only refer to the fact that the House should bear in mind the general amount of this peculiar revenue, so remarkably raised, and which has been sustained with such a spirit of endurance for so long a period, and that it may more justly consider the peculiar branch of taxation to which I am now about to call its attention more specifically. 1036 That branch of the local taxation of the united kingdom are the poor-rates. I see that the hon. Member for Shetland and the Orkneys has moved an Amendment on my Motion to-night, to which I shall for a moment advert. The hon. Gentleman has moved—For the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the effects of the laws for levying duties on the importation of corn and other agricultural produce from the year 1815 to 1848, both inclusive; also, into the relative amounts of taxation, local and general, which have been levied during the same period on agricultural and other property and incomes.Now, that appears to me to be a very sensible Motion; and if the hon. Gentleman had had more experience than he possesses of the House, I think he would have moved it as an unopposed return, because I can assure him all the information he desires on these important subjects can be obtained upstairs, and if he only examined the reports of Committees of this House and of the House of Lords, he would find every particular so amply furnished that it would not have been necessary to move this Amendment. Indeed, I have been furnished by a gentleman of authority with a digest of all the information the hon. Gentleman requires. It ranges not merely from 1815, but from 1800 to 1845; and in reference to it the hon. Member will find that landed property in that period has paid 581,000,000l. to the State, as compared with 159,000,000l. paid by other real property. Now I have no wish to touch on the comparative tributes by the different classes of real property. I think it unjust to these classes that they should contribute to a peculiar taxation. All this information, and much more that refers to the subject, is not of the slightest use to me, and I shall not avail myself of it; but, as I am of opinion that in the intercourse of social life an interchange of Parliamentary courtesies is not the least agreeable, I have brought the digest down to the House, in order that the hon. Member may use it in his speech. If he makes good use of it, his speech will be one unrivalled for statistical research, and the only misfortune will be that his facts and figures will entirely refute all his foregone conclusions. I venture now, Sir, to call the attention of the House to the nature of a poor-law. I have before this taken the liberty of saying that a poor-law was a law which might be vindicated on two principles—either as a matter 1037 of police, or as a matter of social duty. If you regard it as a matter of police—if it be the interest of society, that by providing for those in want, society should be secure from the consequences of violence and rapine, it is clearly the interest of all, and it should be supported by all. But if you take the higher motive, and consider the maintenance of the poor, as we do in England, a social duty, then it is the duty of all according to their means; and therefore it ought not to be a tax charged on one kind of property. Every one knows, however, it is a tax charged on one kind of property. I will not enter into any wearisome inquiry to ascertain the relative amount of property subject to it, and the amount of property privileged and exempted from it. Never mind whether it is one-fourth or whether it is one-third of the income of the country—never mind whether 80,000,000l. or 60,000,000l. bear the charge which 240,000,000l. ought to bear—the great fact remains, that the vast majority of the property of the country does not fulfil the social duty which all acknowledge. Now, there are, Sir, I know, very grave objections to remedial measures in this behalf, and, indeed, it is not possible to conceive how such flagrant injustice could have flourished so long, were not the difficulty in removing it considerable. In the first place, every one is afraid of interfering with or disturbing that happy system of local government of which we have so much reason to be proud, and which has been the source of so much public happiness. I never happen to speak on this subject to any person of great property, not connected with the land, but I find him eloquent on the blessing's of that system. Ask any fortunate possessor of 30,000l. or 40,000l. per annum, in the sweet simplicity of the three per cents, if he does not think he ought to contribute proportionately to the relief of the poor, and he will tell you that abstractedly he admits the justice of it, but fears lest in doing so he might endanger our happy system of self-government. I frankly admit I should myself be unwilling to support any proposition which could endanger that system; but I cannot admit the solution of the problem is impossible which shall reconcile local management with imperial taxation, though I confess that in attempting to solve it the law of settlement must be determined for ever. But there is another objection against offering any relief as to the present distribution 1038 of the taxes levied under the poor-law, and it is rather a popular objection also. It is said, and has been recently repeated with no novelty of assertion but with some authority, that land in the country has been inherited, or otherwise acquired, subject to this charge. That, I observe, is a remark which always tells, and which perplexes if it does not convince, but with respect to which there is one simple but sufficient observation—it is not true. In the first place, it clearly is not true as regards Ireland. The land of that country was not inherited or acquired subject to poor-rates. It is clear, again, it is not true with regard to another of Her Majesty's kingdoms. The land of Scotland was not inherited or acquired subject to poor-rates. But neither is it true with respect to very considerable portions of the land of England. The House would be surprised, if they investigated this topic, at the number of very considerable estates, and of some less important but not less interesting tenures, yeoman estates, which were not originally subject to this charge. I had intended giving some of the names of those properties, but refrain from doing so because the list would be imperfect, and would therefore only lead to erroneous conclusions. But, Sir, I cannot forget that I am standing opposite the noble Lord, the son of one of our greatest houses—of a house which, I am willing to admit, has exercised its vast possessions generally for the honour and dignity of England—which certainly did not inherit or otherwise acquire those vast possessions subject to the provisions of the 43rd of Elizabeth. As a matter of fact, therefore, this assertion is not true. But as a matter of principle is it just? I am not disposed to assent to the principle, that because an estate has been inherited or acquired subject to taxation which is impolitic, the tax is to be retained because it is inherited. If we are of opinion that the land of England should, under existing circumstances of unlimited competition, be as exempt as possible from peculiar taxation, I hold that we should take every fitting occasion to relieve it from that peculiar taxation. But, advancing a step further, if you maintain these estates were inherited subject to the impost, I must make up accounts on both sides, and ascertain whether this property was not inherited and acquired subject to other laws which gave it an adventitious value—whether there 1039 were not laws to that effect which for a long series of Parliaments found favour with you—whether there may not he cases of a man's purchasing an estate because the Legislature had for centuries secured him a certain market for his produce, and not only secured a market, but passed laws which offered a bonus for the exportation of his produce. I might, when you urge that poor-rates are an inherited impost, reply that the legislative advantages he inherited he also found ratified by consenting senates in succession, and that those advantages you—suddenly, and in a manner he was least prepared for—deprived him of. The two arguments, then, generally brought forward on this question—first, the risk you incur of disturbing our local administration if you attempt to give relief to the oppressed property; and, secondly, that the property seeking relief has been acquired subject to these charges—I have referred to merely because I thought the present a fair opportunity for refuting them, and not because I am interested in refuting those propositions, inasmuch as the measures I shall submit to you are not open to either of these objections. I think, Sir, the time has come, as I ventured to intimate it would, when we must seriously consider whether we cannot adapt the position of all those classes connected with the land, so far as regards taxation, to the new circumstances in which Parliament has placed them. We do not, on this side of the House, relinquish one jot of the opinions we have ever maintained on this subject, and I have therefore now only to repeat what I have said upon former occasions, that when the fitting opportunity may offer we shall be as fully prepared as you to act upon our convictions; but now, accepting your legislation as a fact—believing that there is in this House a pledged majority prepared to act upon those principles of legislation, and believing that those principles are deeply injurious to the interests of those whom we have the honour to represent in this House, and whom we wish to relieve—we propose now to enter upon a series of remedial measures, which may mitigate their sufferings, but which are founded on principles of political justice, which you cannot deny, and which are in conformity with those principles of economic science which you have adopted as the basis of your legislation. In the course of last year, when I submitted a Motion to this House, the object of which was for the land to 1040 obtain some relief from the pressure of local taxation, I was told that my design was too vast, and I was assured that the state of the Treasury at that time would not permit the Government even to consider any such proposition. I hope that I shall not be told now that my design is too limited, seeing that I have now confined myself to only one part of the wide field over which my view had previously extended. Circumscribed, then, within my present boundary, I would hope that the Government would support me if the propositions which I make be not only just, but essentially practicable. And, now, with respect to those propositions. I propose to move several resolutions, if we get into Committee, as I hope we may, which would lay the foundation of legislative measures connected with the poor-rate, calculated to mitigate the distress and depression of the agricultural classes—a species of distress and depression which, it is agreed, cannot, like commercial distress and depression, be described as "a passing cloud." If we get into Committee, as I hope and earnestly wish may be the result of my Motion, the first resolution which I shall propose to the Committee would be that a sum not inconsiderable should be remitted to the owners of real property—a remission which would certainly not be open to either of the objections which I have already considered and answered. The first point which I propose to consider in Committee is that class of charges connected with the poor-law which are known by the name of Establishment charges. It is perfectly well known that these charges are not necessarily connected with local administration, and virtually are almost entirely independent of it; such a change would have no bearing whatever upon our admirable system of local government—that system would remain intact, its machinery unaltered, its chain of checks and control as before. I should propose, then, that from the 25th of March, 1850, the establishment charges for the relief of the poor of the united kingdom should be defrayed out of the general revenue of the State. This first vote, then, would have the effect of diminishing local burdens to the extent of little under 1,500,000l. sterling. Now it is important not to forget that while those establishment charges are barely subject to local government, and while in dealing with them we leave the general fund for indoor and outdoor relief to be derived from the same sources, and administered in the same manner 1041 and by the same hands as heretofore, no one can attempt to contend that the burden of the establishment charges have been inherited or acquired with the estates which the owners of land now hold. The time at which those charges were created is not so much within the memory of the oldest inhabitant of this House, as rather of the youngest. The second resolution which I shall put before the Committee if I succeed with my present Motion, will be one in which I shall venture to deal with all rates which are raised by the machinery of the poor-law, but which have absolutely nothing to do with the maintenance of the poor, and which it is a flagrant injustice to add to the taxes for the support of the poor, and to levy off those who are already burdened to excess, by not only maintaining the poor, but paying all other local taxes besides. Some years ago the House passed an Act for a general registration of births and deaths, the expense of maintaining which amounts to 60,000l. a year; and the task of defraying that annual expenditure was imposed upon real property alone. It was an easy way of dealing with the matter, by which you may go on ad infinitum augmenting the weight of local taxation on one species of property. Next came the charges of preparing the jury and burgess lists—somewhere about 24,000l. a year—and the Bill was at once handed over to the Poor Law Commissioners, and the burden laid upon real property, to be raised by the same convenient machinery, the poor-rate. This was followed by the sanitary alarm, and Parliament could not help giving its instant attention to the causes of that alarm, and the means of their removal, and therefore we have had Nuisances Acts, and Sanitary Acts; and in the regular course of such events the cost of those measures, which amounted to a considerable sum, was raised in the same way, and from the same quarter. I should quite weary the House were I to proceed with the long catalogue of successive burdens heaped upon the laud. There is the Vaccination Act, the Parochial Assessments Act—in short, the aggregate of these miscellaneous charges can scarcely be estimated at less than 500,000l. for England, and probably 700,000l. per annum for the whole of the united kingdom. There surely is no reason why the real property of the country should bear all these burdens; and this mode of levying them certainly has nothing to do with, nor does it afford any security for, the 1042 continuance of that happy state of self-government which hon. Gentlemen opposite so highly appreciate; that is already abundantly secured by levying millions upon the suffering land of England. I should propose, then, by my second resolution, that from and after the 25th of March, 1850, all rates, not being rates for the maintenance of the poor, which are levied under and by means of the machinery of the poor-law, should, with the exception of the police and county rates, be defrayed out of the Consolidated Fund; and I hope that in making such a proposition I shall have the support of the hon. Member for Montrose, who at least must admit that my propositions are sufficiently specific. Assuming, then, that I am so fortunate as to carry these resolutions, I shall still have another to propose. I have hitherto proposed to deal with a sum of 2,000,000l., of which I calculate that two-thirds press directly on the suffering land; and in so doing, I have not asked the House to depart from any of those ancient principles of government which are rightly so much reverenced by us. All I have suggested is, that we should transfer from the land, and from the classes connected with it, imposts of very modern date, which no one pretends on principle the land should endure more than other property. The third resolution which I shall propose, will be that from the same day, viz., the 25th of March, 1850, the cost of maintaining and providing for the casual poor of this country shall be transferred to and defrayed out of the general revenue of the united kingdom. The House will remember that the casual poor are not at present a parochial charge. They are already supported in England by a union rate. This third resolution, from the difference in the law, would not apply to Ireland, but to Scotland it would be a very considerable relief. These, then, are the resolutions, the expediency of which I propose to move in Committee. I cannot but think that there is much to be said in favour of them; they are just; they are essentially practicable. They require no new, they destroy no old machinery, and the expenses of them may be defrayed from that balance in the Exchequer of which we have heard much, and hope more. Acting with my friends in this matter, I cannot but regard it as a congratulatory circumstance, that the elements of controversy are very slightly mingled with this proposition. The Finance Minister, on the present occasion, cannot come before us to 1043 plead in formâ pauperis. But these intended resolutions, have, I think, other recommendations than their justice and their practicability. They are eminently conciliatory. The First Minister says we were in error in assuming, on the first night of the Session, that there was no sympathy on the part of the Government with the sufferings of the agricultural classes. I willingly believe him. The noble Lord has before this shown, and naturally feels, a sympathy with the agricultural classes. Their distresses are now severe. You cannot alleviate these distresses by referring, as some of the noble Lord's colleagues have done, to the otherwise rampant prosperity of universal England. I will not say on this occasion that that prosperity has been obtained at the expense of the agricultural interests, or through the agency of their distress, but it seems to have a suspicious concomitance with those incidents. This, I trust, is not the tone the noble Lord will adopt. I ask him in acceding to this Motion to make no sacrifice of his principles, or in any way to compromise his previous policy. It is a happy occasion when he may maintain that policy, and yet evince his consideration for the sufferings of powerful and loyal classes. The noble Lord may say "I have unbroken faith in the industrial doctrines which I have upheld in this House. I believe the practice of those doctrines are the real cause of the great and general prosperity which England at the present moment enjoys. But I deeply deplore the depression and distress of the agricultural classes. They are classes second to none in importance. I know, and I myself before have acknowledged, that they endure peculiar burdens, from which the other and the prospering classes are exempt, but until now I had not encountered the well-considered means of even their partial removal; and I am happy, as a practical statesman, to acknowledge that it is in the power of Government and Parliament to mitigate their distress by the redress of these grievances." Sir, I can conceive nothing more dignified, more politic, and more consistent than such a course on the part of the First Minister. I cannot believe that he will be withheld from giving his sanction to these measures because they are brought forward by a political opponent. I have told the noble Lord before this, I repeat it now, that on this subject of the land we have no party politics. Let the noble Lord, or any other 1044 Minister, do justice to the land, and he will receive from these benches a powerful, a cordial, a disinterested support. And if, with his assistance, we carry this Motion to-night, I can assure him, that it will not be on this side of the House that the result will be esteemed a party triumph. But it is not only to the Government that before the division is called I would make an appeal. I entreat the House itself well to weigh the consequences of the adoption or the refusal of these claims. It has been truly said, that it is impossible to exaggerate the agitation which prevails out of doors with respect to this agricultural suffering. The hon. Member for the West Riding himself acknowledged, the other night, that since the Reform Bill there has been no excitement equal to it. But what is its chief characteristic? Let me entreat the House to observe what is the chief characteristic of this agitation. Is it not an expression of opinion that appeals to this House are hopeless? That in this House there is no sympathy with agricultural suffering? Why, what is that but a want of confidence in the institutions of the country? [Mr. COBDEN: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman cheers as if I sanctioned such doctrines. I have never sanctioned the expression of such feelings; I never used language elsewhere which I have not been ready to repeat in this House. I never said one thing in one place, and another in another. I have confidence in the justice and wisdom of the House of Commons, although I sit with the minority. I have expressed that confidence in other places. I never, indeed, supposed that the House would come forward and cancel all their convictions, to which the majority had probably arrived after long and painful deliberation; but remembering what the House did on the subject of the Sugar Bill, two years ago, I have expressed the conviction that I earnestly entertain, that this House, instead of being an assembly with a deaf ear and a callous heart to the sufferings of the agricultural body, would, on the contrary, be found to be an assembly prompt to express sympathy, prompt to repair, if it might ho, even the injury, necessary in the main as they might think it, which they had entailed on the agricultural classes of the country. I feel that conviction now. I cannot believe that, in the present state of the country, when propositions brought forward, as I think, with so much moderation, in a spirit of justice, urged, I hope, 1045 with temper—I cannot conceive that we shall be met with any heartless opposition. I hardly know what arguments we are to encounter. All the usual ones to which I have referred, are entirely shut out from this discussion. All they can say is, that "we ask so little, and that that little is so easy to be granted." We may indeed be told, as we have been told before, that we who are the advocates of a protective system ought to be content with nothing less than a recurrence to that system in justice to our constituents. Well, that is a style of objection that, with great respect to hon. Gentlemen, I shall never condescend to reply to. I have that confidence in the good sense of the English people that, while I believe they are prepared, when the constitution gives them the opportunity, to vindicate the industrial principles which they think ought to prevail, yet, in this House, where we are met by a pledged majority, which will scarcely listen to a discussion of that nature, they will deem we are only doing our duty, we are only consulting their interests in taking every opportunity to alleviate their burdens, in trying to devise remedies for their sufferings, and, if we cannot accomplish immediately any great financial result, at least, achieving this great political purpose, that we may teach them not to despair of the institutions of their country.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That this House will resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to take into its consideration such revision of the Laws providing for the Relief of the Poor of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, as may mitigate the distress of the Agricultural Classes.
§ The Question having been put,
§ SIR G. GREY
Sir, in rising to answer the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, I must begin by expressing the satisfaction I feel at the course he has taken in bringing forward thus early in the Session the Motion which he has now submitted to the House; and I think that the agricultural interests of England are indebted to him on more grounds than perhaps they themselves believe for the course he has thus taken. After all we have heard during the last few months of the propositions made at the county meetings held in so many parts of the kingdom—after all the confidence in the anticipations there expressed of the immediate, or, at least, early return to the protective system—after all the cheers elicited by the fervid eloquence of 1046 orators at these meetings—many of whom now sit near the hon. Gentleman, and are there compelled to recognise him as their able and distinguished leader—I say it is satisfactory to hear him coming forward in the name of that numerous and distinguished party that I see opposite me, many of whom had been accustomed to meet the promoters and abettors of free trade with the most doleful predictions of the inevitable and utter ruin that must befall the agricultural interest if protection was not speedily restored—it is satisfactory to those who are prepared to adhere to the system of commercial policy recently adopted, to hear the hon. Gentleman, recognised as the leader of that party, himself declare, amidst the cheers of that party, and in the presence of this House and the country, his belief that so long as the present Parliament, at least, should endure, a return to that protective system is utterly impossible. I think the agricultural interest is indebted to the hon. Gentleman for his frank and candid avowal; but I must do him the justice to say that he is not one of those who are open to the taunt—so far, at least, as my observation enables me to judge—of saying out of this House what he does not say on the subject within it. He has not fostered and encouraged what I must call a mischievous delusion, spread at many of these agricultural county meetings, and which was leading away the minds of the farmers of this country from the use of those means which Providence has placed within their reach for meeting the altered circumstances of the times; but that ignis fatuus, the restoration of protection, has been declared by him utterly hopeless and impracticable during the present Parliament at least. [Sir J. TYRELL: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman who sits near him implies by that cheer that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire only limited this hopelessness and impracticability to the duration of the present Parliament, but considered that another Parliament would return to protection. Sir, I utterly disbelieve in the probability of such a result. I believe that the benefits of the system of policy lately adopted, are too widely felt and enter too much into the every-day comforts of the great body of the working classes in the country, be their occupations in manufactures or in agriculture, to allow me to suppose that the opinions of the country can be changed in 1047 the way the hon. Member for North Essex imagines they can, even if a new Parliament were elected. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may anticipate a change at an early period: I cannot say what after the lapse of years may occur, or what revolution in the public feeling may hereafter take place. But I conceive that nothing can be more injurious than for the agricultural interest to look to this as a remedy for its distress. I have to thank the hon. Gentleman for the tone which characterised his speech generally, and for his frank admission that the decision of Parliament on the Amendment to the Address in answer to Her Majesty's Speech—although that Amendment was represented by some hon. Gentlemen at the time to have merely asked for a few kind words of sympathy—was a proof that in neither branch of the Legislature can any proposal for the restoration of protection find favour or support. But to come more immediately to the topics alluded to by the hon. Gentleman, I must observe that on this occasion he has said but little of the actual distress which he takes as the whole basis of his Motion. He assumed the existence of extensive and deep distress throughout the agricultural districts. The only allusion he made to it was a supposition not founded on any good reasons, or any specific information, that the returns of the state of pauperism would have shown an increase in the number of persons relieved if these returns had been extended to the 1st of February, instead of being given only to the 1st of January, 1850. It may be very possible that, owing to circumstances that always affect agricultural and other labour, such as the long-continued frost, drainage and certain other works may have been partially checked, and thereby some slight increase in the numbers receiving relief under the poor-law may have in particular districts arisen; but it is altogether a gratuitous assumption of the hon. Gentleman, for which he has not adduced even the shadow of a proof, to say that there has been growing and increasing agricultural distress since the recent debate on the Address to Her Majesty. I do not wish to join issue with the hon. Gentleman on the fact of this distress, as it was admitted, in terms almost identical with those used on previous occasions, in Her Majesty's Speech, and in the Address in answer to it, that distress did exist in the agricultural districts; and it is a notorious fact that the price of agricultural produce has been so 1048 low as to occasion distress to the owners and occupiers of land in many parts of the country since the last harvest. I believe this arises from a combination of causes, including no doubt the free importation of foreign corn in a year when we had an abundant harvest. But I must say, looking at the great bulk of our agricultural population, and applying to it the usual tests, I find no indication of any great distress among that class, as compared with former periods; while, as compared with the previous year, there are indications of their condition being improved. Deriving my belief from those sources of information, to which the office I hold gives me access, I must trouble the House for a few moments, in order to state what are the tests which are pretty sure indications of the physical condition of the great bulk of the people. These tests are—the state of crime and pauperism. With regard to pauperism and crime, then, what is the result of a comparison between 1848 and 1849, going through the whole of the counties of England?—On a comparison of crime, as evidenced by commitments in England and Wales, in 1848 and 1849, it appears that the commitments in 1848 were 30,349; in 1849, 27,778; showing a decrease in 1849 of 2,571, or 8.5 per cent. On a comparison of the number of persons receiving parochial relief on the 1st of January, 1849 and 1850 respectively, it appears that the number was, on the first of January, 1849, 987,164; 1st of January, 1850,923,167; showing a decrease in 1850 of 63,997, or 6.4 per cent. On an analysis of the returns, it appears that there has been a decrease of crime in thirty-one counties; that there has been a decrease of pauperism in thirty-two counties; and that there are twenty of the above counties in which there has been a decrease both of crime and pauperism, comprising a population of 9,204,586, nearly two-thirds of the whole, while there are only nine counties (including four in Wales) in which there has been any increase both of crime and pauperism.Tried, then, by these tests, it cannot be denied that the physical condition of the people was better in 1849 than in 1848. With regard to crime, a remarkable improvement has taken place, which was alluded to in the charge delivered to the grand jury of Middlesex, by the Recorder, at the Central Criminal Court, on the 5th of February, 1850. I find from a report in the public papers of his charge to the grand jury that he said—It was a most gratifying circumstance for him to be able to inform them that the number of prisoners fell considerably short of that which was generally contained in the calendar at this period 1049 of the year, and that it was also very considerably below the usual average of committals for the period that had elapsed since the termination of the last session. The jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court extended over a population of more than 2,000,000, and out of that number there appeared to be only 123 persons committed for trial on the present occasion. Every one one must feel gratified to find this diminished number of committals; but this gratification was very much enhanced by the result of a statement that was lying before him, giving a detail of the number of persons committed for trial to this court during the years 1848 and 1849, by which it appeared that 593 less persons were committed during the latter year than in the former, and this, coupled with the condition of the present calendar, might very reasonably justify the conclusion that crime was permanently on the decrease. To whatever other causes this gratifying result was to be attributed, there could be very little doubt that the improved condition of the people must be a prominent one among them, and this impression was borne out by the fact, as proved by the returns before them, that the cases of common larceny, the great proportion of which were the result of the poverty and destitution of the persons by whom they were committed, were greatly upon the decrease. In addition to the gratification that was derived from the diminution in the amount of crime, it was also a pleasing fact that the heinous character of the crimes usually brought before the attention of this court appeared very considerably diminished, and that offences against the person and acts of violence were much less numerous than they formerly were. He concluded his charge by congratulating the grand jury upon the probability of their labours, on the present occasion, being of short duration, and at the same time said that he congratulated the country generally upon the prospect of better times, and of a happier condition of persons in a humbler position of life.Now, it may be said that this only applies to the metropolitan district. [Sir J. TYRELL: Hear, hear!] Well, will the hon. Member for North Essex be satisfied if I give him the result of the last sessions throughout the country, exclusive of two millions of people within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court? The comparative numbers of persons for trial at the Epiphany Sessions in England and Wales were, in 1849, 4,443; in 1850, 3,980; being a decrease of 463 persons, or above 10 per cent; and this includes those rural districts which the hon. Gentleman by his cheer seemed to intimate would give a very different result. With regard to Ireland the hon. Gentleman said very little. He put in a claim, it is true, to transfer a portion of the charge of the poor-law in Ireland to the Consolidated Fund—500,000l., I believe, was the amount that he named. But as to the state of Ireland, the hon. Gentleman said nothing. I will not weary the House with a recapitulation of the statements of my noble Friend at the 1050 head of the Government the other night with regard to Ireland; but simply observe that while the state of that country is unhappily still very far from what we could desire, there are indications of improvement, and that this improvement is connected with the present price of food, enabling persons to maintain themselves without coming upon the rates for relief, or when they come upon the rates, diminishing by one-half the cost of maintenance per head in 1849 as compared with 1848. With regard to Scotland, the hon. Gentleman did not cite cases of distress there to strengthen his argument. But he asked me the other night for the report of the Board of Supervision of the Poor, which has since been presented, and from which it appears that while in Scotland there may be a gradual increase of the class of registered poor on the roll, on the other hand, there is a remarkable decrease in 1849, as compared with 1848, in another class of poor, whose condition is the best indication of the general state of the people of Scotland—I allude to a decrease in the number of casual poor. Sir John Macneill, the President of the Poor Law Board in Scotland, addressed to me a letter, dated the 29th of January last, bearing on this subject, from which I will read an extract. He says—Information upon this subject (the state of the working classes in Scotland) from all parts of the country comes incidentally before the board in the course of investigations as to complaints of inadequate relief. The information derived from this source concurs with all the other information to which I have access, to establish the fact, that, except in some parts of the highlands and islands, the working classes of Scotland—agricultural, manufacturing, and mining—urban and rural, taken together, have not, during the four years that I have been connected with this board, been at any time so well off as they have been during the last half of 1849. There has been no other season within that time when the abundance of employment and the general adequacy of wages, with reference to prices, has enabled so large a proportion of the working population of this country to command an ample supply of the necessaries of life.I do not, however, deny that agricultural distress exists, but it is chiefly among the owners and occupiers of land. I do not believe it is unprecedented in degree, and I believe it is less than has existed at many other periods that might be named; and certainly less now than it was this time twelvemonths amongst the agricultural classes. In some districts the rate of wages may have been reduced to a greater degree than is compensated 1051 for by the reduction in the price of food; but taking North Northumberland, a peculiarly agricultural district, and other districts in the north of England, I believe the reduction in the wages of even agricultural labour has been fully compensated by the reduction in the prices of the necessaries of life; and that, I think, will be found to be the general result of any inquiries made throughout the country. In some districts, indeed, the labourers' wages have been reduced to 6s. or 7s. a week; and in these cases, I think, the reduction has been made to press on the labourer in an unjust degree, and if occasioned by inability to pay higher wages, the pressure ought to have been proportionably relieved by a reduction of rent. With regard to the resolutions which the hon. Gentleman wishes to submit to a Committee of the whole House, I hardly anticipated that he would have totally omitted, except in a mere passing parenthetical reference, that important question connected with the poor-law—important, not so much as respects the interests of the owner or occupier of land, except indirectly; but most important to the agricultural population—I allude to the law of settlement, on which the hon. Gentleman was almost wholly silent. Having grown wiser this year than last, he does not now seek to transfer the local taxation at once to the general taxation of the country, intimating that he was aware that that step would lead to a national rate and the abolition of the law of settlement. But in going into Committee on the poor-law to relieve agricultural distress, the first point that ought to be considered would be the law of settlement. The evidence collected by the Committee on this subject, and the result of the additional inquiries instituted by my lamented friend Mr. C. Buller, and which have since been continued under the direction of my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board, prove very clearly that the law of settlement does operate to the detriment of the agricultural population, in placing them under undue restrictions, and preventing them from disposing of their labour to the best advantage, and that the greatest boon that could be granted to the agricultural population would be an alteration of the law of settlement. The valuable reports of the persons to whom these inquiries were entrusted, have just been laid before Parliament; and I trust that at no distant date, the Government, will be enabled to propose a measure on this subject founded 1052 on these investigations. But I should have thought, when the hon. Gentleman gave a notice of a Motion connected with the poor-law, that a subject so important as the law of settlement could not have been overlooked when it has a most direct bearing upon the interests of the great bulk of the agricultural population. I will not discuss the principles of the poor-law with the hon. Gentleman; but the foundation of his argument was, that the unjust and exclusive burden of the poor-rate has been placed upon the landed interest. [Mr. DISRAELI intimated his dissent.] The hon. Gentleman appears to have fallen into the same error as last year—namely, in confounding real property with the term "the landed interest." The hon. Member said that the landed interest had to bear the burden of 12,000,000l. of local taxation. Now, the hon. Gentleman when he was speaking of the property by which the burden of these 12,000,000l. had to be borne, was speaking, not of the landed interest, but of the great bulk of the real property of this country, which has been assessed to the poor ever since the statute of Elizabeth, He says it is not just that real property should bear this burden exclusively; but we have heard very little from the hon. Gentleman about the towns. He spoke, I think, of these burdens as exclusively pressing upon the "soil," and he talked of its going out of cultivation in some places under the pressure of these burdens. The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the increasing charges upon land, owing to recent Acts of Parliament which imposed these burdens on one description of property. The hon. Gentleman anticipated two formidable objections to his propositions, one of which he admits, and the other of which he combats. I will begin with the first. The hon. Gentleman admits the impossibility of taxing personal property equally with real property. The statement which the hon. Gentleman denies is, that real property from time immemorial has been subject to the poor-rate. He attempted to prove, that while there were landed estates which had been bought and acquired subject to the poor-rate, there were estates—and the hon. Gentleman instanced some in the family of my noble Friend—which were not acquired subject to the provisions of the 43rd of Elizabeth. The hon. Member does not deny that the great bulk of the landed property has borne the burden of the poor-rate since the 43rd of Elizabeth, but he endeavoured 1053 to draw off the attention of the House to the estates that might have been acquired or inherited before the Act of Elizabeth was passed. But even those estates have borne this burden ever since the statute of Elizabeth. That Act required that the property rated to the relief of the poor should be local, visible, and productive within the parish in which the owner resided. Now, it has been over and over again decided that these conditions could not coexist in the great bulk of personal property. The Legislature, therefore, practically excluded personal property from this burden for the relief of the poor. Disputes have, no doubt, arisen as to the liability of stock in trade. [Mr. DISRAELI: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman cheers me, but he must know that stock in trade was never practically rated. It was attempted in some few instances, but the attempt proved utterly hopeless. The objections are so obvious that I scarcely need allude to them. You must go into tradesmen's accounts—you must have an investigation of every man's affairs, and if any inaccuracy is proved, the whole rate is liable to be quashed: on those grounds the annual Exemption Act is passed. On this subject I will read what is stated in the report on Local Taxation, which was laid before the House in the year 1844. In that report it is stated—Stock in trade, therefore, was held to be liable as the only remaining species of property which complied with the conditions of being local, visible, and profitable. It was not, however, till a century and a half after the passing of the statute of Elizabeth that the liability of inhabitants to be rated for personal property was agitated in the courts of law. Lord Mansfield, whose judgments on subjects of poor-law were as admirable as those by which he gained so great a reputation in other matters, resolutely controverted the liability, insisting strongly that it was impossible to carry the liability into effect, and that if it were possible the practice would be highly impolitic. He described many of the anomalies which it would involve, and anticipated most of the practical difficulties which have since been experienced. Lord Mansfield said, in 'Rex v. Ringwood,' decided in the year 1775, 'In general, I believe, neither here nor in any other part of the kingdom is personal property taxed to the poor … the justices at sessions should have amended the rate if they thought this property rateable; and then, on attempting to do it, they would have discovered the wisdom of conforming to the practice which they expressly state in the case, of not rating it. If they had tried to have amended it, how would they have rated this stock? Are the hops and the malt, and the boiler to be rated at so much for each; or is the trader to be rated for the gross sum which his whole stock would sell for? If the justices had considered, 1054 they would have found out the sense of not rating it at all, especially when it appears that mankind has, as it were with one universal consent, refrained from rating it; the difficulties attending it are too great, and so the justices would have found them. As to the authorities which have been cited, they are very loose indeed, and even if they were less so, one would not pay them much deference, especially as they differ, and the rules they lay down have not been carried into execution for upwards of 100 years. They talk of visible property—what is visible property? I confess I do not know what is meant by visible property. If every visible thing should be determined to come under that description, in that case a lease for years, or a watch in a man's pocket, would be rateable. Visible property is something local in the place where a man inhabits. But that does not decide what a man's personal property is. Consider how many tradesmen depend upon ostensible property only.'I have read that to show that when the hon. Gentleman denies that real property has been exclusively subject to the assessment for the poor-rate from time immemorial, he denies what I believe to be an incontrovertible position, that since the passing of the statute of Elizabeth, real property only has been by the common consent, as Lord Mansfield says, of mankind, the property assessed for the poor. As to the possibility of rating personal property, we are all agreed that it would necessarily lead to a national rate, without which it could confer no benefit on the agricultural interest, each parish still maintaining its own poor from its own resources. The hon. Gentleman has talked of gradually increasing burdens, owing to Acts of Parliament passed almost without observation, by which additional taxation has been put on real property; but the hon. Gentleman has omitted to mention one important fact, which is the growing diminution of those burdens. The hon. Gentleman did not state in terms that those burdens were increasing; but by his allusion to the Acts of Parliament in question it was to be inferred that he intended to represent that year by year real property was becoming more and more burdened by this parochial and local taxation. Now, what is the fact? I hold in my hand a paper, moved for in 1845 by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon, and which, with the help of my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board, has been now continued to the year 1849. This return shows the total amount of money levied for poor-rates and county rates in England and Wales, and the sums expended for the relief of the poor, from 1813 to the present time. In 1813 it appears 1055 that the poor-rates and the county rates amounted to 8,646,841l., and in the year 1849 to 7,674,146l.—so that there is within a fraction of a million less charged in 1849 upon real property for county rates and poor-rates than was charged in 1813. Now what was the amount of the population in 1813? In 1813 the population amounted to 10,418,000, and in 1849 the population may be computed at 17,715,340. Thus it appears that the number of persons paying the rate has very much increased, while the charge for the relief of the poor has been diminished from 12s. 8d. per head in 1813, to 6s. 6½d. (nearly one half) in 1849. So much with respect to the injustice of what it is said the owners of real property have a right to complain, on the ground of there being an increasing burden on them, which is totally disproved by the figures to which I have referred. From these figures it appears that the charge upon real property has been in the course of the last thirty-five years diminished one million, while the whole population has increased from 10,448,000 to 17,715,340. Now, I will come to another point connected with this subject, and one which the hon. Gentleman has passed lightly over, namely, the proportion which land bears to the other real property which is assessed for the relief of the poor. I understood the hon. Gentleman to take the land as constituting two-thirds of the real property so assessed. [Mr. DISRAELI: I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, I did not advert to that subject.] I so understood him, but as he did not advert to the subject, it is the more necessary that I should advert to it, to show the proportion the land bears to other real property. I hold in my hand a report of the Commissioners of Poor Laws for 1844, in which the subject has been alluded to. It shows the increase of rateable property since the year 1813. In 1813 the property taxed amounted to 51,898,423l.; in 1843 the property taxed amounted to 85,800,735l. So that not only has the gross charge diminished nearly 1,000,000l., and the population increased seven millions, but during the same period the whole amount of real property assessed for the relief of the poor has increased from 51,898,423l. to 85,802,735l. In 1813 we have 51,898,423l., bearing a larger charge than 85,802,735l. in 1843. I have been able to bring those returns down to a later period than was quoted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year, 1056 and I find there has been a progressive increase in each subsequent year in the value of real property. The property assessable for the relief of the poor was, I said, in 1813, about 51 millions; in 1842, 1843, and 1844, it was about 85 millions; in 1845 about 86 millions; in 1846, 88 millions; in 1847, 89 millions; and in 1848 the real property assessed for the relief of the poor, bearing a diminished burden as compared with 1813, was 91 millions; showing, since 1813, an increase of 40 millions. I shall now call attention to the proportion of taxation which the land bears in comparison with the other real property assessed. On this point I will quote a passage from the same report. After stating that a very great increase had taken place in the yearly amount of rateable property in England and Wales, and that its annual progress was rapid, the Commissioners say—It is further to be observed, that the increase in the annual value of rateable property arises, not only from the improved cultivation of the land, and its consequently increased productiveness, but also, to a great extent, from the largo number of new houses and other buildings (such as manufactories and warehouses), as well as railways, canals, wharfs, &c, which are constructed from year to year. Accordingly, land, as such, pays a smaller proportion of the local rates in each successive year; and a larger proportion falls on the other sorts of rateable property. This fact appears from the table inserted in our ninth annual report, par. 27, which shows, that whereas the proportion of the poor's rates falling upon land was 69 per cent, and that falling on other property was 31 per cent, in 182G; the proportion falling on land was only 52 per cent, and on other property 48 per cent, in 1841.By a return made up to the latest date, it appears that the proportion now borne by land is 45 per cent, and all other property 55 per cent. I hold in my hand a statement of the increase in the annual value of real property assessed to the property tax in England and Wales, in 1848, as compared with 1843. From that document I observed that in 1843 the total value of real property assessed was 85,802,735l. Of this the land represented 40,167,088l.; houses, 35,556,400l.; railways, 2,417,610l.; and all other property, 7,661,637. In 1848 the rated value of land was 41,179,713l.; houses, 37,282,140.; railways, 5,465,584l.; and all other property, 7,245,034l. Showing between 1843 and 1848, an increase in the value of land of 1,012,625l.; of houses, 1,725,740l.; ralways, 3,047,974l.; on all other property there is a decrease of 416,603l,; but the, 1057 general increase in the value of real property amounts to 5,369,736l. The increase percent on land is 2.5 percent; on houses, 4.9 per cent; and on railways, 126.1 per cent. It thus appears that the proportion of the burdens now borne by the land, instead of being 52 per cent, as in 1844, is 45 per cent, while upon all other property it is 55 per cent. I cannot state the result better than by an extract from a document submitted to the Lords' Committee, on the burdens of land, in 1846, by Lord Monteagle, where it is said—The rate has been decreasing, the property on which it is levied augmenting, the relative amount apportioned on land diminishing, and the whole amount expended, as compared with the population, has been greatly reduced.I will not now enter into the question of the reductions that have been made of local taxation affecting real property, for the hon. Gentleman has confined himself to the poor-rate, but will only remind the House that in the year 1846 a portion of those charges that had been before local charges, amounting to a sum exceeding 100,000l. a year, were taken off the local taxation, and have since been voted by Parliament as an item in the annual expenditure. The han. Gentleman has said that, having anticipated those two objections—the necessity for a national rate, if personal property was to be assessed, and the length of time this burden has been exclusively placed on real property—he claims for real property an exemption from this exclusive burden. He said that the land had been entitled to countervailing advantages which enabled it hitherto to bear the burden; but his claim is not confined to the land, but extends to property not enjoying the advantages of a protective system. But I must remind the hon. Gentleman that other branches of industry have been protected, and the only difference between them and land is, that agriculture was the last great branch of industry that lost that protection—the protection having been taken from others at former periods; so that no sound argument can be drawn from the removal of protection, to prove that this charge should now be distributed over other branches of industry which lost at an earlier period the advantage of protection. With regard to the resolutions of the hon. Gentleman, he proposes in the first instance that all the establishment charges of the poor-law should be transferred from the local taxation; that the amount of those charges should be no longer levied 1058 on the property assessable for the poor-rate, but that in England, Ireland, and Scotland the charges should be borne by the imperial treasury. The establishment charges arc, I believe, 776,000l. [Mr. DISRAELI: The sum is 980,000l.] That amount is for one year only when the Removal Act occasioned some confusion in the accounts, and greatly increased the expense; but in the last year the establishment charges amounted as nearly as possible, to 776,000l. With regard to Ireland there is no detailed statement, but I understood the hon. Gentleman to state the whole at about a million and a half for the united kingdom. The hon. Gentleman says the transfer of those charges from the local to the general taxation, does not violate any principle; but I must say I differ with him. A portion of those establishment charges, I fully admit, do not stand on the same ground as money actually expended for the relief of the poor; but there are some of those charges in which there is great risk of extravagance. If you take off the local check, by transferring them to the public treasury, the charges might be indefinitely increased. The hon. Gentleman next proposes that certain other expenses should be transferred from the local taxation to the Consolidated Fund, amounting together, with the former sum, to 2,200,000l. With regard to some of those items, I am not prepared to say, that if my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has an available surplus, I should oppose the transfer of any particular charge, to the transfer of which no objection on principle could be made, from local to general taxation; and in arguing against the proposition now, and asking the House not to accede to the proposal that has been made by the hon. Gentleman, let it not be supposed that I desire to prejudice the consideration of any future question, with respect to the transfer of some of those smaller charges. I have before alluded to the transfers that were made at the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tam worth, in the year 1846, from local to general taxation. I am not prepared to say, that between these charges which were so transferred, and some of the charges enumerated by the hon. Gentleman opposite, there is a distinction in principle which would prevent the transfer of them from being considered, or that if justice required it, or other circumstances rendered it expedient, they should not be transferred. And if, at a 1059 future time, there is any specific proposition brought forward with regard to those charges, I claim to be at liberty to come to the discussion of the question perfectly unfettered, and that I shall not be precluded from considering it by anything I now say. The hon. Gentleman proposes that this sum of 2,200,000l. should be transferred from the local to the general taxation; and he then, by his third resolution, proposes that in addition to that the whole amount of the charge for the relief of the casual poor shall be transferred from the local taxation. The hon. Gentleman did not attempt to give us any estimate of the amount required for the relief of the casual poor in England, Ireland, and Scotland. He proposed, however, to transfer the whole amount at once to the Consolidated Fund, and said, in passing, that this branch of relief required no local administration, and that no possible reason can exist why the relief of that class of poor should not be undertaken by the Treasury. [Mr. DISRAELI: My proposal did not apply to Ireland.] Then Ireland is to receive no benefit. Now I cannot conceive anything more objectionable than to transfer the charge for the relief of the casual poor to the public treasury. When I look to the report of the Poor Law Board, lately laid on the table of this House, I find, that owing to the local examination that takes place, and the measures adopted by boards of guardians to keep down this branch of expenditure, great reductions have been made. I believe that this would not be the case, if the expense was thrown on the Treasury, and I must therefore on this ground object to this proposition. But what, in fact, is the proposal of the hon. Gentleman? It is a transfer of a large amount of expenditure from local to general taxation. He draws a wide distinction between his proposal this year and last year. On the present occasion he says that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had an overflowing treasury, and he speaks of the surplus as being sufficient to meet the demand on the general taxation of the country, which the adoption of his scheme would create. Now, I deny that anything has fallen from my right hon. Friend that would justify the hon. Gentleman in saying that, to supply this 2,200,000l., to which is to be added an indefinite amount for the relief of the casual poor, there is a sufficient surplus without the imposition of fresh taxes. But, suppose this surplus should be sufficient to meet the proposal of 1060 the hon. Gentleman, is it just, is it expedient, or is it reasonable, on the part of this House, without taking a general and comprehensive view of the interests of the country, to anticipate the appropriation of that surplus, whatever it may be? Will the House now pledge itself, without taking the view that is absolutely necessary, of the general financial position of the country—will they, without considering what relief (if relief be practicable) may be accorded to the agricultural as well as to other branches of the community, be prepared to say that with an uncertain surplus they will propose the imposition on the public taxation of the country, or the Consolidated Fund, of a sum which, leaving out one unascertained amount, exceeds 2,000,000l., the largest amount which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he had a right to anticipate. It is proposed that this charge should be thrown on the general taxation of the country, and that without taking a general view of the taxation and of the interests of this country. But what would be the value of this transfer to the persons of whom the hon. Gentleman speaks? We ought to know in the first place what the amount of relief to them would be, and what benefit they would derive from it. Taking the 2,200,000l., and leaving out the item of casual relief, the land pays 45 per cent of that sum, and other real property 55 per cent. What great advantage, then, would the transfer confer on the agricultural districts, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, would enable them to bear up against the circumstances of the times? It would take off a portion of local taxation, of which their proportion is only 45 per cent; but it must be obvious that, if it were necessary, as I believe it would be, to impose new taxes, they would have to bear their share of the increased taxation, and thus lose in one way what they would gain in another. I believe the relief afforded to the agricultural interest would not amount to more than 3d. or 4d. in the pound at the most on the property assessed as land; and I do not believe the agricultural interest, after all they have heard of their impending ruin, and the measures proposed for their relief, will thank the hon. Gentleman for the relief intended to be conferred on them by his present proposition. The hon. Gentleman spoke also of the incidence of taxation, which is a material point in the consideration of this question. I do not know that I differ much from the view he takes of 1061 this subject. He said the incidence of taxation was on the land, and that there was a community of interest between the landowners and land occupiers. To a great extent this is true. I will read an extract on this subject from the Lords' report with respect to the burdens on land. The report says—In estimating the amount of the burdens to which real property is subject, the Committee have not deemed it necessary to attempt to draw a distinction between the owner and occupier of the soil, as representing separate interests. In many parts of the country they are actually identical, the owners cultivating their own property. Letting land to capitalists, instead of the owner cultivating it himself, is only a different mode of management; and all charges levied upon the land, whether paid by owner or occupier, reduce the net profits of their joint capital invested in the cultivation of it. The capitalist hires the use of the land and of the buildings necessary for the cultivation of it, as an instrument by which he may turn his capital to profit; and the price he offers is regulated by the liabilities he incurs in the employment of such an instrument. When those liabilities are easily ascertained, the capitalist can precisely calculate the consequent reduction in the amount he would otherwise pay for the use of the soil; but in cases where the charges fluctuate, and an approximation to their amount can alone be made, he subjects himself to the variation of those charges during the term of his occupation.This passage, and especially the latter part of it, appears to me to contain a fair statement of the incidence of taxation between the owner and occupier. When a certain sum is charged on land, such as that for tithe, it falls on the owner, and not on the occupier. The occupier gives go much more or less rent, according as he is to pay the tithe or not. As to the fluctuating charges on land during the terms of the tenant's occupation, he has an immediate interest in keeping them down. If there be any reduction of them during his occupation, there is no doubt the money goes into his pocket, for he pays a certain fixed rent to the landlord; but the moment he comes to make a new bargain, the landowner says the rates on an average are less than before, you must give me so much more rent than before, and the landlord gets the benefit in the shape of an increased rent. Ultimately, therefore, the benefit is gained by the owner of the land. The hon. Member has said that his propositions were recommended to the House by their justice. I do not think the hon. Member has correctly described his proposals as just ones. I have shown that those charges to which reference has been made have been imposed upon real property 1062 from time immemorial—ever since, in point of fact, the passing of the 43rd Elizabeth. I have also shown that the grounds put forward for the proposed exemption, on the ground of the removal of protection, might with equal propriety and justice be put forward by the other branches of industry in this country from whom protection had been withdrawn at an earlier period. When the hon. Gentleman referred to the Amendment of which notice had been given, but which has not been moved by the hon. Member for Orkney, he stated that he held in his hand returns which showed the amount of the burdens imposed upon land since 1800; but in order to give a complete view of the case, the amount of corresponding advantages derived during that same period from the operation of the protective system ought also to be shown. The hon. Member also recommended his proposition to the House on the ground of its practicability. In that opinion I do not concur with the hon. Member; for his plan would require a larger amount of disposable revenue than can be anticipated from any statement that has been made with respect to surplus revenue at the close of the financial year; and it would be obviously unjust to exclude all the other classes of industry from those benefits which they might claim upon a full consideration of the best mode of dealing with that surplus. But in addition to that objection to the plan, it is also open to that of the increased expenditure which would almost of necessity attend his proposed transfer of local charges to general taxation. But the hon. Gentleman has made this proposal as one, as he tells us, of a series of measures. That, Sir, is, I think, one reason why hon. Members should be extremely cautious how they give their assent to this the first only of a series of measures. We ought to hear something of the other plans in contemplation, and we ought to be told where the money is to come from which is to give relief to the agricultural interest, by means of those other measures which are yet in perspective, and which the hon. Member intends to submit to the House after we agree to this Motion. At all events, we ought not to be placed in the dilemma of having agreed to the first proposal of the series, when, probably, the remaining plans may be found, when brought forward, to be inoperative or impracticable. We ought to know to what the adoption of the first would lead us, and to what point it is that the hon. Member 1063 wishes us to follow him; and more especially is this caution necessary, since the hon. Gentleman has told us that he is not in the habit of stating out of the House what he would not be prepared to state in the House; and, although we have not yet been told in the House what any of those ulterior measures may he, we are, through the medium of statements made at meetings during the recess, not altogether without information as to what may, in all probability, be the next proposal in the series. I hold in my hand what purports to be a revised copy of the speech of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, delivered by him in the baronial hall of Castle Hedingham, in the county of Essex, in which—after adverting to the proposal which he now makes of the transfer of local burdens to the general taxation of the country, and which he states would be but a very slight benefit to the landed interest, and not that which it was to be supposed that he thought the agricultural interest were entitled to claim, or such as would enable them to bear up against the altered circumstances in which they were now placed—the hon. Member goes on to state that his other measures were of a far more important character, and urged the necessity of not allowing Parliament to assemble for a week before all England made itself heard in the demand for the establishment of a sinking fund. The hon. Member says—My opinion is, that the best and most practical way of carrying that out is by doing that directly by a process which I pointed out formerly indirectly, namely, to lay an ad valorem duty upon all articles of foreign imports. That is the weapon, the charmed weapon, with which we shall win the battle. Put that weapon into the hands of any knight you may choose for the rencontre, and I stake my political reputation upon the success of the plan.I ask the hon. Member, does he still stake his political reputation upon the success of a proposal of that kind?—and, if we are prepared to agree to his proposition, is the increased expenditure to be met by an ad valorem duty upon all articles of import, including, of course, the important article of corn? That is a question upon which I hope the hon. Member will give us a decisive answer before the House proceeds to a vote upon his present proposal. The hon. Member has spoken of the temper in which he has brought forward his Motion. I can assure the hon. Member that I have listened with gratification to his address, and admired the spirit and temper in which 1064 it was delivered, and I do not think there was a single expression in his speech which could give pain or offence to any person. I only hope that in the answer which I have endeavoured to make, I have also avoided anything which can be considered as even, I will not say, giving no offence to any portion of the community, but as indicating even a want of sympathy with that class of the community upon whose behalf he appeals to the House. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman, with the concurrence of those who sit near him, intimates that any system of protection avowedly for the purpose of increasing the price of produce, or for keeping up the amount of rents, is not to be thought of. I think nothing can be more prejudicial to the interests of agriculture than to lead those connected with it to expect any great relief from any measures which Parliament could adopt. I believe that it is mischievous, in the highest degree, to encourage this expectation. But, at the same time, I believe it to be impossible to separate the interests of the agriculturist from that of all other classes, or that there can be a permanent flourishing manufacturing community in any country where agriculture is permanently depressed. With respect to the existence of agricultural distress, to the extent which I have before stated, I concur with the hon. Gentleman, and I sympathise with, and participate also, to a certain extent, in that distress. But that is no reason why we should merely look to Parliament for relief, instead of adopting those means which are within our reach of meeting an altered state of circumstances, by applying that capital to the land which may develop its resources, and which, I believe, is now being applied more extensively than perhaps at any former period, with the view of increasing its production, and giving a large amount of employment to the labourer. That is the true remedy which ought to be applied under the present state of things. I trust that the result of the discussion in this House will be to undeceive those who have been deluded on such occasions as that in the old baronial hall of Castle Hedingham, listening to what was there termed one of the splendid corruscations of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire; or at other meetings where they have been led to expect large and comprehensive measures of relief, or a return to the protective system, and where a desponding spirit has been encouraged 1065 by those whose interests alone, I should have thought, would have led them to encourage a different spirit. I trust that the discussion which took place upon the Address in answer to the Speech from the Throne, the effect of which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire has admitted, and the discussion upon this, the first of a series of proposals to be submitted to the House, and those which may yet take place upon the subsequent propositions which the hon. Member may submit, with the view of completing the series, will have the effect of leading the agriculturists of this country to look to themselves for the remedy for those evils of which they complain—to look to the development of the resources of the land by the application of labour and capital to the soil, and the exercise of that skill and industry which, I believe, it is an injustice to the agriculturists to suppose that they do not possess, to an equal extent at least, with the other industrial classes of the country. For these reasons I feel bound to oppose the Motion of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. CHARTERIS
said, it was his intention to vote for going into Committee. It had been contended by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, and he supported that view, that it was unfair there should be greater burdens on real property than on personal property. The hon. Gentleman had based his claim on agricultural distress. He (Mr. Charteris) believed that distress was great, and he deplored its existence; but he differed from the hon. Gentleman to a certain degree as to the cause, and did not believe that it was permanent. But why should be come to the House in formâ pauperis when he believed he could come as a creditor deprived of his legal right? He thought the hon. Gentleman damaged his cause and prejudiced his constituents in making an appeal ad misericordiam, instead of to the justice of the House—an appeal which had never been made in vain. The question really at issue was, what was the law of England on this point? By the statute of the 43rd of Elizabeth, it was enacted that every man should be called on to support the poor in proportion to his ability. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had attempted to show that that was not the spirit of the law, and quoted a judgment of Lord Mansfield; but that noble and learned Lord did not say that that was not the law, but that it was impolitic to 1066 carry it into effect; and he (Mr. Charteris) also believed that that judgment was given prior to a judgment by Lord Kenyon on the same subject. The latter was given in 1795, and Lord Kenyon in it expressed his opinion, and it was the opinion of the other judges of his court, that personal property was liable to be assessed for the poor. The preamble of the Act which they annually passed for the exemption of stock in trade, showed what the spirit and the intention of the law was; but the law was not carried out—it was defeated by the Act to which he had just referred. The one was an ancient statute, just in principle and permanent in character; the other was, as it has been termed, a legislative violence—unjust in principle, temporary in character, and of recent date. And why was it temporary, except that it was so palpably and flagrantly unjust that no Minister ever proposed its enactment for a longer period than a year? As far as real property was concerned, the burdens had been increasing. He thought the landed interest had a just claim that personal property should bear its fair share. Since the 43rd of Elizabeth, numerous other burdens had been imposed, from which stock in trade, among other things, was exempted. Among these might be mentioned rates for lunatic asylums, borough watch rates, hundred rates, and several others of a similar character. They had, therefore, a just right to present their claim for some alteration in this state of things. They could not impugn the justice of the claim, but they said that the law exempting stock in trade and other personal property was passed of necessity, because the law as it stood before was practically inapplicable, and could not be carried out, so great were the difficulties; but he would ask why it could not be carried out, because, if he turned to Scotland, they had there a law for the support of the poor by what was called a system of means and substance, which was practically of the same effect as the law of Elizabeth. Mr. Jones, Mr. Senior, and others, who had been examined before the Lords' Committee, stated that personal property contributed to the support of the poor in Scotland, and in New England. Where there was a will there was a way; and if the difficulty of carrying out the law was grappled with, it would rapidly disappear: but he would admit, for the sake of argument, that the difficulty was that the law really could not be carried out. What then? They admitted that 1067 they could not deny the justice of the claim of the landed interest, and therefore that interest had a right to come to that House for compensation and relief in some other way. He did not assent to or defend the form in which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire had proposed that the relief should be given. He (Mr. Charteris) was well aware of the argument that any attempt to defray any portion of these charges out of the Consolidated Fund would open the door to every species of abuse and extravagance, and that, under the operation of such a system, the poor-rates, which now amounted to about six millions, would soon double that sum. There were charges, however, which were not open to that objection. He admitted the validity of the objection, and believed with the right hon. Home Secretary that it was to our self-government and to our municipal institutions that we were indebted for our spirit and independence; and he should be sorry to see established in this country that bureaucratic and centralising system that prevailed on the Continent. But it appeared to him that the cost of the erection of lunatic asylums, of gaols, of workhouses, and the payment of the police, should not be charged on real property; and he would suggest, at the same time, that the police should be carried out on the system recommended by the Constabulary Commissioners—a general system. That would tend to check vagrancy, which so much interfered with the relief extended to the casual poor. Indeed, he was informed that in Essex the casual poor had decreased 90 per cent in consequence of the relief having been administered through the police. The remarks which he had ventured to offer to the House, were made in no hostile spirit towards the manufacturing or any other class, for he well knew that upon the prosperity of manufactures and trade that of the landed interest depended. It was to the rapid increase and growth of manufactures the land owed its value—a value that was daily increasing; but that had nothing to do with the nature of the case. He did not see why the fundholder or the manufacturer should not contribute his support to the poor as well as others. They had the same interest in the internal peace and tranquillity of the country as those who were dependent on land. If there were any disturbance in the manufacturing districts, it was not the land that was in danger, but the mills and factories, and the property of the manufacturer. If 1068 there were a rising in Yorkshire or Lancashire, that necessarily acted on the Stock Exchange, and was accompanied by a fall of the funds. He" therefore urged the claims of the landed interest upon the House, convinced of their justice. It was no favour that they asked—they demanded a right, and called on the Government to carry out the law in letter and spirit as it was found in the Statute-book; and if the Government told them that they were unable, or that it was impolitic so to do, then, he said, they had a claim at their hands for compensation.
MR. A. ANDERSON*
Mr. Speaker, in rising to explain to the House my reason for not now moving the Amendment on the Motion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, which stands on the paper in my name, as well as the reasons which induced me to give notice of it, I must not omit, Sir, in the first instance, to express my humble acknowledgments to that hon. Gentleman for the condescending courtesy which he has evinced towards me, in kindly volunteering to enlighten my ignorance and instruct my inexperience, by statistical information on corn and taxation, extending to so remote a period as the year one thousand and five; and at the same time to assure him that his courteous offer has had no influence whatever on my determination not to press my Motion on the consideration of the House on the present occasion.
Until the speech of the hon. Member enlightened us on the subject, we were in the dark, Sir, as to the precise nature of the questions which he intended to submit to the House, if it should agree to go into Committee. He has now informed us that he intends to propose, that about two millions of the local taxation for the relief of the poor, to which landed property, in conjunction with other fixed property, has been hitherto liable, shall he transferred to the community at large. I therefore consider, Sir, that it will be more expedient and satisfactory to leave that question to be decided by the House, on its own merits, than to encumber it with an Amendment.
I now, Sir, beg to crave the indulgence of the House, while I attempt to state a few plain facts, explanatory of the reasons which induced me to propose my Motion as an Amendment on that of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire; and which Motion I may probably yet feel it to be my duty to bring forward in a substantive shape.
In entering into this explanation, Sir, I 1069 hope to be able to render myself intelligible to the House, without the aid of the antiquarian statistics of the hon. Gentleman—although on some future occasion I may be induced to avail myself of his proffered instruction, when, perhaps, he may kindly favour me with the statistics of a corn monopoly of a still more ancient date, namely, that which brought a certain ancient people into the land of Egypt, and where they were, at the outset at least, treated by the corn monopolists of that country far better than the hon. Gentleman's party have treated the corn buyers of this country.
From the recent proceedings of that party, they appear to have two objects in view—namely, to induce the country to submit again to that system of restrictive commercial legislation from which it has so lately been emancipated; and also to permit them to remove from themselves, and to place on the people, a portion, or perhaps the whole, of the burdens which they allege are borne in an undue proportion by land.
Now, Sir, in order to enable the House and the country to consider these questions correctly, I submit that a preliminary investigation ought to be instituted, for the purpose of eliciting, first, the effect which the laws restricting the importation and consumption of foreign corn and provisions have had on the cost of the food, and on the industrial and social progress or condition of the people, during the period of thirty-four years that they were in force. And, in the second place, to ascertain whether landownership—as I may term it—has any well-founded claim to relief, on the ground of its bearing more than its fair proportion of the public burdens, or whether, in point of fact, it has not unfairly exempted itself from a proportion of taxation which it ought to have borne, and whether the claim for relief does not rest with the people as against the owners of agricultural property.
These, Sir, were the reasons which induced me to place my Motion on the Notice paper, and I will now avail myself of this opportunity to state to the House some of the facts by which I intended to support that Motion. And with reference again, Sir, to the attempt of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire to demolish, by anticipation, so undistinguished an antagonist as myself, on my presumed ignorance of blue-backed literature, I venture to express a hope, that when I have finished my statement, 1070 even the hon. Gentleman will acquit me of having been altogether negligent in consulting it.
The history of the corn laws, Sir, with which I now propose to deal, is familiar to most of us—is in the personal recollection of many of us—and may be told in a few words.
In the year 1815, the country had returned to a state of peace, from a war with nearly all the world; a war which had cost the nation an enormous amount of blood and treasure, and in which it was involved by the landowning class themselves, to further a class policy, and for no object of national benefit or necessity. Now, Sir, we all know that the Parliament of 1815 contained a large majority of owners of land, and of nominees, dependants, and connexions of owners of land; and that the majority of that Parliament so composed—being apprehensive that the introduction into this country of foreign-grown corn, and of other agricultural produce used for human food, which the return to a state of peace would facilitate, would lower the high prices which the state of war had enabled them to obtain, and would consequently diminish their rents and incomes—passed a law, intended to maintain wheat at 80s. the quarter, and other kinds of grain in proportion, by preventing the people of this country from consuming foreign corn, until they, the landowners, could realise such prices for theirs. The importation for consumption, in this country, of various other articles of agricultural produce, such as beef, pork, live cattle, butter, cheese, &c, was also prohibited by high duties. The corn law, with some modifications as to the minimum prices which it was supposed could be maintained by it, continued from the year 1815 to the beginning of the year 1849, when it ceased; the enlightenment of the public mind, the apprehension of a famine, and the moral courage of a leading statesman, who sacrificed party and power to the good of his country, having effected its abolition.
Now, Sir, when we are asked to re-enact the corn law, and to return to the restrictive system of commercial legislation, it is surely proper to take a retrospective view of the operation of that law and system during the long period they were in force. And what, Sir, have been their effects? Fortunately, I have here the answer to that question, in the words of one whose opinion must command infinitely more respect than any opinion of so very humble 1071 an individual as myself. It is the opinion, Sir, of no less a personage than the noble Lord now at the head of Her Majesty's Councils. That noble Lord, after, no doubt, devoting his great abilities, and giving the most anxious consideration to the subject, declared and published to the world his deliberate conviction that the corn law had operated as—"the bane of agriculture, the Wight of commerce, the source of bitter divisions among classes, the cause of penury, fever, mortality, and crime among the people.Now, Sir, is it possible to imagine a greater national curse than these words describe? Not my words, be it remembered, but the words of the Prime Minister of England. Yet, to such a system, fraught with such disastrous consequences, would the hon. Gentleman opposite wish the country to return! And for what object? To mitigate the alleged distress of the agricultural classes, putting prominently forward, under that denomination, the tenant-farmers! Why, Sir, the tenant-farmers have been the chief victims of the landlord's law. They have been deluded from time to time—and many of them seem not yet to have awakened from that delusion—that it was possible to maintain a steady high price for corn by Act of Parliament. They were told by their landlords, in 1815, that wheat should be maintained at 80s. the quarter, and agreed to pay rents in proportion. They were told in 1822—the intervening seven years having shown that the price of wheat could not be permanently maintained at 80s.—that it should be maintained at 70s., and they agreed to pay rents accordingly. In 1828, 64s. was promised to the farmers; and, lastly, in 1842, the price was promised to be maintained at 56s. And all these promises proved delusive. How men, possessed of ordinary intellect, could have been deluded into the making of bad bargains for so long a period, and in spite of experience, is, I confess, to me almost incomprehensible.
Now, Sir, I have been at some pains to form an estimate of the extent to which the cost of the food of the people has been enhanced by the operation of the laws for restricting the importation of agricultural produce. To ascertain this, with as much accuracy as possible, I have made a comparison of the prices of corn and provisions at the principal places abroad, from whence we have been accustomed to obtain our supplies when required, 1072 for a great portion of the period to which I have alluded, with the prices which ruled in this country at similar times. After deducting the cost of transit charges, and a fair commercial profit, I have considered the prices at which such foreign corn and provisions could have been placed in this country, free of duty, to be the prices at which all corn and provisions could have been obtained in this country. For this estimate, I have not only availed myself of the published official records, but of private mercantile information. And, without fatiguing the House by a mass of details, I will at once state the aggregate result: that result, Sir, is, that during the thirty-four years that this restrictive system was in operation, the people of this country have had the cost of their food enhanced, as compared to what it would have been under a system of free trade, to an amount not less than seven hundred and fifty millions!—a sum, Sir, that would have sufficed to liquidate the national debt. And, although the past cannot be recalled, I may, perhaps, be permitted the reflection—What would have been the condition of this country had she possessed, in 1815, a Parliament truly representing the interests and feelings of the people, and which, legislating for the benefit of the whole community, instead of for the benefit of a dominant class, had adopted enlightened principles of commercial policy—had removed all impediments to the freedom of exchange—and had even accompanied that measure by the imposition of a direct tax, to the amount of from twenty to twenty-five millions annually, to be applied to the reduction of the national debt—can there be a doubt that the people of this country would have been much more prosperous, under the operation of such a tax, than they have been under the operation of the landlord's tax, and that the British nation, freed from the incubus of that debt, would, by this time, have become the pride and envy of the world?
Now, enormous as this amount of impoverishment of the people by the enhancement of the cost of their food may appear, it is by no means, Sir, I consider, the measure of the disastrous effects of these restrictive laws. They have, by retarding the industrial progress of the people, not to speak of the moral degradation which they have caused, inflicted an aggregate of evil far exceeding the pecuniary sacrifice which I have just stated.
1073 To illustrate their operation in preventing the development of our industrial resources, I will beg permission of the House to state an incident which occurred within my own experience.
The most northern of the two groups of islands which form the very peculiar county, Sir, which I have the honour to represent in this House—namely, the Shetland Islands, do not, by reason of the inferiority of their soil and climate, produce grain for the adequate subsistence of more than about one half of their population. They obtain such additional supply as they can afford to purchase, by exchanging for it the produce of their staple manufacture (as I shall term it—although it is not cotton goods nor hardware, but dried fish), a manufacture which they carry on to a considerable extent, drawing their raw material out of the seas which surround their coasts. Now, some years since, an establishment, in which I was concerned, was formed in these islands, for the purpose of improving their fisheries, and of opening up the extensive markets of Spain to them, from which the previous inferior mode of cure had nearly shut them out. Soon after this establishment had been formed, I received a proposal from some Spanish merchants, offering to purchase a large quantity of fish, at a price nearly one-third higher than these islanders had for many years previously been able to obtain, on condition that I, on their behalf, would receive payment for it in good soft Spanish wheat, to be delivered at the islands at the rate of 35s. the quarter—a price which, could the wheat have been delivered free of duty, would have given these people good Spanish flour at a cost of about one-third less than they were then paying for common Scotch meal. But, Sir, at that time the sliding scale was in active and somewhat erratic operation—apparently graduating upwards. Prudence would not permit me, under such circumstances, to venture on such a speculation. The Shetlanders could only receive hard dollars from the Spaniards for their fish. The order was, in consequence, diminished to a comparatively small quantity of fish; and thus these poor people were not only deprived of a cheap supply of what they most urgently wanted—bread, but were also deprived of an advantageous outlet for the produce of their industry. I should not, Sir, have adverted to this circumstance, only that I consider it to present an epitomised illustration of the operation of the 1074 late corn laws on the whole kingdom. Great Britain, like the Shetland islands, does not produce corn sufficient for the adequate subsistence of her population. The additional supply required can only be procured by exchanging for it the produce of her manufacturing industry; and the corn law, for thirty-four years, besides enhancing the cost of food, cramped the industry of the whole kingdom in the same manner as it did that of the Shetland islanders, in the instance which I have mentioned.
The operation of the restrictive system on the social progress and moral condition of the people, has been ably demonstrated by the right hon. the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and I shall, therefore, only beg to refer those hon. Gentlemen who may not have satisfied themselves on this part of the question, to the public records, which will show them that when bread is dear, committals are numerous, and vice versâ—clearly proving that scarcity is the parent of crime as well as of disease and death.
I now, Sir, beg the attention of the House to a few facts which have more direct reference to the Motion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire.
The hon. Member proposes that we should revise the poor-rates, in order to relieve the agricultural classes; and he further indicates, that if this House should agree to go into Committee, he will propose that a sum of two millions annually shall be levied on the community at large, and be appropriated to the relief of these classes. I shall take leave to translate "agricultural classes" into "land-ownership," which I consider the real interest to be benefited by his proposal.
Now, Sir, I am perfectly ready to support him, if he will go into a general revision of our public burdens; and if he can show, on a fair investigation of that subject, that land has borne, and is bearing, more than its due proportion, I will be the first to concur in such an equitable adjustment as will relieve landed property of any portion of taxation, local and general, which it may be burdened with to a greater degree than other property and industry. But, Sir, as a representative of the people in this House, I do most firmly protest against the mode of adjustment proposed by the hon. Gentleman—namely, to lay his finger on one particular item which he may consider a peculiar burden 1075 on land, and overlook how land is situated as regards the other branches of taxation. I insist, Sir, that if he wishes to disturb the account as between land and the nation, he must open the whole account, and let us see whether land, if bearing peculiar burdens, is not also enjoying peculiar and unfair exemptions?—whether, availing itself of its predominant but illegitimate power in the Legislature, it has not contrived to throw upon the community a large portion of taxation to which it was in justice bound equally to contribute?
And I will now, Sir, reciprocate the hon. Gentleman's kind offer of statistical information to me by stating, for his information, some of the items of exemption for which I consider land to stand indebted to the nation. The first items which I shall take, Sir, are the probate and legacy duties. These duties were first imposed in the year 1797. The Minister of that day intended to impose them on real as well as on personal property; but finding he would in that case encounter the opposition of the landed interest in Parliament, and would, consequently, be unable to carry his measure, he was compelled to purchase the concurrence of that interest by sacrificing to it the interest of the nation; and he agreed to exempt real property from these duties, throwing them on personal property only. Now, it is estimated that the capital of real property—that is, land and houses held under freehold or copyhold tenure—has, since 1797, been equal in amount to the capital of personal property; and as the the law of nature has made no exemption from the debt of nature in favour of the possessors of landed or real property—and, therefore, the ratio of mortality and succession must be the same among each class—I consider, Sir, that the amount of these duties, which has been levied on personal property, must be a tolerably correct measure of the amount of exemption which real property has unjustly obtained for itself. The average annual amount of these duties, for a number of years past, has been rather upwards of 2,000,000l. The amount levied on personal property, up to the end of the year 1845, according to the evidence given by Mr. Pressly, the Secretary to the Board of Stamps and Taxes, before the Committee of the other House of Parliament, which sat in 1846, to inquire into the burdens on real property, was 69,528,000l. Adding to this sum the amount levied during the four years which 1076 have elapsed since 1845, at the rate of 2,000,000l.—or say, in round numbers, 8,000,000l.—will make the total amount levied on personal property, and, consequently, the total arrear of exemption, for which the landed interest stands equitably indebted to the nation at large, 77,528,000l.
Now, Sir, I am aware that the pretext set up by the landed interest, and which is still adduced as a ground of exemption from these duties, is that the stamp duties on the transfer of landed property are much heavier than on the transfer of personal property. I shall soon show how much this argument is worth. The largest item among the stamp duties, is that returned under the head of Deeds and Conveyances, which amounted, for the financial year 1847–8, to 1,703,042l. But the same Gentleman, before the same Committee to which I have just alluded, states, in answer to question 7,00l, that but a small proportion of this amount is produced by stamps on documents connected with laud; that it is chiefly produced by leases, sales, and transfers of leasehold houses, and other personal property. I think, therefore, that if we allow the odd 703,042l. to stand as the proportion of it applicable to land, it is a liberal estimate. We then, Sir, have a balance of this item of 1,000,000l. as contributed by personal property; and when to this is added the stamp duties levied on other property, and on the ordinary transactions of trade and industry, namely—bills of exchange, bankers' notes, receipts, marine insurances, licenses, newspapers, fire insurances, advertisements, stage and hackney coaches, and railways, amounting in the same year, 1847–8, to 3,430,388l.—we shall have, Sir, the sum of 4,430,308l., contributed under the head of stamp duties by personal property, trade, and industry, against only 703,042l. contributed by land. So much, Sir, for the claim of land to be exempted from 2,000,000l. per annum of probate and legacy duties, on the ground of an excessive contribution in stamp duties.
The next item to which I shall advert, Sir, is the exemption of horses used in agriculture from the horse-tax. If a small tradesman or huckster use a horse and cart for the purposes of his trade, he must pay a tax of 1l. 8s. for them; or if he use a horse only, he must 10s. 6d. But let that horse be sold to a farmer, and transferred to agricultural purposes, he becomes 1077 immediately a privileged animal, and pays no tax whatever. Now, I have the evidence of the same Gentleman, the Secretary to the Board of Taxes, to refer to on this item. He estimates the number of horses at one million, which, at 10s. 6d. each horse, will give the amount of this exemption at 525,000l. per annum, which, as it enables the farmers to work their farms at so much less cost, enables them to pay to the landlord so much more rent, and consequently goes into the landlord's pockets.
The property and income tax is another burden from which land has contrived to obtain a considerable exemption indirectly, through an apparent relief to the occupying tenants. The tax on income arising from the occupancy of land is only half the rate of that levied on other incomes; and all such incomes are entirely exempted, unless they amount to 300l. and upwards, whereas other incomes are only exempt, if under 150l. Now the amount of property tax levied under Schedule A, being that on rent, is 2,600,000l. The Board of Taxes, in estimating the farmer's profits or income, take it as half the amount of the rent he pays; therefore, if the rate of assessment was the same on income arising from the occupancy of land as it is upon income arising from the property in land and other incomes, and there were no exemption for farming incomes, except those under 150l., the income tax on this description ought to be equal, or nearly so, to half the amount levied under Schedule A, or, say, 1,300,000l. per annum; whereas the amount of 300,000l. only is returned as obtained under this head, leaving an apparent benefit to the farmer, but in reality to the landlord, of 1,000,000l. But as there may be some farming incomes under 150l.—although I think the farmers who can maintain their families and servants upon less than that must be very few—and as a part of Schedule A includes rent on houses, I will only estimate the benefit of this exemption at 750,000l. per annum.
Another item of taxation on which land has an exemption is the window tax. This tax amounted, for the year 1848–9, to 1,544,896l. Farm-houses, on farms not exceeding 200l. a year rent, are exempt from the window tax; and I estimate this exemption at a fifth part of the whole, or say 300,000l.
On the stamp duty on fire insurance, land has also taken care to have an exemption 1078 in its own favour. This stamp duty produces rather upwards of one million per annum. Insurances on agricultural stock, &c, are exempt from this duty; and, I think, if I estimate this exemption at one-fifth of the tax, say 200,000l. per annum, it is not an exaggerated estimate.
I now, Sir, come to the last item in my account, bricks; and here, again, I find the landlords sticking (to use a common phrase) like bricks to their own interests. Bricks, Sir, as is well known, pay a rather heavy excise duty, when used for any other purpose than the improvement of land. But when used for that purpose, such as draining, &c, they are exempt from any duty. The duty on bricks has produced, on the average of the last ten years, about 600,000l. The excise take no account of bricks for draining; but if I take the exemption in favour of the improvement of land at one-sixth, or say 100,000l. per annum, I think it is rather under than over the mark.
§ I shall now, Sir, proceed to sum up this account, distinguishing the amount of annual exemption, and of arrears due, which will stand as follows:—
|Probate and Legacy Duty||£2,000,000||£77,528,000|
§ Or, say, in round numbers, four millions annually of taxation, which land has unjustly relieved itself from, and about one hundred and twenty millions of arrears of these exemptions, which I contend, before the landed interest can claim any abatement for any peculiar burden, it is bound in equity to make good to the community.
§ Such, Sir, is the national account which I humbly beg to tender for adjustment to the hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not ask them to take it on my estimate, but I am ready to have it thoroughly investigated by a parliamentary inquiry; and I feel confident the balance, as I have stated it, will be fully established. And I consider not only this inquiry, but that into the effects of the late restrictive system, to which the nation is called upon to return, highly necessary; because, Sir, the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Buckinghamshire, has not told us that he intends to accept 1079 this remission of poor-rates in favour of land as a compromise for the relinquishment of what he calls protection. On the contrary, Sir, he has told us very distinctly that they will never abandon that object. I recollect that the hon. Gentleman, in one of those brilliant perorations with which he knows so well how to point his eloquence, told us last Session, in a very solemn and emphatic tone, that he and his party, although then defeated, would return again and again to the charge; that they would conquer, and once more on the national banner should be inscribed the words—regenerated and protected England!
§ Now, Sir, permit me, in conclusion, to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am a firm believer in the latter part of his prediction; but an absolute sceptic as to the means by which he indicates it is to be accomplished. I do believe, Sir, that the day is not distant when our country shall be able, with truth, to inscribe on her banner the words, regenerated and protected; but that regeneration and protection, Sir, will not be effected by laws made to impede commerce and paralyse industry—to enable one class of the community to plunder all the others—but, Sir, by that augmented power, moral and material, resulting from the unfettered development of her own magnificent resources!
§ MR. SEYMER
said, that as he represented one of the suffering agricultural districts, he did not wish to give a silent vote upon that occasion. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Haddingtonshire, that the claim then advanced on behalf of the agricultural body was founded in justice; but he also thought that it was greatly enhanced by the distress which at present prevailed among that body. The farmers were proverbially a loyal body; but he begged leave to observe, that in this, the nineteenth century, they should look for no romantic feelings of loyalty, and that loyalty was best sustained by a sense of well-being, and an attachment to institutions under which men prosper. Farmers could not be expected to be animated by a very active spirit of loyalty if they suffered distress, and with distress injustice. The farmers and the agricultural labourers of Dorsetshire were told that their poor lands had been forced into cultivation by protection, and that those lands ought to be converted into sheep-walks. What, he would ask, would be the situation of a farmer with capital, occupying 1,000 acres of 1080 these poor lands, if they were to become sheep-walks? And how many labourers would 1,000 acres of sheep-walk keep in employment? About two; while they would support a great many if under tillage. It was, therefore, not merely a landlord's, but a fanner's and a labourer's question as well. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester might tell him that he represented 6,000 stupid farmers, while the hon. Gentleman himself represented 12,000 enlightened tradesmen. But let them look at what passed in the United States. In that country the agriculturists were free-traders, and the manufacturers were protectionists, each of these parties forming their opinions in conformity with their sense of self-interest. The manufacturers of this country relied on their capital, and their command of coal and iron, for a continuance of their prosperity; but, again, let them cast their eyes on the other side of the Atlantic. There they would find the same skill, coals and iron more abundant, and cotton grown on the spot; and the moment they could get cheap labourers, they would be able to undersell the manufacturers of this country, who would then be very glad to have protection back again. He was sorry to see this made a class question; but if it must be so, he, for his own part, would stand by his class, which he also believed to be the most important class in the country. If the match was to be, all England against Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, he would play on the side of all England; and he believed, in spite of the hard hitting of the hon. Member for Manchester, and the crooked bowling of the hon. Member for the West Riding, that all England would win. The farmers asserted that their distress was caused by recent legislation, and by local burdens. With regard to the first, they had the authority of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, who in 1840 said—That any such disturbance in agriculture as must follow a total repeal of the corn laws, must lead to unfavourable results, not only to the agricultural interest, but to all those numerous classes which were identified with that interest.He quoted the right hon. Baronet's words, because they were expressed in better language than he himself could use; secondly, because they were spoken after many years of official experience; thirdly, because the argument had never been answered, even by the right hon. Baronet himself; fourthly, and especially, because what the right 1081 hon. Baronet had predicted had come to pass. It was not to Hansardise the right hon. Baronet that he made that reference; but because, in then expressing the views he (Mr. Seymer) now entertained, the right hon. Baronet stated the results of his previous experience. He could not help feeling some indignation when he heard all who maintained protectionist principles stigmatised as fools. At all events, it could not be denied that they held opinions which, as lately as 1842, and since that time, were entertained by the right hon. Baronets the Members for Tamworth and Ripon. The farmers said their distress was occasioned by recent legislation, and an excessive importation of foreign corn. If the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth were present, he might ask, had any one too much corn? No, many had not enough, as any one might see from letters which had appeared in the Morning Chronicle. Such was the competition here, that he feared it would always be the fate of a large portion of our population, whatever might be the price of corn, to be on the verge of starvation. The question was, were prices so reduced as not to be remunerative to the British grower? because if they were, the only result would be, to displace English corn, and throw English labour on the labour market, and so reduce the wages of the whole. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department said the distress was but temporary; and that, he supposed, was the reason why so little was done to alleviate it. The reason why it was thought to be temporary, he presumed, was because corn was on the point of rising. He could only say that the arguments on the other side were most extraordinary. They appeared to be afraid of their own principles. If the axiom were true, that we ought to buy in the cheapest market, then we could not buy too cheap. And yet hon. Members had tried to show that the prices of corn in this country would rise, though they ought to have tried to prove that they must fall. It was said that present prices were exceptional. Everything was said to be exceptional now-a-days. Thus, we had two seasons, one of them very good, the other very bad, and both of them were spoken of as exceptional. So they were in one sense; but it was remarkable that the effect of both was to lower prices. The fact was, that the other side was composed of two sections: first, the right hon. and hon. Members 1082 on the Treasury bench and around it, who were the true friends of the agricultural interest, and were anxious to save it from damage; secondly, those hon. Gentlemen below the gangway, the free-traders proper, as he might call them. The latter were the more logical, for they had asserted in former days that it would not signify to this country if not a blade of corn were grown in it, and we had heard nothing from these about prices rising. They had been told that the distress could not be so great, because the poor-law returns were favourable. But there was a great fallacy in this. The position of the farmer was such, that it cost him less to employ labourers at low wages, than to keep them in the workhouse. But how long could such a system last without destroying the capital of the farmer, and the interests of the labourer? And yet they were told that it was a landlord's question. With regard to the proposal of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, the right hon. Baronet opposite, the Home Secretary, had said that in these charges was involved the principle of local control. But there was another principle involved—that of central control in London. He (Mr. Seymer) knew that in a union with which he himself was connected, an attempt was made to reduce the establishment charges by reducing official salaries. They were obliged, however, to consult the Poor Law Board in London, which declined to accede to their request, and great dissatisfaction was occasioned by this refusal. This was another reason why it was extremely expedient that the charge should be thrown on the Consolidated Fund. The right hon. Baronet seemed to intimate that if this concession were made, it would be the means of preventing relief being afforded to other classes. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, should be deficient in funds, he might have recourse to the hon. Mover of the Address for his 90,000,000l., or the hon. Member for Glasgow for his 100,000,000l. The right hon. Baronet had stated that a great part of real property consisted of houses. It was certainly true that the owners of houses had not, like the farmers, complained of the weight of local taxation; but the reason was, because they had lost nothing by the recent proceedings, but on the contrary were large participators in this 90,000,000l. They were told that they must argue this 1083 question on the assumption that protection would never be granted; but he had heard different language from some free-traders with whom he had conversed in the country, and who said, that if no change for the better should take place in the prospects of the agricultural interest, they would be disposed to reconsider the question. This he had heard stated within the last three weeks by intelligent free-traders in the country—men who were free-traders when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House were protectionists—and the only dispute was, whether they should have a sliding scale or a fixed duty. It was too bad, therefore, to be told by free-traders of four or five years' standing, that they never would have protection again. He felt confident that in the end justice would be done. He intended to have made a few observations in reply to some parts of the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, but, as there were many present who wished to address the House, and as he understood a general desire to exist that a division should take place that evening, he would occupy them but a few moments longer. He was not very sanguine as to the result of the night's division. He could not forget that 311 Members had declined to state that the agricultural classes were suffering from recent legislation, or that their distress was aggravated by local burdens. In the end, however, he reckoned on success, for he had justice on his side. If they maintained that the agricultural interest was to have no protection and no relief from local burdens—if they still persisted in maintaining their vexatious excise regulations, which were altogether inconsistent with the very first principles of free-trade—he felt assured that interest would defeat them before the end of the Session.
said, that agreeing with much that fell from the hon. Proposer of the Motion, had he, instead of moving for a Committee of the whole House, moved for a Select Committee to consider the burdens thrown upon the landholders, he would most decidedly have supported his Motion. But he begged to tell hon. Members, that if they expected to obtain relief from the burdens that oppressed them, they should entirely abandon all hope of returning to protection. As long as hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side adhered to the cry of protection, so long would they fail to obtain relief; for that House would 1084 never consent to consider the question until they abandoned the cry altogether. He recollected that before the measure of free-trade was talked of, either by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tam-worth, or the noble Lord at the head of the Ministry, he (Mr. Rice) had declared himself in favour of an alteration in the law. However, he did entertain the belief that the laying on of a small amount of duty for purposes of revenue would be a satisfactory way of arranging the question. He could tell hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the farmers of England were much in advance of them on the present question. He held in his hand a copy of resolutions adopted at a numerously attended meeting of the members of a farmer's club in the Isle of Thanet. Now, what conviction did the members of that club arrive at? Why this, that "the battle of protection had been fought, and lost;" and such, he should say, was the conviction on the minds of hon. Members opposite, though they had not the manliness to confess it. He was not going to discuss measures of relief with these Gentlemen; but he should say he derived much satisfaction from the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department on that evening, particularly where he pledged himself to aid in the consideration and reduction of all burdens, but in a practical way and form. He should say he expected more from that declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, than from the speech and Motion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire. He was favourable to direct taxation. He agreed with those resolutions, that farmers should be placed in Schedule D of the Income Tax. They also proposed that the county and parochial rates should be charged on property in general. He regretted he could not support the Motion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, because he concurred in some of the opinions he had expressed. He did not concur with him on the question of tithes, but he thought it might be made matter of special inquiry. The resolutions he had referred to desired that the excise duties on bricks and malt should be removed altogether; if this were done, he (Mr. Rice) would supply the deficiency by direct taxation if necessary. His object in rising was to say that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have no claim to these alterations until they abandoned all idea of returning to protection. Wishing to see 1085 all these questions considered respectively on their merits, and not to be dealt with in one resolution, he must oppose the Motion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire.
§ SIR J. TYRELL
assured the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that he was remarkably well satisfied with the speech which he had thought proper to make—as satisfied as the hon. Member himself could possibly be. He was not so sure, however, that he could consider it as a perfectly disinterested speech; for without imputing improper motives, he could not help remembering, when the hon. Member was analysing the resolutions of the Isle of Thanet Farmers' Club, that the Isle of Thanet was not very far from Dover. He therefore could not give the hon. Member credit for such great independence and utter absence of all considerations for the future as the hon. Member could wish. The hon. Member thought the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department as a triumphant answer to that of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire; but he must remind him that the hon. Baronet bonâ fide admitted the justice of, at least, one-half of the propositions contained in that speech. It was true that the farmers, as a body, had refused to petition the House, and their loyalty had been questioned; but they were justly incensed at the want of respect with which they had been treated in the Speech from the Throne. He himself had been present at many of their meetings, and was quite ready to abide by every statement which he had made at any one of them. The agriculturists did complain of, he would not say the intentional insult, but the great disrespect with which their claims were considered by the First Minister of the Crown. The language was that there were complaints from certain landowners and occupiers of the soil—
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
observed, that the passage was—It is with regret that Her Majesty has observed the complaints which, in many parts of the Kingdom, have proceeded from the owners and occupiers of land.
§ SIR J. TYRELL
It was stated that they complained. Now this was followed by a statement of the great consumption of provisions and almost luxuries of life by the great mass of the country—who had so bodily rejoiced, as it were, and had been in the receipt of such immense advantages from the extreme depression in the price of provisions. But this, in fact, was the same 1086 description of rejoicing and satisfaction which you saw every day in the papers when a man broke into a larder or robbed a till. They had been told to look to the Lothians—to the agricultural portions of Lincolnshire, and, again, to Norfolk and Suffolk. Now he submitted that those counties had spoken out, and the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had not succeeded, after all, in proving that the interests of agriculture were not suffering deplorably from the free trade in corn. The diminution in poor rates, to which allusion had been made, to the amount of nearly 400,000l., had arisen from the great economy introduced into the management of the machinery of the poor-law. He was acquainted with the circumstances of the unions in his own immediate district. In Braintree he admitted that the number of people in the workhouse had decreased; but this arose from the activity of the silk trade in the neighbourhood. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, the silk trade had been most prosperous during the past year; but the silk trade was protected by a duty of 15 per cent. In Witham and Maldon, which were agricultural districts, the case was far otherwise, and a considerable increase had taken place in the number of paupers within the last six weeks. When he was told that the prospects of agriculture were not so gloomy as some supposed, he answered that they were trading on the forbearance of the farmer. The hon. Member for Dover had told them that unless they were prepared to accept free trade as final, their complaints would not be listened to though though they were founded on reason. [Mr. RICE: I merely said I thought they would have no chance of success.] Exactly. The agricultural interest regarded it in precisely the same point of view, and therefore did not load the table of the House with petitions, but looked elsewhere. There was the hon. Member himself, for instance—he gave them the benefit of his speech, but he refused them the benefit of his vote. To answer the Speech from the Throne, they put forward a Gentleman of considerable ability, and who, those on his (Sir J. Tyrell's) side of the House thought, had been treated with some neglect—the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. They had brought him out, as one of the brightest weapons in their armoury, to state their case, and finally dispose of the question. He would call him, if the hon. Member would permit him, on this occasion, "the destroyer;" and the hon. Member for the West Riding 1087 he would call "the divider of the spoil." He had read the other day that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had asked with the greatest triumph and confidence, whether they would be prepared to face a state of things in which the poor man would have to pay 1s. 0d., or 3s. a week more for his bread? Now he would answer that by this proposition. The hon. Member to whom he had just alluded held an office which brought him in 1,200l. a year—no sinecure office certainly. Now he could understand if the hon. Member could by legislation cause this 1,200l. a year to be equal to 1,500l. or 1,600l. a year—he could quite understand his readiness and preparation to face that—that proposition quite met his understanding. He had stated before that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton and the hon. Member for the West Riding ought at this moment to be on the Treasury bench, sitting side by side with the hon. Member for Westbury. Now he should like to know—he was curious to know—what offer had been made to him with reference to his acceptance of office. He could not believe that his merits had been altogether overlooked. This much he knew, that a proposition had been made by the Government to the hon. Member for the West Riding to take his seat on the Treasury bench. He hoped the noble Lord opposite would excuse his putting the question, but he wished to ask him whether such was not precisely the fact? The noble Lord smiled; but although he had had the pleasure of seeing the noble Lord smile for years, he was not able to tell what his smile meant. He put this slight interrogatory, had the hon. Member for the West Riding been offered office, or had he not? The noble Lord was silent. Then silence gave consent. He would go a step further, and tell the House and the country that there was an hon. Gentleman deputed—this was no breach of confidence—to wait upon the hon. Member for the West Riding and offer him office; and he would tell them his answer, which was marked by that sagacity and good sense which, he admitted, distinguished the hon. Member. The hon. Member said, "I cannot accept office, for if I do, my power with the people is gone. I should no longer have that power, either in this House or the country, and should be displaced from that station which I hold, in the manufacturing districts particularly." Now this was a great advantage, because the noble Lord traded in those sentiments 1088 which, from time to time, filtered through the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and yet was not encumbered by any of those inconvenient speeches which they read from time to time as delivered in that place. Then again the hon. Member for the West Riding showed great sagacity in his commercial manner of handling the question. He was not aware at the time that he had the prospect of so great a reward as 70,000l.; and that immediately after declining the offer of the Government he was put in possession of that sum. He thought, as the hon. Gentleman had received so great a dividend, he was perfectly right to acknowledge it in the manner he did. Again, the principles of free trade had been extraordinarily developed at a recent meeting in that town. It was a meeting of the Peace Society, at which a great bill-broker was in the chair. That gentleman did not see the question in the same light as the hon. Member for Manchester. He said, "Oh, dear, I made a bid for the Russian loan." Now the doctrine was, that although they admitted, and acknowledged, and approved of the commercial principle of furnishing the Russian with coats, waistcoats, and breeches, in the language of the tariff "partly made up;" yet, when a party came with his money, and proposed to lend it to the Emperor of Russia, it was a thing utterly abhorrent and inconsistent with their principles. He begged to call the attention of the hon. Member for Manchester to the discrepancies that existed at this meeting. [Mr. BRIGHT: I did not attend the meeting.] No, but the hon. Member for Manchester read all the speeches; and he thought that the hon. Gentleman, with that candour and fairness that always distinguished him, would say that he (Sir J. Tyrell) had not misstated the opinions enunciated at that meeting; and he left him to reconcile the two things. He wished to show how, in a commercial point of view, the principles of free trade were tested with regard to these 5,000,000l. advanced to the Emperor of Russia. He knew from his own knowledge, and from the report of a gentleman in the Austrian service, that nearly the whole of Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Denmark, never saw a metallic currency; they had to contend with a small paper currency, in addition to the other disadvantages of the disturbances on the Continent. He contended, therefore, that if these principles of free trade were to be fully carried out, 1089 they had a right to see those Gentlemen on the Treasury benches. ["Question!"] He submitted that that was the question. It was a question of the injustice that had been done to agriculture, and he maintained, with all due deference, that the sentiments expressed in the Speech from the Throne on that point were not founded in fact. They were called upon by the advocates of free trade to apply fresh capital and additional labour in the cultivation of the soil. He thought that was a most unfair and most inconsistent demand. When the manufacturing interest was in a depressed state, and was not working full time, the agriculturists did not call on them to build fresh mills, and to work six days in the week. Surely that was not the principle of free trade. He would tell them fairly that justice must be done to the agricultural classes. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department objected to the proposition of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, on the ground of its being too large. The first part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was addressed to the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire last Session. The next portion of it was all to be read in the Morning Chronicle of that day. Lord Mansfield's opinion, and all the rest of it, was actually in print. The third portion was addressed to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire; and it would appear as if he agreed with him in the main. Indeed it would not much astonish him if they got the vote of the hon. Member for Dover. But he would not trouble the House further. He would say to the Government that the agricultural party relied upon their own indomitable energy and perseverance. It was admitted that they possessed these qualities, and they would, by Heaven! use them. We tell you that you shall not settle this question finally, until you agree to the proposition of justice that has been submitted to you.
§ MR. T. B. HOBHOUSE
said, there were two points especially in the speech of the hon. Baronet who had just sat down on which he differed from him. In the first place, the hon. Baronet stated that the reduction in the expense of maintaining the poor had been caused by the lowering of the cost of provisions; whereas he (Mr. Hobhouse) contended, and hoped, ere he concluded, to show that it was partly owing to a diminution in the number of paupers. In the second place, the hon. Baronet had declared 1090 it to be unjust that there should be any protection on silk. [Sir J. TYRELL: I said just the contrary.] Well, then, the hon. Baronet had said that it was unjust that the agricultural interest should have no protection, whilst a protective import duty was levied on the article of silk. [Sir J. TYRELL: Hear, hear!] The hon. Baronet could not but be aware that the silk manufacturers of this country were able to compete with other manufacturers of silk in neutral markets, and that protection was therefore disclaimed as unnecessary. If a duty was levied, it was clearly for the sake of revenue, and it was not inconsistent with the doctrines of the best free-traders in that House that duties should be levied for the purposes of the revenue. [Cheers from the Protectionists.] He perfectly understood what hon. Gentlemen opposite meant by that cheer, that they now wished to have a fixed duty upon corn. He wished, for their sake, they had always been of that mind; for in that case they would have accepted the offer made by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and would still have enjoyed a certain amount of what they termed protection. The arguments for the Motion, which were based on the inequality of taxation, appeared to him singularly illogical. He agreed with hon. Members opposite that there existed inequality in the local taxation of the country, and would even concede to them that land and real property were burdened to a greater extent than other species of property; but he maintained that a return to their favourite Act, the 43rd of Elizabeth, would not remove the inequality. Under that Act, although stock in trade was not exempted from assessment, there were, in fact, numerous exemptions, including all property, however beneficial, held by non-inhabitants of the parish, money and furniture in possession, money at interest, the pay of officers of the Army and Navy, that of clerks in public and private offices, and professional profits. Mines, also, except coal, clay pits, slate quarries, and other descriptions even of real property escaped the operation of the Act. From local taxation to the amount of 12,000,000l., it was proposed to deduct 2,000,000l., and to place what was struck off in the accounts of the nation. Even if that were done, 10,000,000l. would remain to be assessed as unequally as at that moment. To complain of inequality of taxation, and to propose 1091 to go into Committee without any intention of removing that inequality, seemed to him highly illogical and absurd. He feared that inequality was a necessary incident of taxation, that it was, in fact, impossible to assess property equally under any system whatever. Taxation was an implement which was rather rude in its nature, and unable to make nice distinctions. He put it to hon. Members opposite, whether duties on the chief articles of consumption bore with an equal per centage on the property of the poor and that of the rich. The true explanation of the inequality was to be found in the fact, that if taxation were levied merely on the luxuries of life, the revenue would not be productive enough to meet the necessary public expenditure. He feared, therefore, that the attainment of abstract equality in taxation was impracticable. The hon. Baronet who had just sat down had told them that the reduction in the expenditure for the maintenance of the poor, was owing to the reduction in the cost of provisions. The last report of the Poor Law Board showed, however, a considerable diminution in the number of paupers.
|DIMINUTION OF PAUPERISM.|
|Number of paupers of all classes relieved in-doors and out-of-doors, in 580 unions, on the 1st of July, 1848||893,743|
|Same day 1849||827,919|
|Equal to 7.4 per cent.|
|Same return from 602 unions, of all classes of paupers, relieved in-doors and out, on the 1st of January.||987,996|
|On same day, 1850||924,672|
|Equal to 6.4 per cent.|
|Number of adult ablebodied paupers relieved in-doors and out on the 1st of January, 1849, in 590 unions.||201,644|
|Same day, 1850||170,502|
|Equal to 15.4 per cent.|
§ In all these cases there was not merely a reduction of expenditure, but of the number of paupers. The hon. Member for East Lothian had said, that the agricultural interest was entitled to compensation as an indemnity for the peculiar burdens it sustained. He assented to that doctrine; but he would ask the hon. Gentleman if the agricultural classes had not in many cases enjoyed exemption? The Excise duties on agriculture repealed since 1815 were: On beer, 1092 3,106,000l.; cider, 52,000l.; hides, &c, 735,000l.; starch, 117,000l,; tiles, 33,000l.; vinegar, 59,000l.:—total, 4,102,000l. Those reduced on malt were, 2,352,000l.; and on spirits, 381,000l.; making a total repealed and reduced, 6,835,000l. Duties taken off miscellaneous articles—farm servants, horses, carriages chiefly used in husbandry, &c, valued at 985,000 l.; insurance on farming stock, value of exemption in 1847, 87,288l. This House, too, had in 1848 voted 348,000l. for prosecutions. It was said that a reduction of many of these duties was of no benefit to the producer, the burden of their payment falling on the consumer. If it were not, then the repeal of the malt duty could confer no advantage; if it were, then he was entitled to place the reduction as compensation; and at all events, there was the possibility of an increased demand. He would do the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire the justice to acknowledge that his speech that evening was fair and temperate, and marked by a spirit of justice and reason; but there was one expression in that speech which he (Mr. Hobhouse) had regretted to hear, namely, "that the distress of the agricultural classes was strangely coincident with the late alteration of the laws regarding agriculture." He maintained that that view could not be supported. Were the agriculturists ever satisfied under the system of protection? On the contrary, was not Committee after Committee moved for to inquire into the causes of distress? Therefore it was hardly just that the hon. Gentleman should say that the distress of agriculture was strangely coincident with the change of the law. He was one of those who thought that this country had derived the greatest benefit from free trade in corn, and he rejoiced that even the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire had evinced no disposition to unsettle the existing arrangements. The hon. Gentleman contended that his proposition would tend to the relief of the agricultural classes, but he had not specified in his Motion which of those classes it would relieve. Dolus latet in generalibus. He (Mr. Hobhouse) would wish to ask the hon. Gentleman whether it was the landlord, the tenant, or the labourer, whom he aimed to benefit by a transfer of the proposed reduction of taxation to the national account? With regard to the proposition now before the House, he believed that if it were carried, the entire advantage would accrue to the 1093 landlord, and that the reduction in the rates would have the effect of increasing rents. Representing a city which was the capital of an agricultural county, he had felt anxious to state his reasons for opposing the Motion. He should vote against it without the least distrust; confident that the hon. Gentleman's plan was not calculated to remove the inequalities complained of, and that if the plan were adopted, the complaints of unequal assessment, unequal taxation, and unequal rates would continue to pour in from the agricultural districts.
§ LORD J. MANNERS
said, the hon. Member who had last spoken must be regarded as belonging to the perfectionist school of politicians, for he had refused to support the Resolution of his hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire on the ground that if it were carried a certain amount of inequality of taxation would still remain. Now, if the hon. Member's objection were justly founded, still it was no valid reason why he should decline doing all that lay in his power to remove the distress. He must say, that, until he heard the speech of the right hon. the Secretary for the Home Department, he thought that all hon. Members of that House, admitting as they did that distress existed, and that all right hon. Gentlemen and noble Lords who complained that accusations were brought against them charging them with being indifferent to that distress, would have joined with his hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire in his reasonable proposition—a proposition not founded on injustice to any class of the empire; for if it were true, as it was asserted by hon. Members, that Manchester and Leeds paid their just share towards the taxation of the country, then the proposition of his hon. Friend would afford them the same benefit which he sought to confer on the other parts of England. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary showed that he felt the pressure of this argument, for in the early part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be combating imaginary arguments made use of by somebody or other on some former occasion. In fact, in listening to that portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech relative to the exemption of stock in trade, one could not help feeling that the arguments used were the right hon. Gentleman's entire stock in trade. The right hon. Gentleman had taken two main objections to the proposition of his hon. 1094 Friend. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman had glanced over that portion of his hon. Friend's speech alluding to the general distress which existed, and contended that the diminution in pauperism and crime showed the distress was not so great as was stated. Now, the right hon. Gentleman's argument, as to the diminution of crime, was fallacious, for he had contrasted the year 1848, the exceptional year of manufacturing distress, with 1849, the year—but, he feared, not the exceptional year—of agricultural distress. What logical inference could be drawn from the comparison? The inevitable conclusion, if you must argue from such premises was, that the agricultural classes, under suffering and privation, were less turbulent and disposed to crime than the manufacturing classes. But he denied the propriety of any such reasoning. The right hon. Gentleman had then argued that pauperism had much diminished. He had not had time to look with accuracy over the last returns, but in glancing over their pages he had seen that the Poor Law Commissioners painted in very gloomy colours the condition and prospects of the country. The right hon. Gentleman said, that, connected as he was with the north of England, he was happy to state that distress amongst the agricultural classes was there unknown. [Sir G. GREY: I said amongst the agricultural labourers.] That was correct; and he was sorry he had unintentionally misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman. He had, however, imagined that Durham was a county of some importance, and it struck him, in listening to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, that distress was there very general, for there had been a marked increase of pauperism during the year.
§ SIR G. GREY
The noble Lord has mistaken my meaning, for I stated that no distress existed amongst the agricultural labourers. Durham is a mining, not an agricultural, county.
§ LORD J. MANNERS
would ask, were there no agricultural labourers in Durham, and was not the mining interest included amongst those classes whose prosperity had been so vaunted in the Speech from the Throne? What, had the President's Message already had power to prostrate the mining industry of the North, and add 10 per cent to the pauperism of Durham? The right hon. Gentleman had wished his hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire to alter his proposition, but stated, that if he would propose 1095 some substantive plan the House would be justified in considering the question. Now, if any proposition were made by any hon. Gentleman on that side of the House, right hon. Gentlemen, high in office, would immediately point out some other course which should have been adopted. The hon. Member for Dovor had followed the same line of argument in saying that if his (Lord J. Manners') hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire had asked only for a Select Committee, he would have supported him. The practical mode of dealing with a question was to take one point at a time and discuss it. Now, not one hon. Member had shown that the claim put forward by his hon. Friend was not founded on justice, and calculated to remove the distress which admittedly existed. If the proposition went towards mitigating the distress, what argument had, during the debate, been adduced against it? They had heard that in 1813 the poor-rate was higher than in 1845: it might have been so; but then wages were constantly paid out of the allowance money. He had always been told that the Gentlemen of the school of Manchester were prepared to treat all questions of taxation with perfect justice. Now, he would say that the proposition which his hon. Friend had made was based on the principles of justice—it set up no antagonism between the various classes and interests of the community; and he would ask the Gentlemen of the Manchester school if they were prepared to resist that proposition, because it might be said—although he did not believe that it did—that some classes of the community would be made to take a more practical interest in the welfare of the country—because the mortgagee, the fundholder, and the life annuitant might come in an infinitesimal degree under the operations of the tax-gatherer. He did not intend to thrust on the House an assertion that the Manchester school had ever been careful to carry out their own interests—he would not then stop to ask how it was that the silk trade was still protected; it might be that this trade did not value protection; but he would rather take the opinion of a practical man, such as Mr. Lewis, of Derby, on the question, than the assertion of the hon. Member for Lincoln. Assuming, however, that the manufacturers of York, the master clotheirs, had derived no benefit in having their soap duty free—assuming that the duties levied on hats and watches, on ribbons 1096 and gloves by a cast-iron Chancellor of the Exchequer had conferred no benefit on their manufacturers—assuming all this, he would ask hon. Gentlemen of the Manchester school if they could, in accordance with their recognised principles, refuse the proposition of his hon. Friend, because it might have the effect of bringing some of the classes of the country hitherto under exemption within the operations of the tax-gatherer. That was the question at issue. Even the ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had failed in proving that the burdens on land in the reign of Elizabeth included vaccination fees, registration expenses, and lunatic asylums. Believing as he did that justice and common sense were on their side—believing that the abstract opinions of Gentlemen opposite should induce them to give their votes to his hon. Friend—he owned he should despair of procuring those votes if he could not appeal to the language of a right hon. Gentleman whose opinions had ever carried weight with that House—language made use of on a most important occasion. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, in speaking on this subject, said—He was willing to admit that, when it was found that persona possessed considerable property in the large manufacturing towns, that property ought to be made to contribute assistance towards local charges, and in so doing the burdens would be more equitably distributed.They were endeavouring to carry out this view without casting injustice upon any class; they were endeavouring to carry it out in a spirit not in any degree hostile to Her Majesty's Government, or hostile to any of the great interests of the country—in a spirit that must recommend these Resolutions of his hon. Friend to the approbation of all candid and impartial men. The opening part of the right hon. the Home Secretary's speech was rather a laboured attempt to show that his (Lord J. Manners') hon. Friend, in bringing forward his proposition, had triumphed over his friends out of doors. Now he could assure them there was no difference between those two classes of opinion to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded. What gentlemen said out of doors was this, that they had lost all confidence in the justice of the House of Commons. But his hon. Friend said there was a measure of relief which might consistently be adopted by that House, and that they should strive to make the best of 1097 what was a bad business. But did be say, or did any hon. Gentleman understand that, in proposing those Resolutions, he imagined he was asking the full debt of justice to the agricultural interests? No such thing. But if they could carry this proposition, they would to some extent mitigate the cruel injustice which now pressed upon the landed interest. It was vain for hon. Gentlemen to disguise that local burdens were a real and sensible grievance upon the land. He did not wish to weary the House with details; but there were two examples in the county in which he lived: one was a village, a few miles distant from the manufacturing town of Leicester; it contained 978 inhabitants, of whom 130 were engaged in agriculture, the whole of the remaining population being dependent upon manufactures; he would ask the House what was the proportion of poor-rate levied on a farm of 251 acres in six years? No less a sum than 615l. 14s., or more than 110l. a year, or 8s. 6d. per acre. Adjoining the parish to which he alluded, was another, which, upon the authority of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Poor Law Board, might be taken as a model parish. The parish of Humber-stone, containing 461 inhabitants, ever since the introduction of the new poor-law, had not contributed one pauper to the union, and yet the amount of taxation for three years on 98 acres for poor-rates, was 93l. 6s. 2d. for settlement charges. He would ask, was there injustice in putting these settlement charges upon the footing which his hon. Friend proposed? But he found another argument in favour of the view of his hon. Friend if he turned his eye across the Channel, and looked at the condition of Ireland, and he hoped that before the debate concluded, it would receive some elucidation from the hon. Gentlemen connected with that unfortunate country. His hon. Friend stated that relief ought to be afforded to the struggling agricultural interests of Ireland. They should not forget that the main burden had fallen upon the land, and may be estimated at 500,000l. a year. As English Members, Session after Session they were met by appeals from the noble Lord at the head of the Treasury for grants of public money to enable the Irish poor-law machinery to work. He would, therefore, vote for any proposition for relieving the overburdened land of Ireland, and which would give a sensible encouragement to cultivation 1098 and employment to the people. A great deal had been said about the subject of the casual poor; be believed the term implied vagrants, and he could not understand why vagrants from Birmingham, Leeds, and other towns, who make a tour through the country districts, why their maintenance should be saddled upon the parish where the relieving officer happened to live. [The noble Lord read extracts from the published opinion of gentlemen connected with the operation of the poor laws; also an extract from the opinion of Captain Robinson, who said the time had certainly come when it would be unsafe to delay remedial measures; and also the opinion of the Ipswich board of guardians that it was expedient to repeal the law relating to the settlement of the poor, and have the poor relieved by a general rate made on the entire property of the country.] Whether it was proper or not to abrogate the law of settlement of the poor, there could be no doubt on the mind of any one acquainted with the agricultural districts that a moderate relief would be afforded to them by the proposition of his hon. Friend. There may be Gentlemen, like the hon. Member for Dovor, inclined to balance their opinions by their votes; there may be those who will discuss and debate this question on considerations apart from its real merits. But the course we take is clear; the path we tread is that of honour and justice; and we traverse it with no misgivings as to the future. I vote for this measure, and I hope the majority of this House will vote for it, because I know it to be just, and believe it to be politic; because it will afford some relief to the struggling and oppressed agriculture of the country, and because it will cement the union between two sister kingdoms, who suffering from a common wrong will benefit by a common redress.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said: I must admit that the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire has been of a more practical character than usual. I think there have been fewer expressions that tended to mystify the House, and perhaps the country also; still I cannot refrain from expressing my strong belief that both the House and the country will discover that the grounds upon which the hon. Gentleman bases his Motion are altogether untenable. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, as I understand it, comes before the House with a proposition based chiefly upon the fact which many hon. Gentlemen 1099 seemed disposed to admit without question, that there prevails throughout the country a very large amount of extreme distress, and in some way or other this proposition is intended as a compensation for the loss of the corn law; and he asserts that it is not unjust to the general interests of the country, while it will give a real and considerable advantage to the classes of which the hon. Gentleman is admitted to be the advocate. Now, I am not disposed to admit without question the hon. Member's first proposition, as to the existence of extreme agricultural distress at the present moment. There is no hon. Member in this House, nor many persons out of it, who do not know that there are cases of tenant farmers who, during this present year, have been carrying on their agricultural operations not only without loss, but actually with a profit. And, further, I am prepared to state that the hon. Member has not submitted to the House one single well-authenticated case in which the fee of the land has been depreciated in value, or in which its rent has been permanently lowered. The hon. Member says that the farmers have three hundred millions of capital engaged in the cultivation of the soil; that they are cultivating it without profit, and that the fee of the land has depreciated in value. Now, I am for the most part disposed to dispute these assertions; but, for the sake of argument, I will admit that what he says is true. Has the hon. Member ever cast his eye over other descriptions of property, or considered what have been the fluctuations in its value during the last four years? Has he inquired into the condition of the mining interest, of the iron manufacturing interest, or that of the owners of mills engaged in all branches of the staple manufactures of this country? Has he ever inquired whether their selling price, or that of their productions, has been as high during the last three years as it was for some years previously? And, above all, has the hon. Member ever cast his eye over the share list, in which I hope he has no other interest than that of a spectator? If he had made those inquiries, he would have found that the great railway interest has been affected—affected, too, by the unwise legislation of this House. Four or five years since the railway interest was perhaps unnaturally prosperous, now it is unnaturally depressed; and with regard to that interest as connected with the poor-rate, I would remind the House that we 1100 have facts to show that the railways pass over 3,000 parishes in England, that the poor-rate of these parishes amounts to 800,000l. per annum, and that these railways, the vast majority of which have not stations in these parishes, pay 250,000l. out of that 800,000l. poor-rate. The hon. Member, with a judiciousness which I could not but admire, paid a compliment to my right hon. Friend at the head of the Poor Law Board—a compliment in which I entirely coincide, but he stated that he had not asked for any more recent returns on the subject of the poor-rate because he did not wish give trouble to that distinguished public officer, or the board over which he presides. I think I can promise that neither he nor any of his Friends will move any more for returns of poor-rates with a view of showing the distress of the country, or of advocating a return to the protective system, or a transfer of rates and taxes from what he calls real property to the other kinds of property in the kingdom. There were some points in the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department which I think ought to settle the question to a great extent—I mean those points which referred to the decrease of crime and of pauperism in the country. The noble Lord who spoke last doubts whether these statements are true, and whether this state of things has been influenced by the price of food; but if he will turn back to the year 1836 he will find that the whole commitments for England and Wales in that year were but 20,600 in number, and that from that year, when prices were as low as they are now, until 1842, which was the termination of a period of high prices, the commitments had risen from 20,600 to 32,000; and if he goes on through the years 1843, 1844, 1845, and 1846, he will find that as the price of food was falling there was a consequent decline in the number of commitments, and that this state of things only changed in 1847, when the prices were such as to be highly remunerative to the farmers and the proprietors of land. Now, in the face of the facts brought forward by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon, when he sat on this side of the House, and those which have since been brought forward by his right hon. successor, I am astonished that any man of common sense or feeling can demand or justify a system that entailed upon the country, and more especially on the poorer population, such evil consequences as have been demonstrated 1101 by the returns laid on the table of this House. But the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire said that his proposition was very practical. Nobody can deny that. All these propositions for taking taxes off one man and putting them on another, are practical enough. The House of Commons has made these practical changes from time immemorial, and sometimes with very little regard to justice; but the hon. Member says further that his proposal is something in the way of compensation to the agricultural classes for the losses they have sustained by the legislation of 1846. He admits that the landed proprietors have inherited the land burdened with poor-rates, but he urges that they inherited protection also, either in bounties during the last century, or prohibitory duties during the present. But the hon. Member must know that long since the poor-rates were laid on and collected, this country has exported corn to foreign countries, and that for a considerable period the import duty was not more than 6d., or at most 1s., the quarter. I maintain, however, that the loss of the corn law is no justification for his proposition, if that proposition be not in itself just and reasonable without any reference to the corn laws. ["Hear, hear!" from the Opposition.] Well, I am glad to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite accept that position, because of that corn law the House and the people have decided—and I believe that some Gentlemen who are going to vote with the hon. Member acquiesced in that decision—that it was unjust, a crime against the people, and an usurpation of the foulest and most injurious description. The people never acquiesced in that corn law. You passed it under a protest of the most fearful kind, and it has been protested against throughout its duration by the great body of the population, certainly within the limits of this island. There are, no doubt, Gentlemen opposite old enough to remember the fear and terror under which they came down to this House, when the corn law was passed in 1815. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Stamford, perhaps recollects the time when he had to press his way through military and police into the senate of the united kingdom. Indeed, I have heard that a certain military gentleman dates his conversion to free trade from a very severe wound on the head he received, when military, police, and Members were indiscriminately attacked by large concourses 1102 of the people. But there are, no doubt, heads into which arguments cannot be made to penetrate, except by means even as objectionable as this. Well, I maintain that if this House has decided that thirty years of the corn law was wrong and unjust, it forms no plea for coming down to the House with any such proposition as that of the hon. Member. Therefore, I submit, that unless that proposition can stand by itself without any appeal to the question of protection, it is not worthy of one moment's consideration in this House of Parliament. The hon. Member met with some difficulty in the course of his speech, but avoided it adroitly, endeavouring to show that what he calls the agricultural interest has some interest in the question he proposes. He says that we are estopped from considering separately the interest of landlord and tenant; that we must consider them as one interest, and that with such definition we must be content. Now, I find that the hon. Member plays fast and loose with this great interest, and so do his followers. The time was that the agricultural interest was asserted boldly to mean nothing but the tenant farmers. Now the proposition is discussed, and the tenant farmers are lost sight of, the owners of real property being the only persons to be benefited. ["Hear, hear!"] In truth I do not know whom you will have to be the agricultural interest yet? I should not wonder if at last you claimed as one of the agricultural interest the man who lives in the Haymarket or Lincoln's Inn Fields. The great point has been to get up a cry—and that has been your great difficulty during the recess—a cry by which you could unite landlord and tenant in one general assault upon the taxation of the country and the resources of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will tell you what is my notion of this proposition of the hon. Member. I admit that it is practical and simple, and I admit that some of the objections which were raised to the proposition of last year do not apply to this. The proposition is, that some two millions sterling, now collected for certain local and general purposes on landed property and buildings, shall henceforth be not so collected, but be transferred to the general taxation of the country, a very large portion of which, much the largest, comes upon the great body of the people, and is paid in taxes on articles they consume. If then, as urged by the hon. 1103 Member, these taxes are a burthen on the land, the result of his proposition will be that the occupiers of the soil will be able to add as much to the proprietors' rental as is subtracted from their burthens by this transfer of taxation. Now I think I may appeal to the House whether the time is not gone by when Parliament would listen to any proposition for removing taxes from property and placing them on industry and consumption. One of the great results of the measures adopted by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth during his tenure of office is, that many taxes have been taken off, which certainly, in time of peace, can never be reimposed. You have found that taxes on consumption are not only not the most productive, but that they are destructive of the comforts of the people; and I believe that no Chancellor of the Exchequer will again be found to ask that the revenue of the country be increased by a system of taxation which not only takes the money from the people, but interferes with the industry and comforts of the great body of the working population of the kingdom. Let it then be generally understood that the proposition of the hon. Member comes to this. I do not say that it is a question between the land and the towns, because the right hon. Baronet has shown that the land and the towns will be equally relieved by the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. It is not, then, a question between land and the towns, but it is a question between the owners of property, who have something, and the great masses, "the have-nothings," as they are called, and who, if such measures are persisted in, will be "have-nothings" to the end of time. That is the principle upon which I shall oppose the proposition of the hon. Member; but I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite—and they being the farmers' friends, I have a right to ask the question—in what way do you expect by this proposition to satisfy the vast clamour you excited or participated in during the recess? I am not the farmer's friend—I never made any claim to that character; but in this House, as out of it, there is no just proposition which the farmers can make, and no just principle the application of which will sub-serve their interest, which I will not advocate and vote for; but I will not come to this House after exciting a clamour through the country that I am about to relieve the farmer, and then make a proposition that a child of five years old could discover had 1104 no reference to the interest of the occupier, but is solely directed to the interests of the landlord. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary has shown that 45 per cent of the poor-rate is all that is paid by the land, and that is not all paid by agricultural land. Well, then, if all the relief he proposes to give landed property be 45 per cent, that is all the interest the land can have in his proposition. And if 45 per cent is all this great interest of landlord, tenant, and labourer, together can get, I should like to have it defined how much of this 45 per cent will remain in the pockets of the occupying tenant. The hon. Gentleman proposes that this 45 per cent should be the extent of the relief, so far as the landed interest is concerned; but then he expects that to give them this, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to continue the other taxes which the farmers now partly pay, as the tax upon tea, the tax on coffee, the tax on tobacco, the taxes on wines and spirit, and the tax on malt. All these taxes must be continued, if the proposition he now threatens us with were to be successful, and the great burden of the rates were transferred from the property to the industry and labour of the general body of the people. But how do Gentlemen opposite act when real measures for the relief of the tenant farmer are under discussion? There was a proposition the other day for a County Bates Bill, which met with no very favourable reception from the other side; and it will be my duty by-and-by to ask if hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree to a modification or abolition of the law for encouraging the preservation of game? We shall find then whether the hon. Gentlemen are willing to apply those great and just principles, of which we have heard so much to-night, to a practical grievance which is much greater on the farmer than anything that can arise from the cost of the establishments of poor-law unions. There is also the question of the Tenant Compensation Bill. I shall be delighted to find that those Gentlemen who stand forward as the tenant-farmers' friends support that. If the landlords were wise, they would take another course from that they are adopting. I am sorry, for more reasons than one, that I am not a landed proprietor. I am especially sorry for one reason, which is, that I am not able to speak to my brother proprietors with that weight which I should do were I one of them. Were I a landed proprietor, I should say to my brother proprietors—if 1105 trade continues prosperous, if manufactures and commerce increase, if employment is more permanent and the wages of labour are steadier and more remunerating than heretofore—if your list of criminals is diminishing year by year, and your poor-law returns show that thousands and tens of thousands of hitherto helpless men, women, and children, are lifted from the mire of pauperism in which they have been so long sunk, to an independent and comfortable position—I should say to them, if such events should follow, as I believe they will, from the adoption of the free-trade policy which hon. Gentlemen opposite deride so much, then the position of the landed proprietor is the most fortunate and happy in this present change of any; for, as prosperity increases he must obtain a greater increase of wealth, there will be more competition for land for agricultural purposes, for building purposes, and for manufacturing purposes—for purposes of pleasure and enjoyment—and while that is going on, not only will you obtain a larger amount of wealth, but far greater security for those possessions with which Providence has blessed you. But to come here and ask for the abolition of the poor-rate, and for the transferring taxes from you to other classes of the community, is what you would never do if you considered your own permanent interests. There are other interests in the country who could come to this House and speak of loss sustained by them from the depreciation of invested and floating capital; but they have not demanded compensation as you have done. You have ruled in past times in the House with an undisputed sway. You have been in the habit on the hustings of teaching the people that you came here to promote agricultural prosperity and to maintain a high price for corn. As sensible men, I would say to you, get rid of this habit as soon as possible. Well would it be for you if all the volumes of Hansard for the last ten years could be burnt; for then your children and grandchildren could never have the opportunity of reading the speeches you have made in this House. I am convinced that the proposition of the hon. Gentleman contains within it no element of benefit, improvement, or restitution, to the tenant farmer of this country, and that being my opinion, I will be no party to a proposition the object of which is to transfer taxes from real property and lay them on the industry of the country. To do so would be to reverse the policy of 1106 the last seven years—a policy which has been pursued with advantage to the population, and which is tending to the permanent security of every valuable institution in the kingdom.
Sir, I feel that it would require greater powers of mystification than those which are possessed by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, or even by my hon. Friend who opened this debate, if either of them, singly or jointly together, could persuade the farmers at this moment that they were not suffering distress. I know not what the hon. Member for Manchester means by "exciting a cry" in the country. If he means that I have ever, directly or indirectly, told the farmers that I could obtain for them relief, or that I have ever encouraged them to hope for a reversal of that policy which has been pursued for some years past, I tell him that he is wholly mistaken. It is many years ago since I said that the moment peace was established it would be impossible for a continuance of years to keep prices upon an average higher than those upon the Continent. I have maintained that to this moment; but the farmers do feel themselves to be deeply afflicted. It has not been myself, or any of my friends, who have excited them. On the contrary, the little influence which I have amongst them has been used to allay excitement. They have declared plainly and openly that they were betrayed by the men in whom they had trusted. They have felt deeply the injustice of elevating a faction into power upon their shoulders, and their being themselves kicked off ignominiously as a useless footstool. The farmers are plain-spoken men—they call language of that sort treachery, and those who use it traitors. But I do not defend such language—I regret it, and have done something to stop it. I deeply regret that animosity should remain; for many of the persons whom they accuse are my personal friends; and, independently of that, I am sorry to see a body of able men condemned, however justly, to political inanity. But that which both sides of the House have declared to be essential policy, is that justice should be done. You ought to have done something to those who were affected by your policy—to mortgagees, to those who hold large tracts in the country, to those who have paid just before the year of change heavy fines for church leases, and who have been distinctly defrauded by the Act. This is not the first time that 1107 large bodies of the people have come down to this House as suppliants, proclaiming their distresses; but it is the first time within my knowledge that their complaints have been treated with indifference by this House. Their statements of distress have been distinctly contradicted by hon. Members opposite, as if the farmers were not the only judges of whether they are in distress or not. And, Sir, I cannot help contrasting the way in which they have been used with the way the manufacturing and trading interests have been received when they were suffering, and when they came forward and stated their distresses to the Legislature. Were they sneered at? Were they laughed at like the farmers for not understanding the science of agriculture? Bid not the hon. Member for the West Riding the other night tell us that all great discoverers ruined themselves, but that afterwards another generation arose who profited thereby; so that, according to the hon. Member's doctrine, the farmers are to begin by making experiments; they are then to pass into the workhouse, and a happier race is to succeed them. Were the manufacturers ever taunted in this House with their ignorance? Yet is it not notorious that no English manufacturer ever yet made one single useful discovery in arts or science? We have heard a good deal of the School of Manchester. What has it ever produced that was scientific or useful? Has it any name in chemistry to boast of? Can it point to a Fourcroy? Can they quote any Manchester manufacturer who has written upon any scientific subject connected with his trade? Why, Sir, it is well known that they know no more of the chemical agents required for their own printworks than the blocks they use. Nay, Sir, did we not take pity upon their intense vulgarity? They confessed that nothing but the actual cheapness of their wares could find them a market, and that there was not a person in Europe who would not prefer the more artistic taste and the more beautiful fabrics of the French, or, indeed, even of the Chinese manufacturer, to theirs. Yes, indeed, it was so; and, in mercy, we gave you a school of design; but so little have you profited by it, that in the last report of that school it is stated that you draw just as badly as ever. No one, that I ever heard of, doubted, that by taking off taxes from trade, that benefit would not be derived, and trade increase. But what we simply denied was, that this 1108 was a national, and not merely a class, question. Moreover, we said the question was not how we are to have corn cheap, but how we are to procure equality of prices. By tables which were moved for, and which will supply facts in place of opinions, we find that in Dantzic there has been for years past a greater fluctuation in corn prices in a given time than ever occured in England. Hon. Gentlemen from Manchester only gave us one side of their balance-sheet. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department gave a fine picture of the present state of trade. But what was on the other side? You forgot to mention the trade you have annihilated. You have annihilated the kelp trade. You have created distress in the north-west of Scotland, and have aggravated the distress in the north-west of Ireland. You annihilated one-half of the value of all the timber in England; you annihilated half the value of the bark in England; you have now annihilated half the capital of all the tenant farmers of England; and you have reduced the renting value of landed property from 80s. to 40s. an acre. The necessary consequence of all these things is, that every tenant who has been farming with borrowed capital must fail, and every landed estate which is mortgaged must be sold. Now, what I want is, that in all matters of this kind we shall see the plain truth, and adapt ourselves to it. This is the end at which hon. Gentlemen opposite are driving. They have told you so—they have tried to produce this result. Why not admit the result when you see it before you? It is, I admit, a debateable question, whether it would not be for the benefit of the country were land in a greater number of hands. But then what I say is, that the quantity of property you have destroyed by your measures, is more than equal to the whole amount you say the country has gained by the new policy. This, then, is a class policy. It was intended to be so; and for the gratification of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, I will show him before I sit down, what are the ulterior measures these Gentlemen have in view. One of the grounds on which you have advocated your free-trade principles, is on account of the benefit to accrue to the poor. The poor are quite as good judges of what is for their good as the farmers; and when trying to persuade farmers' labourers that it is better to have cheap corn than dear corn, I never get any other answer than that "it is always best 1109 for us when corn is dear." What they mean is this—they do not deny that it is better to have a large loaf for 6d. than a small one; but when corn is dear, they are more certain of employment. [Mr. BRIGHT: No, no!] The hon. Gentleman says no; I say yes; and I assert that when corn is dear, more labourers are employed on the land. Why, the hon. Gentleman thinks you can shut up a farm and work it only three days in the week as they do cotton-mills. Hon. Gentlemen opposite think a farm can be worked half time. To cease continuous cultivation is the way in which land gets deteriorated, and farmers suffer. When prices are falling, farmers don't hold up, but go to ruin. Farmers do not put money in the bank for a rainy day; when times are good they buy artificial manures; they exchange bad implements for good; all the money they make in a good year they invest on the land, and when, by violent measures of legislation, their business is interfered with, they are ruined, and have nothing left to fall back upon. I say that your acts of free trade have deprived labourer and farmer of all security. And what do you want? Why, you want the advertisement duty to be taken off; you want to be puffed off in the newspapers. You asked, and you insisted, on free trade, because you get your cotton to China by it; but you object to taking off the taxes on beer. Oh, no, when the farmer's labourer, who is wet through 250 days out of the 310 working days, when he comes home from work, instead of a glass of good ale, you want to give him a newspaper to read. This is your love for the labourer, this is the way in which you free-traders benefit the poor man. The hon. Member for the West Riding, the other night, enumerated the vast benefits which had resulted from free trade. See, said he, how cheap you can buy preserved fruits; preserved fruit one of the luxuries of genteel life; see how cheap sugar is, that is to say, the manufacturers can get their sugar-plums cheap. But how does free trade act in the country? Every foreign trade employs foreign labourers only, and not British labourers. I say you ought to have a duty on everything that comes from a foreign country. If you have free trade, I insist that we shall have a right to use our barley as we please. I insist that the labourer have a right to pick his hops from his hedge and use them as he likes. I say that the people of Lancashire, the people of Ireland, and the people of the East Riding of Yorkshire, 1110 shall be allowed to grow tobacco. I insist that you shall carry out these things, and until you do, there shall be no peace for you. You think you have settled the question of free trade—I tell you it is now but the first skirmish of the battle. You have urged the question in such a way that you have made the expression of free-trader and protectionist the terms to distinguish opposing parties. The struggle is yet to come between capital and labour—it is yet to be made between wealth and life. You are the advocates for money and capital, coute qui coute! but I say the labourer shall also have the right to exist. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite have made a great discovery. One hon. Gentleman opposite has told us, what you will be somewhat surprised to hear, namely, that we are not an agricultural country. He says, "If the prosperity of the country depended on agriculture, we should have nothing worth protection. It is manufactures that give the country wealth, power, and population." Wealth, you see, is placed first—Si possis recté,Si non, quocunque modo rem.Who were they who hinted they would see all the towns between Portsmouth and Plymouth burning, rather than keep a navy to avenge the insult? Sir, I will support the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire; but it is nothing to what we mean to have. We will have the excise done away with. Your old cry of faith with the public creditor has lost much of its charm. [Laughter, and great confusion, in the midst of which Mr. Speaker repeatedly called Members to order.] Oh, it is of no use, Sir, when you see hon. Gentlemen with white waistcoats and brilliant eyes, your attempting to control them. But, as I was saying, the cry of good faith with the public creditor has lost much of its force. You say—Would we rob widows and orphans? Why, Sir, the farmers and yeomen are saying—Let us look to our own wives and our own children. So, far, however, from wishing to do anything of the kind I allude to, I would support any Government which would lay directly upon the rich a load of taxation sufficient to enable the Exchequer to allow the labourer to brew his own beer, to build his house with his own bricks, and grow anything he pleases. As to the insults heaped upon the land—fortunately the supremacy of the land is not much affected by them. The land!—why, Sir, it is as much superior to 1111 the manufacturing interest, as an oaken cudgel is to a cotton thread. And I will Bay of the land as the poet said of the oak which grows upon it—It holds its primeval rights from nature's charter,Not at the nod of Manchester.
§ CAPTAIN DUDLEY PELHAM
apologised for trespassing on the House at that late hour, but he wished briefly to express his opinion, that if they were to reconsider the question of poor-law taxation they must be prepared to examine carefully into the whole question of the liability of property to be rated. He believed that the proposition of transferring the rates to the Consolidated Fund was not a sound one, and that if they were to have a national rate it must be a direct tax, in the form of a property and income tax. He believed that if such an arrangement were adopted it would not be open to the objections applicable to a proposition for fixing the rate on the Consolidated Fund; and that it would be found compatible with a continuance of the system of local management which it was so desirable to maintain. He believed there were two ways of dealing with this question of the poor-rates—that they might confine themselves to the present system of assessing property; but at the same time most materially relieve the landed interest by altering the laws of settlement and removal, and establishing a union liability and a union rating, conjointly with necessary measures of economy; or else by adopting a uniform or a graduated scale of rating on all property and income. If they assume that the expense of maintaining the poor amounted to 5,500,000l., and if they took the number of parishes to be 5,000, in which the amount of poor-rate is less than 1s. 6d. in the pound, and above 8,000 in which it exceeds this sum, they would find the poor-rates to be about 1s. 6d. in the pound in the aggregate. But a tax equal to the present property and income tax would do more than defray the expense of maintaining the poor. He would not, at that late hour, go more into detail, but he would merely add that hon. Gentlemen opposite ought not to rest the matter on the mere fact of agricultural distress, because many Members on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, who would willingly join in a more equitable arrangement of taxation, believed that the existing distress was of a temporary nature, and that the hon. Gentleman the 1112 Member for Buckinghamshire therefore had rested his proposition on a most improper foundation. He hoped that the supporters of the agricultural interest would not rest their case on such shallow grounds, but that they would bring forward measures which would apply to the more equitable arrangement of the whole taxation of the country. If they did so, and if they could show that the landed interest was unfairly burdened, there could be no doubt but that the country would support them in obtaining justice.
§ MR. STAFFORD
moved the adjournment of the debate, and said that he understood that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had agreed to allow it to proceed on Thursday.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
said, he thought it better always to appoint the earliest day possible on such occasions, and he had therefore suggested Thursday.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.
§ The House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock.