§ MR. DISRAELI moved that the paragraphs in Her Majesty's gracious Speech, relating to the condition of the country be read by the clerk at the table.
The Clerk then read the following paragraphs:—
Notwithstanding the large reductions of taxation which have been effected in late years, the receipts of the revenue have been satisfactory.
The state of the commerce and manufactures of the united kingdom has been such as to afford general employment to the labouring classes.
I have to lament, however, the difficulties which are still felt by that important body among my people who are owners and occupiers of land.
But it is my confident hope, that the prosperous condition of other classes of my subjects will have a favourable effect in diminishing those difficulties, and promoting the interests of agriculture.
§ MR. DISRAELI
then proceeded: Mr. Speaker, a condition of general prosperity in a country concurrent with the continued depression of a most important class of the community, appears to me to be a conjuncture which should make a Minister reflect; but if such a combination of circumstances be brought about by legislation which has at the same time produced the general prosperity and the particular depression, I think the subject becomes one which merits not only the consideration of Cabinets, but also the deliberation of Parliament. These remarks, I think, apply to the present condition of the owners and occupiers of land in the united kingdom. It was at first my intention to have offered to the House evidence now in my possession as to that present condition. I would have offered to the House evidence afforded by men in various parts of the kingdom, and who are widely and extensively engaged in the cultivation of the soil—men who are in their class of the highest reputation and merit—many of them known to Members on both sides of the House in Scotland and in Ireland as well as in England. I feel, generally speaking, that there is an objection to such evidence, however respectable, and however supported by the names of those who offer their testimony. I feel that there is a general objection to such evidence being offered in Parliamentary discussion, because it is not subjected to cross-examination, and if brought forward by a private Member of this House, does not bear the stamp of official authority. Trusting, 375 however, to the high character of that evidence, I should have felt it my duty to trouble the House at some length on this head, but for the admission in the Speech from the Throne, and from Her Majesty's Ministers. They declare that there are difficulties still felt by those classes of Her Majesty's subjects who are owners and occupiers of land. Those admissions render it no longer necessary to dwell upon that evidence. They will curtail the observations I have to offer to the House, and will save me from making remarks which might bear a wearisome character. I think I may say, without any exaggeration, that the fact of the co-existence of great and continued depression amongst the owners and occupiers of the soil of the united kingdom—which is not contested by Gentlemen on either side of the House, whatever may be their opinions as to the cause, or as to the policy which has produced the consequences—I think that this concurrence of what is called general prosperity and particular distress is a primâ facie reason why we should inquire into the cause of that particular distress. If there be an impression that the same cause has produced the prosperity and the distress, then that is an additional reason why the House of Commons should enter upon an investigation such as I propose to them. I think there is a third reason why we should approach this discussion with a feeling that it would be becoming us all patiently and impartially to hear those who have to offer an opinion on this important subject, and that is, I may venture to say, that the consequences of our recent legislation, as far as regards the owners and occupiers of the soil, were not foreseen by the authors of that legislation, or its principal favourers and promoters on either side of the House. I remember five years ago—and five years is a considerable passage of time, sufficient, at least, to allow us all to approach this discussion with unimpassioned feelings—a sufficient progress of time to have brought experience with it as to some of the consequences of what then occurred—I remember, five years ago, that eminent man whose place I now unworthily occupy, and whose loss I never more deplore than when I have to discharge those duties which his vehement and indefatigable spirit would much more satisfactorily perform—I remember a very important question being then put by him to the First Minister of the Crown, who then proposed a repeal of the corn laws. Lord 376 George Bentinck, early in the Session of 1846, and before he addressed himself to the question which occupied him afterwards so much and so seriously, inquired of Sir Robert Peel whether he had taken into consideration the effect of a repeal of the corn laws on the commutation of tithes. He reminded the Minister that in the last seven years the average which the occupiers of the soil paid as tithes was 58s. 8d. the quarter—that, assuming that the consequence of the change in the law would be to reduce the price of the quarter of wheat, then 58s. 8d., the existing average, to 45s.,—he reminded the Minister that it would take seven years to work down the average to 45s., and he asked him whether he had anticipated any such consequences, and whether he had prepared a measure to lighten the burden on the cultivators of the soil. The answer of Sir Robert Peel—I remember it well, but it is due to him to give it in his own words—Sir Robert Peel replied, that "he was not prepared to make any alteration as to tithes, as he did not believe that there would be any material alteration in the price of wheat." Now, Sir Robert Peel lived to change his opinion on that point, for most of us must be familiar with the circular he afterwards addressed to his tenantry, in which he stated the price of wheat as lower than had been anticipated by Lord George Bentinck, and gave his opinion that there was no prospect of any increase in that price. Nor were these sanguine views as to the moderate effect of the new legislation confined to the eminent person who presided over that Cabinet. It was one in which the most distinguished Members of it participated. When we were accustomed to dwell on the probably ruinous prices from the unrestricted importation of foreign agricultural produce, we were accustomed to be asked—I will not say in a taunting manner, because I do not wish to make a single observation which by any possiblity can be mistaken, or may prevent us from approaching this discussion in so fair and temperate a spirit that we may arrive at the truth—but we were asked—"Where we expected the foreign corn to come from?" Now, that is certainly a question which no Gentleman on either side of the House would now have any difficulty to answer. Nor was the opinion to which I have referred confined to the Cabinet that then presided over the country. The Ministers who now sit opposite entirely shared in them. I see be- 377 fore me, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War (Mr. F. Maule), and I can recollect his addressing this House amidst the sympathising cheers of the assembly, and stating that the Scotch farmers had not the slightest fear of competing with the foreign producers—that he knew of a case that had just occurred of a very considerable farm in East Lothian—the farm of East Barnes, if I remember right; that it had been recently let, not only at a high rent, but at an increased rent; but then, he said, the farm had been taken by a man of energy and enterprise. Well, reading a liberal Scotch paper the other day, the name of East Barnes caught my eye, and there I found that the proprietor of this farm of East Barnes—his name, I think, was Mr. Mitchell Day—in a very proper spirit, and, acting in a proper manner, had reduced the rent of the man of energy and enterprise by no less a sum than 650l. This shows than even a Scotch farmer is liable to error as well as an English farmer. There is a Minister whoso opinion upon such subjects would naturally very considerably influence the House, who has, of all of them, shown the least reserve upon the point. If the sanguine statements and cheering calculations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have compensated for the absence even of protection, they have not been spared, but have been extended to the owners and occupiers of the soil with an exuberant generosity. He was not only always hopeful, but he always announced that the consequences, which he confessed he did not foresee, were only the result of what he called exceptional causes. Now, the harvest was short; now, it was exuberant; but whether plentiful or whether sterile, unfortunately for the owners and occupiers of the soil, whose difficulties continued—difficulties which are now recognised by our Sovereign—unfortunately for that important class of Her Majesty's subjects, the result was always the same. whether it were peace or whether it were war—whether the Continent were in a state of convulsion, or in a state of tranquillity, the same effect was always produced in Mark Lane. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer not only accounted for this by what he called exceptional circumstances, but he always proved by ample arguments, and by what he called an appeal to facts, that those circumstances could not long influence the market. Last year, when, with reference to a specific 378 proposition for their relief, I brought before the House the condition of the occupiers of land, that important class of Her Majesty's subjects, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for reasons which we all deplored, was then absent. But in 1848 the Chancellor of the Exchequer was present, and never did he favour the House with a more successful exposition of economical principles, or carry away in the opinions of his supporters, more laurels than on that occasion. It was the occasion when I first placed in its proper light the long-perverted question of local taxation. I will not at this moment enter upon that subject. I shall have occasion to do so hereafter; at present I wish to refer to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that occasion, in which, having despatched the question of local burdens, which he did to a great extent and with his usual ability, he gave us his matured opinions and the matured opinions of the Cabinet on what he called agricultural distress. The Cabinet acknowledged agricultural distress in 1849, but then they said it was partial in its operation, and most vexatious in the south of England; but that it prevailed in all parts was denied. But they said it could be accounted for; and the Cabinet, by the mouth of the Finance Minister, accounted for that distress. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1849, "was inclined to think that the present depreciation of agricultural produce was very much caused by alarm." He waxed still stouter in that opinion from the sympathy of his supporters, and in the course of five minutes he actually said, "That there was abundant reason to believe that the present prices were unduly lowered, from the language held at recent agricultural meetings." I believe he even intimated that the principal cause of the depression of agricultural prices was the speeches made by my noble Friend the Member for Stamford. Now, no one appreciates more than I do the ability of my noble Friend, or admires more the sacrifices he makes, and the zeal and perseverance with which he devotes himself to the performance of his public duties; but highly as I may esteem my noble Friend in other respects, I confess I do not ascribe to his eloquence, or that of any Member of this House, the faculty of influencing the prices in Mark Lane. But the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer said there were other things to be considered, besides the price of grain. He told us that meat, a most important 379 article, was to be considered; and, while he deplored the price of meat as being low, he assured the House that it was only temporary depression. "The price is temporarily depressed below the average rate." Now, what was the average rate of 1848, which is the year he then referred to at the beginning of 1849, and which he said was a temporary depression which he deplored, and anticipated could not last any time. I have the average of 1848, as quoted in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I shall take the averages of the year 1850 at the same time, to see whether there was any good reason for the assertion that the depression was only temporary. The average of 1848, of beef, was 4s. 5½d.; that was the average of a time of temporary depression; the average of the year 1850 for beef was 3s. 8½d., taking the Smithfield official returns. So that after two years of temporary depression we are in a worse condition. The average of 1848, quoted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was an unusually low price, according to the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and could not re main so low, for mutton was 5s. 2d.; but in 1850, after two years of temporary depression, the price was only 4s. 2d. Now that is a reply to the observations made on this subject in the ingenious speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich, on the first night of our meeting. My only object in referring to the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is, to show the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it may be possible to form an erroneous estimate on this important subject. And, therefore, when great men on both sides of the House have formed erroneous opinions, it is still more the duty of the House calmly, deliberately, and dispassionately to see whether it cannot discover the cause of this continued depression, and penetrate the reasons of such an anomaly, that, in a country in which we are told in the Speech from the Throne there is general prosperity, there should be depression, and continued depression, of one of the most important classes of the community. Well, that was the opinion of the Cabinet in 1849; but what was the opinion of the Cabinet in 1850? True it is, my right hon. Friend, unfortunately, was not in his place when the subject was amply discussed last Session. But, in another place, no less a personage than my Lord President favoured the world with the opinions of the Cabinet on the im- 380 portant subject of the condition and prospects of the agricultural classes. It was the opinion of a statesman second to none for experience and judgment, and who, from his high position and his connection with the soil, naturally commanded the respect and confidence of the agricultural community. What was the opinion of the Lord President, expressed early in the Session, in the august assembly of which he is a Member, and in order to relieve the anxiety of the depressed owners and occupiers of the soil? He told the country that the depression was caused only by exceptional circumstances, which would not exist probably for many weeks. This eminent statesman—for he really is an eminent statesman—deeply interested in the land, and sympathising with its cultivators, not merely because he is himself a landed proprietor, informed us, about this time last year, that the idea of continued importations was absolutely absurd. Well, but when we find men of such eminent sagacity and experience and such high position—when we find men, after giving all the attention they possibly can to the subject, and expressing their opinions under a sense of the great responsibility attaching to all that falls from the lips of a Minister of the Crown—when we find that these men have been equally deceived as their predecessors, it is an additional reason, I think, why the House of Commons, at least, should endeavour to fulfil its duty, and endeavour to arrive at a more sound and sagacious conclusion than that of those who very properly have been looked up to as its models and leaders. I do not for a moment accuse the present Government of not having given the greatest attention to the subject. Not merely have we had the opinions on Scotch farming of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War—not merely have we had the repeated opinions upon details becoming his position from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—it is not merely that we have had the solemn, digested, and recorded opinions of the Cabinet, by persons of the information and influence of my Lord Lansdowne; but we know that other Members of the Government, not occupying positions so eminent, or fulfilling functions so responsible, but still whose opinions are eminently entitled to consideration on such topics, from having devoted their intelligence to the investigation of this subject, have favoured the House with the conclusions at which they have arrived. A Cabinet Min- 381 ister has a great deal to do—we expect him to take a general view of questions, and can scarcely expect him to be master of details, except in reference to the department over which he presides. But there are some Members of the Government who devote themselves to economic details, and have a particular talent for that branch of political science. For instance, the hon. Member for Westbury; he is a Member of the Administration, distinguished, and justly distinguished, for his statistical acquirements and economical information. I can say this sincerely, that I know no man in the House who is more successful in demonstrating that that which has happened ought not to have occurred. We were favoured with the opinions of the hon. Member for Westbury last year in the discussions upon the state and prospects of agriculture. The absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer rendered his assistance at that moment, and his interposition in the debate, doubly valuable, because the noble Lord at the head of the Government, although eminent for his knowledge of constitutional law, and his power of historic argument, it is understood has rather a distaste for figures, excusable in a great statesman, who naturally devotes himself to great principles. The hon. Member for Westbury proved, however, that all the importations last year ruined the importers. No man in the world has proved more completely than the hon. Member for Westbury, that France could not send to England a single quarter of wheat; and none demonstrated more perfectly that the teeming millions of the United States were ready to devour everything that was produced in the valley of the Mississippi. Still, notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman's calculations—notwithstanding his irrefragable reasoning, the difficulties of that important class, the owners and occupiers of land, continue. Now the mention of the United States recalls to my mind that there are other great authorities who have touched on this subject—men whose opinions, mind you, have influenced the legislation of this House. There is an hon. Gentleman, a county Member, representing in a certain degree an agricultural constituency, but who is also intimately acquainted with all the interests of commerce, the Member for South Lancashire; I remember that hon. Gentleman telling us that the English producers had no reason to apprehend any importation from the 382 United States, because they had a natural protection in the article of freight. Freight, said the hon. Member for South Lancashire—himself a Liverpool merchant, and an American merchant—freight, says he, with reference to the United States, is equal to a protection of 11s. the quarter. But how did it turn out? Is freight from the United States equivalent to 11s. a quarter? On the contrary, the eleventh part of 11s. would more correctly describe the result. And then as for the continent of Europe, and the places generally more contiguous than America, it is a fact that with our five years' experience we have arrived at this result, that freight is no protection whatever, and that the expense of transport, generally speaking, from the continent of Europe does not exceed that from port to port in this country. My object in making these observations is not in any way to build on those circumstances an argument in favour of retracing our steps—that is not the topic I am going to introduce—or of questioning the propriety of the legislation which these fallacious estimates and calculations have led you to adopt. That legislation may be beneficial and politic—still, politic as may be the course, beneficial as may be the consequences, you cannot deny that all your estimates have been wrong, and all your calculations erroneous. Well, the moral I draw from these circumstances is this, that as a great many of our most distinguished men, on both sides, upon this subject, have, unfortunately, not been so sagacious as we have always given them credit for being, it is a reason that we should approach the subject not in a spirit of haughtiness and conceit, with an overweening confidence in our own judgment and accuracy, but that, seeing that a most important class in this country is in a state of continued depression, and marking the strange anomaly that that depression, continues and is concurrent with what you call general prosperity, and which I accept as such, that you will feel it your duty, in a spirit of more temper and more patience than you have hitherto shown, to investigate this great subject, and to take that course which I think justice and policy both recommend you to adopt. Now, Sir, there is yet a fourth reason why I think the House should extend to this subject that patient and painstaking investigation to which I have referred. After five years' experience—after a lapse of time which allows us to look back to the past, I hope 383 in an unimpassioned spirit—I cannot resist the conclusion, that during the great controversy as to the important changes in our legislation to which I have referred, great injustice was done to the character and conduct of the British farmer. In all those discussions, and in that preliminary agitation out of doors, representations were made to an excited and perplexed community, which unfortunately, although most unjustly, conveyed the impression that the British farmer was an unskilful and a slothful man; a want of energy and a want of enterprise were accusations by turns thrown in his face—imputations from which scarcely any one at last dared to vindicate him. True it is there were some great facts which those who resisted the abrogation of the late law regulating the importation of foreign agricultural produce—there were some great facts of which they ventured to remind the House, even at that moment of passion. It could not he denied that under the abrogated system, whose virtues I am not now eulogising, and the spirit and effect of which legislation I am not now attempting to vindicate—that is not the subject to which I am going to call the attention of the House—hut I may be permitted to say that some great facts were elicited which none denied, although few listened to. The House could not deny that the British farmer, stigmatised as he was, had succeeded in winning from the soil a greater amount of produce than any farmer of any country in any quarter of the globe. It could not be denied that the acre, which at the period of the American war yielded an average of 20 bushels of wheat as its produce, yielded at the time the corn law was repealed an average of 32 bushels. It could not be denied—because the evidence was on the table of the House—it could not be denied that in the quarter of a century that had elapsed between 1821 and 1846, the population of this country had increased at the rate of 32 per cent, while the produce of wheat had increased at the rate of 64 per cent. It could not be denied that those men who were daily and unjustly told that they were so deficient in energy and enterprise, had themselves, in 1845, when not one of them dreamed that their protection would be withdrawn, imported from the remote coasts of the Pacific, a curious, novel, and most valuable manure to the amount of 4,000,000 cwt. Sir, these were great facts which could not be denied. What wonder that these men 384 should have covered with exuberant crops the kingdom of Scotland, notwithstanding its stern soil and sullen skies; that they should have cultivated Salisbury plain, as had been said by the hon. Member for Westbury, like a garden; that they should have clothed with rich harvests the sands of Norfolk, the fens of Cambridge, and the morasses of Lincolnshire. Let us, after five years' experience, not refuse to do justice to these maligned characters. For remember how these men, who were suddenly called upon to compete with the foreign producer were counselled to act, and what they were told was to be their compensation for the severe trial to which they were exposed. It was to be increased production of the soil. I remember that eminent Minister who proposed that great change—I doubt not, from what he believed to be an inevitable and irresistible necessity, and which I have no doubt he did not propose without some pangs for the possible sufferings of a class who were wont to look up to him with confidence and regard—I remember his saying it was in the increased production of the soil the British farmer would find his compensation, and he had such confidence in the progress of science and the energy of that class of men that he did not doubt they would be able to baffle and beat down all the difficulties they had to contend with. I remember Sir Robert Peel saying that no man could turn over the Agricultural Chemistry of Liebig, who would not feel that the productive powers of the soil had been, after all, but feebly developed. Now, what was the prime remedy in the work of Mr. Liebig? It was the application of certain mineral manures to the soil, by which the British farmer would so increase his produce as to obtain compensation for the unequal competition to which the change of our laws subjected him. But what has occurred? Why, that this famous theory of mineral manures has utterly broken down, and been succeeded by no other recognised as effectual. The whole is admitted to have been founded upon an enormous fallacy, and utterly unproductive of the results anticipated. Sir, I say this also is a circumstance which, in the discussion of this question, should teach us to be charitable, and to approach the consideration of the condition of the owners and occupiers of the soil in a very different spirit to that which we have hitherto extended to them. I remember, when this great controversy began actively in this House, it was always treated by us 385 as a farmers' question; and it was incessantly thrown into our teeth by our adversaries that it was not a farmers' but a landlords' question. Now I should have thought that the greater diffusion of economical knowledge which at present exists would have put an end to this fallacy. But from some observations which I have recently met by persons of great authority on these subjects, I find it is still believed that rent is a sort of arbitrary exaction—a kind of feudal tallagium which is the reward of conquest, and that when we talk of the depression, and difficulties, and distress of the occupiers of land, if the owners of the soil were prepared to sacrifice what is called rent, all these difficulties would vanish. Sir, I think the time has arrived when we ought to terminate that fallacy as well as many others. I should think that a majority on either side of the House will agree with me, that in an ancient country where there is a great breadth of land in cultivation, and a great variety of soils, rent is an economical result as certain and as inevitable as the harvest is a natural result after the seed-time. The only way you can terminate rent is to throw every soil out of cultivation but the very best; and the only way you can prevent the best paying rent is by loading it with such an amount of burdens and imposts that after the cost of production nothing is left but the average return of profit for the capital employed. Now, if I have stated this correctly'—if that be a statement which science sanctions, and which no man with a regard to science will presume to question—I want to know what becomes of that barbarous outcry against rent which we hear from persons of great authority on this question, and whether it is not a vulgar error we are circulating in that community we should lead and enlighten, when we held out to the masses, that any attempt to seek relief from the distress affecting the owners and occupiers of the soil is merely an attempt to maintain rent in England? Far from this, I think the whole tendency of outlaws is to blot out one class of the agricultural hierarchy, and that the farmers. I think the tendency of our laws is very much to bring the agricultural community again to two classes—namely, the proprietor and the peasant. Is that a result which the House or any section of it desires? Sir, I was always taught to believe, and I most sincerely do believe, that the middle class is the best security, as it is the best consequence, of civilisation. You are mak- 386 ing war upon a most considerable, and not the least respectable portion of the great middle class; and therefore when I am told that this is a landlords' question, I have offered you some suggestions which I hope may induce you to believe that both economically and socially this is a fallacy. Sir, I trust the House will excuse me having made these somewhat preliminary observations to the subject, to which I shall more strictly adhere in the further remarks I have to offer to its attention. My wish is, to bring the House on both sides to forget the past—not to allow the feelings of a controversy which has now lasted five Sessions to confuse the clearness of our judgment; but in a temperate and impartial spirit to do that which I believe the great body of our fellow-subjects wish us to do—to endeavour to ascertain the cause of this suffering, and, if possible, to remedy it. And here, Sir, that there may be no misconception of my object in making this Motion, I beg permission to state what my object really is. In the first place, it is not, as we have been recently told, with some authority—it is not a debate upon the condition of the people. I find the condition of the people described in the paragraphs in the Speech from the Throne which have just been read to the House. I accept that description of their condition—it is one of general prosperity concurrent with the suffering of a particular class. Do not let me be met to-night, then, with reports of Poor Law Commissioners or Registrars General. Do not prove to me to-night that pauperism has decreased, and marriages have increased. They are the facts that prove my case; and all evidence of that kind should be delivered from this box, and not from the one opposite. I am also extremely anxious that I should obtain no support to-night on false pretences, or incur any opposition from the same cause. I trust, for example, no hon. Gentleman will rise to-night and say that this Motion is a direct or an indirect attack upon the new commercial system. Far from it; it is in consequence of your new commercial system that I have felt it my duty to make this Motion, and to adapt, if I can, the position of the owners and occupiers of the soil to that new commercial system. Nor let any Gentleman support me to-night under the idea that this is an attempt to bring back protection in disguise. It is nothing of the kind. Last year—and I adhere to what I then said on this subject severely, 387 strictly, even religiously—I said then that I should not, in this Parliament, make any attempt to bring back the abrogated system of protection, and I gave my reasons for that course. Sir, I deeply deplored at the time the circumstances under which that change took place. I deeply deplored that the Parliament and the Ministry, which were formally, if not virtually, pledged, and, what was more important, which was in the opinion of the community pledged, to uphold the abrogated system, that that Parliament should have subverted it. Sir, I think, under these circumstances, there was a clear cause of quarrel between the Parliament and the constituencies; but I cannot forget that, immediately after this great change, a general election took place. An opportunity was afforded to the constituencies, even if they had been betrayed, to recall the legislation and annul the abrogation which they deplored. I cannot forget that the agricultural body, in particular, was warned by their best and most powerful friend, who is now lost to us, not to lose that opportunity, because it was their only one. I cannot forget that they rejected that counsel, and that, misled by the superficial circumstances of the hour, by prices which were the consequences of a rare accident, they did not support us in the policy we recommended. I cannot consent that the laws regulating the industry of a great nation should be made the shuttlecock of party strife. Sir, I say, that if I thought, by a chance majority, I could bring back that system, popularly called protection, I should shrink from doing so. That must be done out of this House; and it must be done by no chance majority, but by, if not a unanimous, a very preponderating expression of public opinion; and no other result can be satisfactory to any class, or conducive to the public welfare. Hon. Gentlemen, if they condescend to recollect anything that I have said, will do me the justice to acknowledge that I am only repeating now what I have said before; so that no man can be in error as to my motives or the policy which I wish to pursue. This being premised, I wish to call the attention of the House to those difficulties which Her Majesty in Her gracious Speech deeply deplores still to exist in an important class of the community. What is the reason, when all other classes are prosperous, that important class should suffer? Why is it that the cultivators of the soil, whom we 388 all recognise to be men of energy and of enterprise—whose great virtues we now acknowledge—what is the reason that the cultivators of the soil of the united kingdom cannot compete with the foreign producer? Sir, I believe that the reason why the cultivator of the soil in the united kingdom is at this moment embarked in a hopeless contest with the cultivators of foreign soils, is the weight of taxation to which the cultivator of the soil in England is liable. The taxation of this country, generally speaking—though time has mitigated, and circumstances stronger than time have reduced it—the taxation of this country is still universally acknowledged to be heavier than that of other countries. Heavy as it is—heavy as it might be, even if it were double the weight, I would not on that ground offer any plea on the part of the owners and occupiers of the soil. Whatever may be the weight of taxation, they are prepared, if it be in their power, to endure their portion of it without a murmur. Whatever the amount of the duties may be on tea, on tobacco, on malt, on sugar, it will be admitted that the agricultural classes bear their quota of the burden. As to what that share may be, I may have an opinion of my own, but I will not introduce it into this debate. I will not enter into an attempt to calculate the numerical amount of the classes connected with agriculture, and compare them with other classes. I will make no invidious comparisons between bodies which I wish to be emulous and not hostile: but this you must admit, that whatever be the weight of your taxation, the agricultural classes bear their fair proportion of it. Unfortunately, they bear more. What I wish to do to-night is, to ask you impartially—if it be not impossible to be impartial in matters of finance—to survey your financial system, and to see whether it be not a fact that it strains the energies and presses upon the resources of the owners and occupiers of the land more—much more, than upon any other classes—to see whether you have not in this country an enormous financial and fiscal system which has been created in consequence of the artificial state in which the agriculture of this country was placed by the legislation of this House. I ask you to see whether any statesman could have ever dreamt of inventing such a system if he had not at his command the industry and capital of a numerous class—perhaps the most numerous in the kingdom, who by the pro- 389 vision of an assured market would be enabled to bear continually a great aggregate burden? I know the extreme difficulty of taking a dispassionate and unprejudiced view of this subject. Unfortunately, we are all from an early age so accustomed to details, and so habituated to view our financial system merely in detail, that I am not at all surprised the hon. Gentlemen opposite should not immediately have come to the conclusions to which I have arrived. But I will endeavour, with their permission, to place the question in such a light that my object being only to elicit truth, I do not despair of influencing even their convictions. And therefore I will, in the first place, take a somewhat general view of our system of finance. Let us suppose now that an individual without prejudices, but possessed of those economical attainments necessary for such a study—let us suppose that such a person for the first time had examined the financial system of England—let us suppose that some one of those distinguished foreigners who it is expected will visit our metropolis in the course of the present year, being interested in economical pursuits, and struck with the wealth and energy of England—let us suppose that such a person, who may have been Finance Minister in some constitutional Government, wished to acquire some general idea as to the manner in which the revenue of England is raised. Now, of the great mass of taxation raised from the people of England I will take three items which are the three most considerable. Altogether they form an amount of nearly 5O,00O,000l. Those 50,000,000l. are produced, first, by external imposts; secondly, by what is called now inland revenue; and, thirdly, by local contributions. By your Customs, your Excise, and by your Local taxation, you raise at this moment nearly 50,000,000l. sterling. Now, what is the character of the first class of this taxation? This distinguished foreigner will learn that nearly one-half is raised from the cultivators of the soil being prohibited from producing a particular crop, or by the Government making it impossible for them to produce another by the great imposts to which they would be subject. If he go to the inland revenue he will observe that more than two-thirds of that inland revenue are raised by a colossal impost upon one crop of the British agriculturist. If he take the third division—namely, local contributions—he would find that at the most moderate calcu- 390 lation between 7,000,000l. and 8,000,000l. and more out of the 13,000,000l. were directly paid by the agricultural class, and the whole 13,000,0001. levied from a limited class of the community. Now these are the principal features which the foreign investigator will observe in our financial system. Let us now in detail examine that which we have just contemplated in a wider point of view. I take your Customs. One-fourth of them almost is produced by a law that prevents the British cultivator producing a crop of tobacco. And then I shall be told, in extenuation of this extraordinary law, that the land of England is not favourable to the production of tobacco. That is an observation that is stereotyped for a financial Minister of England. But the ingenious foreigner will remember that almost every country in Europe does produce tobacco, and that some of it is remarkably good. He must remember, that in Holland they produce such good tobacco, that it is actually exported to Havannah, where they make cigars of it to be smoked in London. But I might tell him that there are some soils in England eminently adapted for the cultivation of tobacco, and I might tell him that, in the sister island especially, there were great capabilities for its production; and here I must express my astonishment when I heard the President of the Board of Trade, some two or three Sessions ago, say in this House that the climate and soil of Ireland were not adapted for the growth of tobacco, that not one out of the 105 Gentlemen from Ireland, who are always telling us that their country is not sufficiently represented, did not rise in his place to contest the Minister's statement. I should have thought that some of them on the other side of the House must have remembered that tobacco had been cultivated, even recently, in Ireland with great success—in Wexford, in Wicklow, in the King's County, and other districts which I should have thought they might have recollected. I think that they will recollect that an eminent political economist, a supporter of the principles of free trade, and of course, therefore, an advocate of those laws which restrict British industry, stated that the climate and soil of Ireland were so well adapted for the cultivation of tobacco that it would be found impossible to raise the necessary revenue of the country if it were permitted to grow there. I think, Sir, that when the Prime Minister deemed it his duty to 391 rise upon the first evening when Parliament met, and solemnly warn the farmers of England, over the table, that the time had come when they could no longer depend upon the wheat crop, it might have occurred to the noble Lord that it was eminently unjust to support laws at the same time which prevented them from producing other crops. And here, by the bye, I must beg leave to offer an observation in reference to a remarkable expression made use of by the noble Lord the other night, as I was not quick enough to remind him of it at the time. I understood the noble Lord to say that ho deplored the rapid transition that had taken place in respect to the laws affecting corn, and he seemed to account for the depression of agriculture by the rapid transition from the old law to the new one. Now, I confess I do not understand the meaning of this phrase—the state of transition. I imagine that the state of transition is fully accomplished, and that we have now arrived at a fixed state of things. But I am surprised that the noble Lord should be the Minister to deplore the rapid mode by which this transition was accomplished, because I remember that when the late Government, by what I humbly conceive to have been a very prudent and well-considered arrangement, made that transition gradual, the noble Lord found fault with Sir R. Peel for prolonging the state of transition, the shortness of which he now deplores. I believe that the noble Lord was actually desirous of forming a Ministry that would not give us this transient benefit, that he even wanted to form a Ministry on the principle of immediate change, and, what is more, he divided the House on that point.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I recollect that there was a division, and that the proposition of the Government was carried. If, however, the noble Lord voted against his own measure, of course I have nothing to do with that. I come now to the second branch of the revenue. Its amount is 15,000,000l., of which more than two-thirds are raised by a colossal impost on one crop of agricultural produce. Who can deny that the barley crop of British agriculture furnishes more than two-thirds of our excise? Now let me call the attention of the House to the position in which the British farmer is placed in respect to this particular crop. It is the fashion now amongst Prime Ministers to tell the far- 392 mer that he must no longer depend upon his wheat crop. I will do the noble Lord the justice to say that he is only the repeater, not the originator, of this idea. The noble Lord caught it from the other side of the table, as he has caught many other notions; and the other side of the table caught it from somewhere else. Is it not monstrous that the farmer should be told that he must no longer depend upon the wheat crop, while the law loads him with an enormous tax if he attempt to cultivate the next crop to which he would naturally have recourse? And remember what this crop is. The Minister tells him not to depend upon his wheat crop. There may be certainly some wisdom in the advice. There is better wheat in the world than English wheat, however good it may be. But no one can pretend that there is anything better than British barley. We are, therefore, no longer to produce wheat, while we maintain laws which restrict the production of barley. We are counselled not to produce the crop in which we have successful rivals, while we are prevented from producing the crop in regard to which we fear none. Who can fail to see in all this the influence of a financial system which was framed with reference alone to a protective policy? Does any one believe that if the unrestricted competition which now exists had always prevailed, such a restriction as the present malt tax could have ever occurred to the imagination of any Minister? I am not at all surprised that eminent men who have well weighed these subjects—such a man, for instance, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham), who is well acquainted with rural life—should say, that if we did away with the corn laws, the repeal of the malt tax was inevitable. Every practical agriculturist must naturally see the consequences of such a course. But then I am told that if we were to rid ourselves of this impost, that we should lose the monopoly of the malt market. Now, really in this age, after what we have gone through—after what we have endured, what we still endure, and what we are prepared to endure, to find any equivalent or compensation in that miserable wreck of casual monopoly, is something too preposterous for a moment to think about. But it is not founded in truth. If barley does not bear a voyage, I am quite sure that malt will bear it much worse. If we are not afraid of foreign barley, we need have very little fear of foreign malt. And the best 393 proof of this is that you never get good beer anywhere but in England. How is it that we have a great export trade in beer if foreign malt be so superior in quality? We obtain on our beer a drawback, it is true, but a most imperfect one. But we send out our beer in large quantities, and it is the choicest in foreign markets. I confess it does appear to me that the claim of the land, as far as the barley crop is concerned, is complete. Its abstract justice cannot be impugned—and to abstract justice the land is now forced by your partial system of legislation. You are counselled not to produce wheat while there are laws in existence to restrict the production of barley. Your barley is the best in the world, while your wheat is inferior to that produced in some other countries. I touch but slightly upon these topics, for my time is limited, trusting to those Gentlemen that will follow me in debate to supply my omissions. I have shown you that, in regard to your external revenue, nearly one half is produced by prohibiting, in a great degree, and restricting in another degree, the cultivation of the soil of the British farmer, who is, nevertheless, by your recent enactments, thrown into competition with the whole world. I have shown you that two-thirds of your inland revenue are produced by an enormous tax on a single crop of the British cultivator of the soil. It becomes me now to consider the remaining branch of the subject, and I will endeavour to do so with the greatest brevity I can command; but I must throw myself upon the indulgence of the House. It is, Sir, obviously for the; advantage of the community at large that the subject should be deliberately and amply discussed. I come, then, to the third division of the amount of the revenue of which I am treating, namely, that which is produced by local contribution. Some time has elapsed since I brought before the consideration of the House the whole subject of our local revenue, especially as it affected the land of the country. I took occasion then to place that subject of such vast interest in a just and true light. It is a question, I believe, which had not been before considered in its legitimate aspect and true point of view. Hitherto the subject has been always discussed by rival calculations as to how much our local taxes had been borne by one description, and how much by another description of real property. But the question had not been fairly put before the country. This 394 enormous revenue of 13,000,000l. per annum is not a question between town and country, or between a house and a field, but it is, in fact, a question whether it should be raised from—according to the most moderate calculations—one-third of the public, and not rather from the whole—the money being expended for purposes of general utility and public advantage. Sir, I was not successful in the first Motion I made on this subject, nor did I expect to be successful. I grant that the proposition I made might be styled unreasonable. It was, perhaps, unreasonable to ask the House for 10s. in the pound of the debt I that was owing to the land. But when you are not accustomed to pay debts, such demands are naturally considered to be very rude and unreasonable. The discussion did good, however, and, although there was great difficulty in carrying on a discussion of that kind, because then I had to begin at the beginning—to lay down abstract principles—to prove that the support of the poor was one of universal obligation, and so forth, yet advantage resulted from it; and next year we found the area more limited, and much taken for granted that was previously contested. Sir, I was then unsuccessful in obtaining a large, but, after all, only a partial measure of relief. But what occurred last year? I then proposed a measure which was more limited in character, but one which, I will say, was, if possible, more just; for I admit, for the sake of discussion, that the objections raised against a larger measure of relief from local burdens—such as a leading to centralisation, increased expenditure, and other evils predicted to follow from it, are of great weight. I may, however, here observe, that I cannot see that any of the evils thu3 described could be greater than the political injustice of making the suffering class of the population pay for all the rest. But, admitting these to be evils of a great character, I contend that I proposed a measure that was open to none of these objections. It was not open to the objection of centralisation, because I left the local distribution as I found it. It was not open to the objection that it was calculated to relieve real property from the imposts it had inherited, because I sought to deal only with those imposts that had been laid upon the land within the memory of every hon. Gentleman here. I asked the House whether they thought it consistent with justice—there being a great surplus of 395 revenue—that all these new charges which were laid upon the land should be continued—and whether we might not relieve the land to that extent from these burdens, these taxes being for public purposes, without interfering with the system of local government and local distribution? I pointed out to the House the fact that of late years a vast number of taxes were thrown upon the poor-rate. For instance, if an elector was to be registered, the expenses were to be placed upon the poor-rate; and if a child was to be vaccinated, the poor-rate was to be burdened with the cost. There was a variety of these charges thrown, for convenience of levy, upon the poor-rate, and yet not connected with the local relief of the poor. I have before me those several charges, all placed upon the poor-rate, without any reason why this rate, more than any other tax, should defray them. I asked whether it was not a favourable opportunity for the House to take the whole question of these burdens—the injustice of which was now acknowledged—into their consideration. I asked the House whether the surplus revenue should not be so disposed of as to prevent the agricultural interest being the only sufferer—whether it was not a happy opportunity for the House performing an act of public justice, and for the Ministry to show their sympathy for this suffering class. You know the result of that proposition. I do not, however, look back with regret at the discussion that then took place. I may say, without vanity, that the proposition was temperately conceived, because it was sanctioned by the approbation of a very large party in this House. Well, now I ask the House again to consider the position of the land in reference to local taxation. It is an enormous injustice that one species of property alone should pay 13,000,000l. of taxation, which should be paid by all. But in our position the grievance is much more aggravated when we remember that out of the 13,000,000l. by even the calculations of our opponents, the land pays between 7,000,000l. and 8,000,000l. It is not necessary for me to enter into all the varieties of our local taxation; I will allude for illustration only to that discussion on a very limited portion of them which is fresh in the recollection of the House. Since that debate, the question has greatly advanced. Originally I had to discuss the abstract justice of making every class pay equally for the poor-rate. 396 So little advanced was the opinion of the House then, that it was not willing to recognise the principle that the support of the poor was a general obligation. But since last year the question has much advanced. An organ of the Government has given their sentiments on the whole subject before a Select Committee of the House of Lords appointed to consider the laws relating to parochial assessments. It has been justly considered of such importance that the evidence of the Secretary of the Treasury has been printed as an official pamphlet. Now this is the case of the Government, and I acknowledge that they could not have entrusted their case to one more competent to state it. The hon. Member for Herefordshire (Mr. C. Lewis) has brought to this question all that power of thought that distinguishes him in all his pursuits, and that talent for investigation by which he is so pre-eminently marked. And what is the acknowledgment of this Gentleman? He has given up the whole question. He acknowledges that, in regard to the general policy of imposing a local rate exclusively on one particular species of property, it is most unjust. I will read his evidence:—With regard to the general policy of imposing a local rate exclusively upon one class of property, I am quite prepared to accede to a proposition which is laid down in a letter upon the transfer of local burdens written by a noble Lord, a Member of this Committee, which has recently come under my observation. These are the words to which I refer:—'The virtue of the law of Elizabeth once admitted, it must be difficult for a man to affirm that any peculiar description of property should, by any vested or inherent privilege, be exempt from paying its proportionate quota to the maintenance of the poor.' I am quite prepared to admit that, unless it can be shown that, unless there is some special reason in favour of a local tax, limited to real property, it is more fair and equitable to defray the expenditure out of a national tax, which should comprehend all species of property. It seems to me that, whenever any expenditure whatever is proposed, the presumption is in favour of making it a national charge, paid out of the national Exchequer, and that an exception can only be made from that general rule, on account of special circumstances arising in the particular case.And again—I have already ventured to state to the Committee my opinion, that whenever there is a question of defraying any particular charge, the presumption is always in favour of making it a national charge, to be defrayed out of the national Exchequer.One more passage—You state that you are of opinion, looking merely to the justice and equity of the considera- 397 tions, that it would be more proper to raise the funds for the maintenance of the poor by means of a national tax than by local taxation; but that the practical difficulty of doing so, constitutes in your mind, the only, though a very formidable objection?—Yes.This evidence of Mr. C. Lewis may be described as the case of the Government on this important subject of local taxation. With that ability and depth of investigation which always distinguishes this Gentleman, he has arrived at the truth which was scarcely tolerated two years ago—that truth that is now not only recognised in this House, but in the country generally. The basis of the extraordinary and unequal system of local taxation which prevails in this country has been the industry of the land, which the Government knew it could safely appeal to, because the law hitherto secured that industry a market. I am reminded, by the point to which I have now arrived in this discussion, of a charge which to a certain degree may lie deemed a local tax, though it has hitherto been considered in a less limited light. I could have wished to treat this part of the subject at some length, but time forbids me. I allude to the subject of tithe, I have recalled to the recollection of the House the inquiry made by Lord George Bentinck, in 1846, as to the effect of the commutation of tithes in the event of a fall of prices in agricultural produce. I need not remind the House that the fall in price is much greater than was assumed by that eminent man. The probable result of the change of the law, as conjectured by Lord George Bentinck, would be to reduce the price of the quarter of wheat to 45s. It is, however, now reduced so low as 37s. Let me first remind the House of the consequence of this fall of price upon the cultivators of the soil as regards the tithe commutation. The tithe rent-charge calculated for this year 1851 is 96l. 11s. 5d. for the 100l., according to the prices of the three crops, ending in the year 1850. The 96l. 11s. 5d. is the rate at which the farmer pays. He receives only 73l. 2s. 11d. The difference at this moment to the farmer is 231. 8s. 6d. on the 100l., and to realise that sum he absolutely has to sell at this price 12 quarters of wheat. Between the tithe charge commuted according to the rate of that law, and the present prices of agricultural produce—and I see no prospect of their rising—the farmer has to pay a forfeit of 12 quarters of wheat. That, the House will recollect, is the effect of the tithe 398 commutation. But I am not going to dwell on that point. The effect of the tithe commutation is, though grievous, transient. But I must remind the House that totally irrespective of the commutation, the effect of tithes upon the owners and occupiers of the soil has been held by a most eminent political economist—a man whose authority has influenced our legislation in the repeal of the corn laws—has been held at a rate of not less than 5 per cent. I am going to read a passage from the work on taxation by Mr. M'Culloch: with all respect to that distinguished writer, I may say, not on account of the merits of the passage, but for other reasons. Mr. M'Culloch, who was a free-trader long before many hon. Gentlemen opposite were free-traders, has written with considerable ability on all subjects of economy, and is particularly happy in a talent for summing up evidence on any economical question. He was a pupil of Mr. Ricardo, who was a great and original thinker, and once an ornament of this House, and whose untimely end, with that of Mr. Horner and Mr. Huskisson, furnishes a dark page in the illustrious annals of the House of Commons. I mention these circumstances that the House may recollect that these are the opinions of Mr. Ricardo and his pupil previous to the repeal of the corn laws, as to the effect of tithe, and then I will quote you what was their contemplation of the consequence of that repeal in this respect upon the owners and occupiers of land. I hope the House will grant me its indulgence. This is a sort of subject which, unless it be discussed at some length, will not be satisfactory to our friends out of doors, and therefore I trust the House will grant me more than usual indulgence. Mr. M'Culloch, in 1845, echoing the principles of that great man Mr. Ricardo, thus wrote on tithe:—No branch of manufacturing or commercial industry is subject to a tax at all similar or equivalent to tithe. We have already seen that under the existing regulations, it operates partly to increase prices, and partly to raise the rents of the untithed lands; and we have further seen, that under a system of free trade without duties, the present incidence of tithe would be completely changed; and that it would no longer raise either prices or rents, but would fall wholly on the landlords and occupiers. But we are not to attempt to bring about what is believed to be a great national improvement, by shifting the burden borne by the public to a peculiar class. This would be flagrant iajustice, to be vindicated only by the most overwhelming necessity. Luckily, however, we have not to deal with any such unreasoning principle; and hence the obligation, in the event of the ports being opened, of im- 399 posing a duty on foreign corn sufficient to countervail the tithe.And he then shortly after proceeds—When the commutation is completed, the fixed and invariable corn rent that will then be laid on the land, will be a novel and strongly marked feature in the economical condition of the kingdom. Had tithe been commuted a century, or even half a century since, it would have been a very different matter. But, considering the very advanced and peculiar state of the country at the era of the commutation, and the fact that our average prices have been for many years considerably above those of the contiguous continental States, it is pretty evident that the fixed rent due to the tithe-owners may easily come to have a very serious operation on the interests of agriculture, and consequently on those of the public. We have every confidence in the national resources, and in the elasticity and buoyancy of the national industry. But we are not, on that account, to shut our eyes to possible contingencies. And, at all events, the fact of the land being burdened with a fixed corn-rent, ascertained when cultivation was far advanced, is far too momentous to be forgotten or overlooked in dealing with restrictions on importation.These were the opinions of Mr. M'Culloch in 1845, himself most favourable to the removal of restrictions on importation, opposed to the corn laws, and most sincerely, but viewing the question like a man of sense, who feels that no political arrangement which is not founded on justice can last. Since Mr. M'Culloch wrote that, he has published a new edition of the Wealth of Nations, by Dr. Smith, and in his appendix to that edition he has written a treatise on tithe. The question was viewed then by Mr. M'Culloch with all the advantage of experience, and at the same time with every preconception and prejudice in favour of emancipated commerce, and with feelings on the subject of the corn laws which he had pronounced in a most uncompromising manner in years when very few Gentlemen opposite had adopted them; and what is the conclusion at which, in 1850, for the edition was printed last year, Mr. M'Culloch had arrived? Thus ho concludes his new treatise on tithe. Deriding then when he wrote, which probably was in 1849, the possibility—for he has always been of the school of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and always expects prices to rise—deriding even then the possibility of any fall in agricultural produce below 46s., thus he terminates his treatise:—"We do not, however, think there is much chance of these unfavourable anticipations being realised," the anticipations being the present prices; "but if they should," says this pupil of 400 Ricardo, this great authority, "either the commutation charge may be reduced, or an adequate countervailing duty may be laid on foreign corn." Mind, that is not my proposition; I am not making any proposition. What I am doing at present is showing you that the only way in which you can account for the present agricultural distress is that the agriculturist is overweighted, and has to contend against a mass of taxation, straining his energies and taxing his resources, to which no other producer in England is liable—that he has not only to bear his quota of the general mass of taxation, but that your financial and fiscal system, originating under quite different circumstances, lays upon his back, least qualified to endure them, burdens which other classes do not share. But it is often said by those who are of opinion that the land of England is, perhaps, subject to severe taxation, and who may not have taken that general view to which I have wished to gain the attention of the House—"It is very true; there is something in what you say; it cannot be denied that nearly one-half of our Customs' duties are raised by restricting or prohibiting agricultural industry; it cannot be denied that two-thirds of our inland revenue is raised by immense imposts on agricultural productions; it cannot be denied that seven-twelfths of the local revenue are paid by direct contributions from agricultural purses; but then the land has exemptions, or least we think it has;" and, generally speaking, the enormous injustice which I have sketched to-night is palliated by statements of that kind. I am going to meet them, not as an advocate, but as one anxious to arrive at the truth; and the principal and sole object of this Motion is to terminate those controversies which, I think, have injured the public spirit of this country. I am going to see what justice there is in that allegation; and if there be exemptions enjoyed by the land, I will not attempt to disguise or to palliate them; and as my statement depends entirely on facts and arguments, and not on sentiment, it is open to all hon. Gentlemen opposite who condescend to listen to me to prove my statements erroneous, or demonstrate my conclusions to be fallacious. 'The case of agricultural exemptions brings us to another branch of our system of revenue, namely, the stamp duties. In agricultural discussions this is the usual course. The probate and legacy duties are left out, and the agriculturist throws the 401 stamps on conveyances at the head of the free-trader, who is indignant at paying a large impost on personal property. I admit that under the present probate and legacy duties personal property pays more than real property. I even admit that the payment made by real property in stamps is not, perhaps, on the whole, a charge countervailing the excess paid by personalty. I wish to state the case with the utmost fairness, and I will make this admission at once. But I must observe that considerable error exists as to the incidence of the probate duty; and if Gentleman opposite will only investigate the subject of stamps as they bear on the two classes of property, they will arrive at a conclusion not so much adapted as they suppose to the opinions which they uphold on the subject of taxation. Remember this—and I make no statement which is not proved by evidence taken before Committees of this House—that at this moment, of legacy duty, in amount 1,200,000l. per annum, 500,000l. is paid directly by land; because, although Mr. Pitt did not carry his original Bill, which made real property subject to these taxes, he did subsequently contrive to pass a Bill which rendered all land sold under wills subject to these taxes; and by evidence before this House it appears that five-twelfths of the legacy duty is paid directly by land. Therefore, as far as the burden on land is concerned, that fact must be taken into consideration. But, remember this, all leasehold property, all ecclesiastical tenures, pay the legacy duty, and in the 700,000l. that remain, irrespective of the 500,000l. so largely contributed by freehold property, leaseholds and ecclesiastical tenures are included. But remember also, when we consider the incidence of these taxes upon land, that all the stock in trade of the farmers, the largest stock in trade in the kingdom, pays both legacy and probate duty. I think, therefore, when hon. Gentlemen take that view of the case, and when they add that which is paid directly by stamps on conveyances, they will find that the account does not stand so much in their favour as they imagine. I remember once on a somewhat similar occasion to this, the hon. Member for Orkney made a great point, as he thought, of the exemption from taxation enjoyed by the fanners in respect to his windows and his horses. But you must remember that the windows of the man who has a shop are also exempt from taxation; and I do 402 not understand, therefore, why the farmhouse, which is the farmer's shop, should not be free. And when we remember that the machinery of the manufacturer is free, why should not the horse, which is the machine of the farmer, be also exempt? These are little points, but they require notice. But I could afford, when hon. Members talk of the exemptions from taxation enjoyed by land, to have omitted all these considerations, and to have admitted that the stamp duties, which I think I have shown some cause to consider not arranged peculiarly in our favour, were very much in favour of land; because I must remember, and recall to the recollection of the House, that all this time there is a considerable branch of the public revenue, which is not only raised, but which, to the amount of 2,000,000l. per annum—for such is its virtual amount—has been raised for a century and a half from land, and from land alone—and that is the land tax—a tax, by the by, which was not intended by its original projectors to apply only to land. And therefore when the exemptions of land are taken into consideration, I think, as I have stated the case, and I hope I have stated it in a spirit of impartiality, it may prove one which we shall not hear much more of. Sir, I have now gone through, with one great exception, almost every important feature of our financial system. I have reviewed the taxation of the country very imperfectly, from the greatness of the subject, and from my unwillingness to press too much on the patience of the House; but I have reviewed the taxation of the country generally with reference to its bearing upon the owners and occupiers of land—upon that important class of Her Majesty's subjects who are suffering difficulties, depression, distress, and who continue to suffer them, in a country where all classes, as we are informed by the Sovereign, are prosperous. I have shown you that, as regards your external revenue, nearly half is raised by the agency of the land; that two-thirds of your inland revenue is raised indirectly from the land; that seven-twelfths of your local revenue is raised directly from the laud. I have shown you, examining your stamp laws, that those exemptions which have been so much talked of are in a great degree illusory, and that those who dwell on those exemptions forget that there is a peculiar tax on land alone which raises a sum of 2,000,000l. per annum. I am not surprised when I see all this that the 403 owners and occupiers of land, in the present state of the law that regulates the importation of foreign agricultural produce, should be suffering difficulties. On the contrary, I am obliged to consider by what means it is that the present system is carried on, and what is the wonderful machinery by which a financial system, which is the creature of protection, and which protection alone could have upheld, should be still able to work in this country, when the whole system of protection has been swept away. That to a certain degree we may account for it by the inroads which may have been made upon accumulated capital, no man can deny who brings to the subject his impartial consideration. That classes may flourish when they are living upon the capital of a particular class, I think by no means wonderful. But I do not explain the great financial miracle which has occupied our attention merely by that hypothesis, because I see before me a gigantic and curious machine, by which we have been carried through years of unrestricted importation, restricted industry, and colossal imposts. We know well that a great financial instrument was brought into this House by an eminent Minister, whose pride it was to have introduced the new commercial system, the virtues of which I am not here tonight to challenge, but the advantages of which on the part of the owners and occupiers of land I wish to enjoy. We know what that wonderful financial instrument was—it was the property and income tax. "Remember," said Sir R. Peel to the Manchester school, "that in order to have your cotton free of duty, the land must consent to the imposition of a property tax." Generous and confiding land. And by that powerful and efficient instrument this remarkable system has been carried into operation, conducted in its course, and permitted to accomplish its results. And what was the consequence of the new fiscal law? The most curious thing is, that when I look to the returns of the property and income tax—this mighty and mystical sum that has produced these great results—I find that at least a moiety, and perhaps the greater part, has been levied on the owners and occupiers of land, those owners' rents being reduced, and those occupiers making no profits. Now that is your financial system I have viewed it, with the exception of some petty points of general application—I have viewed it in its full scope, and considered all its bearings. 404 I find in that financial system the cause of agricultural difficulties; and, if I am asked to cure them, my answer is brief. If you ask me what are my remedies for the difficulties of the owners and occupiers of land, as a Member for an English county whose industry is devoted only to the cultivation of the soil—as one who, however unworthy, and no one feels it more than myself—is on this occasion the organ of the opinions of my friends around me—I tell you what my remedy is. We require justice. We ask you not to prohibit or restrict our industry. We ask you not to levy from us direct taxes for public purposes to which very few other classes of the country contribute. We ask you not to throw upon us, according to your account the only class in the country which is in a state of prolonged distress, the burden of your system. That is what we ask. We think the system has produced the difficulties and distress. I say, at once, remove the enormous injustice under which we suffer; let us be fairly weighted in the race. We shrink not from the competition which you have thought fit to open to our energies; but do not let us enter into the struggle manacled. But I have another duty to perform in this House. Whatever my feelings may be for my own constituents, however clear their case, we are Members of Parliament besides being Members representing particular constituencies; and I have no hesitation in saying that, with these feelings, I am perfectly prepared to discuss these measures impartially, temperately, and calmly—the tendency of which, I believe to be to alleviate, and perhaps remove, these difficulties. But I must protest against its being supposed that if I enter into such a discussion fairly with the House, I am asking any special advantages for those owners and occupiers of land whom you have so long unjustly treated, and who at this moment are so grievously suffering. Enter with us into the discussion of those measures which we may think on the whole will tend most to bring about that political justice which ought to be the object of all statesmen. Try to propose such measures, and suggest those compromises of prudence and conciliation which the interests of all classes demand, and which, unless they are consonant with the interests of all classes, we do not for a moment expect. I would attempt it now, and I am prepared to do so; but that I must appeal again to that indulgence of the House which I fear I have already 405 over-taxed. I am prepared to enter into this discussion on the clear understanding that in anything I say I am saying it generally as a Member of Parliament, and with a view to the common good, the only object being to procure as equal justice for all classes as is possible in an ancient society. I will then express without reserve my opinion that it would be most disastrous to the community if you should accord those claims which I believe, in the spirit of severe justice, the agricultural interest has a right to demand. I am perfectly aware that in a country like this, however we may adjust taxation, however anxious we may be to consult the interests of all classes, it is impossible to come to any arrangement in which, in my opinion, the greater amount of burden will not fall on the land. There have been several suggestions made in this House for the relief of the land, and I will very briefly, and of course much more briefly than its merits require, notice some of them. I will take the two remedies, somewhat vague in their expression, which have been principally counselled by the Gentlemen from Manchester. They have always laid it down as axioms, that what was wanted for the land was more labour and more capital. Employ more labour and more capital (they say), and you will be able to contend against the difficulties with which you have to struggle. Let me remind the House that for the four years during which the owners and occupiers of the soil have been counselled to employ more labour and more capital, there have existed on our Statute-book laws the very object of which was to restrict the employment of labour, and the distribution of capital. "Employ more labour," you say to the cultivator of the soil. Before you give him that advice, why did you not deal with the settlement laws? The Minister who repealed the corn laws felt the absolute necessity of meeting that question. He devolved the duty of considering it to a Member of his Cabinet, eminently qualified, perhaps above all men in this House, for the consideration of such a question. But, unfortunately, that great change in the imperial policy of England took place at a moment of precipitation and of hasty counsels, and was addressed to a House little inclined to consider a question of so difficult a character. The effort that was made by that Cabinet was not felicitous; but, in the haste and hurry in which every thing was prepared on that 406 occasion, except the measures which repealed our protection, the Minister did produce a measure with respect to the law of settlement, and promised other measures of great importance with respect to the highways. But I ask the House, whether the partial and somewhat crude measure then produced by the Government of Sir R. Peel was a measure which at all contended with the difficulties and evils of the case? True, the President of the Poor Law Board told us the other night that he had a measure in preparation; but, if such a measure was necessary, it ought to have passed before the corn-law repeal. What the measure is I know not, for I have not yet seen it; but what I have seen of legislation on this subject is not encouraging. For five years we have had to bear the brunt of this; and the owners and occupiers of land were taunted with not employing more labour when you had an ancient code on the Statute-book, the object of which was to prevent the proprietor and occupier of land from employing labour, and forcing him to employ the least efficient. Then I am told we might employ more capital; and yet, in 1844, you passed a law in this House, the whole object of which was to restrict the employment of capital—the whole object of which was to restrict the distribution of capital in those channels which communicate with the cultivators of the soil. Employ more capital, they say; and, when the farmer goes to the country banker, the banker tells him, "the Bill of 1844 prevents me from assisting you." Well, we who attempt feebly to support this interest, in 1848 called the attention of the House to the consideration of this law. We showed you—and men second to none in authority on such subjects wore of opinion—that the principle upon which that law was founded was fallacious. We showed you, to the best of our ability and conviction, that the opinions expressed respecting over issue, redundancy, and depreciation, were utterly erroneous, and not consistent with the existence of a really convertible paper currency. But what was our success? We could do nothing. You went about the country giving your advice to the farmers, and telling them that one of two remedies for their evils was the employment of more capital; while, in mockery, you passed a law which virtually has curtailed the distribution of capital in those very districts where capital is wanted. In my opinion, you ought to have prepared for this great 407 change—the repeal of the corn laws—by placing the cultivator of the soil, and, of course, the owner of the soil, in a juster relation, not only with your financial, but with your banking and industrial laws. There is nothing more desirable than that you should bring capital to the land. That every one feels to be an object of great importance. But you forget you have laws of partnership in existence, which act as a barrier to laying out capital on land. The question of limited partnerships has engaged the attention of a Committee of this House. Great opinions have been given on the subject; and whether we should introduce the system of limited partnership, which exists on the Continent, has been the subject of discussion. You have against it, Lord Overstone, and in its favour, Lord Ashburton. My own feeling is, that in a country like England, where commercial capital is so abundant, it may be questionable whether you should change your law of partnership, whether you should introduce any violent change in the habits of commercial men; but it is quite clear, if you put the cultivator of the soil upon a fairer system as regards taxation with his fellow-subjects, so that there would not be an unwillingness to embark in the cultivation of the land, that a law of limited partnership, en commandite, as it is termed, so far as the cultivation of the soil is concerned, would be most beneficial. But have you attempted to do that? Did you, when you repealed the corn laws? Or when, year after year, on that bench you had been delivering opinions upon the fortunes of the agricultural world, which were always erroneous, have you ever given any consideration to the subject? Sir, it is not necessary for me to dwell but for a minute or two upon those plans which have been brought forward in this House for the relief of the land from local burdens. By favour of the House of Lords you have had placed upon your table a project for a national rate, which had been matured by a noble Lord, a Member of the other House of Parliament. There is no doubt that the subject is one which very much engages public attention, and I believe the scheme has acquired a great degree of public approbation. But has the Minister ever considered it? Has he even deigned to allow the subject of a national rate to form matter for consideration by the Cabinet? Observe, I am not giving my opinion in favour of a national rate; but no man can deny that it is a proposition of that importance, 408 and, moreover, has so enlisted national sympathies, that it is at least worthy of consideration. Now, there are great objections to a national rate for the relief of the poor, but there is no objection so great as the enormous injustice of the landed interest paying in their present state of suffering more than their fair proportion of the poor-rate; and no fallacy is greater than that which is always brought forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he shows us that year after year house property has paid a greater proportion of poor-rate than it did, and that it now rivals and even exceeds the amount paid by the land. That as a measure of relief to the rural districts is perfectly fallacious. It is possible that in Lancashire house property may pay more than land on the average. The burthen of poor-rate on the land in Lancashire may be proportionately reduced; but that circumstance has not reduced the poor-rates in the county of Kent or Sussex. They feel the injustice the same. The injustice is as great, and the injury is as great, whatever may be the effect of an absorption of a portion of the local rate by house property in the north of England. Great as are the objections to a national rate, I think that many of them may be met with considerable success; but I shall not dwell upon them to-night. It would be an abuse of the patience of the House. I must repeat one observation however—that there is no objection to a national rate so great as the objection of making a limited class pay for that for which all classes ought to pay. It is quite unnecessary for me to speak of the measure which I brought before the House last year, because I believe I may say, that so far as the opinion of this House is concerned, it was in favour of that measure. No arguments, indeed, of any weight or amount were ever offered against it. It was not only recommended by justice, but it was not inconsistent even with the most selfish policy. Sir, it was said at that time, that if the amount of relief which I then proposed, and which I think would have taken off something like 2,000,000l. from real property, and of that about 1,500,000l. from land, because it was part of that project that 500,000l. should be taken off our suffering fellow-subjects in Ireland, who, from the action of their poor-law, were peculiarly entitled to relief—it was then said that by throwing that amount upon the Consolidated Fund, which was my proposition, very little relief substantially could 409 be given, inasmuch as the Consolidated Fund was, after all, to a great degree paid by those who were to be relieved from the poor-rate. I have always been aware of these objections to placing the remission of taxes upon the Consolidated Fund; but it is the best course to recommend in this House by an Opposition which urges a remission of taxation upon a principle of justice, because it is the most obvious and simple way for making all pay, instead of a particular class. And when all pay, then it is for them to settle if the burden be too great for them to hear. But it is the first step in a financial transition. That was the reason why I offered that suggestion to the House. There have been other suggestions made, by which that remission can be effected, and by which a peculiar class might be freed from a peculiar burden for a public purpose, without increasing the burdens of the community. It has been proposed that we should supply a sufficiency of revenue by the plan suggested by Mr. M'Culloch in the passage which I read to you, namely, by a fixed duty on corn. Now, I have this objection to discussing the proposition of a fixed duty upon corn. My views, and the views of my friends, are very liable to be misrepresented upon the subject. I say again, that as far as I am concerned as an agricultural Member, and speaking for those who represent generally agricultural constituencies, we want nothing more than justice. We cannot admit for one moment that a fixed duty, or a countervailing duty, upon corn is an arrangement in favour of the agricultural interest. It is a financial or a political arrangement, which, as Members of Parliament, as Ministers, and as Statesmen, upon a balance of circumstances, we may think upon the whole would or would not make what was once called the "best bargain" for the community. The other night the noble Lord got up, and with a sorrowful expression of countenance, as if he acknowledged in his conscience and to his conviction that the land was unjustly treated, and that something ought to be done for it—knowing that the great weight of taxation falls unjustly upon the land, and that the weight of local taxation was iniquitous, the noble Lord got up, and, shrugging his shoulders, said, "What can I do? I do not know that a 5s. duty would do anything for the farmers." Why, the farmers do not want your 5s. duty, or an 8s. duty, or even a 10s. duty. Ascertain, if you think fit, and 410 to the best of your judgment, what the community owe to a particular class whom they cannot pay. If it be your opinion and your proposition, that a 5s., an 8s., or a 10s. duty is on the whole a reasonable compensation for their undue share of the public burdens, induce them if you can to accept that compensation, by which, like all settlements of that kind, the person who is to receive it will probably receive only one-half his due. But that is a question for us to consider as Members of Parliament, representing the community. In the name of the agricultural interest, I solemnly protest against considering such a proposition as an arrangement for the advantage of that interest. The argument in favour of a fixed duty upon corn has been brought before the House with great ability as a mere financial exercitation, if I may say so, by my right hon. Friend near me. He stated the theory upon which a fixed duty was supposed not to increase the price to the consumer. He stated that it was in the nature of things that the producer in foreign countries would endeavour to adjust his supply to the demand, and not allow the British speculator to take all the profits. But it so happened that at the period when he called the attention of the House to the subject, circumstances had occurred which remarkably illustrated that theory; for it did appear that in the year 1848, in the month of January and the month of February, there was no duty upon foreign corn, and in the month of March and the subsequent month there was a duty of 7s. or 8s., and that imports and prices remained the same. The aver-ago price in January and February, 1848, was 50s. 2d.; from March to December, with a duty of 7s. or 8s., only 51s. 9d., and in February with a duty of 1s. the price remained the same. Now, I say that these are phenomena to which I cannot shut my eyes. They are phenomena upon which any Gentleman who has considered the subject has a right to give his opinion; and if I give my opinion, which I do most sincerely, that a moderate fixed duty would not raise the price to the consumer, I wish perfectly to guard myself from being supposed to suggest it as any favour to the agricultural interest. You must meet this question influenced by various considerations. As statesmen and as Members of this House, you have to consider how you can do justice amongst all classes of the Queen's subjects, and yet at the same time prevent any violent changes in 411 the financial system of the country. That is what you have to consider. We, I need not say, represent a class who can bear a great deal. I am told sometimes, "Why do the landed proprietors and the farmers come to this House for relief? No other trade comes to the House of Commons when they are suffering." Why, what property, what industry, does the House of Commons interfere with as it interferes with the property and the industry of the owners and occupiers of the soil? Let me find a revenue raised in this country with regard to articles of manufacturing production as it is raised in this country with regard to articles of agricultural production. Let me see applied to some articles of great importance and of general use—the produce of your manufactures—the same laws which you apply to tobacco and malt, and should I not then find you coming here to this House with your complaints? What petitions, what speeches, what Motions, and what leagues, until the public mind of England had been brought fully to comprehend the enormity of the injustice inflicted upon you! Suppose we passed a law that all stockings should come from abroad free of duty, and that the domestic manufacture should pay a duty of 1,200 per cent—what would the manufacturers say to that? Yet this is only a parallel case to that of the owners and occupiers of the soil? Then, although the noble Lord will remember what his eminent predecessor Sir Robert Walpole once said of the landed gentry in this House with respect to their endurance of taxation; I am told that it is very strange that, in a house of landed proprietors, the land should be so burdened, and that the fiscal system should bear so hard upon the land—a specious and yet a superficial observation! True it is, that from circumstances, mainly from our territorial constitution, the great body of Members of Parliament were for a considerable time landed proprietors; but owing to that happy Government by parties to which we owe so much of our public freedom and public spirit, these landed proprietors were always divided into two hostile camps, and the commercial interest, though once not over strong, still existed in this House, and at times produced even in distant reigns very considerable persons. Therefore there was always a great body of landed proprietors perfectly prepared to support the interests of commerce. Whether they 412 did efficiently and wisely support the interests of commerce is another thing; but this I know, that the merchants of England believed they did; the merchants and manufacturers of England believed that Sir Robert Walpole and Mr. Pitt were Ministers who had a strong bias in favour of trade, commerce, and navigation; and our Statute-book is loaded with the laws—perhaps not overwise—which were passed at the instigation of those persons. I say that, not to create any acrimonious feeling, I have no wish that any law should pass this House—I have no wish, with reference to the agricultural interest, that any law should pass this House which is not consistent with the welfare of all classes of Her Majesty's subjects. But in the midst of the welfare of all classes, I cannot consent that the welfare of the owners and occupiers of the land should be overlooked. I am convinced that if this system goes on we shall reach a point where the resources of this class will no longer be able to bear the strain upon them, and that the effects resulting to all other classes will be such as are to be greatly deprecated. I believe that if you continue in this course, it is not merely the owners and occupiers of the land that will be sacrificed, but that others will share their fate. But why, I ask, should the owners and occupiers of land be sacrificed, if their injury is the consequence of unjust legislation? Consider, therefore, in a temperate and conciliatory spirit, those suggestions which, I confess at much too great a length, I have now made to you. Remember that they are made on behalf of a suffering class, and especially of the farmers of England, for whom I principally speak—men who in the course of these great changes, and under circumstances of great trial, have, I think, shown great virtues. Consider the question in a spirit of equity. I do not ask you to-night to give a vote upon any specific measure. I should be most unwise—I should be acting not with fairness towards the House upon so great a question—if I were to ask you to give a vote specifically. It is not my duty to propose that you should give a specific vote. [Here some remark was made by an hon. Member, which was not heard in the gallery.] I remember—the interruption of the hon. Gentleman reminds me of the words of a great writer, who said that "Grace was beauty in action." Sir, I say that justice is truth in action. Truth should animate an opposition, and I hope it does animate 413 this opposition. But truth in action is the office of a Minister, and I would exact it from the noble Lord. Not, Sir, in any hostile spirit. I have always wished that this question should be settled by the noble Lord, by the Minister of the day—by a Minister who, on account of his position, can never look with an adverse feeling to the land of the country. I say again, that I do not think it right in me to bring forward a specific measure; but I have a right to ask you to come to a specific conclusion. I have a right to ask you to declare, by your vote, that those suggestions which have of late years been made in Parliament, and to which I have glanced—that those methods for remedying the evils, and bringing about a fair adjustment, are worthy of consideration. I have a right to ask you that you should express a strong opinion that it is the duty of Government to consider those measures, and to adopt those measures, if they cannot devise others less objectionable which will achieve the same result. That is what I say. I do not ask you to pledge yourselves to any fixed duties, or countervailing duties, or shifting of burdens, or changing the law of settlement, or amending the laws of partnership. They are all of them great and important questions, and well worthy of the attention and consideration of the House of Commons. Sufficient information exists upon all these subjects for a Minister to act. All I say is, declare to-night that in this respect a Minister shall act, that the Minister who has year after year acknowledged these complaints and difficulties, and who himself, by his tone, would seem to imply that he has in his heart recognised the injustice which the land and the landed classes are enduring, shall act. I ask you to-night to declare, in a manner which cannot be misunderstood, that it is intolerable that in a state of general prosperity a suffering class should exist—suffering from unjust legislation; and that it is the duty of the Administration of this country to bring forward measures that may terminate a state of affairs so much to be deprecated. Sir, as I said before, I wish the noble Lord to undertake this office. I am altogether innocent of mixing up this question with the passions of party politics. The speeches I have made in this House are not speeches which are adapted to please thoughtless societies out of doors, or meetings which are often held in the country, at which my name is mentioned as one who does not do sufficient justice to the sufferings of those who complain. Sir, I pardon all these in- 414 uendoes. I can make allowance for the strong feelings of worthy men placed in the trying circumstances in which the farmers of the united kingdom are now labouring. But, right or wrong, of this I am convinced, that the course which I have taken with respect to their interests has been the result of long thought and careful observation, and that I have asked for nothing for them which justice does not authorise, and policy recommend. If I make no further appeal to the noble Lord, it is from no hostile feeling that I decline doing so; but because I have appealed twice in vain. I now appeal to the House of Commons, though it is called a free-trade House of Commons, and may be a free-trade House of Commons; but I appeal with confidence, because I have confidence in the cause which I advocate, and confidence in the fair spirit which I believe animates their bosoms. They have now an opportunity which ought not to be lightly treated—a golden occasion which, in my mind, will not easily find a parallel in the records of any Parliament of England. They may perform a great office, and fulfil an august duty. They may step in and do that which the Minister shrings from doing—terminate the bitter controversy of years. They may bring back that which my Lord Clarendon called "the old good nature of the people of England." They may terminate this unhappy quarrel between town and country. They may build up again the fortunes of the land of England—that land to which we owe so much of our power and our freedom, that land which has achieved the union of those two qualities for combining which a Roman emperor was deified—Imperium et Libertas. And all this, too, not by favour, not by privilege, not by sectarian arrangements, not by class legislation; but by asserting the principles of political justice, and obeying the dictates of of social equity.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the severe distress which continues to exist in the United Kingdom, among that important class of Her Majesty's subjects the Owners and Occupiers of Land, and which is justly lamented in Her Majesty's Speech, renders it the duty of Her Majesty's Ministers to introduce, without delay, such measures as may be most effectual for the relief thereof.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I need hardly assure the hon. Gentleman and the House, that I will implicitly abide by one recommendation of the hon. Gentleman, and will come to the consideration of this question in a claim and temperate spirit. I think I may say, in- 415 deed, that I did not need this advice, for I am not aware that I have departed from that rule upon any previous occasion; and if, by a calm and temperate discussion, the question is to be decided, I, for one, have no fear that the same result will attend the present Motion which has hitherto attended the former debates upon this question, in which the House concurred in rejecting the resolutions proposed by the hon. Member. I may remark, that there is a considerable difference in the tenour of the hon. Gentleman's speech upon the present, contrasted with former, occasions. I have heard him bring forward some clear and definite proposals upon former occasions, when demanding relief for the agricultural interest; but in the proposals he has now made, he does not call upon the House to express any opinion upon any subject which may be supposed to affect that interest. He has mentioned, indeed, several important questions—general taxation, local burdens, a national rate in connexion with the settlement of the poor, the Banking Act of 1844: there is not one subject that has been discussed in connexion with the agricultural interest for the last five years that the hon. Gentleman has not thrown into the hotch-potch of the speech that he has just made, and yet he leaves the House altogether in ignorance of what his views or his wishes are upon any of them, and does nut point even at any definite conclusion on the subject. I do not know with what favour the speech may be received by hon. Gentlemen opposite, for the hon. Member has avoided going into much that he formerly entered upon; but I am at a loss to conceive what benefit he aims at for the agricultural interest, in the vague statements which he has addressed to the House. I must remind the House that on Friday I shall make a statement of the financial measures of the Session, and that I cannot anticipate that discussion to-night. I must, therefore, deal with the question to-night on general grounds, and must not be understood as implying any opinion relative to the measures I may have to propose to the House on Friday. The hon. Gentleman began his preliminary observations by accusing me of having misled the House on former occasions. The first occasion upon which I had to meet the hon. Gentleman upon a Motion of this kind was in 1849. What was the state of the case then? Why, the hon. Gentleman asserted not only that the agricultural interest, but that the whole community, were in a state of absolute dis- 416 tress or ruin—that, in the marts of commerce, as well as in the fields of the agriculturist, one overwhelming distress prevailed. What was my answer to the Hon. Gentleman? I proved that, so far as commerce and manufactures were concerned, the hon. Gentleman's assertions were contrary to the fact, and that his statements of agricultural distress were not a little exaggerated, and were, at any rate, quite premature. I stated that the average price of corn in 1847 was 69s. 9d., and in 1848 50s. 6d.; and this being about the same price as in 1846, 1845, and 1844, that it was impossible that, early in 1849, when the hon. Gentleman addressed the House, after a year of such extraordinary prices as those of 1847, the agricultural interest could be ruined by the state of affairs that had prevailed for one year only. Before the free admission of corn took place, the hon. Gentleman asserted that the agriculturists were ruined by a price not lower than had prevailed for the two or three years previous to 1847, in which year the price was near 70s. per quarter. The hon. Gentleman's statement of the ruin of the agriculturists, I contended, must be premature. I find also on reference to what I have said in answer to the hon. Gentleman's proof of distress arising from the low price of meat, that I also showed at the same time that the price of meat for the year 1848 was higher than in the year 1844, when no such distress was alleged to exist. I see no reason now for doubting that the grounds upon which I resisted the hon. Gentleman's Motion in the first year in which he brought it before Parliament were sound and good; and, the House concurring with me in the view I took, the hon. Gentleman's Motion was rejected by a large majority. Now, Sir, I never supposed that such a change could take place as must necessarily follow the withdrawal of legislative protection from any branch of industry without some difficulty, some pressure, and some distress. I never attempted to conceal that from myself or from the House. I knew of no trade or branch of industry that had ever relied on the crutches of protection, when they had these crutches knocked away, that did not for a time feel distress and difficulty. But I believe of agriculture as of other branches of industry from which protection is withdrawn, that before long it will revive and stand upon a firmer foundation than before. I trust I may add, that, whenever this question has been mooted, I have laid before the House that which I believe to be the truth, and the grounds upon which 417 I have arrived at the opinions I have expressed. And so long as I hold a seat in this House, and more especially the position I have the honour to fill, I shall always feel it to be my duty to lay before the House that which I believe to be the real state of the ease. I must remark too here, that no one could foresee either the precise time or extent of the probable pressure upon the agricultural interest, because this depends upon the seasons affecting the harvest; and unless we could know what the harvest will be in any given year, it is obviously impossible to tell the character of agricultural prospects. The well-being of that interest also depends upon the state of the trade and commerce of the country, and the prosperity of the great marts of industry. It is a most fortunate circumstance for the agricultural interest that the state of manufactures has been so good for the last three or four years, and that the demand for agricultural produce has consequently been so great that there has been a consumption of it perfectly unparalleled in this country. I was not in the House last year when the hon. Gentleman brought forward his Motion, and therefore I am acquitted by the hon. Gentleman of predicting a probable rise of prices, for which, in his opinion, there was no sufficient ground. But the hon. Gentleman has referred to a statement made by the Marquess of Lansdowne last year, who anticipated a diminished supply of foreign grain, and a consequent rise in the price of home-grown corn. Well, was it without ground that the noble Marquess made that statement? If the hon. Member will refer to the return which is on the table, he will find that during the six months ending April 5, 1850, the importation of wheat and flour was less by one half in those six months than in the six months ending April 5, 1849. Was it, then, so extraordinary a supposition, when the importations had diminished one half during those six months, that such a decrease indicated a falling-off in the supply of foreign corn? But when the hon. Gentleman charges the noble Marquess with taking a view entirely to mislead the House by the statement at the time, let me remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that in anticipating a large supply they were equally mistaken in the source from which that supply would come. I have heard hon. Gentlemen prophesy inundations of foreign corn; but the source to which they invariably looked was the United States of America, whence, we 418 were told, it could be imported to a profit at 35s. and 36s. a quarter. Now, it is a most remarkable circumstance, and shows the anomalous and exceptional state of things which has recently prevailed, that in no one case has any largely increased supply of corn come from those sources concerning which the greatest alarm was expressed, and that all the additional supplies have come from countries to which no one looked as sources of supply. This proves that not only those who were confident, but those who were alarmed, were utterly mistaken as to the probable supply of corn; and it proves this rather that the state of things, the existence of which was probably not thought of, is exceptional, when we find that those countries from which large supplies have been obtained have been converted from importing into exporting countries—when for six or seven years ending in 1845, before the famine prices of 1846, in France, Holland, and Belgium the lowest average prices have been 45s., 47s., and 48s. It does prove that an exceptional state of things prevails which allows France to export largely, and yet that the agricultural distress which is alleged to prevail in this country, owing to the importation of grain from France, prevails to the same extent in that country, which has had the benefit of exportation to England. Now, I think this is a matter of some little importance to consider, because it shows that there is something more than a mere importation of foreign corn which is affecting prices, when the same consequence is produced both in the exporting and importing countries. The price of corn in March last in France was lower than ever it was for the preceding 30 years, and at this moment it is very nearly as low as in March. Now, the importation into this country from France in 1849 was 740,000 quarters: in 1850, it has been about 1,100,000. But what is the state of distress amongst the agriculturists in France at this moment with the advantage of that exportation? I will read a short extract from a French newspaper published about a fortnight ago, as to the state of distress in France:—The deplorable crisis which is pressing upon our agriculture, and which spreads in our country districts discomfort and misery, is far from being ended. The depreciation of the price of corn continues. Agriculture will be severely pressed by this new depreciation, which proves that a superabundant harvest may be a real evil, for it tends to divert more and more from agriculture that capital which will be more necessary 419 for it than ever. Manufacturing industry has been able, in part, to repair its losses. Agriculture alone has, for the last three years, been subject to the greatest suffering, and it has seen the price of its produce continually falling, without any prospect, at present, of a term to such severe trials.Nobody can deny that if a country enjoying at this moment an absolute prohibition of foreign corn, with the benefit of a large exportation to this country, is in such a state of distress as is here described, it does prove that there, at least, and probably here too, there is something more than can be attributed to an importation of corn. I believe that the solution will be that there was a very large crop of corn in 1849, and that the price at this moment is greatly affected by the bad quality of the corn of that harvest; for, as was said by an hon. Member the other day, in Suffolk they obtained, on threshing out their corn, only about one-half of the expected produce, and much even of this was not in a state fit to come to market. I think, therefore, I have shown sufficient grounds for saying that the present state of the corn market is not one that, in ordinary times, could have been expected. But I would beg simply to say that, so far as regards myself, I have never held up any expectation that the prices would be high. I have never expressed any wish that they should. On the contrary, I said I believed it was essentially for the interest of the great body of the people of this country that for all classes employed in industry, the price of bread and meat should be cheap; and I said in the debate of last year on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for West Gloucestershire, that in my opinion that which was due, wise, just, and expedient was that the people of this country should have their meat and bread as cheap as the world could produce them. As to another item to which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire referred—namely, the price of meat, I believe it is utterly impossible to attribute it to the importation of foreign cattle. It is perfectly true that the importation of cattle and sheep has increased in 1850 above 1849; but that has been much more than compensated by a corresponding falling-off in the quantity of imported provisions. That falling-off was far more than to counterbalance the increase of 6,000 oxen and 11,000 sheep, which, I believe, is the extent of increased importation in the last year of live cattle; and if the amount of our consumption 420 has increased, it must have been supplied by an increase in the quantity of our home produce; for as the increase in the importation of living foreign cattle was less than the decrease of the importation of foreign provisions, there is no other source from which the increase in our home consumption could have been supplied. Now, the weekly average of beasts and sheep brought to Newcastle market for the last four years has been this—in 1846, the number of beasts was 450; in 1847, the same; in 1848, 570; and in 1849, 620. The sheep have increased in the same proportion: in 1846, the number was 4,061; in 1847, 4,670; in 1848, 4,770; and in 1849, 5,189. I believe that no foreign cattle whatever were brought to the market in Newcastle. As to Glasgow, the fact was just as extraordinary. There was no foreign supply there. The number of oxen slaughtered in 1848 was 19,788; in 1849, 22,882; and in 1850, 26,200. Of sheep the number was, in 1841, 69,290; in 1849, 82,680; and, in 1850, 96,104. It is impossible to believe but that the increased consumption must tend most beneficially to agriculture, and especially when the demand has apparently increased in all our great manufacturing towns. I do not see how it is possible not to expect, with the improvements in agriculture, with the extension of drainage, with the feeding on turnips, that a much larger quantity of cattle will be produced at a cheaper rate; and that such must already have been the result is clear, because in no other way can we account for the increased supply except by the increased production of cattle and sheep in this country. The hon. Gentleman has not dilated much on the sufferings of the agricultural labourers, though he endeavoured to change the ground of debate, in terms though not in reality, from the difficulties in which owners and occupiers of land are stated to be suffering in the Speech from the Throne, and substituted for that the general distress of the agricultural body. In that was generally included the working agricultural population; but the hon. Gentleman professed entirely to exclude that subject from our consideration. He said he would deal only with the owners and occupiers of land. He said he was perfectly aware we could quote returns from the Poor Law Board, which would show a great diminution in the amount of poor-law relief and of the burdens of the country; and I think he will not deny that 421 they would be evidence of the improved state of the working classes of the agricultural population. But, although it might be very well of the hon. Gentleman to ignore that great and important fact, I am not disposed to pass it by, and consider it as a matter of utter insignificance. I remember, and my memory is refreshed by referring to the speech made by the noble Lord the Member for West Sussex in the debate in 1849, in which that noble Lord distinctly appealed to the state of agricultural labour as the point on which the whole question turned: he disclaimed it as being a question in which landlords were interested, and rested it altogether on the condition of the labourer. The hon. Gentleman has now brought forward this question with an anxiety to omit that subject, because every argument and prophecy brought forward by hon. Gentlemen advocating those views have been signally falsified. I do not say there may not be some parishes or unions in which this improvement has not taken place; but I assert broadly, and without fear of contradiction, that the agricultural labourer throughout England never in the memory of man was so prosperous as at this moment; and even where a reduction of wages has taken place, it has not been commensurate with the advantage the labourer has derived from the reduction in the price of his food and necessary luxuries of life. I saw the other day that a gentleman well known to us all, and who, I believe, is chairman of a Protection Society, and makes speeches on the subject at different places in the country—I allude to Mr. G. F. Young—said in the autumn of last year that he was ready to admit the truth of the remark that the large mass of the people were now enjoying an extraordinary degree of material prosperity. He also observed, that since the repeal of the corn laws wages were, to some extent, reduced, but not to an amount equivalent to the reduction in the price of articles of food. I set great store by this admission of the hon. Gentleman, as being chairman or vice-chairman of the great Protection Society. I take him as an authority on this subject. We contended that it would be so, but it was denied by the other side. Now, their great champion admits that to be a fact, which we believed and hoped would he so. I will state what the reduction has been, both in the expense and the number of per- 422 sons relieved under the poor-law. In the year ending Lady-day last, as compared with that ending Lady-day, 1849, there was a diminution in the expense of not less than 397,000l. In the year ending Michaelmas last, as compared with that ending Michaelmas, 1849, the reduction was 405,000l. But I know it may be said that that great boon in the saving of expense has been owing to the cheap price of food, and not to a diminution in the number of persons relieved. The diminution in the number, however, is greater in proportion than that of the expense. The numbers relieved in the year ending the 1st of January last year were 6 per cent less than the numbers relieved in the preceding year. But, taking the ablebodied poor, which is more important, as being a proof of the extent of employment, I find, by the returns laid before the House three or four days ago, that the number of ablebodied who received relief on the 1st of January, 1850, as compared with the number in the preceding year shows a diminution of 15 per cent; the number on the 1st of July, 1850, as compared with that on the 1st of July, 1849, shows a diminution of 15½ per cent; and if we compare the number relieved on the 1st of January, 1851, with that relieved on the 1st of January, 1849, there is a further reduction of 14½ per cent. It is impossible, then, to contend in the face of these facts that a great boon has not been conferred on the agricultural classes of this country by a reduction in the price of food, when both the cost of relief, and the numbers relieved, are so largely reduced. But there has been a similar improvement in Ireland, and considering the extent of suffering to which that country was subjected not a long time ago, that improvement has been very striking. The number of persons receiving outdoor relief in the year ending September, 1848, was 1,419,000, the number in the year ending September, 1849, was 1,210,000; but the number in the year ending September, 1850, was little more than one-fourth of that number—it was only 370,000. That is one of the most gratifying circumstances to which I am able to refer, and I am glad that the seeds of permanent improvement are sown in that country. I will now proceed to give, in illustration of the extent to which the labourer has been benefited by the reduction in the price of food, some details that have been furnished to me by a gentleman conversant with the northern districts of England, and the habits of the poor there. The 423 highest wages of ordinary labour in those districts in the war time were 15s. per week; they are now 12s. per week. In the war time the price of the host quartern loaf there was 1s. 3d.; now it is 5d. Take a man, then, with his wife and three children, the average number of a family, and suppose them to consume 10 loaves per week; the price of these loaves at 1s. 3d., would, at 15s. wages, leave him a surplus at the end of the week of only 2s. 6d.; whereas their price, at 5d., would, with the reduced wages of 12s., leave him a surplus of 7s. 10d. per week. Between 1800 and 1815 the average price of the quarter of flour was 85s.; but take the price at 80s., which the corn law of 1815 professed to secure; now the price of the quarter of corn last year was about 40s.; the wages of the labourer being reduced from 15s. to 12s., that is to say, one-fifth, it is obvious that the labourer would be as well off with the lower wages, were the price of the quantity of wheat reduced from 80s. to only 64s.; so that the difference between 64s. and 40s. is clear gain to the labourer in his consumption. Look, again, at the labourer, who is much worse paid, in the south of England, and suppose his 8s. per week to be reduced to 6s.; still, he with his reduced wages would he as well off as ever, with the 80s. per quarter fallen to 60s., and he too, would, in like manner, with the labourer in the north, pocket the entire difference between the 60s. and the 40s. I think, then, I was justified in saying that the fall in the price of provisions had been far more than sufficient to compensate the labourers for any reduction of wages to which they have been subjected. Even had wages in this latter case fallen to 5s., a great advantage would remain to the labourers from the difference in the cost of their food. Let me state the fall which has taken place in the price of some other articles of general consumption by the poor. I will not go back for my contrasts to such a remote period as the war—the favoured period of agricultural prosperity—but only to a year or two preceding the recent legislation on this subject—namely, to 1840. Between that year and the present time the price of the best wheaten flour has fallen from 3s. to 1s. 10d.; of seconds flour, from 2s. 10d. to 1s. 8d.; of oatmeal, from 2s. 4d. to 1s. 8d; of lard, from 8d. to 5½d.; of best sugar, from 9½d. to 5½d.; of treacle, from 5d. to 2½d.; of coffee, from 2s. 4d. to 1s. 8d.; of candles, from 6¼d. to 424 4½d.; of tea, from 4s. and 6s. to 3s., 4s. and 5s. In fact, there is scarcely an item which the poor man consumes, the price of which has not fallen one-third or a half, his wages not having been reduced in anything like the same proportion. The obvious result is that the labourer is now, with lower wages, in a much better condition than he was in heretofore with higher wages. You say that the farmers are all ruined, all in despair, all prostrate. How do you reconcile that statement with the fact, communicated, among others, to me, that although with respect to Northumberland there is some difficulty in re-letting farms, yet that the farms in the agricultural parts of Scotland are being relet at their old rents in most cases; and there is not a farm in Cumberland that becomes vacant but there are five or six competitors for it. Or, how do you reconcile it with the fact, as I am informed, and I speak in the presence of gentlemen who can contradict me if I am wrong—that the properties of several large landowners in different parts of the country have been valued within the last two months, and the valuations have manifested that no reduction in any of the rents paid upon them was called for. There is no indication here, at least, of a break-up of the landlord interest by the operation of the recent changes, when you find that the same rents which have been heretofore paid, are found, upon deliberate revaluation of the properties, to be still fairly demandable. Therefore I do repeat the assertion which I made on a former occasion, that the language used at some agricultural meetings is much to be deprecated, as tending to the injury of the country, and especially of the landlords of England. If bad feeling has been engendered by language so held, the landlords will be the first to suffer from that bad feeling. It may suit their purpose to excite feelings against the Legislature of the country by assertions of a general and sweeping character; but it may be carried too far, and depend upon it that bad feeling will recoil upon themselves. The hon. Gentleman, as usual, has dwelt upon the oppressive taxes which he says rest wholly upon land. I find these set forth, also, in a circular, which I suppose every Gentleman here has received, from an occupier of land, who marshals in array the taxes which, according to him, fall solely upon the owners and cultivators of the soil. In the first rank of these he places tithes. Now I really thought that the question of tithes had 425 been settled by the Tithe Composition Act, and that tithe had been distinctly and definitively arranged as a rent-charge upon the land, in reference to which all the other calculations were made. I really thought it was well understood that the tithe-owner and landlord are joint proprietors of the produce of the land. If rent is not paid to the tithe-owners, it is paid to the landlord. I thought it was settled by common consent, that if two fields, each worth 20s. an acre, were the one tithe free, and the other subject to a tithe of 5s. per acre; in the one case the landlord would receive the whole 20s., and in the other 15s., the remaining 5s. going to the tithe-owner; it being a matter of perfect indifference to the occupier, to which party the payment was made; and the tithe being no more a burthen on him than the rent. I did not expect to have this item brought forward in the van by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire; and I was rather surprised not to see some very marked smiles upon the faces of hon. Members about him—better acquainted than he would appear to be with the subject—when he put forward such a fallacy. The hon. Gentleman wants us to remove the prohibition upon the cultivation of tobacco in this country, urging that ours is a peculiarly favourable climate for that cultivation, and that it was, in point of fact, prosecuted here some years ago with great success. No doubt tobacco was, some years ago, grown here to a certain limited extent, under cover of a very high protection—that is to say, it paid no duty at all, while foreign tobacco paid 4s. the lb.; but I can safely assert that the cultivation was hazardous, not very deserving of encouragement. A Committee of the House of Commons sat in 1828 or 1829, or about that period, and inquired carefully into the subject. They found that tobacco could not be grown hero to advantage, upon anything approaching to equal terms. It must fail unless you gave it an enormous protection, which protection at once opened the door wide to unlimited and ruinous frauds upon the revenue of the country; and Mr. Huskisson, who drew up the report of the Committee, recommended to the House, which entirely concurred in the recommendation, that the simplest and most advantageous course would be to prohibit the growth of tobacco in Ireland as it had been prohibited in England, so that a revenue, amounting to nearly 4,500,000l., might be protected from the 426 enormous diminution by fraud to which it would be otherwise exposed. The entire market value of unmanufactured tobacco imported into this country in 1849 did not exceed 500,000l. sterling. Let me ask the hon. Gentleman whether, seriously, he would desire, for the sake of such a benefit as that to the agricultural interest—supposing that interest to realise its whole amount—he would desire to sacrifice a revenue of 4,500,000l., which, after all, would, as a matter of obvious necessity, have to be made up somehow or other from the community at large, and, of course, in their full proportion, from the agricultural classes themselves; a proportion, I am inclined to suspect, that would at least counterbalance any advantage they might derive from the removal of the prohibition? As to sugar, anybody is already quite at liberty to make as much sugar from beetroot, in England, as he pleases, provided he only pays the same duty thereupon as is paid upon our own colonial sugar. There is a person in Ireland who manufactured beetroot sugar; and an hon. Gentleman, who advocated this question in this House, wrote to him some time ago, by my desire, wishing to know what restrictions he wished to be removed, as I said I would do what was in my power to relieve him of anything of which there was just reason to complain. All, however, that I heard of the gentleman was a demand for some compensation for something that was done fourteen or fifteen years ago. The hon. Member wants me to take off the duties upon malt and hops, and upon British spirits; and it s said that I cannot be a genuine freetrader I because I have not removed all these duties which are said to press upon British industry. Now, my notion of free trade is not that we can do without a revenue; but a revenue having to be collected, that it should be raised in as easy a manner as possible, and so as not to take more out of the pockets of the payers than goes into the Exchequer. These are the notions upon which I base free trade, and I am prepared to condemn any duty which can be shown to be opposed to these principles. Duties should be raised only for revenue purposes, should injure as little as possible those who contribute them, and benefit as much as possible the Exchequer into which they are to be paid. The hon. Gentleman seems entirely to forget the fact that the far larger portion of these duties are paid by the consumer; that it is the man who drinks the beer who pays 427 the malt duty, and not he who grows the barley. No doubt the cultivator of the barley is indirectly prejudiced to a very small extent by the demand for his produce; but that is a totally different proposition from the broad statement that it is the landed interest which pays the malt tax. The amount involved bears no proportion whatever to the sum proposed to be sacrificed by the hon. Gentleman—namely, 5,500,000l. of revenue. It should not be forgotten either that though foreign malt cannot be imported, foreign barley is subject to a nominal duty, and of this malt may be made here. I have received the distinct intimation of several of our greatest maltsters, that to a certain extent the agricultural interest is actually protected by the malt tax. The same arguments as to malt apply equally to the duties on British spirits. Here again it is the man that drinks the spirits who pays the duty, and not the landowner or cultivator. I could hardly have supposed that a Gentleman who has paid such attention to these subjects as the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire would so entirely have ignored the clear axiom that it is the consumer who practically pays the duty upon an article, not the producer. As to the mode in which the deficiency—the enormous deficiency of some 15,000,000l. or 16,000,000l. Sterling—occasioned by the repeal of these duties is to be made up, the hon. Gentleman does not unfold or even hint at; he leaves that trifling feature of the business altogether in mystery, leaving me, amidst all the anxiety with which I was awaiting his proposition on the subject, unaided by the slightest suggestion. The hon. Gentleman tells us broadly that 7,000,000l. out of the 12,000,000l. of local taxation are paid by the land. The hon. Gentleman, throughout his extended speech, now, as on former occasions, mixes up confusedly all sorts of landed property under the general term, land, making no discrimination between the agricultural land, the land which produces the wheat, and the barley, and cattle, for which he claims protection in respect of the burdens thrown upon their production, and land paying ground-rent for buildings, land in and about towns, and many other descriptions of land and real property which hear their proportion of the burden, but which put in no pretext of distress, and have, in truth, no claim for relief. The hon. Member, however, lumps all the alleged burdens upon land 428 together, and then claims for the agricultural portion of it the whole relief. This is a fallacy which I must beg of the House to bear in mind in weighing the hon. Gentleman's proposition. It is of the very essence and gist of the question, to consider the small proportion of burden that really falls upon agricultural land. The owners of the land, which produces wheat, barley, and cattle, are the parties to whom relief ought to be given, according to the views of those who attribute their distress to recent legislation, not the owners of houses, garden ground, railway and such other real property as I have referred to. Now, assuming that protection is a benefit, I admit that it does meet the case of these parties. The remedy, such as it is, applies clearly and exclusively to the complaining parties. But this is not the case with the proposed remedy of relieving real property from local burthens. The hon. Gentleman does not appear very consistent in his estimate of the actual relief to be given. In 1849, he demanded relief to the extent of 7,000,000l. sterling; last year, his demand fell to 2,000,000l. or 3,000,000l.; now, it appears to be put at between 2,000,000l. and 3,000,000l.; though he is not very clear on the point. I infer that he points to the same account. Whatever, however, the extent of relief he may get, ought to be distributed among the owners of agricultural land, and the producers of agricultural produce. The owners of other land have no claim to relief. The hon. Gentleman said, that land paid 7–12ths of the whole amount of charges on real property. He is entirely mistaken, even if his assertion is limited to agricultural land. The great amount of property in this country is ceasing to be agricultural land, and becoming property connected with railroads, canals, and the like. The time, no doubt, was, when by far the greatest amount of real property was land. It is not so now. The proportion which land bears to other kinds of real property is diminishing year by year; and, therefore, the proportion of any relief, extended to real property, of which agriculture would derive the benefit, grows year by year less and less. In 1815, which is the last assessment of the old property tax, the whole value of the assessed property in England was 53 millions sterling; of that, land was 34 millions. In 1839, the whole amount of real property assessed upon the property tax was 94 429 millions sterling; while land was 42 millions odd. That is to say, in 1815 land was 64 per cent of the real property of this country; in 1849, it was only 44 per cent. Therefore, if you transfer to the public Exchequer 100l. of local burthens, 56l. of that goes to other property, and 44l. only to land. Now, take the large sum that the hon. Gentleman has proposed to transfer. Suppose 2,000,000 per annum were taken upon the public Exchequer, how much of that would go to the land? 880,000l. would go to the land (including an immense amount which is not producing wheat, barley, or cattle), and 1,120,000l. would go to other property, not land, and which has probably been benefited, and not injured, by the recent legislation of the country. Do not such considerations prove that the owners of land are only part and parcel of a great community—that their lot is cast in with that of the community at large—and that their condition alone cannot be benefited by any legislation of the kind proposed by the hon. Gentleman? The object really to be kept in view is, how we shall best benefit the community at large, so that the owners and occupiers of land shall obtain their full share of the benefit. I do not think it necessary that I should pursue the subject further. With respect to stamp duties and legacy duties, the observations of the hon. Gentleman are only a repetition of what I and a right hon. Friend of mine have said on other occasions; and upon this part of the subject, therefore, it is unnecessary for me to say anything. I now come to another topic which the hon. Gentleman suggests for the consideration of the House. He says, it is recommended that farmers should employ more labour on their lands, but that impediments to the free employment of labour exist in the law of the country. I am glad to hear him speak in those terms, because I think the law of settlement ought to be amended; but the obstacles presented by the law of settlement have not proceeded from this or any other Government, but from the Gentlemen who are commonly called the "country gentlemen;" and, therefore, if they are prepared to support the measure for the amendment of the law of settlement to be introduced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board, I shall be exceedingly happy to reckon on their aid. It is not for the hon. Gentleman, representing a class from whom legislation 430 on that subject has hitherto come, to reproach the Government on the law of settlement. The hon. Member says, the farmers ought to employ capital, but that the effect of the Banking Act of 1844 had prevented them from doing so. Has capital been so scarce since 1844? If I am not mistaken, it was made matter of reproach against the late Government, that by their measures in connexion with that Act, they reduced interest so low by what they had done, that speculation was promoted. Such a charge is not consistent with the argument of the hon. Gentleman. I do not think any Gentleman going into the City would find the slightest difficulty in obtaining any amount of capital he required to effect improvements. I do not recollect capital being so abundant for many years, or the rate of interest so low. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman through his argument on the subject of "commandite." I should not think that hon. Gentlemen around him would be willing to apply the joint-stock principle to the management of farms. The hon. Gentleman has talked of a national rate for the support of the poor, though he did not insist upon it, his observation being apparently thrown out as a feather, to try which way the wind blew; but I remember perfectly well, when that proposition was mooted on a previous occasion, that the hon. Member for East Somersetshire, a gentleman perfectly conversant with the poor-law question, as well as with all country matters, said, that such a plan would be the greatest misfortune that could befall the country—an opinion in which I certainly most fully concur. The hon. Gentleman, in complimentary terms, spoke of the proposition once made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford in favour of a fixed duty, on corn as a happy financial exercitation; and a renewal of the proposition now might be regarded in the same light. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will thank him for treating in so light a manner the serious proposal which he made, or that hon. Gentlemen near him will think that a proposal to which many of them attach so much importance is to be finally disposed of in so summary a manner. I should have thought that, in their opinion at least, it would have deserved more serious consideration.
But I will come now to the most important branch of this question. The hon. Gentleman desires that relief should be 431 given from what he calls the unjust burdens on land, to the extent of 2,000,000 or 3,000,000; and he would also repeal, or considerably reduce, I presume, the duties on tobacco, malt, and spirits. They amount to near 15,000,000l. How does he propose to supply the deficit which would be consequent on a remission of those duties? I do not know how he and the noble Lord the leader of the party in the other House will arrange matters; because the noble Lord has stated that he is against the repeal of the malt tax. The hon. Gentleman ought to have told us what is the deficit with which he would have us deal. If the hon. Gentleman meant anything by the Motion before the House—if he intended to propound any practical question as arising out of it—it was, that relief should be afforded from the customs duty on tobacco, and from the excise duties on malt, hops, and spirits. How did the hon. Gentleman, however, propose to supply the deficiency that would be created by the repeal of the malt tax, for instance? In what manner did he mean to create an equivalent for the public revenue? The hon. Gentleman had not told the House on this occasion—though the hon. Gentleman was not always so chary of his information on the subject. The hon. Gentleman once stated at a meeting in Buckinghamshire that the true plan for relieving the land was to raise 5,000,000l. by a land tax. But now he points out the land tax as a burden on land. The hon. Gentleman has since come forward with a definite proposition. In 1849 he proposed to relieve the agricultural interest from rates to the amount of 7,000,000l., and to increase the income tax by an equivalent amount. That would have doubled the charge on the owners of land, and considerably increased the charge on the occupiers; but it was a proposal deliberately made for the relief of agriculture. The hon. Gentleman has apparently abandoned both of these schemes. How then does the hon. Gentleman propose to make good the deficit? There is but one way, in fact, open to the hon. Gentleman, and that is to reimpose some or all of those duties which had been remitted within the last few years. The hon. Gentleman has deprecated such a course, it is true; but how else can he make good the deficiency which his proposition would cause in the revenue of the country; seeing that he is not prepared to suggest either his land tax of five millions, or to increase the 432 income tax to seven millions? If, however, the hon. Gentleman reimposed those duties which have been remitted, would it not be a distinct reversal of that policy which has received the sanction of the House, and which has effected such good for the country as the foundation of the prosperity which the people at large now enjoy? That is the clear result of the proposal of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman calls on the Government for "justice in action," by lighten-in s; the burdens of the land. I must beg their attention to one or two statements which I shall be obliged to make in the course of my further observations on the subject. The Motion of the hon. Gentleman is much the same as the Motion he made in 1849, and it is supported, moreover, by the same arguments. The hon. Gentleman on that occasion referred to local taxation as mainly, if not exclusively, pressing on the land; and he likewise stated that one-third of the excise duties was borne by the land. He then moved for a Committee to inquire into these burdens with the view of their removal. But that removal, as I have shown, can only be effected by the reversal of the legislative policy pursued by the House within the last few years. Is it expedient to have recourse to that step? I will not go far back for a test of the comparative condition of the country, but I will take the period immediately preceding the imposition of the income tax, that great engine which, as the hon. Gentleman says, covered all changes and charges, and which I hope may cover many more yet to come. The general prosperity of the country at the present moment is admitted; I will compare it in detail with what it had been previous to the adoption of the policy in question. And, first, I will look at it financially. In the year 1841, the whole revenue of the country was 48,084,000l.; in the year 1850, it is 52,810,000l., showing an increase of some 4,726,000l. What, however, has been done in the course of these years—in the relief of taxation—in the way of taxes reduced and taxes repealed? There was repealed or reduced—
433 The total amount of taxes, repealed or reduced since 1841 is 10,763,151l., the amount of taxes imposed within the same period is 5,655,793l., which being deducted from 10,763,151l., the amount of taxes repealed or reduced, leaves a balance of 5,107,358l. in favour of the public; and while that amount of relief has been given to the taxpayer, there has been an increase of revenue to the extent of 4,700,000l. Financially, I think, I have proved the advantage which has attended those legislative changes. In those years we have gone through a famine in Ireland, and failing crops in this country; we have gone through a commercial crisis, one of the worst we have ever experienced; we have gone through wars in continental States utterly disturbing our trade; we have had some alarms at home. There has seldom been a period in which disturbing causes to an equal amount have existed; yet the result is such as I have stated—a removal of taxation to the amount of upwards of 5,000,000l., and an increase of revenue almost equal to that amount. It is not necessary to enter on a detailed statement as to the condition of the manufacturing and commercial interests. Although evil may have arisen from a high price of cotton, and from some temporary pressure in the iron trade—the commercial and manufacturing interests were never in a state of more steady and sound prosperity. I shall not appeal to the increased importation on consumable articles; I shall refer to the shortest test—one to which hon. Gentlemen opposite are more in the habit of referring—I mean the amount of our exports. Taking what are called the principal articles, I find the declared value of these exports in 1848 was 48,946,000l.; in 1849, 58,848,000l.; in 1850, 65,756,000l. In 1848, when we were taunted with the small amount of exports, I expressed my belief that the disturbances on the Continent had interrupted our trade. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire dissented from that opinion, and held that the disturbances on the Continent had diminished production there, and increased the demands for our goods. I will not take advantage of this, in order to claim the advantage of the extraordinary increase from 1848. Making full allowance for the diminished export of that year, the increase is still quite astonishing. I will compare the total exports of former years, beginning with the year 1841, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The de- 434 clared value of all our exports in 1841 was 51,217,000l. The declared value of our exports in 1847 was 57,786,000l.; 1848, 52,849,000l.; 1849, 63,596,000l. Assuming the same proportion of the principal articles to the whole exports as furnished in 1849, the total declared value of our exports this year will be upwards of 70,000,000l. Take the year of our greatest prosperity before the recent legislation began, and compare it with those results which I have just stated, and you will find an increase of exports in the latter period perfectly unexampled, and a degree of prosperity altogether unknown in our commercial and trading history. Now, if this be so—and I do not think any yon will contradict the proposition I have laid down—if there is the utmost facility for making investments—if our trade has recovered from the depression into which it had fallen—if our commercial interests are in a state of unparalleled prosperity—our working classes, not only in the manufacturing, but the agricultural districts, well employed, well paid, and well fed—if it he granted that this is a true description of the general state of the country, can it be said that our legislation has been wrong or misdirected? And can it be said, in such circumstances, that the hope expressed in Her Majesty's Speech is ill founded, that
In 1842 taxes to the amount of. £1,596,366 1843 411,821 1844 458,810 1845 4,535,561 1846 1,151,790 1847 344,886 1848 585,968 1849 388,798 1850 1,289,151—"the prosperous condition of other classes of Her subjects will have a favourable effect in diminishing the difficulties and promoting the interests of agriculture?Is it possible that the agricultural interest can stand so much separated from the rest of the community as not to be benefited by their prosperity, and derive advantage from the great and increasing demand for their produce which that prosperity must create? I have stated what has been the increased demand in Glasgow. The other night a similar statement was made with reference to Liverpool, and many other instances might be given; but it is not necessary to show that there is a great and increasing demand for the produce of the agricultural districts. Whatever has been imported into this country has been consumed. Stocks are low, and this, at least, we have the gratification of knowing, that the people have had the full benefit of all that has been produced and imported. Nor will I believe that, with such an augmentation of markets as we see going on for the produce of agriculture among the other bodies of 435 consumers, its interests alone are doomed to suffer. The hon. Gentleman says, it may be that all other interests are prospering; but that, since protection was given up, this alone has been in a state of depression. Now, I believe it to be true that no protected interest ever lost its protection without suffering for a time, however certain and permanent the ultimate improvement might be; and I expect that the same thing will occur in this case. I will not stop to point out at any length what has been the result with regard to other interests. The case of the silk manufacturers is familiar to all of us. They were reduced, as they said, to ruin, when protection was taken from them; and the same complaints were heard from the manufacturers of leather and gloves when protection was taken from them. If it be true that the prosperity of the agriculturists of this country was based on protection to agriculture, it was equally true in respect to silks. But let us see what are the facts of the case. It is only three or four years since protection was removed from the silk manufacturers; but has the production of silk been diminished? Quite the contrary. Not only do we supply our own market, but we carry on a successful competition with the very parties against whom we were protected. In many fabrics, indeed, we heat them. Here is a statement of the exports of silk goods during the last three years. In 1848 the declared value of our exports of silk stuffs was only 238,000l.; in 1849, 396,000l.; and in 1850, 487,000l. In other articles the export rose from 96,000l. in 1848 to 186,000l. in 1850. Of mixed stuffs the declared value of the exports in 1848 was 150,000l.; in 1849, 213,000l.; and in 1850, 328,000l. This has all been accomplished in the face of great competition; and, with such facts before us, I ask what reason have we to fear the competition of any class of men? With regard to the glove trade, complete ruin was predicted when protection was taken away. My noble Friend at the head of the Government referred on the first night of the Session to the prosperity of the glove trade; and his statement on that occasion has since been strongly corroborated by the letter of a Yeovil manufacturer, published in the newspapers. Now, with regard to gloves, I find that in 1848 there were exported 10,475 pounds weight of gloves; in 1849 the quantity was 15,314lb., and in 1850 it was 31,770lb. weight, being ac- 436 tually double the quantity of the year before. This is a complete proof of the fallacy of the position that our foreign trade cannot go on without a large protection. I shall next refer to wool. In 1842 I took an active part in endeavouring to obtain the removal of the import duty on wool. The duty was not removed then, but subsequently it was taken off, and what has been the result? Since the duty has been repealed, and since unlimited competition has been permitted, the demand for our own wool has increased more and more, and the exportation of British wool has been greatly promoted. In 1848 the exportation of British wool amounted in pounds weight to 3,900,000; in 1849, to 11,200,000; and in 1850, to 12,000,000. It appears that the reduction of the duty on wool has been followed by increased production, an increase of our manufactures, and, as I have just shown, an increased exportation abroad. Now if I am asked how is prosperity in agriculture to be attained, my answer is, that it is to be attained just as it has been in other branches of industry, by judicious application of capital, and increasing industry and enterprise; and I am happy and bound to say that this is going on throughout the country to a most extraordinary extent—that there is hardly one corner of the country where you cannot see, highly to the credit of the owners and occupiers of land, the large improvements which they are carrying on. The manufacturers of this country meet without fear the competition of the world to which they are exposed; and it is by a process similar to that which they have employed that I believe the agriculturists of this country will successfully compete with the produce of other nations, brought into the same market with their own. If I were anxious to encourage the agriculturists of this country in the prospect that is before them, I would borrow the language of one whose words will have more weight with them than any that could fall from me—language better expressed and more forcible than any I could use for such a purpose; I would borrow language from a noble Lord of acknowledged talent, and looked up to by Gentlemen on the other side of the House—language applicable, not merely to the confined district in which it was addressed, but to every portion of England. I allude to a speech that has been charged with inconsistency—though I see none in it—and which was addressed 437 by Lord Stanley to the Agricultural Association of Bury, and through that body to the whole agricultural population of England. The noble Lord said—We are so far from having arrived at that expenditure of capital which, being permanently sunk in the soil, has led to an artificial fertility, that we are not yet at that stage of advancement when we can say we have placed the soil in a condition of even its natural fertility.Again—I have seen land in such a state of absolute neglect that I have stared with astonishment when I have asked, and been told, what was the amount of rent the late tenant was nominally engaged to pay out of such land. I have seen lands paying (I don't mean to the head landlord) 30s. and 2l. the statute acre, when I firmly believe, if they could feed a snipe, that is the only two-footed or four-footed animal they could feed. I have seen, again, lands which, not more than six or seven years ago, were in as apparently hopeless a state, and which at this moment exhibit an aspect of fertility, contrasting in a manner as remarkable as it is gratifying with their former condition; and, though I will not say that this increased fertility has been obtained without a considerable expenditure—although I will not say that for the first two or three years the outlay of the tenants—men undoubtedly of science, and ability, and capital, has been repaid—yet, sure I am, that outlay is in course of permanent, and certain, and not very gradual or slow repayment.The noble Lord continued—By these means the land will be brought into a state of fertility which will require only a moderate amount of care and attention, and of manure also, to render it permanently productive, yielding, I will venture to say, in many instances, more than double, in some instances even ton fold the produce gained from the land in its existing state.Does the noble Lord despair of the prospects of agriculture? Far from it. I will again borrow his language; and, altering it only so far as to substitute terms generally applicable for those addressed to the people of Bury, I would address the gentlemen of England in the language of the noble Lord's concluding sentences:—With these prospects before us, with the spirit I see among you—with the spirit more especially which I see among the leading proprietors—among those who are using properly their high station for the purpose of showing the way towards improvement, and aiding and encouraging their humbler co-labourers—I do not despair, but, on the contrary, I look with confidence to the successful working of this system of improved cultivation. I pray you not to relax in your efforts. Let the zeal you have manifested in the first instance be continued, as I am sure it will he. Let landlord and tenant, manufacturer and agriculturist, pull together in one joint endeavour for our common welfare, and, believe me, we shall insure, in spite of all discouragements and diffi- 438 culties, the certain and permanent prosperity of the agriculture of our county.That is the language not of despair, not of discouragement, but of hope and encouragement to the agricultural classes; and I believe with the noble Lord that that is the tone and language which ought to be addressed to them in their present circumstances. My belief is, that they, like all their predecessors from whom protection has been taken, will suffer for a time; but that they will revive, and that their prosperity when it does revive will be more enduring and permanent than before. With regard to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, I can but repeat that which I said a short time ago—that I can only view the Motion in one light—that, however much he may disclaim the intention, there is but one mode of carrying out the proposal he would make, viz., by imposing some or all of those taxes that recent years have seen repealed or reduced. I call upon the House to negative that proposition. I quoted last year the speech of Mr. Huskisson on which our recent policy may be said to have been grounded. That policy has been more or I less followed from that time to this; and I it received a greater impulse and fuller development when the Government of Sir Robert Peel came into power, and he proposed his system of legislation in 1842 and subsequent years. That legislation I supported when in opposition; and the same commercial policy Her Majesty's Government has endeavoured to carry out since their accession to power. Gratefully have I to acknowledge the support which on many occasions that lamented statesman gave to us; and when a vindication may be needed of that policy, I feel and lament more deeply the loss which this I House and the country have sustained. I lament the loss of that assistance which as on former occasions that right hon. Gentleman would have given to those views by which this subject is to be maintained in argument. It is, I feel, with far inferior ability, with far less claim on the support of the House, but with no less unfaltering I confidence in the soundness of the principles and justice of the system that we are pursuing, that I now call upon the House to follow the course they have done before, in rejecting this Motion. I call upon those who concurred with that right hon. Gentleman in recommending those measures; I call upon the majority of the House, whether on the other side of it or on this, by whose support those measures 439 have been carried, to stand by them now, and not flinch from them when they are exposed to repeated attacks and trials. By the confession of all sides, they hare been in the highest degree beneficial to the country generally; and let us stand by them for that short time longer, which, in ray belief, is all that is required to show that they will prove as advantageous to the agricultural as they have prored to every other class of the community, and especially to the working population, from one end of the kingdom to the other.
§ MR. HODGSON
hoped that as Cumberland, in which he resided, had been referred to, the House would allow him to make one or two remarks, and extend to him the kindness it usually afforded to a Member who had grievances or distresses of his constituents to state. In the city which he represented (Carlisle), the cotton manufacture had been carried on to a considerable extent, partly for exportation and partly for home consumption; but the demand had wholly ceased, and the operatives were out of employ. There were hundreds who wanted the bare means of subsistence, and hundreds more who earned a very scanty maintenance by occasional work. So great was the distress, that the mayor called a meeting of the inhabitants last week to see what could be done, and a public subscription had been entered into to support those operatives by charity. He was afraid he could not give a much better account of the state of the agricultural interest. He knew of many farms in Cumberland being re-let this Candlemas; but every one had been let at a very considerable reduction of rent. A friend of his, who had a farm let at 600l. a year, was glad to get a tenant at 340l. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated the rate of wages of agricultural labourers in Cumberland as averaging about 12s. Now, though there might be some isolated spots whore as much as that might be paid; the average rate, he knew, was not more than 8s. or 9s. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER said, that he spoke of the northern districts of the country generally.] Well, things did not appear much more prosperous in the neighbouring county. He had with him a recent number of the Newcastle Courant, in which he found forty-one advertisements of farms to be let. If that was the case in a county quoted by the right hon. Gentleman as an instance of agricultural prosperity, it was difficult to give him credit 440 for his statements in respect to other parts of the country. The hon. Member for Birmingham attributed the existing distress to the currency laws; others ascribed it to the excited state of the Continent, and said that when the people there became tranquil, prices would rise here. He believed that the great remedy for our distress was a reduction of taxation. But he could not see much chance of that if the noble Lord at the head of the Government would maintain such extravagant fancies as the African slave squadron, and fill up places which Committee recommended to be abolished. Let him take in hand to reduce the pension list. A list of persons receiving pensions from the State had just been issued; and, although he was considered to hold rather conservative opinions, it almost tempted him to become a radical. He felt that it was monstrous to think there should be persons eating the bread of idleness while there was starvation among his constituents. He should feel it his duty to vote for every reduction of taxation that might be proposed, provided it did not appear to be injurious to the public service, or to endanger the public honour.
§ MR. GRANTLEY BERKELEY
said, he could not congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the allusions which he made to the prosperity of Cumberland; and he felt convinced that the same distress as the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had proved to exist in Cumberland, prevailed everywhere. He had heard a great many bold assertions made from the Treasury bench, but he had never heard a bolder statement than that of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire did not ask anything in the Motion which he had brought before the House. Her Majesty's Government, however, had frequently come to ask the opinion of the House without suggesting any opinion of their own. In the case of the Irish famine they called the House together without having a single proposition to make. What had been their conduct on this question? Had they not denied agricultural distress? Had they not at last reluctantly admitted it? And they now requested them to look for the amelioration of that distress in the better situation of the manufacturing classes. The agricultural classes were to wait on the manufacturing classes for the time of prosperity. But he should 441 like to hear the Government propose to the hon. Member for the West Riding, or the hon. Member for Manchester, to let the manufacturing prosperity wait for the improved position of the agricultural labourer. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to sneer at the experiment of free trade having been tried for five years only; and he said that no time could be definitely laid down for the continuance of the trial; but, before long, he expected that the agricultural interest would be more flourishing than ever; but he (Mr. Berkeley) asked them now when this experiment was to cease, and when they meant to put an end to the sufferings of the country? The right hon. Gentleman said that he never expected that prices would be so low; and last year he declared that prices never could be lower. They had seen, by experience, that it was not on the strength of low prices that Her Majesty's Government were disposed to recommend a different measure. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the prosperous condition of the working classes, congratulating himself on the cheapness of provisions, he (Mr. Berkeley) admitted that provisions were low, and that the labourer was enabled to purchase cheaper provisions. Did the purchase of provisions by the labourer tend to the benefit of the employer? He said no. Formerly the two classes depended the one upon the other; but now we had taken from the agriculturist his reliance upon his employer. They had heard a great deal about the state of the glove trade. He did not believe a word of it. These statements were mere chimeras. Amongst the extraordinary things which he had heard lately, was the answer which had been given to the question put by him respecting the riot in the county of Suffolk. He had since heard that that riot had actually taken place owing to the overcrowded state of the workhouse. A gentleman who had seen the place where it occurred informed him of the fact of the disturbance; that fifty policemen were unable to quell it; that the military had been called out, the union inmates had driven the officers away, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the riot was at length quelled. Now, was the Government ignorant of that matter? No; but they had kept it back in order that that debate might go on quietly. He was sure, from the crowded state of the unions, there were threats of similar disturbances in a hundred different places. What had be- 442 come of all the charges so frequently made last year against the agriculturists? Where was that most unworthy charge of class legislation, and that the whole outcry had been raised by the owners of property in order to keep up rents? Such an accusation was disposed of by the paragraph in Her Majesty's Speech in which the distress of the agriculturists was acknowledged. For the last five years we had been making the experiment of free trade, and we could now come to a good conclusion as to its effects. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had asserted that never had the great mass of the labouring classes such command of articles of provisions as at the present time. He could not but wonder that the noble Lord should entertain such a sentiment, when he referred back to the words of the Royal Speech. What had the labouring population obtained? They had sugar bought with the price of blood, and at the sacrifice of all the principles of religion; and they had cheap bread and cheap meat, procured from foreign producers: this was all they had got. His hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham had stated that the manufacturers were eating up the farmers. The same idea might be applied to the agricultural labourers at present, who were purchasing cheap provisions, but were doing so to the sacrifice of their masters. Again, it was said that pauperism had diminished, and the hon. Member for Dorsetshire had admitted that in that county the generality of labourers were not much reduced in wages; but he could state that application had been made to increase the salary of the gaoler of Dorchester gaol by 50l. a year, in consequence of the increased amount of his duties. He he'd in his hand an account of the number of paupers relieved in Dursley union for the three years 1848, 1849, and 1850. The numbers were—1848, 5,795 paupers; 1849, 4,495; 1850, 3,136. Again, the number of prisoners in Gloucester gaol during the same period was—1848, 533; 1849, 551; 1850, 420. Now it was true that in both instances there was a diminution in the year 1850, but he did not attribute that to the effects of free trade, but to the well-known fact that by the measure of free trade, and the consequent distress, we had removed the sinews from the land; and those who would have been paupers had been expatriated and driven to emigration. He wished to mention one fact, which, he thought, ought to attract the 443 attention of the right hon. Baronet the: Secretary for the Home Department, and that was, that persons in the workhouses often committed offences for the purpose of obtaining the better diet which was given in prisons. As for his own county, the general condition was such, that there was no increase in agricultural employment, no approach to better wages, and no benefit arising from cheap food. He had taken great pains to obtain the best advice, and the general tenor of it was, that instead of amending in agricultural prospects, they were gradually getting worse. As to the state of Ireland, they would find that so far from improving, it was becoming throughout in a more distressed condition. In a debate during the last Session of Parliament, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon had stated, that they—would be better able to take a practical view of taxation next year, when the income tax had expired; and if it should be thought expedient to reimpose that tax, he should put in a strong claim in behalf of the landed interest, with a view to establishing a different system of assessment.He (Mr. Berkeley) trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not now forget his promise. He did not know by what arguments the reasonable proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire could be opposed. When they were told that that Motion asked for nothing, he would ask the House and country what could be expected from Her Majesty's Ministers? The greatest boon that could he conferred on the people would be a dissolution, and he was convinced that if there were to be a dissolution not one half of the Members who now had seats in the House would be returned to Parliament. Whether they looked upon the country in a religious or in a temporal point of view, they must see there was a feeling of great distrust and disaffection. Instead of the humbler classes having become more bound to their employers, and instead of the masses of this country looking to Parliament for succour, and regarding that House as a place where their wrongs would be redressed, they now almost despaired of relief, and were brought down to the very pit of despair, and had scarcely spirit to attempt a reaction, in order to better their condition. If this state of things lasted much longer, the farmers would be unable to employ the peasantry, so that the condition of the poor would become deplorable, and that of the tenant-farmer as bad; for the labourers would be 444 in the workhouse, and the farmers, along with being already heavily burdened, would be saddled with a heavy poor-rate. The farmer, up to the present time, rather than quit his holding, out of his capital provided wages for the labourer; but that system must have an end—a speedy end—and unless something was done—unless the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire met with a sufficient response—unless the House forced the Government to do something for the agricultural interest, he felt convinced that this body would find itself plunged in irremediable confusion, discontent, and disaffection.
§ MR. G. SANDARS
Mr. Speaker, Sir, I am anxious to say a few words on the question now before the House; not that I intend to propose a reversal of that policy which has received the sanction of this House and the country, for I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, that that policy cannot be reversed by a mere vote of this House, but that if ever it be reversed it must be by the expression of feeling out of doors. Her Majesty, in her gracious Speech, has admitted that distress exists amongst one portion of her people, namely, the owners and occupiers of land; this fortunately saves us the task of proving the existence of such distress through other channels of information, but it is my belief that that distress has been confined hitherto chiefly to the tenant-farmers. Landlords have not generally reduced rents; and if the wages of labour have been reduced, the labourer has had an equivalent in the reduced prices of food; but a time is approaching when all these interests must bear a portion of the burthen. The landlord must make a permanent reduction in his rent, and the labourer will either have to be discharged, or submit to a reduction in his wages. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told you tonight, that agricultural prosperity depends on the harvests, and the state of prosperity of the mercantile and manufacturing interests of the country. In 1849, we were told that the distress that then existed was owing to the deficient harvest of 1848; but, in 1850 (this distress still existing), we were then told it was owing to the abundant harvest of 1849; and now I suppose we shall be told that the distress that is admitted by Her Majesty's Ministers is owing to the defective harvest of 1850. Sir, I will, with the permission of the House, state the opinions expressed by 445 Her Majesty's Ministers last year, as to the cause of that distress, and the low-prices which then existed.
Lord John Russell:—There was a very great probability that there would be a higher price for corn than there had been during the past year.The Chancellor of the Exchequer:—The prices in the Baltic ports were so high, that it would not pay to send grain to this country.The Marquess of Lansdowne:—Oh, it is not worth the while of France especially to send corn here. In Franco they have not corn enough for their own use. …. Where are the large importations to come from? France is in ordinary years a million of quarters deficient.Earl Grey:—Of all the apprehensions that could he entertained, that of importations of corn from France was the most wild and visionary that ever entered into the head of man.Lord Granville:—He believed that the present price of 40s. per quarter for wheat was an unnaturally low one, and could not continue.And yet, Sir, in the face of these statements, made by gentlemen of such high authority, we have had an import in the last year of 5,000,000 quarters of wheat and flour, and of 9,260,000 of all kinds of corn. We have had an import of upwards of 1,000,000 quarters of corn and flour from France, though, according to those high authorities, to expect corn from France was "wild and visionary"—that it was not worth while to send it here. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also told us that prices were then exceptional—that he expected they would rule from 40s. to 50s. in average seasons under free trade, and that corn could not be imported to any extent at the rates then existing. He said—It is extraordinary to what an extent the importation has fallen off; but it affords, I think, a conclusive proof, that the present price of corn does not pay the importer, and that the agriculturist has good reason to expect that so low a price cannot continue for long. Prices, I think, likely to prevail, will range somewhere between 40s. and 50s.The hon. Gentleman the Member for Westbury has, too, reiterated these opinions. He said—If he was asked whether these low prices would continue, he would state that he had no such belief: his anxiety was far more on account of the reaction which would take place from these 446 extremely low prices. If confidence could only be restored to the country, and people could be induced to believe that these momentarily low prices were not likely to continue, it would soon be found that there was no great surplus of wheat, or imaginary stock now on hand; for his part, he had no fear of foreign competition.There was no wonder that the hon. Gentleman should hold these opinions, as he had, before the repeal of the corn laws, 'fixed 52s. 2d. as the probable price of wheat under free trade. In fact, Her Majesty's Ministers had been deceived themselves as to the effect free trade would have on prices of grain, and they had, I am willing to believe, unintentionally held out false hopes to the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the prosperity in the manufacturing districts I would soon have its influence in relieving the distress of the agricultural interest. Such, Sir, would have been the natural effect before the repeal of the corn laws, but now it is the producer of foreign corn who gains the advantage by the increased demand for his produce, leaving little or no advantage to the home producer. The light hon. Gentleman admits that they have been deceived; but he says, "So also have we on this side the House, as those supplies have come from quarters not expected, namely, our continental neighbours." Why, Sir, we anticipated supplies from all quarters of the world, and such has been the fact. Have we not had an import of one million quarters last year from Odessa, 700,000 quarters from Egypt, and large supplies from still more distant regions? I repeat, what I have on previous occasions declared to the House, that at 35s. per quarter and upwards, we shall in spite of all prophecies to the contrary, continue to receive large supplies from all quarters of the world. I have, Sir, before regretted the mistake that was made in not retaining a moderate fixed duty, not for protection but for fiscal purposes, on the import of grain. I have stated that such a duty would not, in ordinary seasons, enhance the prices of grain to the consumer; that the foreign grower would reduce his prices to meet ours; and that it would only act as a protection to the British grower in years of abundance and cheapness, and would then prevent prices falling from 40s. to 35s., and perhaps from 35s. to 30s. Who, I ask, would grudge such a protection as this to the home producer? The hon. Gentlemen opposite are fond of quoting the policy of the United States as an example for us to 447 follow, whether it he on the subject of education, or on Papal aggression, or anything that may serve their purpose. I will, with the permission of the House, quote the opinion of a high authority, confirmatory of the views I have just expressed in favour of supporting the agriculture of the country. The President of the United States, in his last Message, has said that—A duty laid upon an article which cannot be produced in this country—such as tea or coffee—adds to the cost of the article, and is chiefly or wholly paid by the consumer. But a duty laid upon an article which may be produced here, stimulates the skill and industry of our own country to produce the same article, which is brought into the market in competition with the foreign article, and the importer is thus compelled to reduce his price to that at which the domestic article can be sold, thereby throwing a part of the duty upon the producer of the foreign article. The continuance of this process creates the skill and invites the capital which finally enables us to produce the article much cheaper than it could have been procured from abroad, thereby benefiting both the producer and the consumer at home. The consequence of this is, that the artisan and the agriculturist are brought together; each affords a ready market for the produce of the other; the whole country becomes prosperous, and the ability to produce every necessary of life, renders us independent in war as well as in peace.In this view I entirely agree, Sir, much stress has been laid on the fact that prices in 1835, with protection, wore lower than in 1850; though this was the case with wheat, it was not so with other grain. Wheat—
thus showing much higher rates in 1835 than 1850 of all grain, with the exception of wheat, which average was 1s. lower. But, Sir, there was also this great difference, that the low prices of 1835 were caused by abundance of home produce; whilst those of 1850 were caused by large imports. We have imported, since the free-trade policy commenced in 1846, 45½ millions of grain; and, I believe, we shall become more and more dependent on foreign supply, and it becomes a question of serious import whether our resources can bear this continual drain. The exchanges are now against us, and the gold in the coffers of the Bank is reduced three millions since last March. A return of some importance, moved for by the hon. 448 Member for the North Riding of York, has just been laid on the table of the House, giving us the imports and exports to each country and colony for the year 1849. The total of the imports is, of official value, 99,170,602l., and of exports, 60,152,607l., and from those quarters from whence we derive our chief supplies of grain, the following result is shown. Russian imports, 5,604,102l.; exports, 1,379,179l. Danish imports, 1,461,704l.; exports, 353,599l. Prussian imports, 2,405,649l.; exports, 428,748l. French imports, 8,176,987l.; exports, 1,951,269l. American imports, 26,554,941l.; exports, 11,971,028l. Thus, Sir, it clearly appears that the principles of free trade are not appreciated by those countries from which we draw our chief supplies of grain, our imports from the five countries named being upwards of 44,000,000l., and the exports to them, only amounting to 16,000,000l. Can anything, I ask, be more conclusive than this, that the advantages we were told would ensue to our commerce by the opening of our trade to all the world, leading to the opening of their trade to us, has not been, nor I fear will not be, the result of that much-lauded policy? Sir, in conclusion, I call upon Her Majesty's Ministers to take into their early and serious consideration the distress which prevails, and which they admit exists in the agricultural districts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has a large surplus at his disposal, and it is the duty of the Government first to see whether they cannot relieve the owners and occupiers of land from some of those burdens which press most severely upon them. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, in a most able, temperate, and eloquent speech, has propounded a plan; and though I cannot go along with him in all its details, yet it throws out some valuable suggestions, which I trust will not be lost upon Her Majesty's Ministers.
Barley. Oats. Beans. Peas. s. d. s. d. s. d. s. d. s. d. In 1835 was 39 4 29 11 22 0 30 0 30 3 In 1850 was 40 4 23 5 16 5 26 11 27 5 Difference 1 0 6 6 5 7 3 1 2 10
§ MR. W. BROWN
Sir, I have been unexpectedly called on in this debate, in consequence of an allusion that has been made by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), to what he supposed I said on a former occasion as to the protection the landed interest would receive from the expenses of bringing wheat to this country from the United States. The hon. Member represents me as having said that the freight of a quarter of wheat from the United States was 11s.; and he goes on to state, that it was not 449 now more than one-eleventh of that sum. What I did say was, that the freight, insurance, loss of weight, interest on capital, commission, meterage, carterage, porterage, and storage, would give them a protection of from 9s. to 11s. is. I recollect, in making that estimate, my figures were 13s. 6d., of which freight was only 4;,; but to be sure and not overstate my case, I said from 9s. to 11s. You cannot insure wheat against particular average; it must he general, and I make no allowance for profits. To show that I did not overstate my case, my hon. Friend who sits beside me, the Member for Berwick (Mr. Forster), is now paying 10d. per bushel for paddy from the United States, which is a very similar cargo to wheat. What I said as to the charges on wheat from the United States, is proved to be correct, as it has checked our expected supplies from that country. When the hon. Member does me the honour of quoting my words again, [hope he will understand me better, and not give the House an impression that I had misled them to the extent of 10s. per quarter, when my case was fairly stated. Before I sit down, I must congratulate the Government on the success of their free-trade measures, as is clearly shown by the decrease of crime, the decrease of poor-rates, the increase of marriages, the death of Chartism, and that country gentlemen are now in the enjoyment of their honours, their dignities, and their estates, and are enabled to sleep comfortably in their beds without fear of a domestic or foreign foe, and, I think, ought to be content with their present position.
§ The MARQUESS of GRANBY moved the adjournment of the debate to Thursday next.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, that it would be no doubt very convenient to take the debate for that day, if hon. Gentlemen who had Motions on the Paper would consider the general feeling of the House to bring the question to a termination; but it could not be expected they would do so. The hon. Member for South Essex was first on the list, and without an expression of his opinion, they could make no arrangement.
§ SIR E. N. BUXTON
said, he had a Motion for Thursday respecting sugar, and was very unwilling to give way, unless he got another day on which his Motion could he brought on. He trusted the noble Lord at the head of the Government, in order that the debate should be brought to a conclusion, would give him a future day to bring on his Motion.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
considered the request of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire very reasonable, as it was desirable to enable, he House to go on with the debate as speedily as possible; but he could not think the hon. Baronet the Member for South Essex equally reasonable, when ho asked Government to grant him a day. Out of five days the Government had only two for all the business of the country. It would be better for the hon. Baronet to introduce the question on a Motion day.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
would not object to the Motion for adjournment, and hoped the time would come when the noble Lord and the free-traders would be ejected from the House. On a future day, he would express his opinion oil the subject now before the House.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.