§ On the Motion that Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair to go into Committee of Supply,
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said: Sir, before you leave the chair, I wish, in accordance with an intimation I have given to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and for reasons which I will shortly state, to make some inquiry with the view of obtaining some information from Her Majesty's Ministers upon a subject on which I am sure I do not exaggerate when I say that it is of vital concern to every subject of Her Majesty. I refer, Sir, to the principle or the policy on which the Government propose to regulate the foreign commerce of this country, and more especially that branch of it which is engaged in the supply of food for the people. Sir, this is no abstract question or matter of idle speculation merely, but it is a subject so intimately connected with all the realities of English life, that it affects the whole social and domestic policy of this country. It affects the finance, the trade, the labour, the capital, and the general condition of the people. I hope, therefore, that this question will be treated by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer with all the earnestness that it deserves. I think that the public want information on this subject. It would be incorrect to say that they have received none; but it would be more true to say that they would have been less perplexed if they had not received any. What has been said by the Government themselves, or by their friends for the Government, has created doubts where hone might have existed otherwise. For some years past there has been a free-trade policy in force; during the last few weeks a Protectionist party has been in possession of the Go- 1040 vernment; but what that Protectionist Government is going to do for the cause of protection is one of those mysteries that may possibly be solved to-night, but which has not yet been disclosed. Now, Sir, if I appear to be forward in this matter, and if I should appear to be urgent on the Government to make some distinct and candid avowal on the subject, I hope my motives may not be mistaken. I assure the present Government that I am animated by no factious motives—by no party object. [Ironical cheers.] Sir, I think I have reason to expect that my motives will not be misinterpreted. I have been for eighteen years in this House, and during that time I have uniformly manifested great solicitude on this subject: as some of my friends well know, I never lost an opportunity, in former times, of promoting inquiry and discussion on this matter; and, as the House remembers well, I used annually to submit a Motion to it on the laws restricting the importation of foreign grain. I have done everything in my power, with singleness of purpose, I believe, to aid in promoting the success of the cause of free trade, having always believed that it was more closely connected with the well-being of the people than with any, if not every, other subject beside. It would surely, then, be remarkable if those who displayed their zeal in that cause before any experience of its advantages had been acquired, now, when its blessings are appreciated, but when danger and difficulty again hang round the question, should remain still. I was only silent when I believed the question to be safe, and when I hoped it was settled. But no man can doubt that this subject is again raised in the country, and that considerable apprehensions and anxiety exist as to the intentions of the Government with respect to it. I can assure the House that I have no single object to gain in embarrassing Her Majesty's Government; I have no purpose whatever to serve in placing them in any difficult situation with respect to this matter. I do not regret to see them personally in office. I believe they have as much right as any other Members of this House to those seats, if they can hold them with honour to themselves and with advantage to the country. Indeed, I would much rather see them there, than engaged in the agitation which has been going on during the last four or five years—an agitation that I must describe as one of the most reckless and incon- 1041 siderate that has ever occurred in this country. I am, moreover, quite alive to the claims which every new Ministry has to the forbearance of this House with regard to questions which they have not had time to consider, or upon which they are not in a condition to decide. But that is not the relation in which hon. Gentlemen opposite stand with regard to this question. They will not be offended if I say that they are not known in this House or in the country except in connection with this particular measure. They have been distinguished as a party by the course they have taken on the subject. They have steadily maintained the policy of protecting particular interests by law against competition. They have as firmly asserted the failure of free trade; while the circumstance, as far as I have observed, by which they have been mainly distinguished, is in the union, perseverance, and determination they have manifested in endeavouring to possess themselves of the government of this country with the view to the reversal of the free-trade policy. This has not been stated for the first time by me, but has been stated by some distinguished Members of this party themselves, and has been constantly repeated by those who have resisted their movements in this House. When the late Sir Robert Peel used to oppose the Motions of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, which he was nut bound to do as an independent Member, he did so because he said that the purpose of the hon. Gentleman was to carry his Motions that he might displace the Government, and occupy their place, in order to reverse the commercial legislation of the country. The right hon. Gentleman himself (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) said in one of his addresses that he might not be successful on that occasion, but that the time would not be far distant when the then Government would be displaced, and when the principles he advocated would be triumphant. I do not intend to impute any unworthy object to them in what they did, but merely mention it to show their zeal in seeking to reverse the policy of free trade. They have not sought office for the sake of distinction or position, but simply and solely with a view of reestablishing the policy of protection. They have sought every opportunity; they have been vigilant throughout every Session; they have combined with persons the most opposed to them; they have supported Motions the least connected with their prin- 1042 ciples; they have, in short, exhibited an earnestness in their cause which I have not observed in any other political party in this House. And now I think the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot object to tell us how soon and in what way he proposes to fulfil his promise made two days ago on the hustings, namely, to establish, now he is in power, that policy with which he was identified in Opposition? I think, too, I may also ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster the way in which he proposes to forward that desire which he says exists in the breast of the chief of the Government to reverse a policy which he has described so prejudicial to the capital of the country, and ruinous to native industry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries), also, should not object if I ask him what course he intends to pursue with a view to reverse that objectionable change in the maritime code of the country, which, according to his opinion, has been attended with results far greater for evil than he had anticipated. Most certainly the noble Earl at the head of the Government ought not to shrink from making a bold avowal of his intentions. If any one man in this country is responsible for the position of public affairs at the present moment, it is the noble Earl at the head of the Government. That noble Earl seems to me to be the man who has formed the party now in power, guided their movements, instructed them in their course, and led them at last to the victory which he had always promised. The noble Earl, indeed, is peculiarly responsible, because he is one of those men sometimes observed in this country, so circumstanced, and enjoying such advantages and qualifications, that many persons might almost be justified in following him blindly in the course he prescribes to them. In starting the agitation which has led to the present result, the noble Earl was peculiarly situated. He bad been a Member of the late Sir Robert Peel's Government, and had had the advantage of communicating with men of the greatest experience as Ministers and statesmen. He was aware of all the circumstances which led to the then change of opinion or policy, and was acquainted with those circumstances which led the late Sir Robert Peel to consider that, for the good as well as for the safety of the country, he was bound to renounce that monopoly which 1043 the landowners had procured by restricting the importation of foreign corn. But the Earl of Derby, as I understand, was the only Cabinet Minister that left Sir Robert Peel on that occasion; and, by leaving that statesman, and associating himself with all the persons who opposed him, the Earl of Derby did practically announce to the public that there was no occasion for the change of policy then made; that it was a concession to cowardice; that there was no reason why the Com Laws should not continue; and that if men would only follow him, he would lead them to a position in which they might re-establish those laws. A man in the situation of the noble Earl cannot act but with great responsibility. The noble Earl is endowed with intellect of the highest order; he possesses rank, fortune, and experience, which give him peculiar weight and influence; and many who are his followers in this House and in the country almost justify themselves, as I say, in following him blindly. I state this for the purpose of showing that the Earl of Derby, above all men, should be ready to tell us the course he intends to take. In so far as we are allowed to know or to understand the relations existing between him and his party from the public journals, the noble Earl has appeared to be constantly guiding their movements, encouraging their hopes, and leading them to believe that the moment would arrive when he would be able to lead them to victory. He seemed to liken himself to a captain of a band—as an officer addressing his soldiers—telling them to be patient and to persevere, and the day would come when he would give them the signal when they might make their onslaught on their enemy. But, not to misrepresent him, I will read an extract from a speech made by the noble Earl last year, which will show that he was bent on encouraging his followers to persevere, by the hope that the day of triumph would come for them. In May, 1850, the noble Earl (then Lord Stanley) stated, at a public meeting—I do not know for what reason, but if I were to speculate I might suppose it arose from some suspicion, then, of his own fidelity:—If in any part of the country, if there be but one district in which a suspicion is entertained that I am flinching from or hesitating in my advocacy of those principles on which I stood, in conjunction with my lamented friend Lord George Bentinck, I authorise you, one and all, to assure those whom you represent, that in me they will find no hesitation, no flinching, no change of opin- 1044 ion. I only look for the moment when it may be possible for us to use the memorable words of the Duke of Wellington, on the field of Waterloo, and to say, 'Up, Guards, and at them.!'And it is reported that Lord Stanley concluded with the assurance, "that if they would keep up the pressure without, he would do it from within." This took place a year ago; and, looking to the disposition of parties in this House and in the country generally, it must be considered that those whom the present Prime Minister encouraged his followers to treat as the Duke of Wellington treated the foes of the country, were the manufacturing, commercial, and industrial interest of the nation. It is therefore not, I think, unreasonable in persons who represent those interests to ask the noble Earl to have the kindness to tell them when he is going to direct his soldiers to be "up and at them," and when we are to expect this onslaught upon all those interests of the country which we cherish as the most important? The noble Earl and the Government ought, then, to be in a condition to give a reply to the question I put to them, and in which the whole of the country is interested in having answered. Considering the professions they have formerly made, they are bound to relieve us from the suspense in which we have been since they have attained power. And now, Sir, I beg for a moment to call the attention of the House to the present condition of the country, which makes it, in my opinion, imperatively necessary that such a reply should be given. Looking at the state of the country as it was at the beginning of the present year, and during the greater part of the last, no person living could point to a period when more of peace, contentment; and confidence prevailed. There was great activity in trade, industry was employed, old causes of strife had ceased, angry politics there were none. The official returns of our navigation and trade disclosed an amount of business during the preceding year wholly unprecedented in the annals of our commerce. There was an expansion in our foreign trade, and an increase in our home trade of enormous amount; the exports of British manufacture, and the imports of articles of general consumption, were greater than the history of this country offers any previous instance of. The revenue of the country presented a surplus of nearly 3,000,000l., notwithstanding that we have had to contend with 1045 a reduction of taxation approaching to 5,000,000,l. to which extent the public have been relieved. In spite of the assertions made by the right hon. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the capital of this country has diminished, and native industry has been injured, no fact is more notorious, just now, than that the capital of this country was never more abundant, and the population of this island, though never so great before, was never better paid, better fed, or more employed. There was also, as is usual in such cases, what is incident to an improved physical condition: less of misery, of disorder, of vice, and of all the other evils that spring from poverty. This is proved by the evidence of persons whose duty brings them in contact with persons of the poorer class; and surgeons and others would state that individuals received into hospitals are now, from having had better nourishment, more easily cured, and are better able to sustain the operations to which they may be submitted. And not only is this the case in towns, but also in villages; for at no period, during the existence of the Protective system, was the agricultural labourer better off. And I go further, and I say this—that if any candid man, competent to survey the agricultural districts, and to institute a comparison with former periods, he would come to the conclusion that there had been no moment when agricultural improvement was proceeding with such energy and spirit as at present, or when more skill and economy were apparent in the husbandry of the country. It is really a relief to turn from speeches out of doors on the distress of the agriculturists, to the writings of one who understood what he wrote about, and did not speak on subjects of which he was wholly ignorant. I was astonished to read a speech the other day from so able a man as the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, wherein he told his audience of the local burdens which bore on them, the injustice inflicted on them, and the unparalleled distress of agriculturists in general. Now, let me turn to that able Report which the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr Pusey) presented to the Royal Commissioners of the Great Exhibition, in which he describes the great improvements made of late years in agriculture, and let me read one extract from it:—The main difficulty of farming has always been in its uncertainty; but it may now be said that machinery has given to fanning what is most 1046 wanted, not absolute, but comparative certainty. It seems proved, that within ten years old improvements have been improved, and new ones devised, the performances of which stand the necessary inquiry as to the amount of saving the produce, seeing that the owner of a stock farm is enabled in the preparation of his land, by using lighter ploughs to cast off one horse in three, and, by adopting other simple tools, to dispense altogether with a great part of his ploughing; that in the culture of crops by the various drills horse-labour can be partly reduced, the seed otherwise wanted partly saved, or the use of manures greatly economised; while the horse now replaces the hoe at half the expense. The American reaper effects thirty men's work, while the Scotch cart replaces the old English waggon with exactly half the number of horses; that in preparing corn for man's food the steam thrashing-machine saves two-thirds of our former expense, and in preparing food for stock the turnip cutter, at an outlay of 1s. a-head, adds 8s. a-head in one winter to the value of sheep; lastly, that in the indispensable but costly operation of drains, the materials have been reduced from 80s. to 15s.—to one-fifth nearly of their former cost. It seems to be proved that the efforts of agricultural mechanics have been so far successful as in all these main branches of farming labour, taken altogether, to effect a saving on outgoing of little less than one-half. It is evident that a farmer, setting up a business, who, instead of the old waggons with three horses each, should bring one-horse carts, and the smaller number of horses required by such carts, and other improved machinery, would find that, without any increase of outlay whatever, beyond the old scale, he would require all requisite modern machinery, with the exception of the steam-engine. There has been more done in agricultural mechanics during the last few years than had been attempted anywhere in all former times.It is important to refer to that document, which should be read entire, to show that the agricultural interest presents no exception to the general improvement of all the interests of this country; and, notwithstanding all that is alleged with respect to the agricultural interest having undergone sacrifices for the sake of the advantages which it is now hardly denied are enjoyed by other classes, one fact is undeniable, that there never was a time when people were more ready to invest savings and their fortunes in land, or to take farms whenever any occupation became vacant. I am glad to see that in the speech of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer he gave up altogether the existence of some of those evils which many years ago had been predicted as likely to flow from the adopting of the policy of 1846. It was an old argument that our merchants and manufacturers would never find a vent for our manufactures in the markets of the world if we allowed the free importation of corn, 1047 and that our bullion must be exported to pay for it. The right hon. Gentleman gave up that altogether, and for a very curious reason. He said that the prophecy was quite just, that its frustration was only accidental, but that its failure was owing to the discovery of Californian gold. The right hon. Gentleman, however, forgot that one of the arguments of his friends is that everything now had become too cheap; but if there had been anything like a redundancy of gold, that the result would have been that prices generally would have risen. I am sure, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman felt that his argument was suited for Aylesbury, and not for the House of Commons. Again, I think when we refer to those official returns—as one may venture to do now, because hon. Gentlemen opposite have now the opportunity of ascertaining whether they have been, as they constantly asserted, falsified and doctored at the Board of Trade—it will be seen that none of those serious evils anticipated by hon. Gentlemen opposite have befallen the country through the change of the maritime code. The official returns are in our hands, and from perusing them I come to a different conclusion from that arrived at by the right hon. Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries). The conclusion I arrive at is, that a greater amount of tonnage has entered into and has cleared out from our ports, than at any former period, and that a greater number of British ships being built were registered in 1851 than in any previous year. Connected with this we have the cost of what we desire to consume in this country reduced by lower freights. We find, moreover, that notwithstanding the prediction that we should be unable to compete with other countries, that in the trade carried on between neutral countries, British shipping so employed has increased. We have had some communication tonight with respect to the colonial policy intended to be pursued by this country; and it seems that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington) is of opinion still that the cause of suffering in some of our colonial islands is the reduction of the protective duty; and he adheres to his opinion, but gives up his measure for continuing the duty. The right hon. Gentleman was on the Coffee and Sugar Plantation Committee in 1848; and I am convinced that the evidence there produced must have led him to the same conclusion as the noble Lord, who was chairman 1048 of that Committee, and whose loss I deplore, came to, and who said to me that in fact all the evidence went to show that it was not so much protection, but the restoration of slavery, or more power over the free labourers, that would benefit the parties complaining, according to their view. This, however, I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit, that notwithstanding the free-trade policy, there has been less complaint heard during the last twelve or eighteen months, than at any time since the abolition of slavery. I do not say that the West Indies are prosperous, or that they have recovered from the consequences of the great changes to which they have been submitted; but the fact is, that during the last year we have heard fewer complaints, and proprietors have received remittances last year, though before they had been obliged to send out money. In many respects the general aspect of our West Indian colonies has improved; while our dependencies, whether in America or Australia, commercially speaking, never promised better. Looking, then, both at home and abroad, the empire, under the free-trade policy, is not declining, but prospering. I do not know that I may not say that this policy has produced a better feeling towards us in foreign countries; where, whatever may be the political feeling towards us on the part of Governments, the people who used to think us selfish in all we did, are now satisfied that our commercial policy is a generous one towards them, and the prospects, therefore, of more amicable relations between us are thereby greatly improved. If this, then, is a fair picture of the condition of this country in its various aspects and relations both at home and abroad, and if but a few weeks since we were thoroughly appreciating our advantages and improvement; I ask, what is the state of feeling in this country now? and whether, from one end of the country to the other is there not now a feeling of distrust, anxiety, apprehension, and uncertainty? I ask, why? But because people expect some change—some reversal of that commercial policy, with which they connect so much of their present peacefulness and prosperity. No change is demanded by the people, but they expect that some may be attempted. They believe that the men now in power are all pledged to reverse that policy, and they anticipate with considerable anxiety the struggle about to be made at the general election, when all the influence of 1049 the Government now in power will doubt-less he used to accomplish their object. There are men, indeed, now connected with the landed interest itself, who view with alarm and apprehension the consequences of such success to the agricultural as well as to the commercial classes. I venture to say that the tenant-farmer will not now ask the Government to reverse the free-trade policy. He would rather be let alone than have this 5s. fixed duty that has been promised at the hustings. He well may think it is a scheme devised by the landlords for the purpose of raising the rent of land again. The tenant-farmers, generally, agreed with an intelligent proprietor, a Member of this House, who stated last year that the farmers would get only 2s. on a quarter of wheat by a duty of 5s., while it would enable the landlord to come down upon him and say—"I have got you back protection, you must now return me the 10 per cent I. abated of your rent." That feeling was universal in the agricultural districts. Those who were conscientiously opposed to a free-trade policy were, of course, justified in endeavouring to procure its reversal; but the attempt would disturb the business of the country and unsettle men's minds. Where peace and confidence existed before, apprehension and uncertainty now prevailed. No one knows on what principle to proceed. Contracts are not completed, orders are not sent home; agents abroad and at home are in doubt how to act for their principals. I see, from what appears in the newspapers this morning, that foreign merchants are accepting the change of Ministry as a change of policy. Is this state of things to continue? The country seems to have been labouring under a sort of paralysis during the last three weeks. The return to protection is looked upon by many as the coming of some pestilence that is to blight or to blast all that has been blessed by the bounty of Heaven. Men are startled by some of the doctrines propounded by Members of the present Government, and especially by the noble Earl at its head, who declared that he could not, for the life of him, see the difference between a tax upon food and a tax on any other article. If the noble Earl could not perceive the distinction, it was only because his position in the world is so immeasurably distant from any apprehension of want, that he could not appreciate the anxieties of poorer men on this account; he cannot, therefore, see the 1050 difference too obvious and too notorious to his humbler fellow creatures. I should have thought, indeed, that wisdom no less than humanity might have suggested the distinction to the noble Lord. I should have thought that a First Lord of the Treasury would have known that unless food was provided in abundance, the revenue must diminish, because our taxation falls chiefly on expenditure; and on the price of food must depend the sum left to expend in other ways; and if he cared for the comforts of his fellow men, he ought to know that bread was the first necessary of life, and the more that was spent on that, the less would be spent on all that conduces to the comfort and elevation of man. Men who had only wherewithal to satisfy their bare wants were little better than mere animals; but whether they are better citizens for being reduced to such a condition, the noble Lord perhaps can judge. The noble Lord at the head of the Government once publicly gave a definition of the effects of a tax on foreign corn. In answer to a question publicly put to him, the Earl of Derby said that a corn tax raised the price of land, raised the cost of living, but did not increase the remuneration of the labourer. If the noble Earl would now consider that statement, it might assist him in understanding the difference between taxes on food and other taxes. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, too, was not happy in an illustration bearing on this: point which he made in another place. The I right hon. Gentleman talked of a poor man going into a coffee-house and having a chop; and some bread, for which he might be charged half-a-crown, and observed that it was of little importance to him whether meat were a little cheaper, or bread a little dearer. The right hon. Gentleman is not familiar with the habits of the poor when he talks of their going into chophouses, and spending half-a-crown on their dinner. It depends very much on the price of bread whether they can have meat at all. It is only lately that any one heard of the labouring classes consuming meat. If they consume it now, it is because the cheapness of bread gives them an opportunity of buying it. But we are told that all these matters are to be decided in a constitutional manner. The people are not to be taken by surprise; but the opinion of the country will be consulted, and the most intelligent portion of the community must decide the question at issue. 1051 In the same speech, however, in which the noble Earl at the head of the Government referred the question to the decision of the country, he stated a fact which is in no way consoling to the poor man, namely, that bribery and corruption have increased enormously during the last twenty years. He might be told, with more truth perhaps, that influence and intimidation were never more unscrupulously used, and therefore it will afford but little consolation to the poor man who wishes to have his bread cheap, to know that the rich, some of whom are interested in its being dear, are going to call a new Parliament to settle the question. The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer told us on a former occasion that the history of this country was the story of reaction—that no sooner did the people obtain some great right or liberty, than they became indifferent to it, and were ready to surrender it. I differ from the right hon. Gentleman on that point; but I believe that the people are often too confiding, and believed that when a great question was once settled it would not be disturbed. They are often imposed upon, and those who had yielded the people a right which they never should have withheld, are ever on the alert watching for a moment to abuse their confidence and retrieve what they have lost. The right hon. Gentleman will probably refer to the present state of Europe in support of his theory of reaction. The people of the Continent made a gallant effort, but a short time since, to obtain their political rights; but now the people are again trampled under foot, and are in a more prostrate condition, comparatively, than they have ever been known to be in the history of the Continent: but they have been so reduced not by fair means; they have lost all they won by trickery, treachery, and all sorts of foul and false pretences. The state of Europe should be a warning to the people of England. The people of the Continent are now watching to see whether the people of this country—the last asylum of freedom—would allow their liberties, in like manner, to be filched from them. From what I know of the spirit of the people of England, I believe they will not submit to be deprived of the glorious boon bequeathed by a statesman whom the nation now deplores; claimed for them long before by their friends; and sustained and extended by the Government which has recently left office. If the people should prove to be so little alive to the advantages conferred on them—if they 1052 should prize so lightly the policy which has rendered them prosperous and happy, we cannot help it; but at least we can give them warning of what they have to expect—we can make them aware of the danger which is approaching them in the most insidious way—we can tell them that the precious gift which they have enjoyed for the last few years is about to be taken from them, and that it becomes them to be at this moment most strictly on their guard against those whom they have so much reason to suspect. On these grounds, then, I now distinctly ask the right hon. Gentleman to come forward, in the face of the country and of this House, and make a candid, manly, and open avowal of the intentions of the Government on the subject of their policy with respect to our foreign commerce. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us whether he intends, under any pretence whatever, or for any reason, to reimpose a duty on foreign corn; and whether, in case of a dissolution of Parliament, he intends to propose any scheme of legislation which will raise the question of commercial policy generally, and as affecting the food of the people in particular, so that the judgment of the electors may be taken on the subject; and so little, Sir, am I actuated by party motives by making this appeal to him, that I declare solemnly the answer most satisfactory to me, as I believe it would be the most gratifying to the country, would be a declaration from the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have not the least desire to disturb the policy which now exists, and under which the country is prospering. The country wants no change of policy, it wants no dissolution, no disturbance or struggle of any kind. They desire only to be allowed to remain in their present peaceful, prosperous condition, and for this nothing is necessary but a declaration, on the part of the Government, that they have not any intention to disturb the policy of free trade.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just addressed you, has noticed the extraordinary contrast in this country between its condition and the feelings of the people in the month of January last, and in the present month of March. The hon. and learned Gentleman has described the condition of England at this moment. It is one, says the hon. and learned Gentleman, of distrust, of apprehension, of anxiety, and of uncertainty. Warming with his statement, the hon. and learned 1053 Gentleman found that the feeling of distrust amounts even to a state of paralysis. I must confess that I listened to his announcement with some apprehension, but with more surprise. No information has yet reached me of such a lamentable condition of the people of this country, or of such being the state of public opinion. I do not understand that in the commercial transactions of this country, those feelings which the hon. and learned Gentleman has dilated on as the consequences of the recent change in the Administration, by any means generally prevail. I am necessarily thrown into communication with men of great eminence in the commercial world; I see daily—I may say hourly—persons of the highest authority on the subjects of trade and finance, fresh from scenes of the most active commercial life; and, certainly, neither from their language nor from their countenances have I for a moment inferred that they were in a state of paralysis. Instead of distrust or apprehension, or anxiety, or uncertainty, influencing those whose interests they came to represent, I should have inferred from their statements that the condition of those persons was eminently contented and prosperous. I do not find in the present price of the public securities any evidence of that extraordinary state of distrust and anxiety to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred—that barometer of public opinion certainly gives no indication of that distrust and anxiety. All that reaches me would convey to me an idea—perhaps a fallacious one—would convey to me an idea that the public mind at this moment is peculiarly tranquil: if I do not say perfectly content, it is because I really have no wish to hurt the feelings of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. But the strangest thing, and that which has most surprised me, in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, is the discovery of the cause which, according to his statement, has occasioned the consequences in which he has, I think, too credulously believed. It seems that we are on the eve of having a tax proposed on corn—that that tax is a fixed duty, the very amount of which is known to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and the very effect of which he has already ascertained. This tax—this fixed duty of 5s. a quarter on corn, is to raise the price of wheat only 2s. a quarter. He defies it to raise the price higher; and he tells us that on that ac- 1054 count none of the farmers will have it. Well, then, two consequences must result from that statement, and that opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. In the first place, it is quite impossible that a duty which will enhance the price of wheat to the extent of only 2s. a quarter can produce the evil consequences which he anticipates: and, secondly, if it be true that no tenant-farmers in the country wish for this relief, then it is perfectly clear that if we do not force it on them, they cannot say that we have deceived them. Such are the inevitable consequences—such are the irresistible conclusions of this highly-matured inquiry of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman says the present Government are bound frankly and fully to express what their intentions are with regard to taxing what he calls the food of the people. Now, I shall not here stop to discuss the ingenious perversion of what I may perhaps be permitted to term a provincial jest which the hon. and learned Gentleman made in remarking upon some observations lately made by me in the country. I only advert to the subject because I do not think the description which he gave of that remark was an ingenuous one, and because I think it might lead to a misconception such as could not be agreeable to any one's feelings. I never talked of the poor man ordering a mutton-chop at half-a-crown; and all the comments of the hon. and learned Gentleman on that subject are entirely out of place; and I must further say that I am rather surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman, when we were expecting to hear from him a high discourse on the principles of political economy, should have condescended to such a petty misrepresentation. Dismissing that matter, I feel it my duty to respond to the challenge of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon and learned Gentleman says that we are bound, now that we are in power, to carry into effect those opinions which we professed in opposition, and quoted some words which concluded a speech I made when I brought forward a Motion in this House, and when I predicted, as he says, that the Government of that period would fall if they resisted the claim of justice I was then enforcing—that they would be ultimately beaten, and that justice would be conceded. Well, I do not think that was a very fortunate quotation of the hon. and learned Gentleman. Considering that the Motion was not one for a fixed duty on corn—considering that it was a Motion not 1055 for taxing the food of the people—considering that it was a Motion which was recommended to the House because it was one of conciliation and of compromise, and one which would probably terminate a painful controversy between great productive interests—considering all these points, I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was particularly adroit in the quotation with which he favoured us. If I regarded only my conduct on the occasion referred to, my task would indeed be easy; I might take the expressions which the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted, and say that I am prepared to the best of my ability to fulfil the spirit of the policy which I recommended on the evening when I made that speech. But if the House will permit me, I will not narrow my observations to that issue. I wish to express fairly, frankly, and without reserve, the opinions which I entertain upon the question which the hon. and learned Gentleman has brought under our notice. I think, in the first place, that the House should consider the position of the Government, and the circumstances under which the Gentlemen who are at present sitting on these benches have acceded to office. I think that is an element for our consideration which ought not to be omitted. Since the repeal of the Corn Laws, a controversy has raged in this country as to the policy or the impolicy of that important measure; and various efforts were made, at various times, to mitigate the consequences of that repeal, or to induce Parliament to express its condemnation of the effects which it was producing. During that prolonged controversy, no doubt, the tone and tactics of those who opposed the measure and deplored its consequences would naturally vary. At last the question had arrived at this point. The present Parliament, which had been elected in 1847—elected after the repeal, but at a period when the consequences of that repeal had not been felt by the class who were necessarily its victims—the years of that Parliament having rolled on, the natural term of its duration loomed in the distance, and the noble Earl at the head of the present Government, who has been so freely referred to to-night, had himself announced that after various efforts he had made in order to mitigate the consequences of that policy—he looked to a new Parliament, to an appeal to the community at large, to decide the contest, which, as a Parliamentary controversy, had, he thought, been 1056 sufficiently prolonged. If I may refer-—and perhaps from the nature of the inquiry made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I may do so without exposing myself to a charge of arrogance—if I may refer to what I said or did in this House with regard to this subject, it must be remembered by every Member of this House that more than two years ago—I think about three years ago—I said that so far as the question of protection was concerned, I should, after the expressions of opinion by the House—after it had, by very large majorities, negatived Motions made on our side—I should no longer attempt to raise the question. From that time I introduced proposals such as those which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to, which were totally independent of that abstract principle of protection on which the hon. and learned Gentleman has related, and which showed it was my opinion also that the question of protection, as an abstract question, could no longer be considered in this House, and that it must be settled when an appeal to the country would allow one of those conclusive declarations of opinion which, in England generally, terminate long controversies. But the question being in that state, there occurs, suddenly and unexpectedly, a change of Government. If that change had been effected by our calling for the opinion of Parliament on the condition of the agricultural interest, for example—if the late Administration had been defeated on a Motion asserting the expediency of immediately recurring to the principles of a protective policy—if a Motion of that kind had been sanctioned by the House of Commons, and a change of Government had consequently occurred—I admit that there would then be some ground for saying that the necessary steps should at once be taken by us, if it were in our power to take them, for an appeal to the sense of the country. I admit that we might then be called upon immediately to announce the policy which we were prepared to propose. But I ask the House, was that the case? Why are we sitting on this side of the table to adopt a different policy from that we had asserted and recommended on the other side? I think it is certainly not only open to us, but I think it is now our duty, to adhere here to that principle which after due experience and reflection we had while in opposition adopted for the rule of our conduct—that we should not call on this present Parliament in any way to 1057 alter the commercial policy of the country. I put it with confidence to all candid men, whether there is not a clear distinction between a party obtaining power by the profession of what we, in common parlance, Call a protective policy, suddenly finding themselves in office, and a party which as an opposition had deprecated the discussion of that policy, however they may have felt that the time might come when the House of Commons might be induced to adopt a policy contrary to that which in times past it had produced? I am asking the House now to go no further than to acknowledge that which every candid man would say is a fair position. That being the ease, I think it is preposterous to suppose that the instant a change of Government takes place, we should be called upon in the House of Commons to announce the measures which we think ought to be introduced into the next Parliament. But I will not take advantage of what maybe considered a very limited and partial view of our condition, for the purpose of avoiding the fullest discussion of what may be our future policy. I will answer the hon. and learned Gentleman without any reserve whatever. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that our not announcing at this moment in detail the measures which we think necessary, occasions great distrust and great anxiety in this country. But, surely, it does not create greater uncertainty than the policy of the Opposition before the late change of Government must have created. There was a powerful party in opposition which told you that until the question was put fully and fairly to the country, they would never be satisfied; there was a powerful party in both Houses of Parliament which told you that until there was a verdict given at a general election they would not be content; and, therefore, the question was then unsettled. There was the same uncertainty which now prevails—if that uncertainty be an evil—which I doubt, because we may depend upon it, that in a country like this, no settlement of a question can be satisfactory until the vast majority of the people are convinced that it is a just and conciliatory one. Why, the change that has taken place rather tends, in fact, to decrease the uncertainty, because it must hasten that verdict for which we have all so long looked. If we had remained in opposition it might have been postponed for a much longer period than it will be in all probability after the change 1058 of Government; so that that argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman entirely falls to the ground. The hon. and learned Gentleman wants us to tell him whether in another Parliament we shall be prepared to propose a fixed duty according to his own figures—a fixed duty of 5s. on corn. That is the question. [Cries of "Hear, hear!" and "No, no!"] If that is not the question, then I wish to know what the question really is?
§ MR. VILLIERS
said, that what he wished to know was, whether the Government intended to introduce any scheme of commercial or fiscal legislation before the dissolution of Parliament, in order that the principle of protection and the imposition of a duty on corn might be submitted to the deliberate judgment of the electors?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am extremely obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for a Parliamentary paraphrase of what I had more simply and rudely stated. I must now tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to do anything of that kind. I believe—and I am sure that it is also the belief of my Colleagues—that a very great injustice was done to the agricultural and other interests by the changes which took place in 1846, and subsequently in 1847, 1848, and 1849; and we are extremely desirous for the benefit of all classes of the community that that injustice should be redressed. We think that it would be our duty to consider the condition of the agricultural interest. I take that interest because it is the one which has been the most prominent in the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and not merely because I wish to confine my observations to it alone. We think it would be our duty to consider the condition of that interest, and to propose those measures which in our opinion are the best calculated to redress the grievances under which it suffers. But we are not pledged to any specific measure. I think it would be the height of arrogance to say, that in a new Parliament we are bound as a specific means of redress to propose the measure indicated by the hon. and learned Gentleman—namely, a 5s. fixed duty on wheat. I am not at all clear—sharing as I do the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, as to the little effect which such a measure would have in raising prices—I am not at all clear that that is by any means the measure which we might feel it our duty to recommend. 1059 But I say frankly to the hon. and learned Gentleman, that, in considering the fiscal arrangements of this country, I do not, and I will not, for the purpose of gaining any popularity or of evading any blustering—I will not give it as my opinion that a duty such as he has described is one which no Minister under any circumstances ought to propose. I think, however, that the hon. and learned Gentleman and his friends have so far succeeded in their agitation—not their present agitation, for that I believe is very harmless, but their past agitation—that they have succeeded in investing a very simple fiscal proposition with such an amount of prejudice, that, although I might consider such a proposition a just one, I might not think it expedient or politic to propose it. I know there is a very great desire among hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite that there should be a proposal for a fixed duty on corn. But I regret, for their sakes, that I cannot promise to make any proposal of the kind. What I intend to do, with the assistance and consent of my Colleagues, is to redress the grievances of the agricultural interest; while we reserve to ourselves the right of considering what may be the best means by which that great object can be attained. I think that the consequence of the prejudice with which this proposal of a fixed duty upon corn, such as the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to, has been invested—I think that the consequence of that prejudice is, that it would be very unwise for any Minister to make such a proposal before the verdict of the country has been pronounced against it. That verdict will, in all probability, be speedily given; and that question will then be decided. But the question of a just redress for the grievances of any interest in this country will not be settled by a verdict of that nature. That is a proper subject for the Government to consider; and it is their duty to propose those measures which they conscientiously believe will best attain the object which they frankly announce it is their intention to accomplish. I hope I have answered the inquiry of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman when he was so kind as to correct me—I understood him to say that his main inquiry of the Government was, whether it was their intention to propose any fiscal arrangement affecting our commercial system before a dissolution of Parliament, so that the opinion of the country 1060 might be taken upon that subject; and I thought I had answered that question fairly, by stating that that was not their intention. I am, therefore, totally at a loss to understand that derisive cheer by which I was met. I went even further—I assumed that the hon. and learned Gentleman wished to know what were the feelings of Her Majesty's Ministers on the subject of a moderate fixed duty on wheat either in this or in the next Session of Parliament. I was not bound, I believe, by the tenor of the hon. and learned Gentleman's inquiry to have expressed myself with the frankness I did; but I also attempted to make known to him our opinions on that question, and I told him that neither in this nor in the next Parliament did Her Majesty's Ministers consider themselves bound to make any such proposition as that to which he has referred. And now, I ask whether I have not fairly answered the hon. and learned Gentleman? Under these circumstances I am totally at a loss to understand the derisive cheer of hon. Gentlemen opposite, which I can only explain by supposing that my answer to the inquiry was more satisfactory than agreeable. I have also told the hon. and learned Gentleman that we do feel ourselves bound to afford a just redress for the grievances under which a great productive interest—the agricultural interest—suffers, and that we would consider, if we had an opportunity in a new Parliament, the means which we might think best calculated to accomplish the end we desired. I have now recapitulated my answers to the inquiry of the hon. and learned Gentleman, in order that there may be no mistake whatever as to their purport or meaning. I am aware that the Government are placed in some difficulties; but allow me to say, that as those difficulties were not of our seeking, so we shall not shrink from them when they have arrived. I am told, although I know not on what authority, that there has been, on the part of the new Government, an ad misericordiam appeal to the House of Commons. But I am not aware of it; I have not shared in it; I have not sanctioned it; I have not asked, nor am I aware that any of my Colleagues have asked for fair play. Let the play be fair or foul, we shall do our best to encounter it. What I ask for is not fair play for the Government, but fair play for the country. It is our intention to carry on the affairs of the country to the best of 1061 our ability, notwithstanding the difficulties by which we acknowledge that we are surrounded. There are, as every hon. Gentleman must know, measures of an exigency which cannot be neglected. In our opinion there are also some measures not of so formal a character, but of a not less important nature, which we think ought to be passed. But if hon. Gentlemen opposite suppose that so far as we are personally concerned, we have any wish unnecessarily to prolong the present state of affairs, I can assure them that they indulge in a great delusion. I will mention, if the House will permit me, some measures which I think ought to be introduced without delay. I do not allude merely to those votes for the public service which every Member will, I am sure, join in granting to us, neither do I allude merely to the Mutiny Bill, which nobody, I believe, yet—although I have heard some strange rumours upon the subject—is prepared to oppose. But there are three other measures, with regard to which, on the part of the Government, the greatest efforts will be made to secure their speedy passing. Those three measures I shall feel it my duty, on the part of Her I Majesty's Government, earnestly to press on the attention of the House. One of them is the disfranchisement of St. Albans, which has already been taken up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State (Mr. Walpole). In connexion with that measure, I beg to say that I shall take the earliest opportunity of expressing, on the part of the Government, what are their intentions with respect to the distribution of the four forfeited seats which we shall have to deal with if that Bill should receive the sanction of the House. That is a subject, in my opinion, of the greatest importance; it is, I think, highly expedient that before Parliament is dissolved, the number of seats should be completed; and I trust that the proposal which the Government will have to make upon that subject will receive the general support of the House. The next question, which I think is also one of the utmost importance, is the question of Chancery reform. I do think it is possible, from the manner in which that question is now placed before us, that it will be brought to a satisfactory issue with much greater speed than has usually attended questions of the kind. There is on the table of the House a Report of a Commission with which hon. Gentlemen are familiar. I may state that 1062 the Lord Chancellor has not found—although, of course, I am quite ready to give credit to our predecessors for intending to act on that Report in the same unreserved manner in which we intend to act on it ourselves—but I am still bound to say, in order that there may be no unfounded imputation of delay brought against us on the subject, that the present Lord Chancellor has found no Bill upon that subject prepared by the late Government, and we have, therefore, found nothing to expedite us in that matter; but notwithstanding that, the Lord Chancellor has drawn up the heads of a Bill, and instructions have been given for drawing the Bill itself. It will be introduced into the other House of Parliament—an arrangement which will facilitate public business, because we can be proceeding with other measures in this House at the same time. I hope, therefore, that that great measure of Chancery reform will be successfully prosecuted in the present Session. I believe it is unnecessary for me to assure the House that the measure will proceed unreservedly on the recommendations of the Commissioners. There is a third measure which we shall feel it our duty to bring under the consideration of the House on the earliest possible day which the state of public business will allow us to do; and that is, a measure for the internal defence of the country. These are three measures which we think, whatever may be their fate in this Parliament, ought to be submitted speedily and immediately for its consideration; and I trust we shall be permitted to carry them into effect. I should now sit down if I did not feel that I had a duty to perform to Her Majesty's Ministers. The Opposition has very frankly inquired what are the principles on which the present Administration is formed? But there is a subject scarcely second in interest to that in this country, and that is, the principles on which Her Majesty's Opposition is formed. I hope, therefore, I may be permitted to take this opportunity of making that inquiry. I have been somewhat surprised on reading what I am informed is an authoritative statement, to the effect that the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell), within a fortnight of resigning the government of the country, from an avowed inability to carry it on—within a fortnight of having communicated to the House of Commons the solemn and mature decision of his own Cabinet that a disso- 1063 lution of Parliament was not expedient—within a fortnight of having recommended that our gracious Sovereign should send for that nobleman who is now at the head of affairs—the noble Lord has felt it his imperative duty to reconstruct a new Opposition, the object of which, so far as I can collect it from this authoritative statement, is to force Lord Derby to do that which the noble Lord himself announced it as the opinion of his Cabinet that it was not expedient to do. No doubt the noble Lord arrived at this conclusion with a due regard to all the important circumstances which on such a question must have entered into the consideration of an individual responsible for the government of this country; no doubt the noble Lord thought that in the present state of affairs in Europe and in England a dissolution of Parliament at this moment would be highly inexpedient. It was with this conviction, it was with this determination, the noble Lord resigned the reins of power, and recommended a successor, who, surely, the noble Lord must have felt, must have been equally conscious of the responsibility of advising his Sovereign to the adoption of such a step. But if I am to trust the authoritative statement, the noble Lord is now anxious to precipitate a measure which within the last fortnight he himself so strongly deprecated. I have a right, therefore—and especially after the manner in which I have myself been challenged—I have a right, on the part of hon. Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House, to ask what are the principles on which this new Opposition is to be formed?—an Opposition which the noble Lord has constructed, mark you, under the inspiration and with the aid and assistance of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir James Graham), and the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden). If such unbounded confidence exists between these three eminent men, how much is it to be deplored that this confidence was not manifested before the noble Lord retired from office—before the noble Lord felt it imperative on him to relinquish the guidance of the councils of Her Majesty. I wish to know on what principle this new Opposition is founded—this new Opposition, headed by the noble Lord—I acknowledge, and we all acknowledge, an able and a fitting leader—with two such puissant lieutenants and counsellors as the right hon. Member for Ripon, and the hon. Member for the West Riding. Is the 1064 principle on which the new Opposition is founded, the principle of Papal supremacy or of Protestant ascendancy? Is it the principle of national defence or of perpetual peace? Is it the principle of household suffrage or of electoral groups? Is it the principle of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding, that free trade is the panacea for all the evils of States, or is it a principle framed in deference to the sentiments of the noble Lord the Member for London, that free trade is a great exaggeration? These are questions which I think it is legitimate to ask, which I think ought to be as frankly answered as the questions which have been pressed on Her Majesty's Ministers. I know that the prospect which we, as a Ministry, may have in the present Parliament mainly depends on our knowledge of those who are our opponents. Sir, considering the circumstances under which we came into office, I must say I was not prepared, nor did I expect, that within a fortnight of that time I should find the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) the prime mover of the difficulties now being raised against Her Majesty's Government. But great as the difficulties we may have to encounter may be, I confess myself I do not despair; I have confidence in the good sense and good temper even of the existing Parliament. If I have miscalculated these qualities, I will still hold my trust in the sympathy and the support of the country; convinced that they will support the present Government in their attempt to do their duty to their Sovereign, and in their resolution to baffle the manœuvres of faction.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Mr. Speaker, when, some three weeks ago, I quitted office, I stated the fact of our resignation to this House in very few words; but at the same time indicating the reasons why we had resigned, and indicating, I think very clearly, the course which in future I meant to pursue; but, Sir, that course has been so misrepresented in the speeches that have been made, and in the addresses that have been printed to electors, that I feel myself bound on this occasion to enter somewhat more fully into a statement of the reasons for which we resigned, and of the course we had pursued in the Government; nor will I refuse to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if it is not already explicit enough, a statement of the course which I mean to pursue as an independent Member of Par- 1065 liament. In the first place, I must say that the plea which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward—which the Earl of; Derby put forward more moderately—but I which has been exaggerated at last into a most wonderful and extraordinary statement, is one which I certainly have been surprised to hear. The statement is, that the present Government have only accepted office because the Queen was without a Government, and that they could not leave Her Majesty without servants to conduct the public business of the country. Why, Sir, it is a notorious fact that for years they have been endeavouring to supplant the late Government; that they have been almost unscrupulous as to the means, and that they omitted no opportunity by which they could place themselves in the situations they now hold; and be it remarked that they did not satisfy themselves, as formerly, with making direct Motions in this House by Members of their own party, by which they could obtain fairly the sense of this House as to a great public question—and a great public question I will admit it to be, whether in the first place the Acts which established free trade were wise and politic Acts, and in the next place whether they had been carried into effect cruelly and unjustly; but I cannot, and far be it from me to dispute the right of any number of Members of the House to oppose the Government on that ground—but they took advantage of any opportunity, of any occasion in which any Member of the House of Commons differed with the Government, to come down and swell the ranks of the opponents of the Government. It was in this way that, without agreeing with the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), totally disagreeing with him when he said he wished for a perpetual income tax, and to lay the ground for the remission of the income tax, they came down to this House to support him in order to inflict a blow on the Government of that day. What was their course at the commencement of the present Session? Did they refrain from any attack on the Government? Did they confine themselves to weapons of legitimate warfare? Did they not use poisoned arrows for the purpose of attacking the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland? Had they not a Motion of which they had given notice for the very next week, which was a vote of want of confidence in the Government? And, after this, can they pretend they were surprised when they were asked to 1066 take office, or that they were asked to take office on any other ground but because they had made a successful opposition to the Government. Upon the very occasion on which the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) refused to the Government of the day leave to bring in a Bill with respect to the Militia—as upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose—they came down, without any regard to the subject, without any opinion with respect to it—["No, no!"]—I believe myself without any opinion with respect to that subject, and they took the unusual course of refusing to the Minister leave to bring in a Bill with respect to the Militia. I own I am surprised that, after that course, they should make an allegation that they only accepted office because the Queen was left without a Government. Upon that very night they took pains to collect Members in order to defeat Ministers; and they were most active in collecting Members for that purpose. Well, Sir, what I felt on that subject was this: it is the duty of the Prime Minister of this country to superintend the whole of the important questions that relate to foreign affairs, to the colonies, and to the domestic affairs of this country, and to all questions with respect to the revenue and other departments of the country that are of importance; but I felt it would be impossible for me, if I were to be liable to those continual attacks in this House, and if the Government was to be degraded by those occasional defeats which must follow from the course adopted to take the House by surprise—I felt, I say, it would be impossible for me to give that due attention to subjects of great concern to the public which it was my duty to give. I felt, therefore, if I were not driven out of office, I should be worried out of it by Gentlemen in opposition; and then, indeed, after all this conduct, to come forward and say they only accepted office because the Queen was without a Government, I own does appear to me to be a false pretence, because their Parliamentary position was a perfectly constitutional one. They had only to say the policy of the late Government was injurious to the country, and that they wished to prevent them from continuing that course; and, for my own part, I have no objection to hon. Gentlemen opposite, if that policy was considered injurious to the country, fairly occupying the places they do; and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Ex- 1067 shequer is fully entitled to the eminence he now enjoys, for the great talents he has displayed, and the manner in which he has conducted the business of his party in this House. But with respect to the position in which I now stand—and I must say, also, the position in which I stood when I quitted office—it has been entirely altered in consequence of the speech said to have been delivered on the 27th of February by the Earl of Derby. I have here a pamphlet which purports to be a speech of the Earl of Derby, and I have no doubt that the Earl of Derby did deliver a speech of that nature. Now, in what position does that speech place the Government, and in what position does the right hon. Gentleman place them now? The Prime Minister says, "I cannot propose measures to the present Parliament, because I should be in a minority." That is not an unusual position; but Ministers who have said that have usually said, "It is impossible for me to propose those measures with any prospect of success in the present Parliament. I must advise the Crown to call another Parliament, and to that Parliament I must submit the measures I think right for the country." But the proposition of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-night, is this, "We are in a minority; we mean to conduct the whole business of the country with that minority; we mean to go through the Session; and when the Session is over, we mean to exercise our own discretion whether we shall dissolve Parliament or not: it may, perhaps, be dissolved in December, and then we shall propound the measures we think necessary." Why, Sir, in such a position as this, I must ask if it was unconstitutional in me, as I thought it would have been, to have held office with an uncertain majority, can it be constitutional in them to hold office declaring themselves in a minority? It appears to me, I own, that there is no constitutional precedent, that there can be no constitutional precedent, for such conduct as this; and, then, all matters of a party or controversial nature are to be laid aside. We are to be allowed to discuss the Bill for the disfranchisement of St. Albans, which my right hon. Friend the late Secretary for the Home Department introduced, and which the present right hon. Secretary for the Home Department has continued, and upon which, therefore, it is not likely there 1068 will be any difference of opinion; and we are to be at liberty to discuss the measure with respect to Chancery Reform—a subject upon which the late Government adopted the Report of the Commission, and upon which they had directed a gentleman competent for the purpose to prepare and draw up a measure to be laid before Parliament. And again upon that, therefore, there can be little difference of opinion; but upon that question in which the country is interested, upon which my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) put his legitimate question; that question—what is to be the price of food of the people—that question, whether there is to be a fixed duty laid on corn—a tax of which, by the researches of all scientific men, 5–6ths will be paid to the landlords and only l–6th to the Exchequer—if we ask anything about it, we are to be told that next February we shall learn something about it, but at present our mouths must be closed, and we must not presume to put such a question. In the same manner, with regard to our colonial interests, our navigation and shipping interests—all these matters are to be suspended till next February, and then the country is to be asked some question on which we scarcely get a hint from the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman repeated, three or four times, that he would frankly and fairly answer the question of my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers); but, assuring us of his frankness and fairness, he constantly disappointed it, and refused to give any answer to the question of my hon. Friend—very different, indeed, from his speech in Buckinghamshire, in which a fixed duty was promised to the agricultural party, at least so the right hon. Gentleman is reported to have said; but the right hon. Gentleman says, "we do not preclude ourselves from proposing a fixed duty on corn."
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Well, then, the report of the hon. Gentleman's speech is erroneous. Does he now say he did not recommend it?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I said that a fixed duty was recommended by Mr. M'Culloch and other political economists.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I know that; but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman quoted that part of Mr. M'Culloch's book in which he said that the time was 1069 past for that, and that nothing could be more unconstitutional than such a proposition at the present day. That part of Mr. M'Culloch's opinion was sunk; but the other part, as I thought, and read in three or four different reports, in three or four different newspapers, seemed to be adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, and as I read it, he said, "That is the easiest way of giving relief to the agriculturists, and, therefore, we shall propose it; but if that mode fails, we shall propose a mode more costly and expensive." But now it appears the whole matter is to be involved in this mystery—that we are to sit hero discussing Chancery Reform and sanitary measures until the usual time for ending the Session, and then we are to be prorogued; and some time in September, when the registrations have been duly looked into, and the benefit from the alteration in the elections ascertained, then Parliament is to be dissolved, and every agricultural Member is to be set at liberty to go to his constituents and say, "I am for protection, and if you support me we shall have from the Government protective duties;" and every Member of a town constituency will be at liberty to say, "The Government have, in fact, given up protection; they do not like to say it at present; until the new Parliament is assembled they will not bind their agricultural friends, but we shall find that the Free traders in Parliament are the great majority, and the Prime Minister of the Crown will be as good a Free-trader as any other Member of Parliament;" and this, Sir, is put upon the House under the pretence of constitutional government. I verily believe there never was such a delusion attempted to be practised upon a people, and least of all upon such a people as the people of England. I am told this is to be referred to the intelligent portion of the people of England. Upon this subject the whole community is intelligent. It is a question which now every one understands. Ten years ago, when there was a dissolution in 1841, it was not understood; but the whole people of the country understand it now. They know what it means—they know it means the addition of something—whatever it may be—1d., ½d., ¼d.—or whatever it may be, to the price of their loaf—and that that tax is to go in the main part to the landlords of this country. That is perfectly understood. It requires no greater intelligence than all the labourers of this country 1070 possess. They do understand it; and they require to know, and the community at large requires to know, whether the policy of the Government is to impose that tax or to abandon it. But to that plain question we can obtain no answer. We are to be left entirely in the dark. And then the right hon. Gentleman tells me there is a change in the opinion I held when I was in Her Majesty's Councils, in which I said I would not advise Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament. There were two circumstances at that time: one was, that if we had dissolved Parliament at that time we should have been liable to the objection stated by Sir Robert Peel in 1846—that it would have been using the prerogative of the Crown—it would have been so understood and represented—in order to maintain a party in power, and that that was not a legitimate use of the prerogative of the Crown. In the next place, it would have been dissolving Parliament before the supplies for the Army and Navy, and before the Mutiny Bill, had passed; and in the state of affairs generally I did not think it wise to advise the Crown to take such a step. I should say even now, after the Mutiny Bill has passed, that a dissolution would be accompanied with the greatest inconvenience, and with a great delay of the public business; but if Gentlemen were so exceedingly anxious the public business should be proceeded with—if they were so anxious for the disfranchisement of St. Albans, and the passing of Chancery Reform, they had nothing to do but to leave the late Government unmolested, and those measures would have passed—they might have been perfectly secure to have had those measures passed in the course of the Session if they had been harmonious and had agreed not to attack Ministers. But there are other matters to which I am bound to allude, because the whole policy of the late Government with respect to these matters of commercial policy has been assailed, and one Member of the Government after another has proclaimed that it is the object of the present Ministers to overturn that policy, or to mitigate the evils which they assert have arisen from it. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade calls it, in short, acting in direct contradiction to the policy of Sir Robert Peel, and which has been continued by us. Now, I wish to show to the House the matters in which we have followed up that policy, and that that policy has produced in our hands 1071 general results beneficial to the country. I am obliged to refer to some papers which will show the House that, with regard to those particular measures, we have obtained results which ought to be satisfactory to the country. In the first place, when we left office there was a surplus revenue of about 2,700,000l.; and the sum applied as a sinking fund in the course of last year amounted to about 2,800,000l. So much for revenue. The state of public credit was unusually high, and the taxes which had been reduced during our administration to an amount of 4,000,000l. had not diminished the general revenue of the country. The taxes, in particular, with regard to one branch of the revenue—namely, the Excise, had increased so much that, after taking away by Sir Robert Peel's repeal of the glass duty, and ours of the brick duty, 1,080,000l. of revenue, there was an increase of the excise of last year over the excise of 1844. In 1844 the excise duty was 14,450,000l.; in 1851 it was 15,865,000l., showing an increase of 1,415,000l. in only seven years. Now, with regard to the export of manufactures during the time we were in office, they increased from 57,000,000l. to 74,000,000l., implying an increase of native industry and capital, and thereby implying just the contrary of what the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had again stated—namely, that industry and capital had diminished. But there are three subjects particularly which show the fairness of the policy adopted by Sir Robert Peel. We proposed an alteration in the duty on Sugar, by which those duties were very much reduced; and the increase of consumption has been such that, whereas in 1845 the sugar imported for consumption was 244,000 tons, in 1851 it was 329,000 tons. With regard to colonial sugar, the importation ought, according to the supposition of the right hon. Secretary of State for the Colonies, to have fallen off considerably; but the imports, which in 1845 were 244,000 tons, were, in 1851, 281,000 tons, being an increase of 37,000 tons. We also made some alterations with regard to timber, and there has been an increase of imports from 1,307,000 loads in 1843, to 2,037,000 loads in 1851. Another great change we introduced was the change with respect to the navigation laws, and we have found that there has been a very large increase indeed in the number of British ships since that change 1072 was made. In 1848 the tonnage of our shipping was 4,052,000 tons; last year it was 4,200,000 tons. In 1848 the number of seamen employed was 236,000; last year the number had increased to 240,000. Now let us see whether any such dangers as those mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control have been incurred by that alteration. I conceive that the mischief would arise only in two ways—either by the diminution of British shipping, or by the increase of the shipping of some particular foreign State, in such a manner as to make that foreign State a dangerous rival to this country. Now, neither of these consequences has occurred. I find, on looking over the number of ships, that 18,205 belonging to the United Kingdom cleared out, against 305 belonging to Russia., 2,286 belonging to France, and 946 belonging to the United States; and those are the only Powers which can be looked upon as dangerous rivals to us with regard to navigation. While, however, there has undoubtedly been an immense increase in the tonnage of British ships, there has been a much larger increase, taken altogether, in the tonnage of foreign ships; but that, so far from being a disadvantage, proves only an increase in the trade of the kingdom. It proves that persons who import into this country raw materials for manufacture, articles of food, or whatever else, obtain ships at a cheaper rate of freight, and with greater readiness, than before the alteration of the navigation laws. Now, what, in fact, was that navigation law to which so much importance is attached, and which even Adam Smith was disposed to defend, as the least objectionable of our commercial regulations? Any one who looks to the history of the Navigation Act will see that it was an act of vengeance against the States of Holland—that it was an act of political rivalry, intended to prevent the States of Holland from obtaining the carrying trade of the world, and thereby being enabled to become a greater naval Power than England. Of late years, then, when no such, object was attempted, and when that old policy was consequently unnecessary, it was fit to repeal the navigation laws, and by that repeal we have not incurred in any degree that danger against which Cromwell thought it necessary to guard. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) has truly said that under these measures-the country has flourished to an extent that 1073 was before unknown; that not only has there been an immense increase in the export of manufactures, that not only has the number of ships enormously increased, that not only has the consumption of articles of food increased to a degree that no man expected, but that the people at large have been in a state of comfort and welfare which they never attained before. Now it is, as I understand, the purpose of the present Government to reverse that policy. That is stated obscurely and mysteriously in the speeches of the Members of the Cabinet. But it is stated clearly and decidedly by the right hon. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He has said plainly—and I thank him for the announcement—that it is the Earl of Derby's sincere desire to reverse that financial and commercial policy which has been so injurious to native industry and capital of late years. Now, my belief is just the reverse. I am sincerely desirous to maintain that policy, which has been so beneficial to native industry and to native capital. I therefore do not cloak my meaning in words when I say that I mean to oppose any attempt to reimpose a duty on corn, whether for the purpose of protection or revenue. That is, at least, a plain declaration. These are words which cannot be mistaken; and I think, with the present Government in power, it does behove us to endeavour to obtain a clear decision upon that subject. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite refuses, as I think he has a right to refuse, to defer to the decision of the present Parliament, as one that was chosen favourable to free trade, I think he is bound not to delay until next February submitting this question to the country. I think it must be to the interest of all parties—the interest of every person engaged in trade and commerce—to obtain a solution of the question. I think it is likewise the interest of every person engaged in agriculture. I said many years ago, and I remember that the right hon. Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries) declared himself surprised at the assertion, that I believed protection was the bane of agriculture. I think we have had proof of the truth of that assertion since. I did not say that protection was injurious to particular farmers, or to those who did not well cultivate the soil; but I said I thought agriculture in general was injured by it; and since the abolition of that protection we have seen greater advances made in measures for improving the agriculture of 1074 the country, and increasing production, than we had ever seen before. My belief, therefore, is, that there never was a system introduced which tended more to the benefit of the people of this country than that commercial policy which, since 1842, has been placed upon our Statute-book. It is a commercial policy in agreement with all the deductions of science, in agreement with all the aspirations of men derirous to see a free intercourse between the nations of the world. If you maintain that policy, you will go on to flourish. But, observe, it is not a question that can be constantly suspended. It is a living and active principle; and, therefore, last year, although, after abolishing the window tax we had only a small surplus left, we acted upon the same principle upon which the Corn Laws had been abolished, and upon which differential duties had been repealed, and we repealed the differential duty on coffee, and very much reduced that upon timber. That was proceeding, according to our sense, upon the same principle as before. But if there is a surplus of revenue this year, a question may arise which we can hardly refuse to discuss—What shall be the disposal of that surplus? Then, if we say, as we shall be inclined to say, "Continue to give activity to those principles which you have found so beneficial," the right hon. Gentleman opposite may say, "Oh! but we are not Ministers for that purpose. Questions of commerce—questions of trade—questions of finance—these are questions with which we are incompetent to deal. They are controversial questions, and they must be suspended till next year." Why, I ask again, is this the interest of the country? Can it be the interest of the country that you shall have no decision one way or the other? On the contrary, is it not the interest of every one that you should propose, either to this or to another Parliament, such measures as you conceive necessary for redressing the evils now suffered by the landed interest, by the shipping interest, and by the colonial interest? We shall then have an opportunity, in vindication of our principle, of contending that not only all that has been done ought to be maintained, but that the same system ought to be extended and carried further. Entertaining these views, I have been greatly surprised at the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I believe no Minister of the Crown ever stood in the position in which he stands. I be- 1075 lieve that no Minister of the Crown ever stood in the position of saying—"I have great measures in contemplation—measures which will relieve the landed interest from cruelty and injustice—which will relieve the colonial interest from the ruin to which it is fast hastening—which will relieve the shipping interest from the competition under which it is now suffering—but I shall not submit to Parliament those measures. I will not call a new Parliament to submit those measures to them, but I will continue to govern in a minority, relying that the House of Commons will not only have forbearance towards us, but that they will be ready to injure the country for our behalf," Why, Sir, the course which the present Ministry pursue, while it is the one most convenient to themselves, is the one most inconvenient to the country. If they can obtain from this time till February next, without professing any principles, but endeavouring to get together, by one means or another, a majority for the next Parliament, undoubtedly that is a great advantage to them; but the whole country is, in the meantime, to be kept in suspense. No merchant is to know whether he can order a cargo of corn for the spring of next year; no manufacturer can know whether he may have a market for his manufactured goods; no farmer can settle with his landlord the terms upon which his rent is to be fixed; all this, too, for the convenience alone of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, in order to promote whose interests we are to sacrifice all the great and permanent interests of the country.
§ MR. HERRIES
said, after having listened to the speech of the noble Lord, who had just resumed his seat, he was somewhat at a loss to know what was its object. For what purpose had that debate been got up? For what purpose, he repeated? Why, it could not be forgotten that immediately after the dissolution of the Whig Administration, a somewhat pompous and sententious announcement was made that it was intended to submit a Motion which would bind that House to an adherence to that system of policy which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Villiers) who gave the notice had been mainly instrumental in establishing. Now he asked why did not the hon. Gentleman then make that Motion? Why had he not tried the temper of the House of Commons on the question which he had so boldly announced? Why, he had shrunk 1076 from it, and, instead, questions had been asked, to which questions answers as distinct, as the circumstances of the time would permit had already been given by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Looking at what had been said by the noble Lord, it could not be said that any satisfactory answer had been given to the question put to him by his (Mr. Herries') right hon. Friend. The noble Lord had been asked on his side to declare what was to be the conduct and policy of the Opposition under existing circumstances. Had the noble Lord informed them what would be the conduct of the Opposition? He believed the House had obtained very little information from the speech of the noble Lord, and could not very well tell what was to be the policy of the Opposition. They had, in fact, learned nothing from the noble Lord's speech, but that he would oppose any attempt to reimpose any of those duties which had been removed under the system called free trade. Was that the manner in which the Opposition was to be conducted? The effect that had been produced upon the conflicting parties opposite by the change that had taken place in the position of the noble Lord, was not inconsiderable. For some time past the business of the country had been conducted by the late Administration relying upon parties with whom they were manifestly greatly at variance with regard to the principal points upon which their policy was regulated. They were by these parties imperfectly supported, and by them ultimately expelled from office. The noble Lord told them that it was owing to the continued pressure of opposition—it was "the worrying" of that opposition—that had at last brought them beneath the thrust of the lance of the late Minister for Foreign Affairs, from which they collapsed at once. He wanted to know who gave the blow. Certainly not the hon. Gentlemen who sat with him (Mr. Herries) on that side of the House. He (Mr. Herries) had more than once had occasion to animadvert upon the singular spectacle of a Minister, night after night, attacked bp those upon whom he entirely relied for the maintenance of his Government; and, no doubt, it was owing to the want of support from an united party—for that was the worrying the noble Lord had experienced—that the noble Lord had ultimately yielded. Yet it seemed that the very first effect of a change of Ministry had been 1077 an assembly at the noble Lord's residence, of the proceedings at which a report had been published, and which had led to a new combination among the hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was stated that the pressure which had been put upon the noble Lord was owing to the basis of the operations of his Administration not being being sufficiently broad; and a declaration was made by the noble Lord, that it was not so broad as he might have wished, but that circumstances had arisen which would enable the reconstruction of the party, and possibly of the Government, upon a broader basis. The projected alliance was of course intended to be with the portion of the House who advocate those extreme views and principles. These principles had been announced at the last meeting of the House, and they were told what they might expect from the noble Lord in the extremity of that factious opposition, for ' he was bound to call it that. ["Hear, hear!"] He repeated the phrase, and he remembered the case of a gentleman who inquired what was meant by "factious opposition;" and the answer was, "Wait till the Whigs are out of office, and you will know what 'factious opposition' means." The principles on which the new opposition were to proceed, were the ballot, universal suffrage, and the payment of Members of Parliament. He thought it right that the House and the country should know what their principles were. He should not certainly have risen were it not that he had been repeatedly called upon by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Villiers) who had moved nothing, and by the noble Lord who had last spoken; and having been challenged to substantiate the statements he had made in another place at his recent election, that the effect of the repeal of the Navigation Laws upon the shipping and commerce of the country had been even more disastrous than he had anticipated—he should reply to these challenges as briefly as possible, and he should rely upon the result of the measure from the returns that were presented by the Government. He should put his statement in the smallest possible compass, in order that the House might more clearly understand it, instead of encumbering them with a great number of figures. He had maintained that the result of the repeal of the Navigation Laws would throw a large portion of the carrying trade of the country into the hands of the foreigner. It had, of course, always been acknowledged that 1078 they would not maintain these Navigation Laws without having to pay some increased freight for their goods; that if they admitted the foreigner to carry for them that which they had previously enjoyed the exclusive right to carry, they would have lower freights. In conducting the opposition—very unworthily, he must say—to the repeal of these laws, he had uniformly admitted that the result would be that they would have cheaper freights; but he contended that, in a national point of view, it was still more important that the interests of their commercial marine should be protected. Two years had now elapsed since the repeal of these Navigation Laws, and in the first year after the repeal they had been told by the late President of the Board of Trade, with great complacency, that there were 91 ships building in the port of Sunderland in 1850, whereas there were only 90 ships building in the year 1849. He (Mr. Herries) had already pointed out the effect, during the two years just elapsed, as regarded British and foreign shipping, although he ought to premise what he had to say by stating that it had been communicated to him on a former occasion, that the traffic inward was to be relied upon rather than the tonnage outward; but he had been met by parties saying, "That will not do; you have no right to say that the inward tonnage is a better foundation for your calculations." He should not, therefore, rely upon it; he would take both the inward and the outward tonnage, and give them the result of both, and it would be found that they fully verified his predictions that the repeal of the Navigation Laws would prove injurious to British shipping. The tonnage of British vessels inwards in 1849 was 4,390,000 tons (he would not state the hundreds). In 1851 the tonnage inwards was 4,388,000 tons, showing a trifling diminution, which he would not rely upon if it stood by itself; but they must remember that upon a comparison of a series of years, in all of them there had been a considerable progressive increase. In that year there had been no increase, but a diminution. Then take the case of foreign shipping. The foreign tonnage entered inwards in the year 1849 was 1,681,000 tons; the foreign tonnage entered inwards in 1851 was 2,600,000 tons. The rate of increase of British shipping was nothing, but rather the other way; but in the foreign shipping there had been an increase of 54 per cent. The 1079 outward tonnage of British shipping in 1849 was 3,762,000—the outward tonnage of British shipping in 1851 was 4,147,000 tons, being an increase of 384,000 tons. Now, with regard to the foreign outwards. The tonnage in 1849 was 1,656,000 tons; and in 1851 the amount was 2,336,000 tons, being an augmentation in that short time of 40 per cent. As regarded the whole of the British shipping, the tonnage inwards and outwards was in 1849 8,152,000 tons, and in 1851 8,535,000 tons, being equal to an increase of about 4¾ per cent. The foreign shipping amounted in the whole in 1849 to 3,348,000 tons, and in 1851 to 4,936,000, being an augmentation of 1,588,000 tons. While altogether, outwards and inwards, the British shipping had increased 4¾ per cent, the foreign had increased no less than 47 per cent. That was the simple result of the returns that had been laid upon the table of that House; and he asked the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) whether he was prepared to say that was a favourable or a satisfactory state for the shipping interests of this country? Let them look at the slight increase that had taken place in the British shipping during these two years, in the face of the uniform large progressive increase of British shipping in former years, and compare it with the very large increase that had taken place in the amount of foreign shipping. It was not necessary to disguise the fact that, for the sake of having their goods carried somewhat cheaper, they had given them up to be carried by the foreigner. In that way some classes had been benefited at the expense of the great shipping and maritime interests of the country. He thought there were national considerations involved in the maintenance of the Navigation Laws much higher than the mere saving of freight. He should like to know what was the amount of the American and other foreign shipping now loading in the ports of India and China for this country. He had returns in his hand; they were not official, certainly, but he had every reason to believe they were correct. There was, he believed, no doubt that there were at least seventy-eight ships, of which he had a list, some of them of the very largest tonnage, and forty-nine of them of very considerable tonnage, all loading at that time in the Indian and Chinese ports, to bring goods to England; while their own ships, which were formerly, before the change, able to obtain 6l. or 7l. per ton, 1080 were now offering for 30s. to 40s. The American vessels were, in fact, taking all that trade out of their hands—they made a sort of double voyage, by means of which the low freights were made remunerating, touching first at California, and then proceeding to India and China. Looking at the whole of the case, he ventured to assert that the effect of the repeal of the Navigation Laws was even more prejudicial to British industry than had been anticipated. He had stated, and he believed, that such was the case, that the arrangement was one that could not now be easily changed. They could not readily get back the advantages which they had so incautiously and imprudently thrown away. They might have accompanied the change by many countervailing advantages if they had proceeded judiciously; but the time was now gone by, and it was impossible to get them back. Why had they not imitated the example of the French, who had established a system of differential duties, so that goods imported in French ships paid six francs per ton, and those imported in foreign ships paid thirteen francs? He believed that he had vindicated all that he had predicted with regard to the injurious results of the repeal of those laws. But it was said, on the other side, at all events this new policy had produced a vast increase in the export trade of the country. Why, nobody denied that; but he contended that the increase of the exports proved nothing in favour of the new system. He had himself in the course of last Session shown that the augmentation of the exports had taken place without the intervention of free trade at former periods. In the years 1836 and 1837 there had been a. large increase in the amount of the exports, and again in the years 1838 and 1839, showing that at those antecedent periods there had been a much larger increase than had taken place under the system of free trade. He should be the last person in that House to deny that the country was at present in a state of prosperity. He admitted that such was the fact—he admitted that the labouring classes on the whole were in a better condition than at former periods, but he was not convinced that was by any means the result of free trade; but would the noble Lord or hon. Gentlemen opposite venture to assert that the agricultural classes were in a state of prosperity? Was their condition a very favourable one? It could not be said that the tenant farmers and 1081 landowners were prospering. The noble Lord and hon. Gentlemen opposite could not deny that which Her Majesty had declared in two Speeches from the Throne; but he believed the noble Lord was of opinion that Protection would not remedy that state of things, and that it was, in fact, of no advantage to the protected. Look at the more prudent and judicious conduct of the nations of the Continent. They were aware that the British could manufacture more cheaply than them-selves, but they were very properly protective of their own industry, and imposed heavy duties upon British manufactures. If the States of the Zollverein were not protective of each other's interests, did they not believe that British manufactures would have ere this swept away the native manufactures? The hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Villiers) had stated that a duty of 5s. per quarter on corn would, according to the evidence of a person who had given much attention to the subject, probably raise the price 2s. per quarter; and for 2s. a quarter, such a variation as occurred in the course of a market-day, the late Administration were determined to urge on a war of opposition against the Government on the part of those by whom they had themselves been paralysed when in office. He had been induced to rise and offer these few observations to the House, in consequence of the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, and the noble Lord who had last spoken.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
Sir, I have not risen, following the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, with the intention to go at large into the statistics of the question he has raised with respect to the Navigation Laws; but I rise, Sir, in consequence of the challenge thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with respect to that opposition which he anticipated I am about to offer to Her Majesty's Government; and before I answer that challenge I must be permitted to congratulate the House and the country on certain admissions which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control has just made. He says that, on the whole, the country is in a state of great prosperity. He admits the working classes are satisfied, contented, and well employed; and though he does not trace that contentment and employment to the financial policy which has been adopted for the 1082 last six years, yet he admits the fact broadly and distinctly. Now, Sir, I am about to explain to the House the view which I venture to take in the present crisis of public affairs. I am not disposed to enter into any factious opposition to Her Majesty's Government, for I do think that in the present circumstances of the country it does become this House, without the slightest tinge of party feeling, dispassionately to consider the amount of force which ought to be provided for the protection of this country both by sea and by land—to enter into that subject in Committee of Supply, and proceed to vote the requisite estimates, and also to pass the Mutiny Act. But, Sir, I am bound to say that I do think the question now at issue—infinitesimally small as I believe the right hon. Gentleman said it was—is as important a question as ever was raised in a deliberative assembly, and one which, I believe, intimately affects the welfare and well-being of the great body of the people in this country. Now, Sir, it is not a question of a 5s. duty, nor a 7s. duty on corn; but the question really at issue is, will you reverse an entire policy—a policy, the results of which, by the examples admitted, and by whatever tests you choose to try it, far exceed the moat sanguine expectations formed by its authors and supporters. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked, I think, what was the bond of the opposition which he saw arising to the present Government. Now, I certainly was not prepared to find the right hon. Gentleman chary as to weapons of attack, or fastidious as to combinations to be formed, when there is reason to suspect an "organised hypocrisy." It is necessary, however, that we should come to a clear understanding with respect to the intentions of Her Majesty's Ministers; but although I think my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) was quite justified in putting the question at the period and in the manner in which he has put it, I, for my part, am bound to say that I have no doubt whatever with respect to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government, in regard to the policy which they meditate, if they only can accomplish it. On this House and on the country it depends, of course, whether they shall succeed in accomplishing their purpose; but as to what that purpose is, I have no more doubt than that I have the honour of 1083 addressing you, Sir, at this moment. It is not, however, from the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Government in this House, that I seek for the explanations required by the country. I stated last year, having then listened to him when his proposed measures on the subject of agricultural relief seemed somewhat mystified, and his language not very perspicuous—1 said then that I was forced to go to another House for explanations; and that there were Peers who stated explicitly—more explicitly, I was sorry to say, than the Members of this House, who acted in combination with them—the purposes of the party not dimly shadowed forth—the purpose, first, of changing the Administration, next of dissolving the Parliament, and then of reimposing duties on imports, and, as one of those import duties, re-establishing a corn law. That is the solution which I gave of the intentions of the Protectionists when in opposition. I adhere to the same definition of their intentions now. I call upon them to deny it if they can. I say that they now have succeeded in one move—they have displaced the last Government, and possessed themselves of power. I repeat my belief that they do intend to dissolve Parliament for the purpose of imposing duties on imports, and, among those duties, one on corn. Now, do I state this opinion lightly? Will the House bear with me—for this is really a question of evidence, and we seem to have some difficulty here in ascertaining it? Now, I have had the satisfaction and pleasure of knowing the noble Earl at the head of the Government intimately for many years; I have the most perfect reliance on his honour, and what he has stated, by that I am convinced he will abide. I will now, if the House will permit me, bring under its attention a series of avowals made with the utmost distinctness by the noble Earl who is now at the head of the Government; and I defy his Colleagues in this House to deny his intentions, or to wrest from its true meaning, and mystify, that which he has clearly stated. I will first refer to the statement of the noble Earl, made by him on the 28th of February, 1851, when he had failed in his endeavour to form an Administration. The speech to which I refer was one of great importance—I mean that speech in which the noble Earl stated to the House of Lords and to the country the causes of his failure, accompanying that statement with a frank declaration of the 1084 policy which he would have adopted if he had succeeded in forming a Government. Will the House bear with me while I read the principal portions in that speech which point to the policy he has adopted? The Earl of Derby says—It would be impossible for me, even if my convictions were less strong than they are—it would be impossible for me, as an honest man, to take office without a full determination to deal with that distress, and endeavour to apply to it, as a Minister, effective measures of relief." [3 Hansard, cxiv. 1007.]. "At the proper time"—[Ministerial cheers.] Yes, but wait a moment. The avowal does not stop there. He is perfectly explicit, and I shall convince hon. Gentlemen, who have laboured long to obtain what they term a remunerative price and justice to British agriculture—a prospect which now seems so much nearer than at any other period—of the intention, on the part of the noble Earl, to consummate that which, during six years of incessant labour, they have toiled to accomplish:—At the proper time I shall not shrink from stating the specific measure which I would recommend, but I did state that I would not take office on any other condition than that of endeavouring, bonâ fide, to give effect to my own conviction of the necessity of legislating for the relief of that class of Her Majesty's subjects. … I will take this opportunity, therefore, of explaining to your Lordships, fairly and frankly, what are my views and intentions upon the subject of agricultural distress. … I say that, by imposing a moderate duty upon the importation of foreign corn, you might raise a very considerable revenue for the country, while you would not materially raise the existing price to the consumer; but you would, by the acquisition of a duty of 1,500,000l., or 2,000,000l., enable the Government more rapidly to effect that object to which I have referred as of great advantage to the community at large—the extinction of the income tax." [3 Hansard, cxiv. 1020.]Now, observe well that the noble Earl at the head of the Government contemplates raising from 1,500,000l. to 2,000,000l. annually by a duty on corn. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, treated with scorn what was contemplated by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers), a duty of 5s.; but in the face of this passage from the speech of the Premier I cannot well understand why he did so. A duty of 5s. would by no means raise even 1,500,000l. It must be a much heavier duty. The noble Earl goes on to say—I do not hesitate, therefore, to say that, if it were found impracticable, as I think it would be, to effect such a commutation of the system of 1085 taxation as to place all classes upon a perfect level—A severe comment this on the plan of his present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who so often has proposed this commutation of taxation, which the First Lord of the Treasury now declares to be an impracticable experiment. "Then, according to the best free trade authorities" (such as Mr. M'Culloch, I suppose, who was quoted at Buckingham the other day by the right hon. Gentleman),—"it is not adverse to the principles of free trade to impose, in favour of the class which is subjected to an undue share of burdens, countervailing duties to an amount sufficient to meet those burdens; and I believe that by the imposition of a moderate duty upon the import of corn and provisions you might raise such an amount of taxation as, at the end of the year after this—(and this was spoken, he it remembered, in 1851),would enable the country altogether, and, I trust, for ever, to abolish the income tax." … "I express my frank opinion, that the question of protection, or, if you please, the question of the unrestricted import of provisions, is one which must be settled by the country, once and for ever, whenever an appeal is made to the country for its decision." [3 Hansard, cxiv. 1020.]I say nothing can be more clear than this. The then Government has since been displaced; the noble Earl is at the head of affairs, and he seeks to restore a duty on imports and on corn, by means, in the first place, of a dissolution of Parliament. Nothing can be more plain, more candid. Then the noble Earl continues:—But until I see the expression of the feeling of the country, when I find that the present system is working an amount of evil far greater than was anticipated either by its friends or by its opponents—certainly greater than I anticipated myself—I cannot, as an honest man, abandon the attempt to relieve the existing distress, by retracing the false step which has been taken, and to remedy the wrong done, by the imposition of a moderate import duty upon corn.That was the admission which the Earl of Derby made when he explained the course he would have taken if he had been able to form a Government. Then he says—I feel that an apology is due to your Lordships, particularly upon such an occasion as this, for venturing to state incidentally, but I hope frankly, the views I entertain, and the policy which undoubtedly I should pursue." [3 Hansard, cxiv. 1321.]Now, that is the explanation of the First Lord of the Treasury. There is no hesitation about it, but a frank declaration of his undoubted intention to pursue a certain line of policy. 1086However little authority (he continues) I may pretend to, I was anxious that my views should not be misinterpreted and I trust your Lordships will not think that I have unduly trespassed upon your time in making a full and frank declaration of the course of policy which, if I had been called to office, I should have ventured to recommend." [3 Hansard, cxiv. 1025.]Now, what is the use of inquiring in this House as to the intentions of the Ministry after such an explicit statement from the head of the Government? You may say that since this the opinions of the noble Earl may have been modified; but I have the strongest declaration from him, on the very first day of the present Session, when the Address was moved in the House of Lords, to the same effect as the passage I have just quoted. Will the House bear with me while I proceed to give a few more quotations from the speech of the First Lord on this occasion, remembering that this is a matter resting solely on evidence like that I am endeavouring to bring forward? I know perfectly well that every word which the noble Earl utters is in consonance with his intentions, and with the utmost perspicuity of language he has stated what those intentions are. Speaking in the other House on the 3rd of February of the present year, on the Address, the noble Earl says—For the last three or four years the price of wheat has been falling in this country; and my belief now is, as it was some two or three years ago, that the production of wheat in this country, unless some alteration of the law shall take place, must diminish to an extent alarming, if not dangerous, to this country. My Lords. I do not look upon it as a matter of indifference that a large and increasing portion of our supplies should be imported from other countries, because, unless we are misinformed, a prohibition of exportation from these countries may not be distant or improbable. I am not convinced that the repeal of the corn laws may not lead to frequent fluctuations in price; but I am confident that the effect of the repeal of these laws must be to render this country more than ever dependent on foreign countries for its main supply of food. That, my Lords, is a state of things dangerous to this or to any country; and I have not at all altered my opinion, that for the purpose of revenue, as well as the protection of native industry, it is desirable that agricultural produce should be included in the articles of import on which a revenue should be raised." [3 Hansard, cxix. 17, 18.]The principle would, therefore, apparently be extended to cattle, and would include all those articles of provisions which my late lamented Friend, Sir Robert Peel, so earnestly strove to exempt from duties, so that at least the food of the people, whatever else might be taxed, should be relieved from taxation in every form. But 1087 my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) is himself a witness as to the line of policy which the present Government proposes. There is no disclosure of any secret in what I am about to remark; the noble Earl now at the head of the Government stated it himself when he explained the causes which had prevented, in 1851, the formation of a Ministry by him. At that time, when the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) resigned, and the present First Lord of the Treasury attempted to form a Ministry, the whole arrangement was kept open pending the return of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) who was then upon the Continent. The Earl of Derby made to him on his return to England a proposal to join his Government. But what was the preliminary point? My right hon. Friend asked the noble Earl the question which we have asked in vain here—" What are your intentions on the subject of Protection? "The Earl of Derby said, "My opinion is pronounced; I am quite decided in favour of duties on imports, and I am not prepared to say that corn should be excepted." My right hon. Friend, therefore, true to those principles which he had constantly advocated in reference to this question, said, "That preliminary declaration is fatal to our union. I cannot consent to join your Administration." So earnest was the Earl of Derby in adhering to the faith of his pledges, and so sincere in his opinion in favour of a reversal of a free-trade policy, that, though he had made the whole of his arrangements as to the formation of an Administration to depend upon the adhesion of my right hon. Friend, when he got that answer he abandoned the project, conceiving that success was not possible, and said "I cannot form a Government without you." I regret that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) is not in his place to add his testimony; but unless I am greatly deceived—I should have stated it in his presence, and he could have contradicted me, if I am misinformed—I am told, and I confidently believe, that the Earl of Derby had an interview, by the permission of Her Majesty, with the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton when the present Administration was formed, within the last fortnight, and that he did propose to that noble Viscount that he should take part in the new Administration, and that the same ques- 1088 tion which was put last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford was put this year, and within the last fortnight, by the noble Viscount—that the same question, I say, was put, and the same answer given. The noble Viscount then felt and knew it was as possible for the Exe to flow backward from the ocean, as for the corn laws to be repealed—and that it was impossible for him to join the Administration of the noble Earl. Well, but now I think by this time I have gone very far to prove my case. My reliance is implicit on the honour of the Earl of Derby. He told us plainly last year what his sentiments were; he gave abundant proof of his sincerity in his interview with the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford; he repeated it on the first day of the Session this year in his speech upon the Address; he again gave the same proof of his sincerity when he formed the present Government in his conference with the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston); and again, within the last fortnight, in his place in the House of Lords, he has given the most perfect proof of his firm and unalterable intention to deal both with our commercial policy and with the Corn Laws. But now, Sir, I shall have recourse to other evidence. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is in his place. I have long known that right hon. Gentleman, and I know him to be a man of the highest honour and strictest integrity, who I do not believe would descend for a moment to palter with any question, and who with the most perfect frankness both in his address to his constituents and his address on re-election stood firm in his adherence to protection, stating that he accepted office under the Administration of the Earl of Derby only "from a conviction of his sincere desire to reverse that financial and commercial policy which has proved so injurious to native industry and capital." But now it seems we must go to Lincolnshire for truth; it is not hidden there, but there only explicit declarations are given to us. Now, Sir, I have for a long time been an occupant of the back benches, and I was not sorry to see Gentlemen hitherto in the same position coming forward into official life—country Gentlemen of good ability and understanding, trustworthy, and trusted with the representation of large bodies of constituents, their honour being undoubted, and their frank dealing to be altogether relied upon. We will turn 1089 once more to Lincolnshire, and see what was said by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Poor Law Board (Sir J. Trollope). What did he remark to his constituents? Why, this—I will state to you, in his own words, what Lord Derby said his future policy would be. From them you may gather, what every man must know, that this question does not rest with him or with the Administration. We can do nothing unless backed by the constituencies of the empire.This is most certainly the case; we have no quarrel on that point. If you frankly avow your policy, if you seek to bring' it about by a dissolution, I do not deprecate a dissolution. On the contrary, before I sit down, I shall assign one or two reasons why we should press for a dissolution without delay. Let us join issue on the question fairly, let us go to trial—and God defend the right! What does the right hon. President of the Poor Law Board say? He cites the passage which I have already read, that the Earl of Derby could not as an honest man accept office unless he were prepared to reverse the financial and commercial policy of the country: the right hon. Gentleman then goes on to add—"Lord Derby thus refers the matter to the electors of the empire. It must be determined by them, and speedily." Yes, and speedily, say I; let us have no hesitation, on delay. The right hon. Gentleman continues—"It is evident that the present Parliament cannot last long, and I think you will agree with me, that the sooner its services are dispensed with the better." But is this the feeling of the Government? No, they have propositions for Chancery Reform; they have a Militia Bill; they have in view, not only the disfranchisement of St. Albans, but the enfranchisement of other places; and this does not look quite like dissolving Parliament "speedily." "I believe (the right hon. Gentleman added) this question will then be solved, and trust it will be set at rest for ever. We cannot afford to be always in collision with our fellow subjects." He then gives some most salutary advice to the owners of the soil. He says—"We must either have protection, or learn to live without it." Now, I say to the Gentlemen opposite, in the words of my right hon. Friend, "You cannot have protection, and you must learn to live without it." Then the right hon. Gentleman proceeds to show the agriculturists how they may live without 1090 protection—"I know, if we try, that we shall have to turn our attention to the improvement of our estates, for where is the landowner who can say that more cannot be done?" I say there is in these right hon. Gentlemen perfect frankness and no guile—I had almost said, here are Disraelites indeed. Now, Sir, comes a point to which I attach more than ordinary importance in a constitutional point of view. It was mooted by my noble Friend the Member for the city of London, and it is a question more pressing and more important than any other. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer denied that there had been an appeal ad misericordiam by the Government towards this House. Now, I differ altogether from him on this point. I had the pleasure of hearing the noble Earl at the bead of the Government in a late speech of his when he said, "I know that I am in an undoubted minority in the House of Commons, and I appeal therefore to the forbearance of that House." I deny absolutely that in the whole course of our Parliamentary history such an admission was ever made by any Minister, or that any such appeal for forbearance was ever asked. I challenge any Gentleman who does me the honour to follow me on this question, to point out where in our Parliamentary history such an admission was ever made, or such a request preferred. I say that the homage due to our representative system is at variance with such a request. I say that our representative system would be brought into disrepute if a Government so situated continued in office, or suffered Parliament to sit, an hour longer than was necessary to provide for the safety and defence of the country. What was the course taken by Mr. Pitt in that great struggle in 1784? He only asked permission to pass the Mutiny Bill, and then he said he was ready to dissolve. Mr. Pitt stated, "Only give me the Mutiny Bill, and this House shall be dissolved forthwith." He said, on that occasion, that the confidence of the House of Commons is indispensable to every Administration. Well, what was the course pursued by Lord Grey in 1831, when my noble Friend (Lord John Russell) and I were his Colleagues? General Gascoigne beat us upon the Reform Bill—upon some question of mere secondary importance on the relative proportion of Members—I think on the diminution of the entire number. General Gascoigne beat us, and forty-eight hours did not elapse before the Go- 1091 vernment had tendered their resignations to His Majesty unless he were pleased to dissolve the Parliament. There is another instance. I was then opposed to my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell). It was that season well to be remembered, and pregnant with example, the year 1841. A vote of want of confidence was carried by my late right hon. Friend Sir Robert Peel, on Friday night. My noble Friend (Lord John Russell) asked to have until Monday to consider the course he should take. He then came down to this House to move the Estimates, which were not yet passed. The Army, Navy, and Ordnance Estimates were passed, but the Commissariat and Miscellaneous Estimates yet remained. He asked for a vote to enable him to go on for six months. [3 Hansard, lviii. 1260.] Upon that occasion Sir Robert Peel went through all the points of Parliamentary history which bore upon this question. He said to my noble Friend (Lord John Russell)—"You do not possess the confidence of this House. Your proposal to take a vote in supply for six months is too long a period, and you will by that course prolong the Session to about its usual termination. I have no security that you will call a Parliament together directly." And Sir Robert Peel then said distinctly—"Unless you pledge yourself to dissolve this Parliament with the least possible delay, and call a new Parliament together immediately, I will propose that the Votes shall be, not for six months, but only for three months." But what is the course which the Government are about to take now?—and this brings me to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herries). The right hon. Gentleman is about to move in ten days or a fortnight for the renewal of the East India Company's Charter, as if he were in the full enjoyment of the confidence of the House. What a melancholy state of things is this! Here, too, is the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of the Colonies declaring that he entertains the strongest opinions that our recent policy relative to the sugar duties is unjustifiable, and he has been seeking to arrest the further reduction in the duty upon sugar which is to take place on the 5th of July. He thinks our policy regarding the colonies is ruinous as it stands—that every step we have taken is indefensible. And yet he, a Minister of the Crown, and charged with the protection of the Colonial interest, contrary to his own views, is prepared, without making an ef- 1092 fort, to allow that Act to come into operation, and when he has the opinion of one of his Colleagues who sits near him that a step of this kind when once taken can never be retraced. What does this mean? What is the intention of the Government, as it is indicated by the arguments of its Members? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herries) has adverted to the Navigation Bill. I will not weary the House with statistics: but I am prepared to show to him that in this year the tonnage inwards and outwards has increased, as compared with the two antecedent years; and, save one exceptional year, which was the highest ever known, the tonnage outwards this year is larger than in any year preceding. The right hon. Gentleman views with jealousy and regret the fact that, while our tonnage is increasing, the tonnage of other countries is also increasing. But when we opened competition, removed prohibitory duties, and thereby greatly extended both the imports and exports, we were aware that that would be the case. But by renewed and increased duties upon imports, the right hon. Gentleman would seek to diminish our imports, and he would benefit the shipowners by imposing fresh fetters on our trade, to the irretrievable disaster of the shipping interest. Is he, a Minister of experience, prepared to offer a change of policy? He says "No; I appeal to the forbearance of the House." Was such a thing ever heard of, that a Government entertaining strong opinions and political views should not take the bold step of bringing their measures before this House, and, if it rejected them, should fail to advise Her Majesty to give effect to their policy by dissolving Parliament? I have said there was a discussion in 1841 on the constitutional question of the Government being in a minority, and hesitating either to dissolve Parliament or to resign. I have a speech which was made upon that occasion of the vote of want of confidence in the Government of my noble Friend (Lord John Russell), and which I will read to the House. The speaker said—The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) said, 'I admit that we do not sufficiently possess the confidence of the House to enable us to carry our measures.' Was there ever such an admission made by a Government before? Suppose that in any other time this proposition, and this alone, had been brought forward—that the Government do not sufficiently possess the confidence of the House of Commons to enable them to carry their measures through the House—just pause for a moment, and 1093 consider what must be the position of a Government who to that single proposition is bound to reply, 'We admit your allegation: we are unable to dispute it.' Why, in any other time would not such an admission have been regarded as conclusive proof that the Government was unworthy to conduct the affairs of the country? But the Minister says, 'Although we have not the confidence of the House, it is not incumbent on us to retire. We have yet some chances to try—we have yet some turns to take. It does not necessarily follow that, because we are without power, we must also be without office.'" [3 Hansard, lviii. 1172.]The Person who spoke, then proceeded to denounce all threats of dissolution as inconsistent with the independent action of the House of Commons, and at variance with the spirit of the constitution. The speaker on that occasion was the present Earl of Derby. The consequence was that the noble Lord dissolved Parliament, and summoned a new one with the least possible delay. Absit omen, for the result was the displacing of that Government. Sir, I am very unwilling, since there is no question before the House that is likely to terminate in a division or in a practical issue, to proceed at any length. I would desire rather to indicate the opinions I have formed, than to go into any elaborate defence of that policy of free trade which I believe to be immutable, and which I believe hon. Gentlemen opposite will never succeed in reversing. But a word on this question as it affects the landowners. Is it a fact, as was stated by the Earl of Derby, that our agricultural produce is diminishing, and that we are becoming more and more dependent upon foreign States for a supply of food? I doubt that. I will not weary you with statistical details; but I will only say, that since 1846, 5,200,000l. of public money has been advanced to the landowners of the United Kingdom for drainage. Every farthing of that sum has been expended, and more has been required. The Duke of Richmond brought in a Bill, which passed into a law, enabling the owners of entailed estates to borrow money for draining, and immense sums of money have been borrowed under that Act. But does even that satisfy the demand for drainage? A private company was formed last year to find money for purposes of drainage, and was empowered to lend by Act of Parliament, I speak in the presence of men of experience, and I say that, with the present knowledge of agricultural science, I do not believe these vast sums have been injudiciously expended, and I appeal to any Gentleman versed in the 1094 cultivation of arable land to say whether there must not have been an increase of produce to an amount which it is very difficult to estimate? But is that all? You drain your land. Has the demand for artificial manure diminished? Take the importation of guano. During the year 1849, when the landowners were ruined, as we were told, under free trade, they imported 83,438 tons of guano. In 1850 the quantity was increased to 116,925 tons, or nearly doubled; and during last year not less than 243,514 tons of guano were imported into this country. You may say this is for land of a superior quality on which this stimulating manure was employed. But what do you say to the increasing desire to enclose waste land, which was not brought into cultivation during the high prices of the war, or during the late monopoly enjoyed by the landed interest? The number of acres enclosed since the passing of the Act of 1845 has been 365,902. And are the landowners even now discouraged? Last year, and since the last annual report of the Inclosure Commissioners for 1851, there have been enclosed nearly 50,000 acres of waste land, which had hitherto lain waste and had never been cultivated before. There is another most remarkable fact, in the amount of taxes remitted. Taxes amounting to 4,200,000l, which directly affected the power of consumption and the comfort of the people, have been recently taken off, and yet there has been received into your Exchequer, notwithstanding this repeal or remission, a sum of nearly 4,800,000l., which is greater than the whole amount of taxes remitted. During the existence of Sir Robert Peel's Government, the Duke of Buccleuch agreed with the Earl of Derby that it was not wise to suspend the operation of the Corn Laws in December, 1845, unless a pledge were given by all his Colleagues that the attempt should be made to reimpose the duty upon corn as soon as the emergency had ceased. The Earl of Derby contended for that pledge, and the Duke of Buccleuch concurred in that view. The Duke of Buccleuch is one of the largest landowners in the United Kingdom, taking into account the area of cultivated land possessed by him; and the Earl of Derby knows the truth of what I am about to state, that the Duke of Buccleuch, who, in 1845, agreed with him, stated last year that he was then in the receipt of as much rent as he had ever enjoyed—of as much rent as 1095 he desired to receive; that he had not a tenant whom he wished to keep who was not ready to pay him his rent; and that any attempt to reimpose the Corn Laws was to be deprecated as most dangerous to the owners of the land. Thus the Duke of Buccleuch, who once agreed with the Earl of Derby as to the propriety of re-imposing the Corn Laws, now differs from him toto cœlo with respect to the restoration of protection. I have talked of dukes and great men; allow me now to call your attention to the poorer classes in that country of which the Duke of Buccleuch is one of the most worthy, as he is one of the greatest, proprietors. I have before me some statistics of the town of Glasgow, published in a most authentic form in Dr. Strong's Social Statistics of Glasgow:—It is found that there has been a gradual substitution of wheaten bread for oatmeal among our population. In six years, from 1840 to 1845 inclusive, the average imports were—wheat, 132,151 quarters; flour, 107,033 sacks. From 1846 to 1850, annual average import—wheat, 199,633 quarters; flour, 211,265 sacks. 1851—single year, wheat, 388,022 quarters; flour, 333,139 sacks. In 1819,102,268 quartern loaves were baked weekly, showing about 3 lb. of bread for each individual, the population of the city then being 140,000. Assuming a population of 600,000 now dependent on the Glasgow market, it seems that the use of bread has doubled in Glasgow since 1846, and we arrive at an average weekly consumption of bread amounting to 8 lb. for every inhabitant. N.B.—The necessary luxuries of tea, sugar, and molasses have increased in consumption since 1849—tea, 325,351 lb.; sugar, 5,610 tons; molasses, 933 tons.Thus, with a population of 140,000 in 1819, the consumption of bread was about 3 lb. for each individual; while now, with a population of 600,000, the average weekly consumption of bread is 8 lb. for each individual. But have my neighbours lost their thrifty habits? Have they ceased to lay by something from their wages? The accounts of the Glasgow Savings Banks—"show an increase, since 1841, of the number of depositors of 16,110, and of funds of 344,416l. 10s. 1d.; and since 1850, of 1,898 depositors, and 60,034l. 5s. 8d. Comparing at the two periods of the census the number of depositors with the population, it appears that in 1841 there was one depositor to every 21 inhabitants, whereas in 1851 there was one to every 12; and, carrying out the comparison between the amount of funds at each period and the relative population, the results are, 12s. 3d. for each inhabitant in 1841, and 1l. 8s. 9d. in 1851.So much for the saving progress of Glasgow, as illustrated by this establishment. I not only say, with the Duke of Buc- 1096 cleuch, that there is much danger in attempting to reverse our present commercial policy, but I say that there is something more, which is now trembling in the balance, than either corn laws, or no corn laws, import duties, or no import duties. If the result of your dissolution of Parliament should be to return a majority in favour of a reversal of that policy in which the comfort, the interests, and the feelings of the people are bound up, there will be, not against your policy, but against the representative system, and against the interests of those who are the holders of property, a feeling of discontent which it will be difficult to allay. I shall be glad to bring to a close the observations I have addressed to the House; but there are still one or two points to which I must advert, and I do it with a regret I can hardly express. The avowed object of this Government, whose policy is stated not in details, but still with sufficient perspicuity, is an early return to the protective system. I heard it said by the noble Earl at its head, that he felt he should be introducing a system which he hoped would conduce to peace on earth, and good-will among men. Those are solemn, holy words—words of the harbinger of glad tidings, and the heavenly message borne to mankind with healing on its wings. Can it be truly said this effort is of that description? Is it calculated to bring peace on earth, good-will among men? I do not ask, is it in accordance with the order, "Up, Guards, and at them!" but I am satisfied, if this policy be pursued, it will be no peace—it will be heartburning, it will be discontent, and such animosity between class and class as years will not efface, and the consequences of which I dread to contemplate. The other day the right hon. Secretary at War was re-elected for North Essex. He described the great advantages of a tax on corn to his delighted farmers, when a voice from the crowd called out "Cheap bread!" What was the reception given to that man? The candidate said, he was "not an elector of North Essex, but one of the Braintree rabble. He appealed not to men from the factories of Braintree, but to men who had votes in the county." I am afraid at the coming elections that cry will be repeated. I do not fear the ultimate reversal of free trade in the country, whatever the state of its representation may be; but if its representatives say that they will disregard the opinion of the rabble on the question of 1097 cheap bread, I very much fear the result. I am asked what are the bonds into which I have entered with those around me. I, Sir, have entered into no unworthy compact. I have but one object, and that is the maintenance of the policy which, when in office, I helped to establish; and I am anxious to give my co-operation to every Gentleman in this House who wishes to maintain it. But I check my ardour. I remember the last conversation which I ever had with Sir Robert Peel. It was upon the eve of that great discussion upon our foreign policy, in which he and I found it our painful duty to vote against a Government which upon other accounts, and, more especially upon the account of then-support of a free-trade policy, we had usually assisted. It was impossible not to look to the consequences of that vote, and I pointed out to Sir Robert Peel the possibility that the Government would be overthrown, and I asked him what would then ensue? He said, "I know that in this country, without party connexions, no man can govern. I know that my party ties are dissolved, and I am not prepared to renew them, and do not desire to renew them. But, come what may, there is no effort that I will not make to maintain that free-trade policy, which I believe to be indispensable for the maintenance of peace and happiness in this country." Sir, I do not possess the abilities of my right hon. Friend, but I share his determination, and, like him, there is no effort I will not be prepared to make, and no sacrifice I will not be prepared to undergo, to uphold that policy; which, in my heart and conscience, I believe to be necessary for the peace, the happiness, and the well-being of my fellow-countrymen.
§ MR. WALPOLE
I rise to call the attention of the House to the peculiar position in which it is placed on this occasion. There is no question, in fact, before us. There is no subject of debate really under discussion. And yet, as is usual upon all occasions of the kind, every possible subject on which hon. Gentlemen are desirous of expressing an opinion, has been brought under the notice of the House. The real facts are these: Certain questions have been put to the Government by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) in the early part of the evening. Those questions have been answered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at least three hours ago. The only topic of discussion, consequently, before the House since that time is, whether 1098 those questions have, or have not, been properly answered? In the able and remarkable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham)—for I trust he will still permit me to call him so from personal feelings, although politically we may differ from each other—the House has been told, not only that the question of free trade and the policy of the Government is mystified and obscure, but also that the subject has been completely set at rest by what the Earl of Derby said in his place in Parliament this year, and also by what he said last year when he had the opportunity of taking upon himself the government of the country. Well, then, I ask, why are you discussing this matter at all, if the House and the country are aware what answer is to be given to those questions to which hon. Gentlemen express themselves now so interested to have a specific answer? The answer has been given. We do not intend to reverse, as the right hon. Gentleman put it, a free-trade policy—and here I must observe that the whole of his speech put the matter on that issue not quite fairly—we do not intend to reverse a free-trade policy, but we do think that that policy should be so altered and so modified—I repeat again we do not intend to reverse a free-trade policy, but we think that policy should be so altered and modified as not to press unjustly upon any class while benefiting another. If, therefore, the question is to go to the country upon a true issue, let that issue be in our words, and not in the words of our opponents: for the Earl of Derby has said, both this year and last year, that it was his desire to relieve the agricultural interest from burdens under which they suffered, whilst you have taken from them all the protection which up to 1846 they had enjoyed; but how that relief was ultimately to be given, must depend upon a full consideration of the fiscal arrangements affecting all interests of this country, and amongst the arrangements it may be necessary, probably it would be necessary, to consider the propriety of putting a duty upon all articles of import, excepting only raw materials, and not, in his opinion, excluding necessarily a small duty upon articles of food, amongst which articles corn might be one. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not intend to state the question unfairly. But let the House remember that the Earl of Derby also said, and has constantly repeated, that if the well-expressed opinions of the people of this country were against a duty being put 1099 upon articles of food, partly for protection and partly for revenue, he did not intend, after the country had so expressed itself, ever to moot the question again. Now, I believe I have fairly stated the question at issue, if there be a question at issue, between the Gentlemen opposite and ourselves. Nor do I think it would have become me to go further into any discussion upon these matters unless it had been for the question raised by the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), and followed up by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham)—a question, I admit, of grave importance; and, if the noble Lord be right, subjecting us, I deliberately say, to the gravest censure on the part of the Parliament and of the people of this country. The noble Lord says we are taking an unconstitutional part. Now, there is no person in thi3 House, or out of it, who more thoroughly understands the nature of our constitution than the noble Lord; and I think I will convince him that instead of taking an unconstitutional part, we are taking the only part which under the circumstances we could take, and for which we have a precedent the most complete to justify us. I beg the House to remember exactly the circumstances which brought us into power. We did not raise up any particular question which led to the dissolution of the late Government; we did not raise any particular question calling upon the House to overturn by an adverse vote a definite line of policy pursued by the late Government, in order to substitute for it a definite line of policy of our own; but we were brought into power for two reasons, and for two reasons only: the first, because the noble Lord, by his own admission, had so far lost the confidence of his supporters that he could not carry on the public business of the country in his own way, and according to the view which he thought would be best for the general interest of the country; and, secondly, because there was no other party in either House of Parliament sufficiently enjoying the confidence of the country to enable them to take the reins of power. That is a totally different question from all the precedents stated against us. What are the precedents of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon? He particularly adverted to three precedents—to that of 1831, to that of 1841, and to that of the year 1784. But what was the issue of 1831? The question of reform distinctly raised in this House between the Government and their opponents, and decided against the Government. What was 1100 the question of 1841? A vote of confidence in Ministers, carried also against the Government. How can you assimilate, then, the position of Ministers—either in 1831 or 1841, when they were beaten in Parliament by a House of Commons of their own convening—to the position of a Ministry called to power in a House of Commons convened by the late Government, and only brought into power because the late Government acknowledged they were unable to carry on the affairs of the country? I admit to the noble Lord, if the Government had been able to carry on the business by reconstructing his party upon a more extensive basis—as rumour now says the noble Lord intends to do—or if any other party were sufficiently strong in the confidence of the country to carry on the public business, that we have no right to sit on these benches a single day. But I say that, placed as the country was without a Government, we should indeed be neglecting our duty if we had not done at least our best to carry on the necessary business of the Government until the sense of the country could be taken upon certain grave questions, and, among others, upon this, which of course, to ourselves is the gravest of all—namely, whether we enjoy the confidence of the nation. Before I go into another part of this subject, I cannot but remark that both the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon have not a little undervalued the importance of going on with some measures before a dissolution of Parliament be advised—not only undervalued, but entirely passed over, the fact—that all the private business of Parliament will be in abeyance—that not only great delay will be occasioned, but great expense incurred—and that all the advantages to be derived from the uninterrupted conduct of private business will be completely destroyed. They have, I think, undervalued the fact, that we have a Lord Chancellor at the head of the administration of justice at this moment, from whose great knowledge and large experience the country may fairly and reasonably expect the most salutary and beneficial law reform. The noble Lord and the right hon. Baronet have also forgotten what the noble Lord himself stated only a fortnight ago—namely, that the dissolution of Parliament in the present state of this country and of Europe was not a stop that he, as a responsible Minister of the Crown, would advise. Let it not be said that I am appealing to the forbear- 1101 ance of Parliament—1 am appealing only to its justice. I say it would be unjust to the country, if at the present time you should have a dissolution, when all those grave questions have to be decided. With reference to forbearance, and whether there is or not to be forbearance, in the truest sense, I think that leads me to the last of the great precedents—that of Mr. Pitt in 1784. Now, unless my recollection fails me, the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) has entirely misinterpreted or forgotten what Mr. Pitt said and did on the trying occasion when he waged the great battle against his opponent, Mr. Fox. If I recollect right, the question of the dissolution of Parliament was never adverted to by Mr. Pitt until near the end of that struggle. Mr. Pitt invariably said, "I decline to give an opinion one way or the other upon the question, but, as a responsible Minister of the Crown, I shall advise the course I think the Crown ought to adopt." The right hon. Baronet will forgive me for correcting him when I say I think he is mistaken in saying that Mr. Pitt, on coming into power in December, 1783, ever adverted to the dissolution of Parliament, although he came into power in as decided a minority as the present Government do on this occasion. But there is another circumstance the right hon. Baronet has forgotten, that the Whig Government of that day went out of power upon a most important question brought to issue, namely, the East India question. The present Government came into power upon no question they have raised against the late Government. That is another circumstance the right hon. Gentleman ought to have adverted to. But when you come to what Mr. Pitt did and said on that occasion, as so appropriate to the present time, the House will forgive me if I read a passage from one of his speeches bearing on the point. Mr. Pitt said—He declared there were active duties, not the less indispensable because they were disagreeable—that in a critical situation it was incumbent on a Minister, who found he was not approved of in this House, to look to the probable consequences of his immediately resigning—that it behoved him to consider who were likely to be his successors, and whether the country might not receive more detriment than derive advantage from his leaving it without any Executive Government, and in making room for an Administration in whom the Crown, the Parliament, and the people would not equally repose confidence.Three weeks ago we were told that the Government did not so far enjoy the con- 1102 fidence of Parliament as to be able to carry on the business of the country; and unless in these three weeks some new and extraordinary amalgamation of parties has taken place to put the noble Lord in a new and better position, we shall be required, if we are to retire without an adverse vote against us, to hand over power to those to whom we have ever been far more opposed than to the noble Lord. But the right hon. Member for Ripon has entirely forgotten the difference between the conduct of Mr. Pitt and his opponents, and the conduct of the present Government and their opponents. If I remember aright, an extraordinary coalition took place at that time, when the Whigs went out of power. Nothing damaged the Whigs so much as that unnatural alliance; and I warn the noble Lord, who is a constitutional Minister, and for whom I take the liberty of saying that I have always entertained the highest possible respect, I now warn the noble Lord, as he loves the Constitution, which I know he does, to beware before he joins with those who will not merely unite with him in carrying on salutary reforms, but who have objects behind—democratic tendencies—to which the noble Lord would not give his acquiescence, but by which he might in an unlucky moment be betrayed into a false position, much, I believe, to his own disadvantage, and certainly, I am sure, to the great disadvantage of the country. Now, I hardly think it would become me to advert any more to topics alluded to in this debate, since I only got up to call the attention of the House to the only question which is really before it. I could not but notice the constitutional objections the noble Lord had taken to our course. I feel, that upon reflection, whatever may be your opinion of the present Ministry, you cannot justly charge against them that they have taken an unconstitutional course in adhering to the opinions they have always entertained, and in merely wishing to carry on the business of the country as long as they properly and fairly can do so, not, however, shrinking from appealing to the country to ascertain whether it does intend to give or withhold its support; but feeling that they have a right, a good and an honest cause, on which they may, and on which they intend to appeal to the country with perfect confidence.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
Sir, when the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down adverted to the length to which this discussion extended, I felt confident he 1103 was not to be misunderstood as making any complaint as to the length of the discussion. If ever there was an occasion which justified the House of Commons in surveying the state of affairs, in endeavouring to strike out some path for itself, in consequence of the difficulties before us, to vindicate its own position in the Constitution, and to secure, by forethought the welfare and best interests of the country, this is such an occasion. It is such an occasion, because in the first place the position of the Government, which has a minority in the Commons' House of Parliament, is necessarily anomalous, and is, I say it without offence, a provisional position, and because the first and deepest principles of the Constitution are in that manner brought before us. It is likewise an occasion of the utmost importance and moment, because, independently of the great constitutional questions which are brought before us by the existence of a Government so situated, we have now to consider that which transcends in importance, at least at the present moment, almost any constitutional question, namely, the great question of protection and the legislation regarding the supply of food to the people; that great question, which not only overthrew the strongest Government and shattered a mighty party in 1846, but of which the weight and gravity has been felt by all parties through the last six years. It is not too much to say of it that it has deranged the whole practical system of our Parliamentary Government, so as to call upon us, as has been stated, in my judgment, in the powerful language of my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham) to make every effort that men can for the purpose of bringing now once and for ever the question to its final settlement. Sir, these two considerations, to which I shall endeavour to confine myself—first of all, our duty in regard to the position of the Government, and, secondly, our duty with regard to the question of protection—I will speak with frankness: as the House of Commons has a right to expect great parties to be explicit, so it has a right to make the same demand from men who stand in no party connexion, but who have a great public duty to perform, which imposes upon them a particular line of action. I might have been satisfied to refer to the general explanation which has been made in another place by a noble Friend of mine (the Earl of Aberdeen), who has set forth with great fair- 1104 ness, and with a total absence of party hostility to Gentlemen opposite, the most sincere desire that they should have all justice, fair play, and forbearance allowed them, wishing to give them every legitimate support, but who could not at the same time suffer it to place in abeyance, and indefinitely suspend, the great question of our commercial legislation, upon which depends the supply of subsistence to the people. But I shall endeavour on my part to state what are my own views of duty, and what we have a right to demand from the Government. The right hon. Gentleman, who has just spoken in a manner consistent with his high talent and ability, has adopted that conciliatory tone towards the House of Commons which is no less prudent in point of policy than honourable in point of feeling. The right hon. Gentleman—and if I am to make a complaint of his speech it is this—seemed disposed to avoid the recognition that there was something irregular and contrary to the ordinary working of our Constitution in the existence of a Government which is in a minority in the House of Commons, and he joined issue with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon on the precedents he had alleged, especially the precedent of Mr. Pitt in 1784. I must confess to the accuracy of the right hon. Gentleman with reference to Mr. Pitt. At the commencement of Mr. Pitt's Government, when opposed by a majority in the House of Commons, and, if I recollect aright, before he took his own seat by re-election, he took occasion to convey to the House of Commons, by the mouth of his Colleague Mr. Dundas, a pledge that he would not at that time advise the Crown to dissolve Parliament. At a subsequent period a question was put to Mr. Pitt, desiring him to repeat that pledge more largely. He declined to state what advice he should give the Crown; but when the House of Commons came to a resolution as to the maintenance of that Parliament, Mr. Pitt did not decline to state the advice he would give to the Crown. Mr. Pitt then took the votes which were necessary for the public service. He passed the Mutiny Bill, he submitted to the judgment of the House of Commons the India Bill connected with the subject on which he had taken office, and then dissolved the Parliament. But Mr. Pitt was sensible that the existence of a Government in minority in the House of Commons, is a state not only irregular but one requiring to be brought at the earliest 1105 period possible to an end. The right hon. Grentleman (Mr. Walpole) misinterpreted my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon, if he thought that these precedents were relied on as precedents. They were not mere precedents extracted from antiquarian pocket-books. They were illustrations of a great practical living principle of policy. That principle is this—that if you are to have a strong executive Government to administer the laws, and prompt to guide the Legislature, with respect to the amendment and the passing of laws, that Government can have none of the strength, dignity, or efficiency requisite to fulfilment of these duties unless it possesses the confidence of the House of Commons. I am not going to draw any strange inference from this proposition. Nobody complains of Ministers having assumed office. By accepting office they only fulfilled a public duty. I deeply regret, with my views of liberty of commerce, that agreat and respected party in this country should seek to impair, undermine—if not to destroy—a policy which in my opinion has conferred inestimable benefits on the country. But the fact that that party has for six years been in organised opposition—the fact that the whole system of Parliamentary action interfered with the legitimate consideration of all other questions—that high interests were suspended—I say the fact being so of these evils, I am glad hon. Gentlemen opposite took office. I now see a prospect of an issue, which I do not believe we should have arrived at so soon in any other manner. I am confident we shall have it now, because it is a duty incumbent on us, and one from which I am sure the House of Commons will never shrink. With respect to the position of the Government being in a minority, I stand on the principle I have stated, and the inference I draw from it is this: we are entitled to ask from the Government a distinct assurance that, after the despatch of necessary business—and I do not mean to give an unduly narrow construction to the term necessary—the Crown should be advised to appeal to the country. It appears to me that to obtain that assurance, and to obtain it in plain terms not to be mistaken, is the main duty of the present House. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) has, to a limited extent, made such a demand; for he told us to-night that the Government will proceed with the Bill for the disfranchisement of St. Albans, the Bill for Chancery Reform, and a measure relative to the militia and 1106 defence of the country. With respect to the militia, or any measure necessary for the defence of the country, I think it is but fair, in such measures, which in their nature bear upon the circumstances of the moment, that the Gentlemen who form the Executive, and who are responsible for the public peace, are entitled to a fair and dispassionate consideration for any scheme they may propose for national defence. With respect to the disfranchisement of St. Albans, I think, with a dissolution in view, it is obviously desirable that you should not offend what I may call public morality by allowing boroughs, solemnly condemned for abuse, to return Members to a new Parliament. I, therefore, cannot make any objection to the Government proceeding with that Bill. I wish I could take an equally clear and favourable view of the postscript which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer; seemed inclined to append to that mea-I sure. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, must feel that the disposal of the four seats depends upon a different principle from that of disfranchisement, and I think the House will be free to decline to interfere with the distribution of these seats, which I do not think come under the category of "necessary measures." With respect, again, to Chancery reform, I do not see that that is a subject on which the existence of this Parliament ought to be prolonged. It is a subject, no doubt, of the greatest importance—a subject from the consideration of which I hope no section of persons, either in this or the other House of Parliament, will shrink. But it is of no special importance at the present moment, and ought not to be made the means of prolonging the existence of a Parliament which stands between the country and the decision of a great and vital question. I make no objection to the Government proceeding with this or any other useful measure they can carry, which does not prolong the present Parliament. The point, however, to which I wish this present discussion narrowed is, that it is the duty of the House to obtain, in terms and substance, an assurance of the intention of the Government to advise the Crown to dissolve as soon as the business necessary to the circumstances of the moment shall have been transacted. With regard to the great question of protection, I, like others, labour under a difficulty in comprehending clearly the intentions of the Government when I endeavour to reconcile the various 1107 declarations made; but I think I am justified, on the whole, in taking what has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, as a clear and definite indication of the policy which he and his Colleagues intend to pursue. The right hon. Gentleman said, that there was no intention to reverse the policy of free trade; and I do not think that we ought to bind the right hon. Gentleman by the expression used by the right hon. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in another place, which, possibly, was accidental. [Laughter.] I entreat hon. Gentlemen not to imagine that I made that observation by way of taunt: I intend none. I remember the proceedings of last year, when the Earl of Derby informed me, that it was his intention to propose the imposition of a moderate fixed duty, and when, in consequence of that information, the communications between us terminated—I remember he made a statement in exact conformity with what is now said, that it was not his intention to reverse the free-trade policy, but to modify it. Now, I am alike opposed to reversal or modification of it. I am indebted to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) for having told us frankly that his intention is to recommend the country, so far as the authority and influence of Government is concerned, if not to reverse, yet to alter and modify our free-trade system. I entirely disclaim the right of asking the Government what they will do in another Parliament. It will be more in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution to leave another Parliament to look after its own concerns. We ought to be satisfied with looking after our own. But so far as a modification or reversal of free trade is concerned, I only wish at present to dwell on one thing—the absolute imperative necessity of bringing this great question to a final decision. That is not an unfair demand to be made by those who know they are in a majority in this House. We surely shall not be told that no vote of want of confidence or for shortening the supplies have been passed, and that therefore we must not press for a declaration. I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will not place us in the disagreeable alternative of having to choose between what might be termed a factious opposition on the one band, or, on the other hand, of neglecting a duty which we are all determined to fulfil, in bringing this great question to a close. We may, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon, indeed look with 1108 the greatest satisfaction and delight on the enormous good which has been achieved in the improvement of the condition of the people under free trade; on the additional strength that has thereby been given to our institutions, and even to that territorial aristocracy which imagined itself deeply wounded by the free trade-system. But while we stand upon these results, let us not forget engagements more urgent. It is not demonstration we have in view by figures or reasonings. It is to bring the question to a practical issue; and, if not in this at least in another Parliament, to reflect the sentiments of the country, and to be able to speak of the doctrine of Protection as a thing past and gone; as a thing advocated during a long series of years by a great party in opposition, strengthened by the accession of that party to power—submitted to the judgment of the country with all the advantages it could derive from the possession of power by its supporters—fairly considered by the country after five years' experience, and then adjudged and decided against. This is the termination we have in view; and to this termination I am disposed to press by making one demand on the Government—a moderate, and I think a just, demand, and which being moderate and just, I think they ought to concede—namely, that the business of the country should be expedited with all despatch, and when so expedited, that the Crown shall be advised to appeal to the sense of the people—not to bind the Government as to their policy in another Parliament, but with the view of carrying the great arbitrament forward to that issue which the whole country with one heart and mind desires.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
said, that formerly it was the practice periodically to call the attention of the House to the state of the nation; but he thought that they might with advantage reverse that practice, and call the attention of the nation to the state of the House. And if the attention of the nation were directed to the state of parties in that House, he must confess that it would have no great cause for confidence. There were at least no fewer than four parties, no two of which could be induced to combine for the sake of good government, yet three of which were capable of combining when the object was to impede the march of all government. Let them first consider the conduct of the Liberal party, and he would ask them whether, when the noble Lord 1109 the Member for the city of London was in office, they afforded his Government an efficient support? Who was it turned out the noble Lord last Session? Surely it; was not the Earl of Derby. And on every occasion when their opposition could be mischievous, was not the Liberal party found opposed to the late Government? But it was not only in that House that the noble Lord had cause for complaint; he had been attacked by all their organs out of doors in the most virulent manner. Take, for instance, the pure and immaculate Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck), he who some time since was Chairman of the Purity Committee in that House, who prided himself on being the Andrew Marvel of the day;Such as Marvel was of old,When he scorned the placeman's gold.Even he, in a recent publication, characterised by all that "audacity and fluent acerbity"—he quoted the hon. Gentleman's own language—which he was so fond of ascribing to others, had lately given a History of the Whigs to the world, with which they could not be very highly pleased. Indeed, he did not find any more pleasant and instructive work than the History of the Whigs, written by Roebuck, unless it might be the history of Roebuck, written by Coppock. Much reference and many questions had been asked as to the principles upon which Her Majesty's Government founded their acceptation of office; but he had heard as yet no answer to the question upon what principles was the opposition by the noble Lord conducted. He did not expect that this discussion would have been turned, as it had been, into a corn-law debate. So much for the policy of the Liberal party; and he now turned to the noble Lord the Member for the city of London, who was so fond of boasting of his traditional policy when in office, that he (Mr. B. Cochrane) might be pardoned alluding to his traditional tactics when in opposition; and those tactics were, to bid high for Liberal support when he felt himself sinking, and to head a factious opposition when he was out. It would be in the remembrance of the House, that, after the Duke of Wellington had carried the Catholic Emancipation Bill, when he might have fairly calculated on the noble Lord's support, the noble Lord opposed the Government of the noble Duke, and ended by turning out the Government. When the noble Lord felt that his Administration was weak, he did not scruple to 1110 uphold the revolutionary language of the Birmingham Political Union. Should he allude to 1846, when the noble Lord turned out the Government on the Irish Life Protection Bill—that, after having supported the first reading of the Bill; and so immediately after the Vote that repealed the Corn Laws in the House of Commons, the same day saw the House of Lords repeal the Corn Laws, and the Minister who had carried that measure turned out of office! And now, in 1852, the noble Lord appeared to forget the fact that the Earl of Derby did not turn him out. Why, the blow came from a Liberal hand; it was his candid Friend sitting behind—'T was thine own friend who gave the final blow, And helped to plant the wound that laid thee low.He thought, therefore, that he was justified in saying that the noble Lord's conduct in opposition might be expressed by the word "faction." There was now a third party, of whom he would speak with all that respect which he owed to those who, at the cost of great personal sacrifice, had adhered to their opinions, with whom he had the honour of acting, but from whom he was now compelled to differ; but he would ask what practical good could they achieve in the negative position they now filled? He would ask them whether the highest political principles were not involved in the existence of party, whether, therefore, it were not well now to join the Conservative party in opposition to that combination which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department so truly characterised as destructive? Such were the parties, and, as he commenced by stating, although they were all opposed to the noble Lord while he was in office, they were now coalesced against the Earl of Derby: but how different was the tone of a noble Lord in another place! There was the voice of Jacob, here was the hand of Esau—there the noble Lord pledged himself against all factious opposition, and even expressed his regret that the late Government had remained so long in office. And it was because he (Mr. B. Cochrane) felt that the opposition with which they were now menaced was unjust, ill-advised, unpatriotic, because he felt that the present Administration was anxiously labouring to fulfil its great obligations, that he now gave his humble, but hearty and cordial, support to Her Majesty's Government.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I am 1111 anxious, before the present debate concludes, to state very shortly, and in a few words, the view which I, as an individual Member of this House, take of the present position of the Government, and the duty which I think lies upon this House to perform. Sir, the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from the Treasury benches have disclaimed any wish to appeal to the forbearance of the House. I am willing upon my part, and the House is willing, to show them all that forbearance which their present position entitles them to. Sir, their position is perfectly anomalous, and in principle perfectly unconstitutional. It is an accident, and therefore no blame attaches to them. But they are a minority proposing and intending to carry on the business of the country in a House of Commons in which they form a minority. It is perfectly obvious that state of things could not, under ordinary circumstances, last any period of time whatever. The course which a Government under these circumstances ought to pursue would be either to dissolve Parliament and appeal to the country, or to resign their offices and allow the majority to govern. They have recently been called to power by the resignation of those who form a majority in this House. A resignation would, therefore, be inconsistent with the decision they came to when they undertook to form a Government. Now a dissolution of Parliament is at the present moment, from the state of the business of the House, obviously an impossibility. The House ought, therefore, to give them their forbearance until they shall have so far conducted the necessary business of the country as to enable them to dissolve Parliament and appeal to the country. They have stated some measures which they think of urgent importance. I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, that one or two are of urgent importance, which they ought to be permitted to carry to a completion. Undoubtedly the measures which the Government propose to introduce for the internal defences of the country are most necessary, and particularly necessary if a dissolution takes place; the very fact of a dissolution being in prospect renders it more incumbent on them to carry through this measure. Well then, there is the Chancery Bill; the prospect of a Chancery suit is not very encouraging to those who think an early dissolution desirable. But I say the House ought to show forbear- 1112 ance to Her Majesty's Government until they shall have disposed of the necessary business of the country, so that a dissolution can take place. I think, however, that Her Majesty's Government, upon every principle of good faith to the country, on every principle of regard to their own consistency, and for the principles they have maintained, are bound to take an early opportunity of appealing to the country on the great principles of their commercial policy. And having taken the sense of the country it will be their duty to call Parliament together at an early period, so that there may be no delay in the next Parliament coming to a final decision on this most important subject. It would be most unfortunate to the country, most unfortunate for the many important commercial and agricultural interests involved, if this question was allowed to remain hung up in suspense until the ordinary meeting of Parliament in the commencement of the ensuing year. And therefore it seems to me that the Government ought not only to take the earliest opportunity of dissolving Parliament, but that there should be a clear understanding between the Government and the House, that as soon as in the regular course of things it could be accomplished, Parliament should be assembled to take these questions into consideration. Sir, as to the result of a general election I cannot entertain the smallest doubt, because I am convinced that the great mass of the intelligence of the country has long ago made up its mind upon this question, which is now disputed by Gentlemen opposite. It might no doubt be a matter of grave argument at the time when the sliding scale existed, whether a compromise might not have been made which might have lasted a great many years, and perfectly satisfied all classes of the community. But it is quite a different thing when the question has been settled and decided six years ago. When the feeling of the community has been adapted to the present state of things, it is quite a different matter to say that policy should be reversed, and that a duty should be now placed upon the food of the bulk of the community. I think that a grave and earnest proposal on the part of Her Majesty's Government to re-impose a duty upon the importation of corn, even though it did not succeed—and I am sure it never could succeed—would nevertheless array the feelings of the bulk of the poorer classes of this country against 1113 the superior orders in a manner that would be extremely injurious to that harmony and good feeling which ought, I think, to prevail between all classes of the people in this land. I am satisfied that nothing could be more detrimental to the real and true interests of the upper classes of the country than to inculcate the belief that they wished to raise the price of the food of the poor for the purpose of adding somewhat to the income of the rich. Sir, then, the view which I entertain shortly of the state of things is this, that the House of Commons ought to assist the Government to carry through such measures as may be necessary preliminary to a dissolution, and that the Government ought to allow Parliament to be dissolved as soon as the state of public business will admit of their doing so, and that as soon as the elections are over, again to assemble Parliament, in order to submit to the decision of the new House of Commons those controverted questions of commercial policy upon which they are now at variance with the present majority.
§ MR. GRANTLEY BERKELEY
said, the noble Lord who had just resumed his seat had spoken of the majority in that House. Would the noble Lord tell him where that majority was to be found? It certainly did not exist under the Ministry of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), for he had just vacated the Government for want of a majority; and assuredly not with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham). Neither did it exist with the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cobden). It was only to be found, therefore, in some combination of men of very extraordinary and conflicting opinions upon other political questions. Of these undoubtedly a majority might be found, which, by a factious course of proceeding, might be able to upset any proposal. He denied, as he always had done, that under free trade the employment of labour had increased. In his own county (Gloucester) the increase of machinery had, on the contrary, diminished the number of hands employed; and, so far from there being a larger demand for farms, as had been alleged by an hon. Member opposite, he could take upon himself to assert that property was greatly deteriorated in every part of the United Kingdom, and particularly in Ireland. The same hon. Member had alluded to the West Indian proprietors, and said that all they wanted was a restoration of slavery; but he (Mr. G. Berkeley) 1114 contended that they wanted nothing but the abolition of the import of slave produce into this country. He trusted that the present Government would have a fair chance; that there would not be any factious opposition, and that, at all events, a fair trial would be given to those who were placed in their present position simply because the late Ministry could no longer maintain theirs.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, the question before the House was evidently that of urging on the Government the propriety of a speedy dissolution of Parliament, and the impressing on them the necessity of an immediate appeal to the constituencies for the verdict which they desired to obtain on the commercial policy of the country. But if he understood the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench who had spoken that evening, they chalked out enough of business to keep the House together till July or August. That was not a speedy dissolution. What he called a speedy dissolution was a dissolution in two or three weeks after the Government had obtained some necessary votes, and passed the Mutiny Bill. If they were to enter upon the Militia Bill, he was afraid it would lead to a protracted opposition; and as they now had done thirty-seven years without it, he did not think they would undertake a very great risk by going six weeks longer without one. If they waited to get through the private business, they would have to wait till July. But that would not be necessary, for resolutions might be passed in the new Parliament, authorising parties to take up Bills at the stages at which they were left when the dissolution took place. The expense that would arise to individuals from a dissolution would be thus obviated. There was a precedent for this in the course followed when the Parliament was dissolved in 1831. If they were to be charged with faction for asking questions of the new Government as to their future intentions, it was the most extraordinary definition of faction he ever heard. In fact, he never clearly understood what the word "faction" meant. It never could mean Members of Parliament putting questions to a new Government as to their policy previous to granting them a supply of money. Could there be a duty more imperative upon that House, a more legitimate duty, than, when the Crown had exercised its prerogative in selecting new servants, that the House should step in and ascertain whether they 1115 were entitled to the confidence of the country? He, for one, should be sorry to vote a want of confidence in the Government; but then it was incumbest on them to declare their policy. Why, then, were they to be charged with faction for pursuing so legitimate a course? The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said that he did not intend to reverse the free-trade policy, but only to modify and to alter the Corn Laws. Now the precedent of 1841 was alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman. Let him, however, remind the right hon. Gentleman of a part of that precedent of 1841. When the Government of that day announced their intention in the Parliament in which a vote of want of confidence had been moved, of proposing in a new Parliament a scheme for relaxing the corn laws—when this announcement was made, the then head of the Opposition informed the Government that it was their duty to lay their measure before the country, in order that such important interests might not be left in uncertainty and in doubt. The Government of that day were pressed by the Opposition, supported by the hon. Gentlemen who now sat opposite, to state their measure, and then appeal to the country. In like manner he would maintain that if it was the intention of the Government to modify and alter the settlement of the Corn Law question, in the sense of making it more restrictive, it was their duty, on their own showing, to lose no time in submitting their measures before appealing to the country. At that advanced hour it would not be becoming in him (Mr. M. Gibson) to add anything to the able statement of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham). But with regard to the insinuations as to combination and alliances advanced by the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department, in the sense which had been described by an eminent writer as a sort of "hobgoblin argument," that these meetings which had been held had other objects in view than those openly stated, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he was very much mistaken. The object of those Gentlemen who attended these meetings was not one of party politics, not to organise political alliances to change the Government, or to effect political arrangements in this country, but it was to save the country from the great evil of allowing the policy of free trade to be jeopardised, and to combine as many Gentlemen as possible (let their general politics be what 1116 they might), to prevent a policy which was so beneficial to the country from being reversed. Before he sat down he should wish to caution hon. Members connected with the rural districts not to practise again on the credulity of the tenant-farmers. He would advise them not to hold out themselves as the friends of the farmer; because they might rest assured that although in a new Parliament they might make some effort to show that their course had been honourable, and that they had been consistent in their conduct, they nevertheless would fail in their attempt to reimpose a duty on corn. And if they continued to hold out hopes to the farmers which they were unable to fulfil, he would tell them that they were not acting the part of friendship to the farmers, and they would be doing all that in them lay to arrest the progress of agricultural improvement, and be militating much against the interests of the occupying tenantry of England.
§ SIR JOHN TYRELL
said, he must congratulate the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) on the great unanimity which prevailed amongst those Gentlemen who sat behind him. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon had delivered himself of a lecture to the agricultural Members of that House as to the course they should pursue; but he would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would take the sense of the county of Cumberland upon the principles he had advocated? When he recollected that it was only a short time ago that the noble Lord committed the mistake of dismissing the ablest of his Colleagues in the Government, and that the House and her Majesty's Ministers were placed in their present position by reason of the noble Lord having dissolved his own Cabinet for want of the necessary amount of support in that House, he owned that the combination which he witnessed that night struck him as one of the most extraordinary that had ever occurred in the history of parties. It was too evident that there were combinations amongst them for the purpose of securing to one party the power of governing the affairs of the country. But it was not to be supposed that old hacks in office were the only men fit to carry on the Government. He charged the noble Lord and the Members of the late Government with having availed themselves of the influence of the resuscitated League for this purpose, and with having used every mode 1117 of exciting the country, more especially by their speeches that evening. But they had failed, and, what was more, although the party opposite might have a majority in the House, the good sense of the people of this country would give Her Majesty's Ministers a fair trial, and not suffer the Government to be displaced by any such singular combinations as that which lately assembled in Chesham Place.
§ MR. OSWALD
said, he was much disappointed by the speech of the lion. Member for North Essex. From a plain English country Gentleman he should have expected to hear something that they could understand. But it was now quite evident that he was a Disraelite indeed. He was astonished that no Member of the Government had got up after the addresses of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), and of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston)—both of whom strongly put before the House the necessity for a dissolution at the speediest possible period—to state that they would at once go to the country. They should not attempt to palter with the country as they did with their own followers, and leave England for an indefinite time in a state of suspense upon this all-important matter. Some Member of the Government should have arisen and told the House whether the Government dared to appeal to the people upon this one question—for there was but one question before the country, namely, whether we should tax bread for the purpose of putting money in the landlord's pocket. ["Oh, oh!"] That was the only question to be decided. They might try to lead the country away by other cries, and some of them would do it; but that was really the only question which the country demanded should be decided at the present time; and if experience, wisdom, and eloquence could do it, the House must now be impressed with the great necessity that existed for a speedy solution of the question. That was the truth. There was hesitation as yet in proposing this; and in the meantime let the occupants of the Treasury benches prepare themselves for the murmurs of their supporters. Those right hon. Gentlemen would richly deserve the punishment in store for them. They had themselves made use of every epithet of contumely against one who was now no more, and against all who had acted with that great man. The word "traitor" had been frequently heard; and he (Mr. Oswald) had 1118 himself been called a "renegade." Did they think that gentlemen of honour could forget easily such insults? He (Mr. Oswald) forgave them from his heart. But it required every Christian forbearance not in some degree to rejoice that on that Treasury bench were now sitting the men to whom the very same terms would in turn be applied. He had sat in silence on this subject for many a long year. But the hour had now come, and, perhaps, the man—perhaps the Friend of him whom the country lamented, to whom in every great mart of commerce statues were being raised; this Friend might now avenge the manes that had called for vengeance too long. [Laughter.] Aye, there was now laughter, but they would not laugh when they were on the hustings. Every cottage home in England now held a family with bread enough and to spare; and how much had the landlords sacrificed to produce that result? How much suffering had they gone through? He (Mr. Oswald) was a landed proprietor; and if they in Scotland had got over the late crisis, the greatness of which all must admit, he did not see why the gentlemen of England should not do so too. There was, indeed, much apathy and much bad farming in some places; but a reimposition of bad laws would only tend to make the bad farming worse. As to the condition of the landowners, he believed their rentals had been increasing at the very time when they were most clamorous for this protection—at the time they wished to take the bread from the poor man's mouth. ["Oh, oh!"] They might not like to hear the truth told; but that was the truth, however unpalatable it might be. In conclusion, he should recommend the Government to take the earliest opportunity of appealing to the people upon this most important question.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that as an individual member of the party with which the present Government were connected, he was tired of this talking of forbearance, and of the ostentatious but hollow display of forbearance, made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Heaven defend them from the Christian forbearance of the hon. Member for Ayrshire, who had risen the picture of suppressed wrath, and made a speech, the venom of which was only mitigated by his awkwardness of expression! He (Mr. Newdegate) would ask why, if Gentlemen opposite were in such haste for a dissolution, they did not, being 1119 a majority, exercise their power? They seemed to have a lingering apprehension that the present Government might propose and pass measures which would gain the approbation of the country; it was possible, that, aided by the high legal attainments of Members the Government, under the auspices of the present Lord Chancellor, their law measures might contrast favourably with those of the former Government; that, with Lord Hardinge at the Ordnance, the organisation proposed for the militia might be superior to the crude proposal of the late Government. But the fact was this—the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, after the declaration he had made on quitting office, that a dissolution before the passing of the Mutiny Bill, and measures for supplying the national establishments, would be unjustifiable, dare not, if he would retain the character of a loyal subject, force a dissolution; and that no right hon. Gentleman would risk his character by forcing a dissolution before provision had been made for the security and necessary establishments of the country. In fact, what had occurred that evening and on Friday last in the House, was but a phase of agitation. Strange allusions had been made to the prospect of a change in the present commercial policy, and to the effect which any attempt to alter or modify that policy would, in the opinion of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, produce. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had adverted to Lord Derby's statement that he sought to reconcile classes between which there were differences, and to promote peace and good-will among Her Majesty's subjects; but passing straightway to his own theme, laboured to sow discord among the various classes of the community. In 1842 he (Mr. Newdegate), as a magistrate, collected evidence implicating members of the Anti-Corn-Law League, as instigators of the disturbances of that year; which evidence was forwarded to the right hon. Baronet as Home Secretary, but was never heard of again. Last year, that right hon. Baronet threatened that, if the commercial measures of the Government with which he had been connected, were altered or modified, the loyalty of the Army would be doubtful; and now, the right hon. Gentleman had announced he was prepared to use "any means" to prevent those measures being revised. His previous conduct and declarations gave that expression "any means" a very wide interpretation. 1120 Hon. Members connected with the party now in power desired no violent measures; they calmly and in an honest spirit sought justice for all the great producing interests. The party now in power had, by their conduct during the last six years, proved that protection by the imposition of duties upon corn was not the only object of the policy to which they were attached. They had proved themselves protectionists of the interests of the poor. ["Oh, oh!"] Would hon. Gentlemen deny that the members of this party had formed the bulk of the majority which had carried Mr. Etwall's Motion, and Mr. Christie's Amendment, for the inquiry into the abuses which had taken place in the Andover Union, the result of which was the revision of the New Poor Law. No one could deny that they had carried that Motion against the right hon. Member for Ripon, when Secretary of State for the Home Department. The party now in power had proved themselves Protectionists of the labour of young people employed in factories, for members of that party had supplied by far the greater part of the majority which carried the Ten Hours' Act. They had proved themselves Protectionists of the Christian character of the State—that Christian character which constituted the guarantee given by the State to the people of this country, that the laws enacted by Parliament, and the administration of them, should be based upon the morality of the Gospel, while it secured for the laws thus passed the sanction of religion. The party with whom he had the honour to be connected, had, moreover, proved themselves Protectionists of the Protestant character of the constitution, and of the national independence; they had for years defended the laws which guard the Protestantism of the Constitution against the assaults of hon. Gentlemen opposite; for years they had defended those laws, before many of their quondam opponents had become aware of the reality of the danger which threatened the Constitution, and consented to extend and declare those laws by the Ecclesiastical Titles Act of last Session, The party of the Government had proved themselves Protectionists, not of agriculture only, for they had acted on the principle so eloquently stated by that noble Lord whose statue now stands in Cavendish-square, that it is the duty of the Legislature and Government of this great country to promote, encourage, and protect British industry and British capital where- 1121 ever it may be found—at home, on the ocean, or in the colonies. Such were the principles upon which the party now in power were combined, and it was owing to their combination on those principles that the party possessed the compactness and the strength which had rendered their accession to office inevitable. Such were the principles of the party from which the present Government were formed. If hon. Members desired a dissolution, let them use their power as a majority of that House—they would do it on their own responsibility. But he warned them that they would not be permitted to appeal to the country on the narrow issue to which they desired to reduce the question—whether a 5s. duty upon corn should or should not be levied. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon was always talking of his being a landowner and a country gentleman, and had said that the abolition of the corn laws had not caused a reduction of his rents; he (Mr. Newdegate) declared, as a country gentleman, he would be ashamed to receive the same rents now as before the corn laws were repealed. The right hon. Baronet alluded to the fact that the Duke of Buccleuch had at first agreed with the Earl of Derby in refusing his sanction to the measures of 1846, but subsequently yielded; and then the right hon. Gentleman said free trade was advantageous because it had not injured the Duke of Buccleuch. But there was another question—had it injured the Duke of Buccleuch's tenantry? Had it benefited the ploughman, the carter, and the labourer? He had been in the south of Scotland last autumn, where lie some of the princely domains of that noble Duke, and he believed that the condition of the labouring population there was anything but satisfactory. Able and well-informed farmers had there told him that they were poor, and that their best labourers were emigrating to the United States. Again, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon had declared, and sought to prove, that this country had not become more dependent upon foreigners for food, because he would have it believed, that the production of food within this country was not contracted, but had increased under free trade. If he had chosen to examine the accounts returned in the Gazette office, he would find that in the 290 principal markets of England and Wales, from which returns were furnished by inspectors, the quantity of corn sold in 1851 1122 was less than that sold in 1845, by 2,000,000 quarters. In 1845, the exports of wheat from Ireland to England were 776,000 quarters; last year they very little exceeded 100,000 quarters. From Scotland there were no returns. But, so far back as 1849, 150,000 acres less of wheat were grown in Ireland than in 1845. He (Mr. Newdegate) could not forget that the right hon. Baronet had urged upon his own tenants within this year the necessity for their abandoning the cultivation of wheat, and substituting that of flax. If, therefore, the advice of the right hon. Gentleman was followed, the diminution of the growth of bread corn in the United Kingdom, lamentable as it was, would be progressive. He (Mr. Newdegate) almost fancied he was in a dream, when he heard the right hon. Gentleman boasting of universal prosperity. He must have forgotten the fact stated by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade recently at Oxford, namely, that the capital assessed under Schedule D of the Income Tax, had diminished by 14,000,000l. since 1845. The losses of our merchants last year were exceedingly heavy, as was attested by the lengthened list of bankruptcies and insolvencies. If hon. Gentlemen opposite desired an immediate dissolution so earnestly, they might force the Government to it; but upon their heads let the responsibility of such a course rest. Whenever a dissolution came, he had no fear as to the result. He believed it would result in a great accession of strength to the party of which he was a member; and he further believed that the present policy would not be suffered to continue unmodified.
§ SIR ALEXANDER COCKBURN
said, that he did not think it necessary at that late hour to follow the hon. Member into all the various topics to which he had referred in connexion with protection and free trade. The whole of the present debate, as he understood it, was to elicit from Her Majesty's Government the policy as regarded the trade and commerce of the country upon which they intended to conduct the business of the country. It had been said that there was no occasion for any question to be put to them with respect to that policy, inasmuch as that policy was evident from what had fallen from the noble Earl at the head of the Government in another place. The difficulty he admitted did not rest upon the language of the noble Earl; but from the fact of the 1123 language of his supporters being so completely at variance with the opinion which the noble Earl then expressed. Inasmuch as an appeal was to be made to the people, and the feeling of the House was such as to render a dissolution inevitable, it was desirable (to use an expression of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer) that the country should have fair play, and understand the question at issue. The right hon. Gentleman had given a very unsatisfactory solution to the question put by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) which was very simple and specific—"Do you, in that Parliament which will soon be summoned, intend to propose the imposition of any duty on the food of the people?" The right hon. Gentleman promised to deal frankly with the question, and the expectation of every one was raised to the highest pitch; but after a great deal of circumlocution and many promises of candour, the right hon. Gentleman said the Government would not consider themselves bound in the next Session of Parliament to propose any measure for the imposition of a duty on corn. What was the meaning of that answer? Did it mean that the Government would do so or not? He thought the solution of the question was to be found in the language held out of doors by other Members of the Government, because on the hustings hon. Members had not scrupled to tell their constituents that upon the result of the next election would depend their determination to impose a protecting duty. He would ask the Government, therefore, did they mean to bring forward the question of protection, of the imposition of a duty on corn, if the result should be the return of a majority in their favour, and that they would abstain from doing so if the result should be adverse? If that was the solution of the ambiguous, unsatisfactory, uncandid answer of the right hon. Gentleman, the Government were placing themselves in a most humiliating and degrading position. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but he apprehended that the Government which had no policy except that of subserviency to a majority, for the purpose of maintaining office, was in a humiliating and degrading position. Having pledged themselves firmly to protection, he wished to know if they intended to leave that question contingent on the result of the next election. There was no disposition to a factious or ungenerous opposition on the part of that (the Oppo- 1124 sition) side of the House; but on a question of this importance it was only fair and reasonable they should tell the country the policy they meant to propose; for was it not idle to pretend they would take the sense of the country if they did not tell the country the question really at issue. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department said they were not prepared to reverse the free-trade policy, but would propose a modification of that policy. Now, he again asked, what was the meaning of the Government? and whether the modification of the right hon. Gentleman meant the imposition of duties and taxes upon the food of the people. It was essential that the people should understand that there was a policy by which the Government meant to stand or fall, or whether they merely proposed to stand the chances of the next election on the principle of "Heads, I win; Tails, you lose." He had always understood that their desire for power was ennobled by the desire to carry out great measures and a great principle. He should deeply regret to see a Government, though composed of political opponents, abandon so broad a basis, and make principles merely subservient to place.
§ MR. BOOKER
said, he could not understand why the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir A. Cockburn), had, at that late and tranquil hour of the night, and in his learned leisure, wasted such an amount of virtuous indignation on hon. Gentlemen seated at the Ministerial side of the House. He seemed to mistake his position, and to think that he had a Chancellor of the Exchequer under cross-examination. Formerly it used to be said that the opposition offered to free trade was factious, inasmuch as free trade was a great experiment, and should have a patient trial. It was said only a few weeks ago that protection was dead, and would never rise again; but it was quite clear, from the fearful agitation of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and from the combination of the most heterogeneous parties, that it had not only risen again, but was in full vigour. He had heard with astonishment the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon dilate upon the measures of free trade, and the results of those measures. If the effects of free trade were so apparent, how was it that while the industry and labour of the people had been stimulated to an excess unparalleled—that while our exports and imports had nearly doubled, yet that the test of the 1125 nation's prosperity, the income tax, did not exceed last year what it amounted to the first year it was imposed as a national burden? He was also astonished to hear the right hon. Baronet say that a duty of 5s. on corn would not be productive of such and such an amount. Why, it was the boast of free trade that it had during the last five years been the means of bringing into consumption upwards of 50,000,000 quarters of corn, and it was well known from the public returns that the diminution of agricultural produce in Ireland had amounted to the extent of nearly 10,000,000 quarters a year. He utterly denied that the import of 50,000,000 quarters a year had added to the wealth, comfort, or happiness of the people. It had been merely a substitution, or rather annihilation of our own produce, inflicting ruin upon the sister kingdom, which would shortly overtake ourselves. Such a system was a system of hollowness and hypocrisy to which he would not be a party; on the contrary, he would lend his aid to modify it in the first place, and felt certain that it must ultimately be reversed. The son and successor of the late Henry 6rattan (Mr. Grattan), had, in an address on the 8th February last, said—Tinnehinch, Feb. 28, 1852.Gentlemen—On my return from your assizes, it occurred to me that it might be useful to address a few lines to you, and I take this liberty, having been so long one of your representatives.I need not tell you how important is the present crisis, and how it becomes us all who have an interest in land, in our farmers, in our country, now to make a struggle, and to insist from a Protectionist Ministry for duties on foreign productions and foreign competition. We should not ask this were we fighting a fair fight, but it is not so. Protection, as it is called, has not been removed, or done away; it has been transferred from us who fight the battles and pay the taxes for the support of our free institutions, to those who do neither; who have little taxes and no freedom; or, I should rather say, to those who fight the battle against us and our free institutions, and against whom we are at this moment engaged in arming rifle corps and militia. We have enriched our enemy, we have impoverished our country, and we are now being taxed for our own defence. Ireland has been depopulated, her houses levelled, her farmers bankrupt, her estates in Incumbered Courts, her exports reduced to little as well as her circulation. The Celt will soon be known only by name; sheep and cattle now take the place of the people, and the stranger with capital and large farms. To such a system has the law of free trade driven the landed proprietor of Ireland, he cannot keep the people and get rent. I do believe that in the last few years, such desolation as has occurred in Ireland is unparalleled in history, and yet the rents of land are lower than in any country between this and 1126 Naples; and you may depend upon it, that, when the cultivation of wheat shall have been abandoned in Ireland, and it is already greatly diminished, and all the capital and labour spent in that cultivation lost and absorbed, you will then have the big loaf as small as ever. With such prospects, it behoves all Irishmen to be up and doing.'Lives there a man with soul so dead,Who never to himself hath said—This is my own, my native land?'Gentlemen, in this state, and with such prospects, should you not find Members to act for you, I, for one, if called on, am ready again to come forward, and to aid in averting, so far as in me lies, the provincial degradation into which my country is fast sinking.—I have the honour to be, yours,J. GRATTAN.He (Mr. Booker) threw these matters out for the consideration of hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, who he hoped would act on them. Though representing an agricultural constituency, he was also engaged in commercial affairs, and between both pursuits perhaps some 4,000 or 5,000 were dependent on him; therefore, he felt himself in a position to give as correct an opinion as to the effects of free trade as any hon. Gentleman present. He asked for the Government what he should give them himself—fair play. He thought it was their duty, as soon as the public business would allow, to appeal to the sense of the country on this subject. They had stated that by the result of their appeal their future policy would be guided, and he did not think it becoming in an ex-Attorney General to seek to pin them down to give an answer, aye or no, to the questions that that learned Gentleman had propounded to them.
§ Question put, and agreed to,
§ House in Committee of Supply.
§ (1) 39,000 Seamen, and Naval Reserve of 5,000 Men.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
hoped the hon. Gentleman would allow one vote to be taken. He feared the hon. Gentleman had misunderstood the character of the debate of that evening, for he thought there was great anxiety expressed to advance all necessary measures. They would never reach the Mutiny Act unless they got on; and he hoped at least one vote would be taken.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, that if this vote were allowed, the whole of the Naval Estimates would be taken.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
would not press a vote against any rule that had been made; but this was an exception which proved the rule, and the circumstances under which it was proposed were peculiar.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, he would agree to the vote being taken. He had never concurred in the opinion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume), that no vote should be taken after midnight. If there was any objection to the number of 39,000 men, the House would no doubt be ready to hear it. Another reason for agreeing to the vote, was, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had that night heard the opinions of many Members, with respect to the expediency of the Government advising a dissolution of Parliament, after the necessary business had been gone through, without the House being called on to take into consideration any of the other measures which the Government had stated they were about to bring forward. Perhaps, before Friday, the next day for going into Committee of Supply, the Government would reconsider their course, and concur in the wish which had been expressed in the debate of that night. He should be sorry to give a vote adverse to the Government in Committee of Supply, if they merely went on with Supply, without entering on measures with a view to a protracted Session.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the noble Lord only did him justice in believing that it was his duty and his pleasure to listen to the sentiments of the House, and to defer to its predominant feeling; but he was sure the noble Lord would not ask to come on the sudden to a decision on this point. He had watched with much attention the proceedings of the evening; but when the noble Lord said that all the Government was required to do was to pass the proper measures necessary for the service of the country, he must remind him that on that evening there was a very important difference between two of the most eminent supporters of the noble Lord with regard to what measures were necessary. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), who had given a very guarded encouragement to the Government, had most unequivocally declared the imminent necessity of a measure for the establishment of the Militia. Immediately after one of the most distin- 1128 guished members of the resuscitated Anti-Corn-Law League rose in his place and denied that there was any necessity for such a measure. While he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was always ready to consult the predominant feeling of the House, and to defer to the general sentiments of its Members, he thought that as there was to be an interval before this subject was to be brought forward again, it would be extremely desirable for the noble Lord to summon his supporters again, and get them to agree as to what measures they deemed to be necessary. Before the noble Lord lectured him, and stated that he would support Votes of Supply, but not measures which would waste time—among others, such an important measure as the establishing of the Militia, which the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton said was most necessary—it would perhaps be expedient for the noble Lord to come to an understanding with his friends a3 to what measures were not necessary to be passed, before an appeal was made to the country.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
had not said that he should oppose all measures that were brought forward which would waste time, but that he would agree to Votes of Supply, but not to other measures which might be brought forward, and which would lengthen the Session, and, although useful were not necessary.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
did not object to the number of men, but he objected to taking a vote after twelve o'clock.
§ Vote agreed to; as were also,
§ (2) 1,449,054l., Wages to ditto.
§ (3) 506,578l., Victuals to ditto.
§ Resolutions to be reported.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at One o'clock.