rose, in pursuance of notice, to move the following Resolutions:—That it is the opinion of this House, that the improved condition of the Country, and particularly of the Industrious Classes, is mainly the result of recent Commercial Legislation, and especially of the Act of 1846, which established the free admission of Foreign Corn, and that that Act was a wise, just, and beneficial measure.That it is the opinion of this House, that the maintenance and further extension of the policy of Free Trade, as opposed to that of Protection, will best enable the property and industry of the Nation to bear the burthens to which they are exposed, and will most contribute to the general prosperity, welfare, and contentment of the people.That this House is ready to take into its consideration any measures consistent with the principles of these Resolutions which may be laid before it by Her Majesty's Ministers.The hon. Gentleman then said: Sir, in rising to submit to this House the Resolutions of which I have given notice, I think it right to state why I have deemed it my duty to persevere in the Motion, and why I did not accede to the request which was made to me originally by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that I would postpone the Motion until a time subsequent to his proposal of some measures which he said he wished to lay before the House. With this view I beg first to call the attention of the House to its own position with respect to the great matter which we are specially summoned at this unusual, and perhaps inconvenient, season to settle. It will be remembered, that on the first night of the Session, there was a sort of general concurrence in the propriety of not moving an Amendment to the Address; which I think was chiefly occasioned by a feeling, that as this Session was a special one, a more deliberate consideration might be given to this subject upon some future or distinct 352 occasion. It was under these circumstances that, on the first evening I gave notice that I should, on a future occasion, bring the matter distinctly under the notice of the House. But, Sir, one of the consequences of the unanimity which prevailed on the first night of this Session was, that this House became bound by the contents of the Address; and with respect to that particular matter on which we were supposed to have been summoned, we were bound by that paragraph or passage in the Speech which had reference to it, which was the subject of observation on that night, and which, I may add, was at that time so justly and so generally objected to by the House, and I am not exaggerating the case, when I say which, under all the circumstances, has been so universally condemned. Something like an official intimation of the opinion of the Government upon the great matter on which the last Parliament had been dissolved and the new Parliament had been called together, was expected; persons were hoping either to hear that opinion intimated through the Speech, or the view entertained by the Government of the opinion which the country had expressed on the subject; but where they expected to have this information, nothing is found but what I think has been properly designated an unworthy evasion of the whole matter. Whereas it was expected to find something in that part of the speech distinctly stated, they found nothing decided, nothing asserted, something implied which was very questionable, while the paragraph concluded in terms which I venture to say there was not a man who did not consider were used purposely not to be respectful to this House. I say that, Sir, most advisedly. I do not believe, at least in the modern days of Parliament, that there has ever been such a paragraph penned or addressed by any Ministry to this House. We all know what is meant by a reference to "the wisdom of Parliament." Why, it is the cant sarcasm or cynical reflection commonly made upon the character of this House, Whenever anybody wants to satirise this House, he refers in a sneering tone to its wisdom. That may or may not be just; but I say it is the custom, and I say also that there was not a man in this House, and I. believe there was not a man out of this House, who did not recognise this object in the terms used on the occasion. And that is the paragraph in the Speech 353 which was intended to satisfy this country upon a question distinctly put in issue when Parliament was dissolved, to which an answer is said to have been given, and for which Parliament has been summoned expressly to declare. Why, Sir, I am at a loss to understand how hon. Gentlemen opposite can honestly say that for a moment they supposed that such a passage in such a Speech would be at all satisfactory to what they themselves have described as "the great majority of this House." And still more am I surprised to learn, from what has passed recently in another place, that it was not only expected to he satisfactory, but that anybody who disputes the matter—anybody who is not satisfied with such an allusion to the great matter in question—is factious, and raises a question about it for the purpose of opposing the Government, or resisting the measures which are in contemplation for the benefit of the country. Sir, it is on this account that I consider it most important that this House should come to some positive declaration on the great question at issue. This House is put in a position anything but satisfactory by the decision of the other night. I said before, and I repeat, that no Amendment having been moved to the Address, the House has become bound by its contents; and, with reference to the condition of the country, it is bound by the passage in the Speech to which I have referred; and I ask whether that is a decent or a satisfactory way for this House to represent the opinion so strongly expressed by the country upon a great question submitted to it? But the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested to me to waive the Motion of which I gave notice, for the purpose of first hearing the measures which he had to propose. Now, Sir, I really do not understand the logic of such a proposition. This House is met at this time, as I have said before, for the purpose of receiving the answer of the country upon a matter distinctly referred to it—the policy which is to regulate the commercial interests of the country. I am only saying that which was stated by the First Minister at the beginning of the last Session, and repeated by him last night, when I assert that is the purpose for which we are assembled at this unusual time of the year. The right hon. Gentleman, without anything having been conveyed in the Speech as to the opinion of the Government upon this subject, or with 354 regard to the elections which have taken place, proposes, or at least suggests to me, that I should waive the proposition which I now make for a distinct decision of the House, until he brings in certain measures. Now, I don't know what these certain measures have to do with the purpose for which we have met. I do not remember that the last Parliament was dissolved for the purpose of taking an opinion on any measures, and I am not aware that any measures have been submitted to the country. I do not deny that certain intimations were made in another place of measures which were to please everybody, if only a reasonable time were given for their introduction. That may all make a very good story for Gentlemen to tell their constituents, or for Cabinet Ministers to announce to their party, but it will not do for a House of Commons assembled for a specific purpose, and determined to fulfil the purpose for which we are met. We have a distinct recollection of the purpose for which the Parliament was dissolved; and it was, as was said the other night, to be because the First Minister of the Crown could not make up his mind to change his opinion on a certain important subject, and thought proper to assume that there was a doubt upon the matter, and to take the opinion of the country as to whether he was right or wrong in the course he had adopted. As far as I could understand that Minister, last year, he consented to be tried by his country: he submitted himself—I will not repeat the irreverent addition he made—to that ordeal; he said he would be tried by his country, and that is sufficient to justify my Motion. He has been tried, and, as it seems to me, has been found wrong, though now he seems to start afresh, and says, "Well, if that won't do, I must try something else." Certainly, says the First Minister, "you differ from me in this matter; but if you only give me a little time, I have got a Colleague so fertile in his resources, and of such transcendent abilities, that he will soon prepare a substitute for you—something that you will be delighted with—something that, if he is only permitted to produce it, is sure to be satisfactory to all parties." I do not deny that this is possible. There are geniuses of that kind, particularly in connexion with medicine, who discover remedies for every evil to which the flesh is heir; and I have no doubt but that this Colleague is preparing measures which will be universally palat- 355 able, if he has only plenty of time to produce them. But in the meantime we must think of the business for which we are assembled, and come to the decision for which we have met. I am perfectly astonished to hear that a Motion so obvious, so reasonable, as I hope that is which I am about to submit to the House, one so strictly consistent with the purpose for which we are assembled, and the object with which we were dissolved and dispersed through the country—I am perfectly astonished to hear that the very mention of such a fair common-sense proposition is considered by Her Majesty's Government and their supporters to be factious. Framed for the purpose of overthrowing the Government Yarned for the purpose of thwarting Ministers! Really, I do not know why I am implicitly to trust this Government, or to rest satisfied with their reputation for consistency! I do not see why such faith in them should be expected from any man. I dare say that before this debate terminates, we shall have plenty of reasons given why we should all agree; but still I cannot think my offence deserves the name of factiousness, or—seeing that the Government has not yet intimated its opinion—why I should not submit some Motion to the House of Commons, in order that it may express its collective opinion, in obedience to the directions its Members have received from their constituents. Moreover, I have no idea of what the measures are which the right hon. Gentleman is to propose with a view of silencing a factious opposition. I certainly have read the public papers, and have endeavoured to collect the information which is open to everybody, and I have found the same difficulty which I believe has been felt by every one, in tracing out the real character of these measures. I have read carefully the speeches of persons supposed to be in the confidence of Her Majesty's Government. One of them, a noble Marquess, when addressing an agricultural audience, said that he had received no distinct intimation of what the Cabinet contemplated, but he felt perfectly convinced that they in some way or other intended to advance the agricultural interest, whether by a tax on spring corn, or by meddling with the currency of the country, he could not say, but relief was in some way or other to be afforded. Turning our view to Essex, we see a Gentleman there, who has given his attention particularly to the currency, and 356 who intimates that there can be no justice for the farmers until that most unwise measure, the law of 1819, is repealed. Again, a Gentleman high in the confidence of Government, one holding a most important position in the Government, goes down to Lincolnshire and informs the farmers there—1 don't allude to his original speech, in which he stated the grounds of his confidence in Lord Derby, that he knew his Lordship to be a thorough protectionist, one who had nothing at heart but the re-enactment of a protectionist policy—I will not allude to that speech, it is too old, it was made some months ago—but I allude to the speech of a week ago, which I consider to be important. In that speech he says that there are only two courses open to the Government: either to return to protection, or to give the agriculturists in its place something as good, which, as I venture to read it, would be, something quite as bad. These, then, are the measures shadowed out by Members in the confidence of the Government, and still the hon. Gentleman says—"Let me bring forward my measures, let me have the precedence of you." Of me, who want to lay down some principle upon which the country ought to regulate its commerce, or, according to an expression used in the House of Lords, its interests. Before you do that, says the right hon. Gentleman, let me introduce my measures. But the right hon. Gentleman asks me to assume that some mischief has been done, and that some reparation is required, which he must be aware I deny in toto, and declare the direct opposite to be the case. Then I am told of recent converts. I hear of persons who are honestly desirous of supporting our policy—persons, too, who on both sides of the House are tender on the subject—and I am told that we have framed our Resolutions purposely to offend these converts. Give us some information that they are honest converts, and that they adopt our views of commercial policy, and certainly they shall receive all forbearance from this side of the House. But, as far as I can understand, the converts to free trade, if converts at all, are so from necessity. You have dissolved the last Parliament, and you have got a verdict against you; and you, what you call, bow to the verdict of the country. Certainly I must say that a more convenient course for a party I never heard of, than that of dissolving Parliament to obtain a verdict from public 357 opinion as to whether they are right or wrong, and the adoption of such course afterwards. One cannot but be amused at it. To use a rather vulgar metaphor, it is merely, "heads, I win, tails, you lose." If protection succeeds, so much the better, we are all right. If free trade is successful, we "bow" to the verdict of the country, but at all events we remain in. I never should have made these observations, nor have taken this line of argument, had not my Motion been stigmatised as factious. I want to justify my course, and to show to the country that I am reasonable in calling for a distinct declaration of the principles that are to guide the Government. I believe that the country has declared itself to be perfectly satisfied with its experience of recent commercial policy, and don't want to have it changed. On the contrary, they want to have it declared settled, and extended, too. And I cannot understand why the Government should hesitate to declare itself satisfied and determined to carry that policy out to its fullest extent. If I am to understand the arguments or speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, or at least of the First Minister of the Crown, they mean that the latter has not abandoned his opinions at all, but is of the same opinion still. That being the case, I cannot understand that there is anything unreasonable in the country declaring—leaving the First Minister to his opinions—that they also adhere to their opinions, and that they should be expressed by their representatives in this House. I do not believe that a public meeting could be called in any part of the country, when the persons assembled would not declare that they had derived the greatest advantages from the changes which legislation had made in our commercial policy, that they were satisfied with them, and that they did not wish to return to the old system. Then I want to know why the House of Commons is the last place in which such opinions are to be declared. Why are we to come with "bended knee and bated breath" to whisper something conditional and equivocal, like this paragraph in the Queen's Speech, which seems to intimate that evil had resulted from the commercial changes, and that the first business of Parliament should be to remedy that evil? That paragraph is vague and mysterious: we don't understand it. We, the majority of this House, think, and have declared elsewhere, that the recent changes were wise 358 and beneficial, and we are assembled here to declare them so. There is one thing, moreover, which cheers me on, and which satisfies me of the propriety of my making this Motion, namely, that it has already done some good—the good, that it has produced the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have derived the greatest satisfaction from seeing his Amendment, which is not an amendment on my Resolution, but a great amendment of his own politics and that of his party, particularly as they are propounded in the Queen's Speech, and especially in a recent one by the First Minister of the Crown. And I can hardly be induced to withdraw my Resolution for the sake of this Amendment, because I think that any man of common sense seeing the two propositions would say that mine was the Amendment, and the right hon. Gentleman's the original proposition. Neither would I withdraw it, if it was only from the good it had done already. I will not despair that before the close of the evening, or of the week, the right hon. Gentleman may adopt my Resolution—perhaps vote for it. There is one point in the Amendment that brings us so near to an agreement that I am in hopes we shall have but one division, or perhaps none. It. is a most valuable admission, "that one of the Acts of our recent legislation had cheapened provisions, and thereby greatly improved the condition of the working classes." I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that point; and so much do I agree with him that I have specifically referred to that Act; and so entirely do I agree with him in his reference to that Act, which has cheapened provisions, and thereby improved the condition of the working classes, which the right hon. Gentleman, in his Amendment, says it has, that I have characterised it as a wise and just measure. If the right hon. Gentleman still requires me to withdraw my Resolution, he will feel obliged to tell me why an Act which, according to his own Amendment, has conferred such an inestimable blessing on the people, should not receive the character which I have given it. I should be surprised if there should be any hesitation on the part of his friends to admit that character to be just; for, having long considered the subject, having many times assisted in its discussion in this House, I have a distinct recollection that this recent legislation, which used to be called in that day the total repeal of 359 the corn law, was opposed solely on account of the advantages of that law to the poor. It was always a labourers' question. "Prove to me," used to say some Members for counties whoso seats depended on upholding this law, "that it is not for the good of its poor—that the labourers wont suffer from its repeal, and I am in the lobby with you directly; for it is on their account I uphold it—it is because it is a labourers' question that I vote for the corn laws." It was' a poor man's question essentially; and used to be discussed by Gentlemen opposite in that point of view. I am sure that if any foreigner had been present when our discussions were going on, he would have thought that all the benevolence was on that side of the House, and all the heartlessness on this side. He would have thought that those benevolent men cared nothing for their own kindred or their own property, but were all ready to be sacrificed for the benefit of the humbler classes; whereas their opponents were hard and flinty-hearted men, ever grinding the faces of the poor, and seeking profit from their misery. If such an observer were to appear to-night, and to see that we have not only changed that law, but have admitted that the change has greatly benefited the working classes, and greatly improved their condition, but yet that a great party, the majority that used to be, the disinterested and humane that seemed to be, now object to designate that Act as wise and just, I believe he would be led into some doubt as to the sincerity of their sympathy with the poor. Now, if I must offer a word of advice to the right hon. Gentleman and to that party, it would he at once to accede to my Resolution. It is not much to ask of them; I hardly see how they can do less, for if ever there existed a law which had the effect of raising the price of provisions, and consequently deteriorating the condition of the people, it must have been the most odious and execrable law that ever passed; and no one will understand why an Act which repeals such a law, and has produced such consequences as the right hon. Gentleman asserts, can be other than I have described it in my Resolution. I cannot conceive a more guilty exercise of authority than that of tampering with the subsistence of the people; and if an Act having that effect existed for the benefit of a few members of the community, I cannot conceive anything more vile than such an enactment. What is it that you mean by an Act that 360 has raised the price of bread and provisions, and limits the amount to the poor? Such an Act involves everything that regulates and gives character to the whole condition of the people. The amount, more or less, of food which the people have, determines the condition of those millions of people who earn their daily bread by their daily toil. Whether a man shall be a degraded animal or a civilised social being, depends entirely on the means he has of obtaining, not only that which is necessary to supply the requirements of nature, but on the excess beyond that which enables him to attend to his other wants, moral and social. A man so elevated or degraded is literally either a civilised man or the contrary, just in proportion as food is easily accessible to him or scarce; and, in the present state of the world, the most important circumstance connected with the moral nature of man is that which affects the plenty or scarcity of his food. What is the business of life? Look round at the millions upon millions that cover the surface of thi3 earth, and consider if the business of their life is not to exchange labour for food? The terms on which that exchange is made, decides whether a man shall be degraded or raised; and, amongst us, whether he shall be the occupant of the union or the gaol, or perhaps of a premature grave. It is that which has produced the universal conviction now prevailing that upon the amount of food in this country depends the condition of our people. If, therefore, any Minister or man in authority should try to persuade any portion of his fellow-countrymen that an Act of this country which has had for its purpose to increase the abundance of food has had the effect of increasing crime and pauperism—I say, if any man announces such an opinion, he excites the wonder, if not the indignation, of the people throughout the land. There are men in every parish of this country whose experience satisfies them that the extent of crime and destitution among the people entirely depends upon the amount of food available for their support; and in making the reference I do now, I am perfectly satisfied the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will feel that it is necessary for him to make some explanation to this House of the statement he is represented to have made when he recently addressed his constituents. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has been misrepresented 361 or misreported, for I believe he is the last man in this country who would misrepresent a fact, or mislead his countrymen. But with his high authority he is supposed to have suggested to the people whom he addressed, that in consequence of recent legislation crime and destitution had increased. [Mr. WALPOLE: No!] I readily believe that denial of the right hon. Gentleman, from the respect I have for his character; and I am glad to see the prompt manner in which he expresses it, for it shows his conviction of the opposite opinion. It is now the knowledge of the great importance of this matter—of the amount, more or less, of food in this country—that makes the power or control of it a circumstance so terrible, so great, so vast in the hands of any authority; and I do think there can be no greater manifestation of heartlessness, I had almost said of barbarity, on the part of any body of men, who can, for the purpose of benefiting themselves, attempt to limit the amount of subsistence of the people. But, Sir, I am obliged to ask, nevertheless, what it is we are assembled here upon this occasion for? I am obliged to ask whether such a law has not existed, or did not exist, in this country for upwards of thirty years; and whether we are not now about to recognise the enormous advantage to the community of having repealed that law? A law for which there is nothing in the vaunted institutions of this country, or in the wealth which it may have conferred upon individuals, or in any other circumstance connected with this country which could compensate to the working classes for the enormous injury that such a law must have inflicted on them; and yet if I understand the difference between this and the other side of the House this night, it is that I propose to designate the repeal of such a law as wise and just, and you consider that such a designation is "factious," and that it is utterly incompatible with the honour and credit of some hon. Gentlemen to acknowledge the policy and advantage of such a change. Indeed I received information within a few moments of entering the House, that if it should be declared by a majority of this House that the repeal of the law—which has had the effect the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated, and which I have so often stated in this House—was wise and just, we have a prospect of a resignation of this Government. I can assure 362 the right hon. Gentleman and his Col- leagues that, whatever they may think of the motives of the person who proposes this Resolution, and though Lord Derby may think it factious, I have not the smallest desire to see them dismissed. ["Oh, oh!"] I do not deny that the | noble Earl at the head of the Government is a great authority as to what is faction. He has been, as he stated last night, thirty years before the public: the public have had the opportunity of witnessing his conduct for the last thirty years, and I, as one of the public, do not dispute his authority in such matters; but it is still possible, I can assure the noble Earl, for a man to be single-minded on a matter of this sort—to have but one purpose before him—still possible for a man not to be ready to adopt every principle and abandon every party for the sake of power. I care, however, very little whether credit is given or not by hon. Gentlemen opposite to the statement I have made; for most surely do I believe this great country would survive the calamity with which it is said to be thus contingently menaced by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite resigning their places. I should be very sorry to see it happen; but, though it did so, still I am not without hopes for the country. I have heard of such things before, and I have seen such things happen, and without any evil to the country in consequence. In fact, I myself am not disposed to attach so much importance to the existence of a Ministry as some people are. I have seen four or five Ministries in office since I have been in Parliament, and, so far as I have been able to judge, there has been a strong family likeness between them all. The country never suffers very much from any of them; those who accede to power, generally do that which they resisted in opposition, which is pretty much what their predecessors did before them. My own impression is, that no great genius is required to administer a government. I believe that all the real business in the public offices is done by a certain number of public servants—able and valuable men—of whom we hear very little, and that it must be owing to some lack of judgment, or some want of capacity, whenever a Government becomes sufficiently unpopular to be displaced. That I may not be misunderstood, however, I beg again to state, that in making this Motion I have no object of displacing the Ministry. ["Oh, oh!"] 363 I do not act as a partisan on the occasion. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, then, as Gentlemen opposite do not seem satisfied with what I say, I will add that, were that displacement to occur, I shall be quite reconciled to the event. If, however, I might offer a word of advice to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it would he that he do no such thing as go out, but rather that, if this Motion be carried against him, he accept it with thankfulness, and make use of it in adopting the course which he apparently wishes to pursue. He seems to be about to enter upon a career of usefulness, and I would advise him not to be deterred by the novelty of that course from doing so. The right hon. Gentleman takes very much the same views with regard to the financial policy of the country that those whom he used to assail took before him; and with his talents, which seem to be available for any purpose, I should be really sorry to see him removed From office by my Motion. I am still more hopeful of the course he is likely to pursue from what I see shadowed out in his Amendment. There was reason to expect good from his statements when he produced the Budget last year. He Stated facts very candidly; and, though his friends were then very anxious to relieve him from the imputation of deducing any conclusions from those facts, it seems that he has concluded something from them, and has now formed opinions which he really entertains. In that statement on the Budget he declared, very frankly, that the commercial policy which had been followed in this country for the ten years previous had had the effect of greatly relieving the community, without injuring the revenue. He admitted that these were facts which it was his duty, as a Minister, to declare; that duties had been repealed or reduced to a very large amount; that the revenue had not suffered much, and that the community had benefited a great deal. Facts such as these were obviously distasteful to his supporters; but still the right hon. Gentleman, with the responsibilities of office upon him, felt bound in candour to state them. I must say, that in his present Amendment he seems to have laid the ground for advancing the policy to which he did homage last year; a policy which consists in reducing, or altogether removing, duties on articles of necessary consumption, then on articles of general consumption, so that the people might, by easily 364 a isfying the wants of first necessity, have he means of obtaining articles of secondary importance. This is a policy distasteful to hon. Gentlemen opposite to admit; but nine months' gestation has done a great deal, and, among other results, has produced that Amendment, which admits the case on this side of the House: that when you reduce the tax on food, and do nothing to raise its price, you may venture to reduce other duties, because then the people will be able to consume the commodities on which they are laid, and the revenue will recover itself. That is an intelligible principle, and we want that principle acknowledged by this House. We want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to recognise that principle, and fully to carry it out. I justify the Resolution I am going to propose, on the ground that at present the Chancellor of the Exchequer's intentions on this main subject are not known; that we cannot understand, from anything that has taken place officially, whether he is going backwards or forwards, or what course he is going to take; whereas if he adopts the Resolution I shall move to-night, there can be no doubt on that matter in future. That Resolution is a full and clear recognition by the House of the advantages we have already experienced by the new policy. I startled Gentlemen opposite some time ago when I attempted to show how available the means of the community were for further consumption if duties on necessary articles were reduced; but some of those Gentlemen, while recently occupied in agitating the counties and remote districts on the subject of protection, have made great use of the statements I so put forward, and have applied them to the proposition that 91,000,000l. had been abstracted by recent legislation from the pockets of the farmers, and that the farmers, consequently, were entitled to indemnity. What I spoke of was the vast difference that there was in the means of the community available for general expenditure between a year of great scarcity and a year of great plenty—between such years as 1847 and 1849—between years when people paid a great deal for little food, and when they paid little for a great deal of food; quite sufficient to account for great differences in the demand for articles taxed for revenue, and the condition of the people generally. I did not stoop to contradict Gentlemen who made this use of my Statement, for they exposed themselves to this- 365 question-—If 91,000,000l. have been taken from the farmers, who gave the farmers the 91,000,000l. in the first place? I have here in my hand a calculation smaller in amount, and which I hope will therefore startle Gentlemen rather less, but which exactly illustrates the advantage of that policy which I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends still further to carry out. This metropolis alone affords a most conclusive illustration of the enormous effects that are produced by a reduction in the price of articles of food upon the availability of the people's means fur purchasing other articles. The population of London, according to a moderate calculation, is 2,300,000. Prom July, 1828, when the sliding scale was enacted, up to the end of 1841, when it was abolished, 14,787,990 quarters of wheat were admitted, 12,452,562 of which, or 84 per cent, were not admitted until the price exceeded 70,s. per quarter. 70s. per quarter for wheat gives 60s. per sack for flour. The quartern loaf would then be 11d., it is now 7 c. The consumption of the population of London is not less than two quartern loaves per head per week, so that the saving is 8d. per head per week, or 1l. 18s. per annum, being, for the whole population, 4,750,000l. Again, as to articles that come next to those of necessity, for instance, sugar: in London, where the consumption is greater than in the country, the allowance to servants is half-a-pound each per week for breakfast and tea alone; the middle and upper classes consume not less than 501b.; so that the average may fairly he taken at 301b. The soft sugar, that, up to 1845, was 7d., is now 4d. to 5d.; the loaf sugar, that was 10d. and l1d., is now 5d. to 6d. and probably half the consumption of London is loaf sugar. Take the reduction, as a low average, at 3½., the saving is 8s. 9d. a head, per year; or, for the whole population, 1,093,750l., the entire consumed giving above 26½lb. per head. In coffee, on a similar calculation, the gain to London is 166,666l.; and on tea, 125,000l, owing to the recent reduction in the price of both those articles, representing a total of 5,739,583l. in London alone—there being also, of course, a corresponding gain throughout the country, and in every town, from the same cause. The reason why I wish to impress these facts on the Government is, that the First Minister of the Crown does not appear to be informed on the matter. If anything were needed to justify my present Motion, it is the speech 366 of the First Minister on the first night of the Session. The noble Earl cannot understand, it seems, what ditference there is between taxing food and any other article—he stated so last year—and his notion is, that if the amount of food increases, that the condition of the labouring classes is deteriorated, or, as he is pleased to express it more shortly, if the price of food falls, wages will fall: he stated so the other night. I want to impress upon him that the difference between food and any other article is, that food is a thing of first, of necessary consumption; and that it depends entirely on the price, or rather on the abundance, of that article, what you have left for farther consumption. But the noble Earl will perhaps say, that he is occupied with the revenue; that he is not talking about humanity, or about the condition of the people; and that he does not see why food is not as good an article to tax as any other. But, taking merely the financial and economical view of the subject, it is of the greatest possible importance as I have shown, that while you tax expenditure generally, in order to collect a vast revenue, that food should be cheap and abundant, in order to facilitate all other consumption. The noble Earl keeps to the point, that if the price of food falls, wages also must generally fall; but I cannot offer so great an insult to the intellect of so able a man as the noble Earl, as to suppose him for a moment to be in earnest, in uttering a fallacy that could only be entertained by the most ignorant persons; for no amount of sympathy with the labouring classes could lead an intelligent being to suppose that they would be injured by the abundance of the first necessary of life, or that a fall in the price of provisions must deteriorate their condition. Against such statements and such views, if honestly held, it would be necessary to show what the general condition of the country is under a fall in the price of provisions; but not knowing exactly what view the Government may be going to take on this occasion, I do not like entering very much into details, for I still hope that we are, on both sides of the House, agreed as to this general fact, that, with food cheaper, and with various duties on articles of consumption reduced, the country is in a prosperous state. I have, indeed, since I gave notice of this Motion, had more information sent to me from all parts of the country than I could carry—papers, and documents, containing facts of every kind, from every 367 district of the country, proving the great prosperity that in all directions so eminently prevails. If I thought there would be the least dispute on the point, the smallest difference of opinion expressed as to the fact, I should feel myself bound to read to the House more or less of this information so received, because it certifies, from literally every part of the country, the great prosperity of every great interest, or great division of the community, tested by every conceivable test—by full employment, by diminished pauperism, by decrease of crime, by loyalty, by contentment; clearly ascertained and confidently stated by, competent judges, who have witnessed and watched the course of the change from its commencement. Formerly, I should have felt it necessary to lay all such information before the House; but I shall, for the present, abstain from doing so, because I will yet venture to hope that we are in effect, and substantially, agreed upon the matter contained in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Amendment—namely, that by the recent legislation abolishing protection, food has been rendered abundant, and the people prosperous. I want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go further, for he seems to have confined his proposition to the working classes. I do not know why he does so; but I suppose he will explain his reason. I myself do not confine it to the working classes, because there is no possibility of really benefiting the working classes by legislation which does not also beneficially affect the whole community; and it was from the same cause that former laws could not injure the working classes without every other class—every section of every other class—sooner or later being made to feel the effect of their suffering. The same legislation which facilitates and extends to the merchant the market at home for foreign commodities, enlarges for the manufacturer the demand in exchange for his manufactures; to the agricultural producer the demands for his produce by means of greater consumption; to the labourer the demand for his labour; and thus all classes are in fact benefited by means of a mutual interest. It is therefore that in my Resolution I propose to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to accept the principle and doctrine that the property and industry of the country are better able to bear their burdens by applying the principle of free trade, as opposed to that of protection; and it is on this point I am 368 anxious to get the opinions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—for, as yet, we have not got his real views on these respective principles. This is one of the great purposes for which we are now assembled, and for which I propose this Resolution. I want to know whether he thinks protection a great good, enabling those who are proteeted to support their burdens; or whether he thinks free trade a mischievous system, which, if it must be endured, it will be his duty, if possible, to mitigate. These are points which I desire to hear definitively settled in this House, but which as regards the Government are still left undisposed of in the Amendment. My opinion is, now, as it has often been expressed in this House, that protection is an unqualified mischief, unjustifiable in principle, vicious in practice, and peculiarly injurious to the interest it purports to benefit. If the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of those changes which he is undergoing, has come to the same conclusion, it is highly important we should know the fact without loss of time, since the character of future legislation will probably turn upon that point. My distinct impression is, that no compensation whatever is due to any interest that was protected, because, as regards every such interest—I speak of the interest, and not of individuals in particular cases connected with it, but as regards every such interest at large, my conviction is, that it has only beep served by the change of system. My belief is that every interest which has been hitherto protected, has been withering under that protection. The experience of the last few years has proved to us the vast advantage of setting all interests free; and if we want any one illustration of this fact more convincing than another, more completely demonstrating how injurious protection was, and how beneficial the relief from that protection is, we have that peculiarly and most conclusively illustrated in the case of the agricultural interest. I do not speak rashly or without book; it has ever been my strict habit, throughout the long discussion of this question, to take the utmost possible pains to assure myself that I was right in the data upon which I based my views and my statements; and in preparing for this discussion I have not departed from that rule. Throughout the struggle for the total repeal of the corn laws, in seeking to ascertain whether the change could be effected with safety to the country and: 369 without injury to the particular interest—and if any one doubts the truth of what I say, I would refer to the evidence I adduced before this House in 1844—I made it my business conscientiously to procure information from every one who was competent to give an opinion, and I have done so since, I have questioned persons intimately acquainted with the present state of agriculture in this country, and have sought their views of that condition, and I have received their solemn and conscientious opinion that the agricultural interest was never in a more healthy condition than at this moment. [Cries of "Oh! oh!"] If hon. Gentlemen doubt me, I shall be obliged to produce my authorities. I can adduce one now whom, if I was to name, the Government could not dispute his credit, and whom others would admit to be competent, for he is a man, himself a large occupier and farmer of land, who is, besides, employed by many noblemen and gentlemen as their land agent, and who is generally intrusted with the purchase and sale of land; I asked this gentleman what he thought of the condition of the landed interest; and he told me that he had not known it for years in so good a condition as it was in now. His expression was, "I never knew it in a sounder state." I asked him whether land now sold for more than it used to fetch; and he replied, "Most undoubtedly;" that, speaking from twenty-five years' experience, he had never known land sell so well as now; that he himself had sold, within the last few months, a great deal of land; that it was rising in value, and he should say it was selling now at thirty-seven years' purchase, and that some pasture land which a few years ago sold for twenty-eight years' purchase, had recently fetched, under his hand, thirty-three years' purchase. As to the fanners, where they are distressed, it is because the landlords will not do for them that which they properly require; nothing that the Legislature can do for them will remedy such evils, and this they quite understand; they don't expect a restoration of protection; they don't affect to have any faith in protection; they all refer their difficulties to causes of a more domestic kind—to matters which must he settled between them and their landlords—matters which we never hear of in this House. Ask about the labourers; are they well off? They are notoriously better off than they have been for many years. You have been told so for two years past, by 370 both landlords and farmers. "It is owing to emigration," you say. Ay, in some places some have gone off, but it is chiefly owing to the great improvements in agriculture, which create a demand for labour, to the improved condition of the whole country, which absorbs the superfluous labour, and, at present prices, from their wages giving them greater command over the necessaries of life. Now, Sir, I have said that I will not weary the House with details, and I shall keep my word; but there is a statement that I have verified as strictly correct, that does so immediately bear upon the question, that interests so many in this House—namely, the effect of the recent legislation on the landed interest—that I cannot forbear reading it to the House. I happened to see this statement in a public journal, and I have taken the trouble to verify it so that I might not mislead the House. It is a very remarkable case. It seems to me to be precisely in point; it is a case in which a landowner was supposed to have been ruined in 1846, who was, from having been an old supporter of Sir Robert Peel's, extremely indignant at his protection being taken from him, supposing that his rent and the value of his property entirely depended upon the old law. He charged the Ministry of the day with all the losses which he should have to incur, and, in his distress, he sends for an agent, to consult with him in what way to dispose of his property. The statement is as follows:—At the time the Government made known the intention to repeal the corn laws, which is now nearly five years since, the owner of an estate of about 4,000 acres, situate in the centre of England, alarmed at the prospect which free trade presented of reduced rent and diminished income, had his attention drawn to the necessity of preparing his tenants for the lower prices they would have to take for the produce of their farms, and sought, in the improvement of his estate, for means to enable them to continue its successful cultivation. The success which has attended his proceedings offers so valuable an example to others, that I trust I shall be excused for giving some account of it. At the period mentioned, the estate was divided into farms of 130 to 300 acres, which, tithe-free and arable, with valuable pasture, were let at rents of from 15s. to 30s. an acre. The tenantry, although ancient, had held only by the year; the land, which is naturally fertile, had had scarcely anything done to improve it, and the farmers had little idea of any capability in the soil beyond what their inferior practice had developed. The quantity of pasture upon each farm allowed of a considerable quantity of stock being kept, but, as the cattle were grazing all the winter in the meadows, and no provision of winter food, except hay, was given them, the arable land had no benefit from the 371 stock; and, its cultivation being upon a course without root crops, and but little assisted by manure, gave only very moderate returns. To tenants so farming, Sir Robert Peel's announcement of free trade created considerable alarm, for they, as well as their landlord, saw little chance of their continuing to do as they had done; but in the improvement of their inferior practice, and in the amendment of the general state and ill-condition of their farms, the proprietor was told there would be found ample scope to cover their reductions from free trade, and on this he was told to rely. The assistance of a new land agent, and from a distant district, was obtained, and he at once saw how much of the imperfect success of the tenants was owing to the ill-condition of their farms, and their ignorance of the improved practices which the cultivation of inferior soils had elsewhere called forth: he knew the difficulty there would be in introducing the different practices which he considered essential to the future successful cultivation of their farms, and he could only hope to effect this by at once destroying their confidence in their past practice, and making them place a higher appreciation on the capability of their soil. He determined on a course which should at once drive them to adopt a different system, and at the same time should encourage them to enter into improvements of their farms. It was with these views that at the first audit the tenants were informed they would each receive notice to quit, but that leases for twenty-one years would, at the same time be offered them, at an advance of rent of 20 per cent; that permission would be given them to break up certain portions of the pasture of their farms, after they had been drained, upon plans that would be given them; that draining tiles would be allowed them to drain all their land, but that the draining was to be done at depths and upon the plans to be laid down; that their homesteads would be improved, and sheds built to give them accommodation for wintering their stock in yards, and fattening cattle in stalls; and they would be allowed to remove all unnecessary hedges and trees injurious to the corn; but at the same time their leases would forbid their existing practice of taking two white corn crops in succession; and they would be obliged to dress a fourth of their arable land every year, and other reatriptions would be introduced on what they had been in the habit of doing. It was expected in this way they might be made to adopt a more advantageous course of husbandry, and that their farms might be put into better condition, and made more productive, so as to become cheaper to them at the increased rents than they had been under the old. I must pass over the difficulties of the next three years, the stand made against these measures, the obstacles thrown in the way, the withdrawal of some of the tenants, the objections raised to the deep draining, and the attempting the cultivation of roots where roots had never grown, &c. Fortunately, some of the tenants left, and the readiness with which the vacated farms were reoccupied, and at still higher rents, and the example which the new tenants afforded, who, directed by their leases, at once proceeded to grub hedgerows, to deep-drain, and raise turnips and green crops, and better clean the land, were answers to many of their objections. And now it is to the result I would call attention, which is as follows this estate now affords a clear rental of 372 23 per cent advance on the rental of 1845. The rents are now better paid than they ever have, been; the last two audits were held quicker than ever after the quarter-days, and at each the whole of the rents were collected without an arrear; and the tenants, with scarcely an exception, admit they are doing well, and their farms are cheaper than they were to them at the old rents; and well they may say so, for such crops as they have had the last two years were never before seen in their parishes. I am aware that such an instance of meeting the requirements of free trade is little likely to have the approval of tenant-farmers, and yet how far more truly beneficial has been the course here adopted than would have been that of the proprietor seeking to afford relief by reducing his rents '. No reduction could have given the same relief, but would hove been mischievous.This is a case that cannot be singular, because I find it constantly stated by agriculturists who are properly so described, and referred to in the periodical journals which have their confidence, that, notwithstanding the long duration of protection, the land is still, in most places, in a terrible state, the buildings dilapidated and wholly unsuited to the occupations; and that, if the outlay and improvements were only made which were actually required, the occupiers of the land might be now in as good a position as ever they had been. I need only allude to the journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, with which every Gentleman opposite must be familiar, and to the prize essays which are given every year upon the husbandry of every county, to confirm my statements. I have seen those essays. There is not one within these two years that either refers to protection or to legislative relief) but they speak of that relief which a land-, lord is able to bestow upon his tenants by improving his own estate, and which he, has not yet made. ["Oh, oh!"from the Ministerial tide of the House.] I want to establish that protection has been an evil to agriculture, and has not promoted improvement, and I will just read a few extracts from these essays. ["No, no!"] Hon Gentlemen may be disinclined to have such facts published; I don't want to make them known, but I wish to show that no relief can be given by this House; that protection has done unqualified mischief; and that, if agriculture is to be improved, it must be by the owners and occupiers of land themselves. In the prize essay of the Royal Agricultural Society on the farming of Kent, after stating "that the further advancement of agriculture in the cold clay districts of Britain essentially depends on draining," the writer says— 373Before draining can be successfully carried out We the Weald and other enclosed portions of the county, the small fields must be enlarged by grubbing hedges and felling trees. Not less, per haps, than an eighth of the entire area of the entire arable land of this extensive district is occupied by hedges and trees, taking into calculation the ground that is injured by their roots and shade. Many of the fields consist of only three or four acres; the mere mechanical disadvantages, therefore, of cultivation are obvious, especially when it is considered that upon this heavy soil four horses are usually worked at length in ploughing……Lost fallows, as they are aptly termed, not unfrequently occur in wet autumns in small enclosed fields, where light and air are in a measure shut out. Thus nearly a whole year's expenses, and perhaps a dressing of manure, are almost lost. There are many thousand acres in the Weald of Kent which cannot, under existing circumstances, be cultivated without a positive loss, that might be made to yield of most kinds of corn a full average of the kingdom. ……The fatal mistake characteristic of this district is to allow high wood and trees to grow in the hedges of arable land in small inclosures….. It is common to see very inferior trees do more injury in three or four years to the crops than the whole value of the trees will amount to after continuing the mischief for half a centuryThe district possesses within itself the means of its own amelioration. All that is required is to go about the business in a judicious manner. ……The cheapest and most effective way of carrying out the great object (the improvement of the district) would be for owners of land to commence their operations systematically, and do no thing by piecemeal.……The best way would be for the landlord to pay the whole expense of the draining, conducting it under his own superintendence, and to charge a fair percentage on the rental. A judicious outlay might be made to yield in many parts of this county five or six per cent, with a great advantage to the occupying tenant.Now these observations are in a great measure applicable to all our heavy land districts. I won't read the essays from other districts, but I have them here from the different counties—there are Norfolk, Northamptonshire, West Riding of Yorkshire, and Cumberland: their contents have the authority of a journal which I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite must read, and they all agree that the only thing necessary to make the agricultural interest prosperous is, that the owner and occupier should agree on those obvious improvements which in many instances already have been employed with the greatest success. Again, I must say, that if ever we see reported what the farmers say or require, it is generally something else than a return to protection. I don't say they would not like high prices if they could have them without a rise in rent. But looking at published reports of the meetings 374 of farmers, you will see that they complain; but their grievances arc not such as the Legislature can remedy. They have very distinct grievances, and I own that I feel that sympathy for the farmers which one has for any other class of his fellow-subjects, who feel that they are aggrieved. ["Oh!"from the Ministerial side of the House.] I say they are a most valuable—not the most, but a very valuable portion of our community; they are a portion of the middle class—the productive class, who invest their capital in the cultivation of the soil. Who can, or who ought to be, more respected for their usefulness? Can any man who pretends to dilate on the interests of the community at large exclude those of the farmer, and treat his interests with less regard than those of any other class? My judgment at least does not lead me to do so. I think they are a most interesting class. And I say that the time has come when their interests must be more considered in this House than they have been. I can't help thinking that the farmers have been a very ill-used class. In my opinion their distress has been made capital of by the Gentlemen opposite. I don't know any class of people who have been so deluded. It is not their fault if they are not so quick as other people. Circumstances determine men's intelligence and characters, and their circumstances have not been likely to make them more intelligent than other classes of the community. But is that a reason why you are to impose upon them and to traffic with their ignorance? I say that these unfortunate people have been led to believe that they had friends in Parliament, friends who would secure to them some advantages, though at the expense of the community, by which they would be able to live, succeed, and prosper. Those promises have been held out to them for thirty years and upwards by a class of persons in this country who have lost nothing by making those promises. They held out to the farmers, that if they returned them for the counties, and gave them political support, they would either pass Acts of Parliament, or maintain Acts of Parliament, by which they would be enabled to get high prices and to live comfortably. I say that those people have been grossly deceived, sadly disappointed. They had promises made to them in the name of Parliament, but they did not have the fulfilment of those promises. They have been promised first one thing, then another; first one price, 375 then another; but they have invariably been deceived, and never more deceived than latterly, because they have been encouraged to think, that, under the altered circumstances of the country, they need not help themselves, that they had only to rely on their friends, that they must go to Parliament again, and that what had been taken from them should be restored to them. I say that when people have been so treated they have been grossly deceived, and any independent man may well feel sympathy for them. But, when I listen to their own story, I find that it is not protection, or Acts of Parliament, or political friends, that they dwell upon themselves. There are certain things always specified at farmers' meetings, but if any one mentions them here he is either told that he knows nothing of the agricultural interest, or that he is intruding matter which is irrelevant to the subject. There are a few things I say invariably mentioned. One is the law of distress. Another is, the law of settlement. Another is, that the law should be better defined which awards compensation to outgoing tenants for crops or unexhausted improvements; and another is, that no privilege should be given to any person that tended to keep up or increase that which destroys their produce—namely, game. If you refer to any farmers' journal, you will find that those are their grievances, and yet they are never discussed in this House. The law of distraint is a very serious injury to the farmer. His credit is seriously impaired by it. The landlord always comes in before any other creditor; and, who, under such circumstances, likes to advance him money on the security of his stock, but which money he wants for making improvements. Another evil of this law is, that it makes the landlord much more careless whom he selects for his tenant, which produces a very mischievous kind of competition: all sorts of people come into the market for the land, and the landlord is generally safe, for there is always enough on the farm for six months' rent. Then, again, I really thought, judging from some opinions which have been expressed by certain Members of the Government, that that law which affects the farmer most materially, and is a positive evil in this country—the law of settlement—would have been one of the measures dealt with by the Government. There is nothing that the farmers complain of more than that, from its mischievous effect on 376 the character of their labourers. Then, with respect to game, and to what they term "tenant-right," but which may be interpreted by having the law better defined than now with reference to compensation to outgoing tenants; these are mischiefs which the farmer complains of, and real relief cannot be given to him, whether by the Legislature or otherwise, except by remedying those evils. Then, with respect to the owners of land—and I allude to the different branches of this interest to show-not only that protection cannot be restored with any advantage, but that it has not been removed with any ill effects, and that if you want to benefit the agricultural interest it cannot be by the agricultual relief which we hear of in this House. Well, but as to the landowners. Generally they are well off in this country at present. The noble Marquess the Member for Leicestershire, who knows a great deal about the agricultural interest, admits that the landowners are very well off, and that they have nothing to complain of, for if they had, he thinks they would take care to remedy the evil for themselves. The landowners have not anything to complain of. They have great advantages. Everything tells in their favour. At no time was there such a desire to purchase or to occupy their land as at present. There never was a time when they obtained money so easily, and everything has been made cheaper to them than it used to be. Then the labourers, by the admission of every person, are better off now than they used to be, and have been so ever since provisions fell. I have here a proof of it, in a letter from Wiltshire, from a person in a position to know the views of all classes, who says, "There is nothing that many of the labourers have more at heart now than getting a picture of Sir Robert Peel to hang over their fireplaces—they are so well off. Almost to a man, the labourers are for free trade. I can't say so much for the farmers, because they are led to look still to the restoration of Protection, rather than to any other arrangement, to improve their condition." The labourers, then, are free-traders. The landowners are well off, and the farmers are kept back or are standing still under the delusive hope that, since their friends are in power, Protection will be restored. Before I proceed to make any further statements as to the great advantage of removing Protection from any interest, I challenge the right hon. Gentleman the Chan- 377 cellor of the Exchequer to prove that any injury to any great interest has resulted from its removal. I don't deny that there are individuals who may, under the peculiar circumstances of their case, have been unable to endure the transition; but that is a very different thing from the way in which the interest generally has been affected. I don't deny that there are things affecting great interests in this country, and thereby the country at large, that ought to have been done long since, and should no longer be delayed. These things may severally affect the shipping interest, the agricultural interest, or the colonial interest; but such matters are entirely independent of the removal of Protection, and ought not to have existed while even that system prevailed. What I contend for is, that protection is a positive evil in itself, to the nation and to the protected interest; that nothing but advantage has attended its removal, as six years' experience has now established. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to disprove what I have said; and until I understand that he does so—until I hear any statement from the opposite side of the House controverting my position on this subject—I shall not weary the House by any illustrations of fact. I am in possession of the most extraordinary details of the prosperity of the country that could ever have been collected at any period of its history. I don't hesitate to say that this country is in a state of most unexampled prosperity; that the manufacturers and producers in every part of the country are unable to execute their orders; that the people never were so well off, owing to the wages they receive, and the command which those wages give them over the comforts and necessaries of life; and that all this is more than mainly owing to the emancipation of trade and manufacture from restriction in most important particulars, and the stimulus thereby given to production and employment, and not to those other causes to which either the Earl of Derby or his Colleagues are pleased to ascribe the prosperity of the country. And I think it is unworthy and ungrateful when we see the great prosperity of this country, and when we see it so obviously connected with those changes in the commercial policy of the country to which I refer, that there should be a poor attempt by vague and indefinite expression either to underrate that prosperity, or to ascribe it to any other cause. I call on the right hon. Gentle- 378 man to explain distinctly to us what it is the Earl of Derby means by the influence which the discoveries of gold in Australia, and emigration, have yet had in producing the prosperity of this country for the last two years. Let us have that ascertained, and not left to vague assertion. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to state to us distinctly what is the influence which the influx of gold into Europe, or into England, has had on the present condition of the country. I am perfectly willing to admit that the discovery of gold, like the production of any other article, has given activity to trade between this country and the countries where it was produced, and which, as concerns that article, did not exist before, but only in that respect as any other article in general demand would have done, but not to a greater extent than any other article. It has been an article valuable for commerce, available for immediate exchange with every part of the world, and therefore a most valuable product to those countries where it is found, giving them a means of receiving in exchange the products of other countries. The noble Lord at the head of the Government, however, seems to ascribe the present position of the labouring class chiefly to the discoveries of gold in Australia and other parts of the world. I want to hear that explained; because, if I read the statement of the noble Earl aright, it was, that inasmuch as the influx of gold into this country had raised the value of every article in this country, therefore it had raised wages and improved the condition of the people; but the statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and of the Government generally, as I understand it, and as the Amendment they proposed proved, is, that the improved condition of the people is owing to the cheapness of provisions. Now, which is the case? Is it the Australian diggings which have raised the price of wages and every other article, or is it the cheapness of provisions? The right hon. Gentleman, I know, will make all this clear. Then, with reference to emigration, that statement of the noble Earl's is not very distinct; there is a sort of ingenuity in confounding Irish emigration with English emigration. I want to know what effect that has had upon the condition of the people of this country. As far as I understand it, the great amount of emigration which has taken place from this country has been within the last six months. 379 That, therefore, will not account for the improved condition of the working classes for the last two years. Besides, if any man examines the returns of the countries from which the people emigrate, they will find that, whereas England and Scotland supply something like 100,000, all the rest consists of Irish who have gone to America, not to Australia. How does that account for the improved condition of the country by the efflux of the people? Then he has not told us what class of our countrymen it is that have gone to Australia. It happens to be peculiarly not the class to which he refers. They have been persons rather above the labouring class; persons who have, I believe, taken capital with them, and have, perhaps, rather belonged to the middle class. To underrate but admit the prosperity, and ascribe it to other causes than the adoption of Free Trade, is consistent with adherence to the principles of Protection; and that may, perhaps, be the purpose of the language employed by Gentlemen opposite. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not overlook this matter in his speech, for it is part of our business this evening to solve the question, whether the abolition of protection has been attended with any evils, or whether it has not alone produced the advantage to the country which we are all observing. We must have an opinion expressed to-night on these facts, and learn from the Government, composed of men formerly Protectionists, whether the prosperity is not fairly to be traced, directly and indirectly, and beyond all fair dispute, to the operation of that commercial policy which was commenced by the late Sir Robert Peel, and has been continued by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London. And now, Sir, I shall bring these remarks to a close; and in doing so, I beg once more emphatically to say that I have no other object in view than that which has guided me, ever since I have been in the House, on this question, which has reference to the great matter in dispute, and to that alone. It is not to serve a party—it is not factious, it is not personal. I say once for all, that my object is not to displace hon. Gentlemen opposite. I don't want any of their places myself, I can assure them—and I don't want the House to take this Motion as necessarily a Motion of want of confidence in Her Majesty's present Ministers. [Cries of "No, 380 ne!"] Why, certainly they have said so themselves. They have volunteered that de-claration—that they do not possess the confidence of this House upon the great questions on which the last Parliament was dissolved. They said so at the opening of the Session, and have repeated it since, that they have not changed their own opinions, while the opinion of the country remains against them; and therefore I say, they admit that they have not the confidence of the new House of Commons. If they had changed their opinions on the subject of free trade, and this being a free-trade House of Commons, as Ministers of the Crown, they might be said to have the confidence of the House; but if Lord Derby does truly represent the rest of them, then, inasmuch as he adheres to his former views, they are in an undoubted minority in this Parliament. But I do want, for what I believe to be great national reasons, to have this Resolution carried, and to have the views of the House of Commons on this question most distinctly, most explicitly, and most emphatically expressed; and more especially do I want this Resolution to be placed on record, in order that we may at least, during this Parliament, have a settlement of a matter which, while unsettled, leaves men of business in this country in doubt, and which leaves the rest of the world undecided, as to what the permanent commercial policy of this country is to be. I do hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not attempt to evade this real question by talking of factiousness, or by impugning my personal motives; but that he will address himself in a straightforward way to the question before the House, and that he will not sit down without letting us at last know what he does really mean. Already enormous mischief has been done by the course taken by the hon. Gentleman opposite ever since 1846. I know, from what I have heard and from what I have seen on the Continent, that there people exaggerate the importance of the party to which hon. Gentlemen opposite belong; they imagine that Lord Derby does represent a strong section of the English political community, and that he has acquired, or will acquire, the power eventually to reverse the policy of Sir Robert-Peel; and it is indeed notorious that in those instances where foreign nations are disposed to change their own commercial policy, the movement is restarted because their Governments are com- 381 pelled to notice the continued existence of this so-called Protectionist party in this country; there are people both here and abroad that will never adapt themselves to the altered circumstances of our commerce while this policy is left in doubt, and constant mischief is still being done, as it has been done, by the agitation and assertion of these protectionist and anti-free-trade views; and therefore it is that I do contend that the importance of some distinctly worded Resolution such as this, with the hon. Gentleman now in power, and which shall be taken as a final decision of the Parliament and of the country, cannot be overrated; and I now conclude by moving it once more, emphatically stating for myself that I have not another object in it but that which has influenced me for fifteen years past, in seeking to establish and make safe the commercial policy which has recently been adopted.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That it is the opinion of this House, that the improved condition of the Country, and particularly of the Industrious Classes is mainly the result of recent Commercial Legislation, and especially of the Act of 1846, which established the free admission of Foreign Corn; and that that Act was a wise, just, and beneficial measure.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, if the speech which we have just listened to with so much interest—as we always do to anything which falls from the hon. and learned Gentleman—had been a speech in favour of the repeal of the corn laws, or in favour of the repeal of (he sugar laws as they existed some time ago, I think it would have been much more appropriate than upon the occasion on which it has been delivered, because the question which we have to decide to-night is, not whether the corn laws shall be repealed, not whether the sugar duties shall be repealed; not whether protection or free-trade—to use the somewhat inaccurate language of the hon. and learned Gentleman—should be repealed or supported; but whether Her Majesty's Ministers, by their conduct since their accession to office, have fulfilled the pledges they gave to Parliament and the country; and whether, having announced that they would defer their own opinion to that of the country on a subject of great importance, they have frankly or other-wise communicated to the House the resolution at which they have arrived. The hon. and learned Gentleman has just told us that enormous mischiefs have been done to the country by the course which has been pur- 382 sued by the Protectionist party since 1846. If, Sir, it be true that enormous mischiefs have been done to the country by the conduct of the Protectionist party since 1846, I am far from wishing to escape from the issue before us; and I say that it is the duty of the House of Commons, if that statement should be proved, to express in a manner which cannot be mistaken, that they have no confidence in men who have perpetrated "enormous mischief." Under these circumstances, therefore, I hope that the House will allow me, in a calm and dispassionate manner, to trace our conduct since the period to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred. I hope they will allow me—I ask it the more especially as there are many Gentlemen in the House who have obtained seats in it for the first time—I hope, I say, that they will allow me to place before them, in an impartial and ac curate statement, the principal parliamentary incidents which have occurred during the last four or five years, in so far as they bear upon this great question. I feel it to be my duty not only to the Government but to Parliament and the country to do this: and I am persuaded that the inevitable and irresistible inference which the House will draw from my statement, and the conclusion which every impartial mind will arrive at, will be very different from that which the hon. and learned Gentleman has attempted to establish by the convenient generalities in which he has indulged.
And now, Sir, in the first place, let me state, in a manner that cannot be misapprehended, the principal reasons on which we opposed the repeal of the corn laws as proposed by the Government of the late Sir Robert Peel in the year 1846. We opposed that change on two broad and distinct grounds. The main ground was, that we believed it was a change which would prove injurious to the interests of labour. That was the main and principal ground on which I myself individually placed my own opposition to it. Was it or was it not the cause of labour? That was the main ground of our opposition to it. We opposed that change for a second reason—because, irrespective of the great and principal objection which we entertained to it, we believed it would occasion injury to considerable interests in the country. On a subsequent occasion, in 1850, when the matter was incidentally referred to in the House, I myself used the expression with reference to the corn laws, that it was a question of labour, or it was 383 nothing. Well now, Sir, after the repeal of the corn laws, there were two other great measures connected with that system of commercial policy which is popularly, but very indefinitely, described by the name of free-trade, which were proposed and carried. The Minister who proposed the repeal of the corn laws, and carried it, was dismissed from office, and was succeeded by another Minister who proposed the repeal of the sugar laws: and this proposition for the repeal of the sugar laws was not approved by the Minister who repealed the corn laws. I mention this circumstance because this question has always been argued as it has been argued to-night, as if from the beginning there had been two great parties in the House—the one banded together to carry what was called free-trade in all the great articles of popular consumption, and the other marshalled for the purpose of opposing that policy. Shortly after the repeal of the sugar duties was carried, Parliament was dissolved, a new Parliament assembled under the management of the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell), and, after considerable delay and hesitation, another great measure—the repeal of the navigation laws—was proposed and carried. There commenced then in due time the complaints of three great interests—the agricultural, the colonial, and the shipping interests. I may fairly say that the five years which elapsed between the election of 1847 and the recent dissolution, were mainly engaged in discussions or in legislation upon the agricultural, colonial, and shipping distress.
Now, let me put this fact before the House—it is a fact which it may be convenient for some hon. Members to forget, but it is one the accuracy of which cannot be questioned by those who have had experience in the business of the House, and which it may be well for those who have not that experience to become aware of—that from the time that the repeal of the corn laws was passed until this present moment, not a single attempt has been made in the House of Commons to abrogate the measure of 1846. [ Cries of "Oh!"] I may be pardoned if I remind hon. Gentlemen who have seats in this House for the first time, that it will be for the advantage of our discussion not to interrupt me now, because an opportunity will be afforded to every one who has anything to say to offer his remarks to the House; and, perhaps, I may add, that those who have been accustomed to tumultuous discussions 384 on platforms will find that in the House of Commons it is necessary to be more accurate in their statements than elsewhere. I repeat the statement which called forth the interruption—I repeat it on behalf of the party who have "perpetrated enormous mischief"—that from the moment the corn laws were repealed till now not a single Motion has ever been made in this House—at least, with the sanction of any party—to bring back that protection which has so unnecessarily been attacked to-night. Now, Sir, let me ask what was the reason we did not bring forward a Motion to question the policy of the Act of 1846, which, up to that time, we had consistently and honourably opposed? It was because we had laid it down from the first as a great principle that the fate of that proposition depended not on the injury it might inflict on any particular interest in the country, but on the way in which it should affect the condition of the working classes; and, there being no facts before us of a sufficiently large character to convince us that the condition of the working classes had been injured by the Act of 1846, we did not think it our duty to make any Motion, when in opposition, which questioned the policy of the law. Well, now, Sir, let me remind the House what was our conduct with respect to the other two branches of this great question. Did we—did the party who are said to have perpetrated "enormous mischiefs"—did we, on the subject of the sugar laws, act in that factions spirit which has been described by the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is himself so susceptible with regard to imputations of factious conduct? What did we do with regard to the sugar laws? When accounts were received in this country describing the state of distress—I might almost say of devastation—which had befallen these Colonies—when it was impossible for any man who was doing his duty in the House to be silent on the subject—what was the conduct of the party who have perpetrated "enormous mischiefs on the country?" A noble Friend of mine—alas! now no more—in his place in Parliament, made a most forcible statement to the House of the distress that existed, but asked for nothing more than an inquiry; and in accordance with this request the House granted a Committee to investigate the condition and prospects of the colonies which produced sugar and coffee. It is unnecessary for me to remind the House of the elaborate and complete investiga- 385 lion which took place. Who formed that Committee? Why, Sir, of the fifteen Members of which it was composed, only three were Protectionists, namely, the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles), my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State (Sir J. Pakington), and the noble Lord the Member for Leicestershire (Lord G. Manners). There was, indeed, one hon. Gentleman favourable to protection in sugar—I mean the hon. Baronet the late Member for South Essex (Sir E. Buxton), whose absence, but for the fact that he has been replaced by an hon. Friend of my own, I should greatly regret. There were on the same Committee two Members of the Government of the late Sir Robert Peel—I mean the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn), and Mr. Cardwell. There was also a Whig Cabinet Minister (Mr. Labouchere), and of course, being a Whig, a sincere free-trader. There were, besides, six Gentlemen of remarkably pronounced opinions on all questions relating to free trade. I shall read their names, for they are quite classical on such a subject. There were the late hon. Member for Liverpool (Sir Thomas Birch), the hon. and learned Gentleman who made the Motion to-night (Mr. C. Villiers), the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson), the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Wilson), a Member for a Scotch borough, and another hon. Gentleman, who I am not sure whether he is a Member of the House or not at present. Out of the fifteen Members, I repeat, only throe were Protectionists—there were only three men belonging to the party which by its interference on the subject had "perpetrated enormous mischiefs." And what was the result of the Committee? The result of the investigation by this free-trade Committee was, that they came to a resolution that there ought to be a differential duty of 10s. per cwt. between foreign and colonial sugar. Well, Sir, if there were "enormous mischiefs" done on this second branch of the subject, let hon. Gentlemen opposite take their share of them. But what happened in consequence of the efforts of the Protectionist party? That intense free-trader, the noble Lord the Member for London—the noble Lord who, after the gracious Speech from the "Throne—after the speech of the First Minister of the Crown—after the notice which I gave of the Amendment which I intended to propose to-night, which even 386 the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton has deemed so satisfactory—the noble Lord who, after all that, had the courage to rise up in his place and say that the question to be decided to-night was whether we should retain free trade or return to protection—Sir, I thought I listened to the tones of the Appropriation Clause when I heard that voice—that noble Lord who, on the night when it was proposed that there should be a call of the House, had the audacity to make this declaration—came down to the House when he was First Minister of the Crown, and owned that his legislation on the subject of the sugar duties had been rash, precipitate, and injurious—that its action had been far more rapid than he had contemplated, and asked leave to introduce a Bill immediately to suspend the change of duty, and prolong the protection which he himself had taken away. Well, now with respect to the first question—that of the land—I have shown to the House that the party who perpetrated "enormous mischiefs," from the very moment the repeal of the corn laws was carried, never attempted to disturb that law in this House. I have shown that, with respect to the sugar laws, they confined their exertions to a calm and elaborate investigation of facts, and that the consequence of that investigation, pursued with so much energy, and sustained with so much knowledge, was, that we who were in opposition influenced the conduct of the Minister of the day. And therefore, on these two heads, I think I have shown the House that the general accusation of the hon. and learned Gentleman has no foundation. I come now to the third branch of the question. We opposed—and not we merely, but many of Sir Robert Peel's followers opposed—the repeal of the navigation laws. Have we ever since attempted to abrogate that decision of the House? On the contrary, the present First Minister of the Crown, after the passing of the measure, took an early opportunity of saying that he thought that change in our legislation was one which we could not reverse; that it was a step which it was impossible for the Legislature to retrace. And now, Sir, let me—tracing the conduct with respect to these great questions of those who had perpetrated "enormous mischiefs" on the State—let me remind the House of their conduct since the repeal of those three great laws has taken place. Not having in any 387 instance attempted to disturb the decisions of Parliament on them, circumstances at length arose which called the attention of the Protectionist party to the condition of the cultivators of the soil in this country. When the general election of 1847 took place, the organisation of political parties was entirely broken up; very high prices for all kinds of farm produce, from peculiar causes, then existed; and the opinions which influenced the constituent body on that occasion could hardly be said to have had any reference to the principles, the merits, or the possible consequences of recent legislation. A large Protectionist party Was indeed returned to this House from a feeling which always animates great bodies of people in this country, who think they owe sympathy and gratitude to those who have fought their battles or carried their colours. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may deride this feeling, but they may rely upon it that if this feeling do not exist, Parliamentary government would soon be a mere name. But it is very well known that at the election of 1847 the economical controversy was not at all entered into, at least by the farmers. The farmers were then, as I have said, receiving high prices, and political parties were in a state of disorganisation; and, although a large party was returned to this House in favonr of what is called the agricultural interest, the fact is, that no pressure from that interest, or from any of the cultivators of the soil, was made to induce their advocates in this House to bring forward their complaints. In 1850, however, the pinch which we foresaw not only commenced, but was in acute operation. What was then the conduct of the party who have perpetrated "enormous mischiefs?" We were then pressed upon by our constituents, and by those whose interests were naturally dear to us, with complaints of their great losses and sufferings; and that they had great losses and sufferings I need not attempt to prove, because we have always a ready witness on that subject in the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton. But when our constituents came to us, what was our course? Did we come forward and demand the restoration of protection? On the contrary: we said we opposed the repeal of the corn laws on two grounds. The first and most considerable ground was, that it would injure the interests of labour; and the second and subordinate ground was, that it would probably 388 do injury to you, the corn growers. We are not satisfied that the interests of labour have been injured by the change. We cannot, therefore, lend ourselves to the cry of the farmer, and demand the restoration of protection on his account. [Laughter.] I can only tell the hon. Member who laughs that in a deliberative assembly it would be better for him to meet argument with argument. If my arguments are not sound, or my statements not accurate, let him expose them. I say that our advice to our constituents was, that we could not, because their interests were suffering, recommend a return to a Protectionist policy, and that, in our opinion, nothing could justify a return to that policy but proof of injury to the great interests of labour, which we believed from the beginning would he affected by it. But we said to them, "If you find your sufferings acute, if you find your distress is intolerable, if you find the cost of production not remunerated by your returns, we will consider your position with reference to taxation, and, if we can relieve you of burdens which others are not subject to, or by any other means equally justifiable give you relief, we will do our duty to you in the House of Commons, and we will endeavour to obtain you that relief." In pursuance of this advice, and at the request of my friends, I brought forward in this House a Motion of a remedial nature, and received, if not the sanction of the House, undoubtedly considerable sympathy. Now, in 1851 a change of Government very unexpectedly took place. In 1851—I beg hon. Gentlemen to remember the dates, for they are very important if you wish to arrive at an impartial estimate of the position of Government—I say, in 1851, at the first moment the House met, I gave notice of a Motion, the object of which was to relieve the cultivators of the soil from the pressure of certain local taxation—not a measure to restore protection, not a measure to question the policy of the repeal of the corn laws, but a measure brought forward with a distinct disclaimer on my part of any wish to enter upon that question, and with the statement that I thought it most unwise to make that controversy one of public discussion in the House of Commons, and that any recurrence to the system which had been abnegated could only be justified by the overwhelming opinion of the country. I brought forward this remedial Motion with regard to agriculture, which was, I think, lost in 389 this House—and in a very full House—only by a majority of 10 votes. [may say that the division upon that question displaced the Government from their seats. because, although they did not resign office upon that point, yet, on finding themselves a few days afterwards upon another subject, and in a very thin House, in a minority, they did feel it their duty to resign; and the noble Lord opposite, in a statement which he subsequently made in this House, referred to the division upon my Motion as that which had mainly decided the opinion of the Government. Well, under these circumstances, the Earl of Derby being recommended to the notice of his Sovereign by the then Prime Minister of the country, was called upon to form a Government. Now, look to the position of Lord Derby at that moment. He was at the head of a party in Parliament, one principle of whose conduct was that it was unwise to disturb the repeal of the corn laws which had taken place in 1846, unless called for by the nation in an unmistakeable manner. He had recommended that course while there was a most powerful party in the country discontented with the advice which he gave; and are hon. Gentlemen to be surprised that there should be a strong party in this country favourable to what they call protection, notwithstanding the course which we might feel it our duty to take in either House of Parliament? We must remember that the farmers of England, according to the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton, had at that very time lost upwards of 90,000,000l. in one year. Well, it might be perfectly wise, just, and beneficial, that a body of English producers should lose more than 90,000,000l. in a single year; but this I will venture to say, with great deference to all those lights of political economy whom I see opposite, that you may rely upon it, that so long as human nature remains what it is, a large body of producers will not lose millions without feeling very much discontented at the legislation which has caused such loss, and without challenging the justice of the legislation of which they are the victims. But you had something more than this. You had the great colonial interests of this country in a state of absolute ruin; and, in addition, you had the great shipping interest subjected to unrestricted competition by a Minister who, at the same time, did not remove those burdens and restrictions which, only six months ago, 390 he told the greatest commercial constituency in the world absolutely impeded its prosperity. Are you surprised, then, that there should be an important party—a party that, from their numbers and their great and ramified interests, may be fairly called a national party—who were discontented with the recent legislation to which I have alluded? Lord Derby, however, had made up his mind that nothing could justify a return to the abrogated system unless the labouring classes were largely and permanently suffering. What then was the conduct of Lord Derby in 1851? He was called upon unexpectedly to form a Government. He had to announce a policy which, while it showed sympathy with those great classes in the country, the sufferings of which are always proved by hon. Gentlemen opposite, would be consistent with the principle he had laid down for his Government, that they should not disturb the existing laws unless the working classes were suffering from their adoption. The programme of Lord Derby was one of compromise and of conciliation. How moderate it was I will show by recalling it to the consideration of the House. In 1851 did Lord Derby come forward and say, "We must return to the sliding scale of 1846?" On the contrary, he said—"I will propose, as regards the agricultural interest, now suffering so much, that we shall have a countervailing duty, such as has been approved of by men of the highest character and authority upon such subjects. You acknowledge the agricultural interest is subject to certain peculiar burdens as regards taxation, and to certain restrictions as regards their industry. Well, I open books of great authority in political economy, and they tell me that a countervailing duty is the legitimate compensation under such circumstances." I know that one of the most distinguished statesmen of the day, and an undoubted free-trader—the noble Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston)—when he consented to the repeal of the corn laws, yet, speaking as a statesman, repeated his regret that in the passion of the moment the opportunity had been lost of raising a revenue and of accomplishing other national objeccts by the imposition of a countervailing duty. Then, in 1851, a moderate countervailing duty was the proposition of Lord Derby, and not an attempt to disturb the settlement of 1846. The policy of Lord Derby having been expounded in a speech in his 391 place in Parliament, a record remains which an uninformed sneer will not disturb. [3 Hansard, cxiv. 1003.] What, then, was the conduct of Lord Derby with regard to the sugar duties? [The right hon. Gentleman was here interrupted by some conversation among hon. Members on the Opposition benches.] I hope that, as the Government are on their trial, hon. Gentlemen will do me the honour, as an honest jury, to listen to my statement. Did Lord Derby propose any recurrence to the laws which had been repealed in 1846 under the protest of the late Sir Robert Peel? Not in the least. All Lord Derby proposed was, that the descending scale of duties should be arrested, and that only for a time, while the Colonies were suffering from the great trial through which they were passing. Again, I will ask, did Lord Derby propose to re-establish the abrogated navigation laws? On the contrary, Lord Derby declared that any recurrence in that respect would be impossible, after the removal of those restrictions which the noble Lord opposite himself condemned. Lord Derby did not succeed in forming a Government in 1851. It, therefore, became necessary to consider his position with regard to this question; and, after due consideration, it was his opinion that it would he extremely unwise and injurious to bring forward in Parliament, in that or any subsequent Session, any Motion which directly or indirectly continued the great industrial controversy which had been so long maintained. He was aware that there was a party in the country which would not allow their course to be dictated or their feelings to be regulated by a mere Parliamentary party. It was not for him to tell men who were suffering, they were never to obtain relief; but he said, what I think he was entirely justified in saying, adopting what I conceive to have been a wise and proper course, that if the nation was aggrieved, an early opportunity would occur for the nation to relieve itself. He considered after his failure in the formation of a Government in 1851, that, so far as moral certainty was concerned, the dissolution of Parliament must take place under the advice of the noble Member for the City of London; and he looked to that dissolution, under the auspices of his political opponents, as the proper occasion on which to conclude forever this great controversy. After having done my best—under circumstances which must, of course, have been 392 mortifying to any party—namely, the noble Lord's failure in forming a Government—to rally the spirit of my friends in this House—in perfect concurrence with Lord Derby's advice, and in complete sympathy with all his counsels, I resolved, as I communicated to my friends at the time, that I would not bring forward any question in this House concerning the incidence of taxation on agriculture, because such a course might be liable to misconception—the Government might be pressed, and consequences might occur which we wished to prevent. Well, in 1852, when Parliament met, although at that time, from political causes, independent of the general feeling of this House, it is very possible that if I had brought forward a Motion on the incidence of taxation upon agriculture, I should have carried it, or at least should have been defeated by a majority so slight that the Government would have been shaken to its base, I scrupulously refrained from giving notice of any such Motion. I did not wish the controversy to be prolonged in this House. I looked to the inevitable and impending dissolution of Parliament, which would take place, as I thought, under the advice of our opponents, as the event that would undoubtedly settle the question for ever. Well, what did occur? Why, that occurred which no imagination could have supposed. There were internal dissensions in the Government—a Government so favoured by its opponents that we would not advance, scarcely even to do our duty, lest we might inconvenience them—the Government fell to pieces from internal dissension, and Lord Derby, by the advice of the noble Lord opposite, was again sent for by Her Majesty. Well, what was the conduct of Lord Derby under these circumstances? It was a result that we did not anticipate, and, what was more, that we regretted; but I will ask the House—I will not say as men of honour, but as men of common spirit—could we possibly have refused the duty which was almost thrust upon us? Our political opponents wished us to occupy their places; this House wished us to undertake the Government; I may safely say, that there was no section of men in the country who did not wish to see some Government formed; and I suppose that no body of men ever acceded to office with such complete absence of party passion and party feeling. Well, that being the state of the case, I was very much surprised, as our position, 393 regarding our antecedents was pretty accurately known, to find that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. C. Villiers) the stormy peterel of Protection, who always appears at a particular crisis, came forward and wished to know, on the first day of my taking my seat after my reelection, whether the Government was about to propose a recurrence to a protective policy? The same inquiry was made in another place of my noble Friend (the Earl of Derby). Our answers were in complete harmony with all we had said before—namely, that we had acceded to power by no Motion connected with this subject, on no Motion of our own, and under circumstances which we could not possibly have anticipated; that there seemed to be a unanimous feeling, both in the House and in the country, that we should administer public affairs; that it was not our intention to propose any recurrence to the abrogated laws; but that, in consistency with all we had said, but still more in deference to the feeling of that great party out of doors, who had a right to look to us for the constitutional opportunity of declaring their opinions, we should at an early opportunity recommend Her Majesty to ascertain the sense of Her people, and that this decision of the country upon the subject would be final.
Now, Sir, before I arrive at the dissolution, I may, perhaps, be permitted to state what was the conduct of the party who had perpetrated for six years such "enormous mischief," when they were—almost against their consent, and certainly with not too great confidence in their own abilities—obliged to become Ministers of the Crown. We found, when we acceded to office, that there were reasons which rendered an immediate appeal to the sense of the people most inconvenient to the public service; and although we wished, and willingly pledged ourselves to the House, that that appeal should take place at the earliest opportunity possible, still we found that it was necessary to administer previously the affairs of the country for a certain time. There were technical reasons which rendered the lapse of at least two months inevitable. The lapse of double that time would have allowed us to carry measures of the greatest importance to the State. The two measures which we considered of paramount importance were, the one for the defence of the country, the other for the reform of the Court of Chancery. The measure for the defence of the country was 394 received with derision by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London. He exhausted all his powers of amiable cynicism upon that measure. He revived and reorganised the Opposition; and, as if the trumpet of political warfare could not sound in that ear without his wishing to take the trenches of the enemy, I really thought the Government were to be upset on the Militia Bill about a month after they had acceded to office. There is no form of ridicule and no prophecy of disaster which the noble Lord and others did not bring to bear upon the absurd scheme of a militia raised by voluntary enlistment. Yet the party which had perpetrated "enormous mischief" persisted in their course; and they carried their measure, which has met with eminent and unprecedented success, and has given to this country a powerful and popular force. But no sooner had we provided for the defence of the country than we thought it our duty to carry out the recommendations of the Commission with respect to Chancery reform. We had the honour and advantage of a Colleague whose great abilities were not perhaps adequately appreciated by his country, though his unrivalled learning was universally acknowledged; but we found in Lord St. Leonards, when he had accepted the responsibility of a Minister of the Crown, not merely a learned lawyer, but a man with the grasp of a vigorous statesman; and, acting under his advice, and animated by the determination which we found inspired him, of accomplishing those great reforms, the basis of which depended upon Parliament's immediately carrying out the recommendations of the Commission, we resolved that we would face a critical and derisive Parliament, and would not only propose measures, but endeavour to carry them. Well, how were we received? Why, even one whose generous support of the Government I never can forget, and whose amiable and popular character in this House men on all sides acknowledge with pleasure—even the accomplished and noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), could not help warning us, though in a sunny and friendly way, not to embark in a Chancery suit. Her Majesty's Ministers, however, did embark in that Chancery suit, and I am proud to say it is the greatest and most successful Chancery suit—and I believe, also, the most popular with the people of England—that has ever been witnessed. Well, Sir, the party which had perpetrated "enormous 395 mischief" had pledged itself to the country to advise Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament. I have come to the dissolution of Parliament—but there is a chapter in the history of the last Parliament which I must complete before I refer to the consequences of that appeal to the country.
Sir, I have shown the House what has been the course of the Protectionist party in Parliament with respect to those three great measures which are popularly described as the three great measures of free, trade—the repeal of the corn laws, the repeal of the sugar laws, and the repeal of the navigation laws. I have shown the House that from the moment those three pleasures were carried, we never in any way whatever attempted in this House to disturb that settlement. In sympathy with those who were suffering out of the House, we brought forward measures relating to them which were of a remedial character, but which in no way disturbed or challenged the principles upon which those laws were based. Now, what was the conduct with respect to these subjects of the great party on the opposite side—or rather, I would say, of the united sections which have combined prematurely to terminate the course of a Ministry who have pledged themselves to bring forward measures in the new Parliament which all have admitted they wish to consider? I will show the House that these sections perpetrated as enormous mischief as we did ourselves. Now, Sir, I will take the followers of the late Sir Robert Peel. They may not be numerous; but, certainly, if we look to their great ability, their extensive experience, and their powers of debate, they must always be listened to with great respect in this assembly. Far be it from me to misinterpret or misrepresent their conduct. I will not even examine the lists in Hansard to ascertain how many of the followers of that eminent personage voted upon the Motions of a remedial character during the last Parliament. I will treat them with fairness. I will take as their representative one whom they will hardly hesitate in acknowledging as their principal organ, I will take that distinguished statesman and accomplished leader the right hon. Member for the University (Mr. Gladstone). As the humble representative of a party which has perpetrated "enormous mischief" during the last five years, let me say what I have done which has at least received the sanction of that distinguished individual. I brought forward 396 a Motion, when the sufferings of the cultivators of the soil were most severe—a Motion which, without pledging the House to anything, asked them only to inquire, in a Committee of the whole House, into the incidence of local taxation with regard to the agricultural classes. That there might be no mistake as to the nature of the measures which I proposed, I mentioned in the observations with which I prefaced the Motion to what extent I wished to proceed on that occasion. I will not trouble the House with details. It is enough for me to say, that the proposition was temperate in tone, and moderate in conception; that it was intended to show sympathy for those who were suffering, and suggested a change of the incidence of taxation, which I think was most advisable, with regard to the establishment charges of the Poor Law, and some other items. It was a proposal which was watched with great interest out of doors by those who were suffering, as a test of the feelings and sympathy of this House. On that occasion I received the distinguished and memorable support of the right hon. Member for the University, in one of the ablest speeches which even that able speaker has favoured the House with. As a vindication of my own course, of the line which I took for nearly three years in this House, what, on February 19, 1850, the year before the first break-up of the Government of the noble Lord the Member for London, was the view taken of my conduct by one of the most eminent Members of this House, between whom and myself there is no political sympathy, and who naturally looks with anything but a friendly feeling to the movements of the party with which I am connected? Mr. Gladstone said, on a Motion for a Committee to consider a revision of the Poor Laws—He thought that there was a connexion between the two proposals which was fatal to the revival of protection.… . The present Motion, if not perfect, was at least an approximation to justice. But it was said that a poor-rate was a tax inherited by the landed interest, and that, their property having come to them on this condition, they had no claim to be relieved from the payment. And how did the matter rest with regard to their inheritance? They did inherit poor-rates with their land, but they also inherited with it a protective system which had given to this property an artificial value."—[3 Hansard, cviii. 1207.]I am not giving this as my opinion, neither am I asking the House to agree with that opinion—I am not quoting these words with the view of asking you to sanction 397 that opinion—I am quoting them to show that, in the opinion of one of the most distinguished Members of the House, who has no political sympathies with me, but is rather inclined to look at anything from me so far with a jealous and critical eye, he saw nothing productive in that course which I pursued of the enormous mischief we are said to have perpetrated, but that he thought it a most praiseworthy and judicious course, and to which, with winning eloquence, he almost gained the assent of the House; because, certainly, to his speech I attribute the triumph of that division. The right hon. Gentleman said—But, while he rejoiced in the full evidence that a large portion of the community wore in the enjoyment of at least an equal, or more than average, share of comfort, yet the condition of the forming, class and of the agricultural labourer in a large portion of England, to say nothing of Ireland, was such as to demand the attention and consideration of the House.We are told now we must not make even a hypothetical allusion to the possibility of any class having been injured by recent legislation; yet here we have the highest and most free-trade authority in the House telling us that the condition of the agricultural interest was such as to "demand"—"demand," mind you—the attention and consideration of the House. The right hon. Gentleman went further, and said—If he spoke of them as justice, prudence, and compassion prompted, he need not wait for the financial statement of the year in order to do so.… . Yet it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that a severe struggle was going on, and that the farmers, as a class, were exerting themselves manfully.… . Now, he was desirous that the House should show a disposition to give aid and encouragement to the tenantry and yeomanry of the country in their struggle on their own be half, and on account of the vast national interests connected with maintaining our domestic agriculture.… . He trusted something to that spirit of liberality and conciliation which induced men to concede something to those over whom they had obtained a great triumph.That is the language, the beautiful and unexceptionable language, of the right hon. Gentleman. But surely it is not the right hon. Gentleman who will rise to-night and say that in the Motion I then brought forward I was perpetrating enormous mischief, since the right hon. Gentleman has left on record, in his brilliant oration, the opinion that the course I was pursuing was one which, showing sympathy with suffering classes, would absolutely prevent a recurrence to that protection of which he is 398 so much afraid. So far, therefore, with respect to the opinions of the followers of Sir Robert Peel on the course of the Protectionist party, in reference to the first great question of the repeal of the Corn Laws. But to pursue the investigation—doing justice to the followers of Sir Robert Peel, by selecting again their most accomplished champion—let us see what was the course they took on the second of these great tests—namely, our policy with reference to our sugar-producing colonies. On May 31st, 1850, only two Sessions ago, the question of our sugar-producing colonies, and the great distress they were then experiencing, was brought before the House. I am not sure whether it was then brought forward by the Secretary of State, I believe rather it was brought forward by the late Member for Essex (Sir E. Buxton), and the whole Protectionist party supported the policy he recommended. What did the followers of Sir Robert Peel, who now, it seems, disapprove our conduct, do to meet that Motion? "Sir," said the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford—We recollect the crisis through which the West Indies have passed, presenting a great industry and great interest not suffering and complaining merely, but absolutely ground down and reduced to total ruin by the legislation of this House.We must not refer to recent legislation but in terms of studied panegyric—we are going to re-establish the Sliding Scale, if for a moment we suppose that recent legislation, with the great blessings it accomplished, has been attended with injury to certain classes! Yet the right hon. Gentleman thus alluded to the total ruin which the sugar-producing colonies incurred—and by what? By the legislation of this House. "We are forced," said the followers of Sir Robert Peel, in the language of the right hon. Gentleman, because every one of the friends of the right hon. Gentleman wisely followed so distinguished a leader—to the conclusion of my hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich, to which my hon. Friend opposite is, I believe, prepared to adhere, as well as I am myself, to extend to the British West Indies that protection which is now vanishing before their eyes, for such time as may be necessary for the production of those useful public works that may lead to ultimate cheapness of production; while at the same time I ask you still more to adopt this course on behalf of that class for whom you have before made such sacrifices, and who are now fast sinking back to that degrading condition from which they were originally raised by your philanthropy and benevolence.399 The followers of Sir Robert Peel, then, who are, we are told, banded together against the existence of that Government which they are always calling on to produce their measures—the followers of Sir Robert Peel, on the two great questions, first, of agricultural distress, and secondly, on the distress of the sugar-producing colonies, entirely approved the policy pursued by the Protectionist party. What has been their policy with respect to the third test? The moment the navigation laws were repealed we gave up the battle. There never was a Motion made by any hon. Member on this side of the House—I have no recollection of any party Motion—by which it was attempted to recur to those laws. But this was a question which elicited the views of the followers of Sir Robert Peel. When the Bill for the repeal of the navigation laws was read a third time, the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford raised his eloquent voice in favour of reciprocity, and laid on the table of the House a clause to that effect. I have now submitted to the House the conduct of the party which it is said has "perpetrated enormous mischief" on three questions of free-trade. I have subjected the followers of Sir Robert Peel to the same test, and I find that we have the sanction of those distinguished men to our course.
But that section of the House, even if I could satisfy them, might not be numerous enough to save us from the peril in which we find ourselves. I must endeavour to see whether I cannot act on the consciences of a party more numerous and influential. Let us see what the noble Lord the Member for London and his party, the Whigs—let us see what they have done. Let us apply the three tests to his conduct and that of his followers. Has their conduct been such that they can now, by their votes and their speeches, declare that no great interests have been injured by recent legislation, and that, in sympathising with those suffering interests, we have been all this time perpetrating "enormous mischief?" I brought forward a Resolution which expressed some sympathy with the interests of the cultivators of the land in England, and made some slight attempt to alleviate their sufferings under that severe pressure which the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford so beautifully and so eloquently described. What I did, though I am called the "farmers' friend," is nothing to what the noble Lord did. 400 The noble Lord went to the Sovereigns and recommended Her to express sympathy with the sufferings of the agriculturists. The noble Lord recommended the Sovereign in Her gracious Speech to acknowledge not only their depression but their continued depression. What did he mean by that? Certainly a Minister who took such a course is not one to come forward and pretend that, because we supported a Motion on the peculiar burdens incident to the cultivators of the soil, we were seeking to get back protection. Certainly, he has no right to say that the question now is, whether we shall maintain free-trade or return to protection. What has been the conduct of the noble Lord in reference to the second question? I refer to it to complete the picture. The noble Lord has done more for the sugar interest than any other person in the House has done. He absolutely brought in a Bill two years ago to prolong their protection, and assist them in that struggle to which they were subjected, not only by recent legislation, but by his own. I come to the third test, the sufferings of the shipping interest. The noble Lord has not only lamented their sufferings, but suggested the removal of the burdens and restrictions upon the shipping interest "which still impede its prosperity." Now an interest whose prosperity is impeded, must be a suffering interest. It certainly cannot be called a progressive interest. It cannot be called an interest enjoying the advantages of the new system, of which the noble Lord is the champion. Thus I have shown that, on the three great subjects of recent legislation to which we have solicited the attention of the House, with reference to the injury inflicted on particular interests, we have the authority of the followers of the late Sir Robert Peel, and of the late Government, with all their followers too. I admit there is a party—how numerous I know not—which has been consistent. There is one person in this House, who has been constant from the beginning, and has a right to make the speech he made to-night, and that is the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. I have sat in this House many years with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I had the honour and gratification of his acquaintance for some years before either of us, I dare say, thought of having a seat in this House. There are two qualities which I have ever observed in him—precision of thought and concinnity of expression; and that is the 401 reason why I do not believe he is the author of the Resolution which he has brought forward. Whatever may be the faults of that Resolution, I find no fault with his speech. His speech is the same he has always made. I make the observation without any feeling that approaches to a sneer. I may say that he may look back with proud self-complacency to the time when I remember him sitting on almost the last bench on this side the House, and bringing forward, with the command of a master of the subject, never omitting a single point, and against all the prejudices of his audience, the question of the corn laws. There were no cheers then from the followers of Sir Robert Peel. There were no enthusiastic adherents then in a defunct Whig Ministry. On the contrary, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham) came forward and threw his broad shield over the territorial interest of England; and anybody but the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton would have sunk in the unequal fray. I honour, respect, and admire him; but I cannot agree to his Resolution; and I will give you, if you will let me, the reasons why I cannot do so. I have tonight put before the House the case of the Government; and, if I have seemed to trench on the patience of the House, I hope they will be generous enough to remember that they sit in the character of a jury to-night; that in speaking to them I am appealing to opinion, which will decide more important things than the fate of a Government. It is therefore fitting that, whatever may be the decision of the House, I should have an opportunity of putting the Government in a right position, and especially with reference to parties who are, we are told, banded together to overturn it. I have shown the House that from the beginning we resolved never to attempt to repeal any of those three measures; that under no circumstances did we think the country could retrace its steps unless the condition of the working classes became permanently worse; that during all this time there was a strong and most suffering party out of the House, a party whose sufferings were not only acknowledged by statements made by Ministers, but sympathised with by our Sovereign. And we are told that we were not to encourage those men under all their distresses, suffering, as they believed, from the desertion of their natural leaders—that we were not to secure for them, at least 402 the constitutional appeal which, if they did not labour under misapprehension, would, they believed, give them the means of redressing their grievances. I wish to bring in no external causes for the course we took; but I can only say, as one returned to this House by my constituents, that I cannot comprehend the feelings which should have induced me to desert them in their hour of trial. Difficult as was the position in which we were placed with these suffering interests, that position was immensely aggravated when the Chief Minister of the Crown was frequently recommending the Sovereign either to acknowledge those sufferings, or bringing in measures of partial and temporary relief. How could you expect that these interests would believe your laws conclusive, when from the Throne you seemed to regret their consequences, and were constantly meddling with the legislation you had yourselves proposed? I have shown the House that, acting on these two principles, we determined, first, that we should not disturb that legislation unless the working classes were permanently suffering; secondly, that we would by remedial legislation mitigate as much as possible any just claims for relief placed before us—claims which I have shown that the leaders of almost all parties have attempted to alleviate.
We now come to the dissolution of Parliament. The dissolution took place in July. The moment the elections were terminated it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to form a definitive and conclusive opinion with respect to the feeling of the people on this question, of attempting to abrogate the laws of 1846, 1847, and 1849, which affected the importation of corn, the importation of sugar, and the free navigation of the country. There could be, and there was, no question in the minds of Her Majesty's Ministers with respect to the result of that election. There was no doubt that there was not only not a preponderating majority in favour of a change in the laws passed in those years, but not even of modifying them in any degree; that there was a decisive opinion on the part of the country that that settlement should not be disturbed. When we acceded to office in the spring, there were then two courses open to us. If we had formed an opinion from what we observed and heard, that there was no prospect of the country sanctioning any modification of those laws, we 403 might have brought forward measures of a remedial character, such as we might have thought likely the House would sanction. That was one course we could have taken. The other was the course we adopted; and we adopted that irrespective of any other considerations than our own conviction that after such great changes had taken place—after there had been excited in the country so much alarm—and after there had been experienced so much distress—after that distress had been acknowledged by the Throne—after it had been attempted to be mitigated—after the statement that those who were discontented with that legislation would never be satisfied till there was an appeal to the constituencies—we were convinced that, if measures had been brought forward in this House which would have gained the assent of the House, which might have been of a very conciliatory character, and most just and beneficent in operation, there would be always a large party in the country, and no inconsiderable party in this House, who would have said that they had been betrayed by their friends, that we had betrayed our principles, that we had miscalculated the spirit and feeling of the country, that a protective policy was the policy of which the country really were in favour, and that, as in 1846 and 1847, the opinion of the country had been evaded or not appealed to. Irrespective, then, of the pressure of Parliament, we felt convinced that, for the advantage of the country and the permanent happiness of all classes, it was absolutely necessary that the question should be settled, and that those who made an appeal to the country in favour of a recurrence to a protective policy should have a constitutional opportunity of vindicating their opinions. What has been the consequence of the line we have taken? The consequence has been that—as always happens among Englishmen—the protectionists having had a fair trial, having gone through a fair contest, and having been beaten, are not ashamed to acknowledge their discomfiture. If they had not had this opportunity there would have been for years—for endless years—a Parliamentary party in the country and in this House, who would have believed in the possibility of carrying out a protectionist system of policy; and whenever a period of suffering, arising from any of those vicissitudes which will periodically occur, should have happened, you would have had the distress attributed to the policy you are so anxious to support. I ad- 404 mire and entirely respect the feeling which has influenced large bodies of my country, men to surrender long-cherished convictions. But in what way are you going to meet them? You are about to meet them—I will not say with the insult of a bully, because that would not be a Parliamentary phrase; but I do say that in no wise or politic spirit could these Resolutions have possibly been framed which have been presented to night. I have already acquitted the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton of being the father of his own Resolutions, and therefore he cannot be offended at anything I may say about them. Sure I am that those who have a powerful sympathy with something else than free trade, have concocted these Resolutions. Well, Sir, having after the general election, considered the verdict of the country, Her Majesty's Government felt they had but one course to take—frankly to accept and unreservedly to act upon it. But I am told that we have not done that. I am told that the language of the Queen's Speech from the Throne was not satisfactory. Why, certainly we did not think it our duty to recommend Her Majesty to speak like a partisan. There ought to be a certain degree of reserve in the language to be used by the Crown under any circumstances. The Speech from the Throne is always recommended by the advisers of the Crown, hut still it is the Speech of the Sovereign, and the Sovereign might be called on—even on the morrow—to use different language for a different purpose. For these reasons, it has always been deemed constitutional and proper that the Speech from the Throne should be distinguished by a fitting reserve. That used to be the old constitutional doctrine of the noble Lord the Member for London. In February, 1850, the depression of the agricultural classes was beginning to produce a significant effect on the administration of the noble Lord, and, whether for that reason or from some other cause, some of the noble Lord's friends thought that the Speech from the Throne did not avow adhesion to free trade with sufficient distinctness. The noble Lord was called to account for not speaking out by the Gentlemen who are offended by my calling them the Manchester school, although I use the phrase as a compliment, looking on a school as men holding distinct opinions, and not afraid of driving them to their legitimate results, and distinguished from 405 those politicians who, under different circumstances, advocate a different course, ["Hear!"] The mistake which hon. Gentlemen who cheer make is this, that I am not advocating a different course. However, on the occasion to which I was alluding, namely, in February, 1850, the Manchester school was of opinion that the noble Lord the Member for London had not spoken in the Speech from the Throne with the decision which befitted the atmosphere of a free-trade hall. What said the noble Lord in vindication? The noble Lord's words were these:—It appeared to us, much as we should have rejoiced in an opportunity of advising Her Majesty to declare the opinions w entertain with respect to the recent commercial policy, that the time was not a fit one to propose that that expression of opinion should fall from Her Majesty. It has always appeared to us, that in conformity to recent custom with regard to matters of legislation, upon which Parliament may have to give an opinion in the course of the Session, it is better to reserve those questions on the first night of the Session, and rather to give an opinion as to the actual state of the country, than to attribute that legislation to any acts of the Government.Although we have followed the precedent established by the noble Lord, we have not escaped the criticism of his supporters. The hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton indulged in one—unintentional no doubt, but still—most erroneous misrepresentation on this point, which, if not noticed, might be productive of "enormous mischief." He said that the Queen's Speech was in the conditional mood; that if the House were of opinion that the result of recent legislation had been good, then they should take an opportunity of saying so. Now, I deny that there was any condition attached to it. The House was not even asked to echo that passage in the Speech, for we drew up the Address so that the answer of the House might be, "We thank Her Majesty for Her Majesty's recommendation." In doing so, we followed the precedents that have always been set by the noble Lord, but which he now finds it convenient to disclaim. The Queen's Speech, however, did absolutely contain a distinct affirmation that the principle of our commercial code was the principle of "unrestricted competition." That principle had been acquiesced in after due deliberation on the part of the Government. The First Minister of the Crown spoke in the most explicit manner in that sense on the first night of the Session. What the Queen's Speech really said was, that if it should appear that recent legisla- 406 tion, in effecting a great deal of good—we did not dispute that—had done some harm—we did not say that it had—then the House would take the matter into consideration. The good was positive, the harm only was conditional. Her Majesty's Speech contained a distinct affirmation that the principle of our commercial code was "unrestricted competition." That policy having been accepted by the Government after due deliberation, the First Minister of the Crown, on the first night of the Session, announced the fact in the most explicit manner. I also made, on the same night, some observations in this House, which the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford thought so strong that he intimated hon. Members on this side of the House, as Protectionists, would stultify themselves by continuing to support the Government. Is it not enough that Her Majesty in the Speech from the Throne should have announced the decision of the country to be in favour of "unrestricted competition?" Is it not enough that the First Minister of the Crown should have taken the earliest opportunity of declaring from his place in Parliament that he knew the decision of the country was against a return to protection, and that he accepted the consequences of that decision? Is it not enough that I have placed on the table of the House the Amendment which the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton has seized upon rather captiously? You have to consider, first, the Motion of the hon. and learned Member; and, secondly, the Amendment which I, on the part of my friends, have proposed, for reasons which I will express. Let us consider the Resolutions of the hon. and learned Member; I say that, in the first place, they are unprecedented; and, in the second, they are, in my mind, most impolitic and unwise. Let us for a moment try their justice, equity, and policy by parallel instances in similar cases. I will take, first, the case of the House of Commons after the Reform Bill, and the position of the Government in 1835. Sir Robert Peel and his friends had offered to the Reform Bill a powerful and prolonged opposition. Sir Robert Peel suddenly became Minister in 1835, and when he was Minister he expressed his determination not to disturb the Reform Bill, although he did not approve of it. What would then have been thought of the Opposition if in a new Parliament, and with a Ministry in such a position, they had proposed a Resolution 407 declaring that the Reform Bill was a just, wise, and beneficial measure? Let us look at this question a little closer, for it involves much higher considerations than any connected with mere personal interests. I tell you that if you carry your Motion, you will render Parliamentary government impossible in this country. Thenceforth a Government composed of persons whose opinions have been politically vanquished, will cease to be practicable; because if you pursue the course you are now following, the moment such a party succeeds to power, a Resolution may be brought forward, pledging the House in vague terms to some measure which those forming the Government have formerly conscientiously opposed. Take another instance. Let us suppose that a new Government is formed; let us suppose, further, that that Government is composed of the followers of Sir Robert Peel. Suppose you Gentlemen opposite may not approve of the noble Lord the Member for London immediately returning to power. I assure the noble Lord I will offer no objection to his return to office, if he wishes it. Let us imagine a different case, however, namely, that the followers of Sir Robert Peel accede to office, and form an Administration. Two years ago the followers of Sir Robert Peel opposed one of the most popular measures ever brought forward by a Minister in this country. I give no opinion as to the wisdom, policy, or success of that measure, but that it was one of the most popular measures ever offered to the acceptance of a Legislature there is no doubt. The followers of Sir Robert Peel opposed the measure, because they said it was a declaration of war against Ireland. That measure was the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. Should the followers of Sir Robert Peel take office to-morrow, I do not think it impossible—could I descend to such arts—to carry a Resolution declaring the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill to be a wise, just, and beneficial measure. But the case is more aggravated even than it seems to be by these instances. Let us remember under what circumstances Sir Robert Peel acceded to office in 1834—for although he was as guiltless as any man in Her Majesty's dominions of what had occurred, he came into office under circumstances which produced great acrimony and irritation. The former Administration was displaced by what looked like a Court intrigue, and the Parliament, while still young, was sent back to its con- 408 stituents. Sir Robert Peel was free from any participation in any intrigue, for he was absent from England at the time; but still he was installed Minister under odious and objectionable circumstances, and he was obliged to meet, with balanced parties, a hostile Parliament and enraged rivals. The noble Lord the Member for London was engaged to operate in that case; and the noble Lord has never been backward in exhibiting what we will call a well-regulated party feeling. The noble Lord had reason to be angry on that occasion, for he may almost be said to have had a personal outrage inflicted on him. He was supported by a party in this House, who were thirsting for vengeance; and if anything could have justified such a course, the noble Lord would have been justified in moving such a Resolution as that which has been proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton. He might have said that a Reform Administration had been displaced by an anti-reform one, and he might have called upon the House to declare that the Reform Act was a wise, just, and beneficial measure. The noble Lord, however, did nothing of the kind. Now what are the circumstances of the present moment? Has a Free trade Ministry been supplanted by a Protectionist intrigue? Quite the contrary: the Government of the noble Lord fell to pieces from internal dissensions. The noble Lord went out of office; he was not turned out; and instead of our having come into power through Court intrigue, the noble Lord is really responsible—in the most constitutional manner—for our official existence. Since we have been a Government, we have had to make pledges to Parliament and the country. We have fulfilled all our pledges but one. We pledged ourselves—notwithstanding what seemed to be a factious opposition—to carry those measures which we thought absolutely necessary for the country. We carried them, and they have been successful. We pledged ourselves to dissolve Parliament so soon as the public convenience would permit, in order that the opinion of the country might be ascertained on those questions which in the hon. Member's Resolutions are called "free trade" and "protection," which decision should be final. We did dissolve Parliament, the opinion of the country was given, and we have bowed unreservedly to the decision. We pledged ourselves that there should be an autumn Session, in 409 order that the House might have an opportunity of ascertaining the policy of the Government. The Parliament is now assembled for that purpose. I pledged myself, if an opportunity offered, to bring forward measures which I think the altered circumstances of the country require. Previous to my election I communicated frankly my views to my constituents by telling them, as I always have done, that the assimilation of our financial to our commercial system would ultimately prove the policy by which general contentment would be given to the country. I am ready to fulfil this last pledge; and the measures which the Government has prepared would have been brought forward but for this—I must call it—vexatious Motion. Those measures are founded on the assumption that unrestricted competition, or, to use the more popular phrase, free trade, is the principle of our commercial system. These measures have been concerted with my Colleagues, and have received their unanimous support, and there is no reason, except the hon. and learned Member's Motion, why I should not at this moment be offering them to the consideration of the House. In proceeding to discharge our duty as a Government, we are met by Resolutions which involve more important considerations than the fall of an Administration. You are about to establish a precedent which may destroy a Government—an affair which, perhaps, you may deem of as little moment as it appears to be thought by the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton; but you will establish a precedent that will destroy more than the one Government whose cause I am pleading before the House and the country to-night. How have we met these Resolutions? Seeing that I have announced my intention to make my financial statement only two nights hence, I might—and I am sure the feeling of the country, and perhaps of this House, would have supported me in doing so—have moved the previous question. I would not move it. I am satisfied that in giving our friends throughout the country an opportunity of vindicating their opinions in a constitutional manner, we have contributed to the permanent welfare and contentment of the country. I, for one, have received my reward, as all my Colleagues have done, in the assurances of our friends on this side of the House, and throughout the country, that they feel we have done for them all that men of honour could be called upon to do, and that the country 410 having decided against their opinions, they are prepared to accept that altered policy which the circumstances of the times require.
Sir, the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton says that the duties of a Minister are merely nominal. I can only express a hope that if he is to be a member of the Government that is to be, he may not be disappointed as to the amount of toil he will have to undergo. I am sure he will not be disappointed in the assistance which he expects to receive from the permanent civil servants of this country. I am the last man to refrain from doing justice to the permanent civil servants of this country. Their devotion to the public service is, I think, one of the most beautiful features of our social system. They have not public fame, but they have the appreciation of those whom they support and assist. But, Sir, even with that support, I can unaffectedly say that the toil and responsibility which in these days devolve upon men holding office, could not be borne by any set of men who were not sustained by a feeling of self-respect and the fair confidence of Parliament. I say it for myself, and in the name and on behalf of my Colleagues, that we neither seek to be, nor will we be, Ministers on sufferance. We took upon ourselves the reins of Government without inquiring whether the late Parliament was hostile to our general policy or not; but we took them at the general desire of the House of Commons and of the country. We met the difficulties of our position fairly, and administered the Government of the country to the best of our ability, applying ourselves diligently and assiduously to the affairs that were brought under our consideration till such time as there had been an appeal to the country. But whatever were the exigencies of the case then, in the old Parliament, we neither desire nor will we submit in the new to carry on the Government under any indulgence which is foreign to the spirit of the British constitution.
Sir, I believe I have now said all that is necessary for me to address to the House, and I am content here to leave the case of the Government. I have placed before the House, very imperfectly I can easily conceive, the whole of that case. The subject is somewhat large, and I have endeavoured to be as succinct as circumstances required and would allow. If I had only personal feelings to consider, I should 411 sit down; but I think, without vanity, and speaking in the name of the Government, that there is, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves placed, a sense of duty which may justify us in looking beyond personal considerations. We believe that we have a policy which will conduce to the welfare, content, and prosperity of the country. I hope it is not an unworthy ambition to desire to have an opportunity of submitting that policy to Parliament. But I am told that that is not to be the case. Now, although I have too much respect for this House to condescend to advocate the cause of a Government, yet I will say something on behalf of a policy. I will not, therefore, without a struggle, consent to yield to an attack so unfair as that to which we are subjected. I will not believe, remembering that this is a new Parliament, that those who have entered it for the first time have already, in their consciences, recorded their opinions. On the contrary, I believe that they will listen to the spirit and to the justice of the plea which I put before them to-night. It is to those new Members—a third of the House—on whichever side of the House they may sit, that I appeal with confidence. They have just entered, many of them after much longing, upon that scene to which they have looked forward with so much earnestness, suspense, and interest. I doubt not they are animated with a noble ambition, and that many of them will hereafter realise their loftiest aspirations. I can only say, from the bottom of my heart, that I wish that, on whatever benches they may sit, their most sanguine hopes may not be disappointed. Whatever adds to the intelligence, eloquence, and knowledge of the House, adds also to its aggregate influence; and the interests of all are bound up in cherishing and maintaining the moral and intellectual predominance of the House of Commons. To those new Members, therefore, I now appeal. I appeal to the generous and the young. And I ask them to pause now that they are at last arrived on the threshold of the Senate of their country, and not become the tools and the victims of exhausted factions and obsolete politics. I move the following Amendment:—To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House acknowledges, with satisfaction, that the cheapness of provisions, occasioned by recent legislation, has mainly contributed to improve 412 the condition and increase the comforts of the Working Classes; and that unrestricted competition having been adopted, after due deliberation, as the principle of our Commercial System, this House is of opinion that it is the duty of the Government unreservedly to adhere to that policy in those measures of Financial and Administrative Reform which, under the circumstances of the Country, they may deem it their duty to introduce,' instead thereof.
§ Question proposed—"That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BRIGHT
Sir, I have listened with that interest in which the whole House has joined to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I expected when he rose that he would have made at least some attempt to answer the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers). I cannot conceive that the right hon. Gentleman lost sight unintentionally of the point of my hon. Friend's speech, and of the real question now in dispute between the Government and my hon. Friend. If the right hon. Gentleman avoided entering into the question which has been introduced to the notice of the House, I may at least be justified, I think, in avoiding a large portion of his speech. I shall, therefore, in the first place, call attention to only one or two points which the right hon. Gentleman urged. The right hon. Gentleman wished to make it appear that he was now a member of a Free Trade Government, and that he acted with the Free Trade party, and yet repeatedly during his speech, and within six sentences of its conclusion, he spoke of the body with which he was now associated as still the Protectionist party. The right hon. Gentleman said, moreover, that he took no steps in the direction of unsettling the settlement of 1846 since that period. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to forget that in 1850 he voted in favour of a Resolution to the following effect:—That the whole House resolve itself into Committee of the whole House, for the purpose of taking into consideration the Acts relating to the importation of Foreign Corn.This was a Motion made by a Gentleman who was not now a Member of the House, but one whom the right hon. Gentleman seduced from this side of the House by speaking of what he would do for the farmers, and by promises which have not been fulfilled—I allude to the late Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. Grantley Berkeley). More than that, the right hon. 413 Gentleman endeavoured to persuade the House that with regard to sugar and shipping he was as blameless as on the question of corn, and that if any one was culpable at all in regard to sugar, no one was more so than the noble Lord the head of the late Government. But the right hon. Gentleman seemed to forget that his right hon. Colleague the Secretary for the Colonies (Sir J. Pakington) incessantly endeavoured to unsettle the first settlement of that question in 1847. The right hon. Gentleman also appeared to forget—or else sought to conceal from the House, that another of his right hon. Colleagues, whom I see opposite, the right hon. Gentleman the Governor of our Indian possessions—[Laughter.] I speak advisedly when I say Governor, for I recollect that a predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman, Sir John Hobhouse, now Lord Broughton, when President of the Board of Control, admitted, in answer to a question of mine in Committee, that he was the Ruler of India, and that he was responsible for its Government. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herries) gave notice of a Motion respecting the Navigation Laws; he felt, I believe, the insecurity of his position, and, necessitated by the successive taunts of the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. J. L. Ricardo), he was induced to bring forward his Motion; but he was so disconcerted at the reception it met with, that he did not ask the House to go to a division. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, following in his usual adroit manner, fixed upon the conduct of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) and two or three of his colleagues, in order to divert attention from the real subject at issue. I am afraid that the noble Lord and some of his colleagues have been too long in this House to be perfectly consistent. But I could show the House that, however bad may have been the course of the noble Lord, that of the right hon. Gentleman was not a bit better. But I will not enter upon these questions now, for that before the House is too important in the eyes of the country to be disposed of by recriminations between the members of the late and the present Government. My hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers) could with perfect honesty say that he could not be actuated by factious motives in bringing this subject forward, for he brought it forward fifteen years ago, and probably no public man suffered more in his political associations and prospects than my hon. 414 Friend suffered, by his undeviating advocacy of what to him at least seemed a great and sacred question. My hon. Friend is therefore precisely the man to bring this question forward; and every person must admit that he is harmonious in the position he occupies to-night, when measured by the position which he always occupied on this question. The Government were asked last February and March what course they intended to pursue; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he meant to appeal to the country. Well, the country has been appealed to, and the right hon. Gentleman has given us to understand that the Government had not done much to promote the cause of protection in the country. They did not do so to much extent in the boroughs, but they did 30 most assiduously in the counties, and if the House would give me its attention, I could show that there is scarcely a single county in which the electors did not vote almost exclusively on the protectionist principle. The Resolutions before the House are submitted for our deliberate consideration, and while I am ready to admit that that of the right hon. Gentleman is far in advance of any proposition which he ever made to this House in any part of his former political career, that of my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers) involves something which, though it may be inconvenient to the party opposite, contains that which is precisely for the interest of the country, and upon which, I will prove, the country expects we should come to a definitive decision. Suppose the two Resolutions to be placed before the country at the recent election—that of my hon. Friend, who declares the advantage which the country has derived from free-trade, but declares, especially of the measure of 1846, which established the free admission of foreign corn, that it was a "wise, just, and beneficial" one, and that of the right hon. Gentleman—if the whole country, man, woman and child, were polled with respect to that particular passage of the Resolution, would there not be an enormous and overwhelming majority—a majority of nine to one throughout the whole country, in favour of the Resolution of my hon. Friend? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. E. C. Egerton), who seconded the Address, would sit for that free-trade borough unless he admitted that the Act of 1846 was a wise, just, and beneficial measure. The Parliament of 1846 was of opinion that it was a wise, just, and beneficial 415 measure. Is there any Member who voted for that Bill in 1846, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), or any other, who did not, and does not, believe that, under all circumstances, the measure was a wise, just, and beneficial measure. And if there were any who had doubts then, is it possible, after the experience of the last six years, that they could have any doubt at present? The Parliament of 1847 came to the same conclusion as the Parliament of 1846, and during the whole course of its existence it resisted the unsettling of that just, wise, and beneficial measure. And now the Parliament of 1852, called together under a Protectionist Government—for Protectionist they were when they went to the hustings, whatever they are now—this present Parliament, as admitted by the right hon. Gentleman himself, has decided that the result of our recent legislation has been beneficial to the great bulk of the working classes of the country. Now, when Parliament is going to pronounce its final verdict on the question of free trade, I should have thought that my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers), who for fifteen years has been the consistent leader of the free-trade question in Parliament, should be the person to draw up the terms of that verdict, and not one like the right hon. Gentleman, who had been a Protectionist during the whole period of his career. Some persons say—I speak, rather of what is said in private—that the Resolutions are much the same, and that it is only a dispute about words. Well, if it is only a dispute about the words to be adopted, if feelings are to be consulted, if claims are to be considered and advice to be taken, surely the advice and recommendation of the long-devoted Friend of the question should be taken in preference to those of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But the words of the two Resolutions are not the same: the principles are not the same; the cause, the intent, the whole matter is not the same, and I will show the House wherein they differ. The Resolution of my hon. Friend establishes a principle: that of the right hon. Gentleman merely a fact. The one proclaims the benefit of free-trade to the whole country and the whole world, and says that our experience must make us appreciate it more and more: the other leaves everything to hazard; it refers to certain injustice to be righted, to certain interests to be compensated to any amount which Parliament may be induced to give. The 416 right hon. Gentleman must not suppose that the House is so exceedingly simple as to think that he, penitent though now he appears to be, is a man to be wholly trusted on this occasion. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have had so much experience of the right hon. Gentleman, may trust him; but we cannot do so without stipulations and conditions. Let us go back to the year 1846; six years are not so long past that we cannot remember what he said on these benches and out of this House. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the audacity of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell); but the right hon. Gentleman has audacity to say that he and his party recommended the farmers not to endeavour to unsettle the Act of 1846, and that they tried to put down the clamorous complaints of the farmers, as the question of the labourers was the only one involved in the matter. I must say, if ever a statement made by a Minister of the Crown gave a more incorrect statement of fact than another, I think that this statement is the one. Why, do we not recollect the speeches which they made by dozens all over the country before the farmers—do we not recollect the deputations to the Earl of Derby—do we not recollect the excited feelings with which the simple farmers were sent back to their towns and counties? I was never more amused in my life than when I was reading the answer of the right hon. Gentleman to the deputation that came to see him, because it was of that nature that I defy twenty or even fifty farmers to make head or tail of it. The right hon. Gentle man sought to defend himself by referring to the conduct of Sir Robert Peel in 1835. When one quotes a precedent, there ought at least to be some analogy between the cases. Did Sir Robert Peel, from 1832 to 1835, employ himself in this House, or did his followers employ themselves in the country, in proving that the Reform Bill was destructive of the British constitution—and that it was absolutely necessary for him and them to take the first opportunity of appealing to the country to undo that Act? If Sir Robert Peel did this when he came back from Italy, the very first proposition that would have been laid before the House would have been a Resolution hearing to the Reform Bill precisely that relation which the Motion now before the House bears to the Corn Law repeal. There were other precedents which the right hon. Gentleman has attempted to set up of the same character, 417 which I will not refer to; but there is one point which the right hon. Gentleman has constantly asserted in this House which it is necessary to notice, and here I cannot help observing how amazing it is that whatever assertions the right hon. Gentleman makes—however untrue they may be—they are speedily taken up and circulated throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman and his party constantly endeavoured to make it appear, either that the Corn Law was originally granted to the landlords to compensate them for the special burdens which were imposed upon them in the taxation of the country; or otherwise it was for the purpose of preparing the landlords to endure some special burdens which the enactment of the Corn Law would enable them to bear. Nothing, in fact, was too silly, and nothing too unlikely, that the Government did not offer, and the landlords greedily feed upon, at the hustings. But neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any of his friends ever offered one single fact, figure, or quotation in proof of the statement which he made. I do not recollect ever having found in the debate of 1815 on the Corn Laws one single word that led to the conclusion that the Corn Law was then granted to the landowners to compensate them for any exclusive burdens that they bore. I have never heard since even of any Chancellor of the Exchequer imposing any tax upon the landed portion of the community for the burdens they had to endure, or that the landed interest was well able to bear all their share of the taxation because they had the protection of the Corn Laws. Now, with regard to that point, I will just for a moment lay two or three figures before the House, not, however, that I wish to trouble them with any lengthened statistics on this occasion, for we have got far beyond the statistics of this question, except those of the division which the House is to come to at the close of the present discussion. Well, then, from 1801 to 1815, a period when this country was fighting against French principles, the taxes imposed—I take my figures from the Progress of the Nation, the work of my late lamented friend Mr. Porter, were 13,500,000l.; hut it is not to be seen at all from any records that we have that any of these taxes were especially laid upon land. The amount of Customs duties was 7,381,000l., the Excise 10,702,000l., the Stamps 1,104,,000l., which included the Probate 418 and Legacy Duty, which certainly was not a duty upon land or real property. The other taxes, including the Income Tax and the Post Office revenue, made the total amount to 31,538,000l. Coming down to 1816 I see how far these taxes were repealed, and I find that of Customs there were 52,000l. repealed. Excise, 2,863,000l., and of other taxes, 14,631,000l., making a total of 17,546,000l. Now no man can show me from these accounts—and I can go more into detail if it is necessary—that any single tax was laid upon land or on the landowner as a landowner; but if he examine them properly, he will find that all interests were included in the imposition of these taxes, and that none were excluded from the benefits which may have resulted from the repealing of taxation. To a certain extent all were gainers, and none were excluded. From this enumeration I exclude the Probate and Legacy duties, which stand by themselves. I come next to the question of the poor-rate, which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has referred to, and I find that from 1812 to 1813 the average poor-rate of the year, calculated by the two preceding years, was 8,688,000l.; whereas in 1843 and 1844 the average poor-rate was only 6,878,000l.; so that, in point of fact, in 1843 and 1844 the average poor-rates of this country were less by 1,810,000l. than they were in 1812–13. And then, if we take also the enormous increase in property since that period, and the value of land, and the accumulation of railways, we shall find that the poor-rates comparatively are an insignificant burden upon land. In fact, they are not half the burden on the landowner or the farmer that they were in 1812–13. With regard to the Legacy and Probate Duty, I regret the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, but I see the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department in his place, and no doubt he is fully cognisant of the changes which he proposes to make with regard to the Legacy and Probate Duty. I find that it has been charged from 1797 to 1845 upon more than 1,339,000,000l. of personal property; whereas the whole of the land that is freehold land, which is the character of most of the land in this country, has been entirely free from this charge. The Probate and Legacy Duty during the period up to 1845, that is, forty-nine years, was upwards 419 of 71,000,000l.; and bear in mind that when that measure was first brought in, Mr. Pitt intended that it should cover all property; but the great landowners in this House at the time had sufficient strength and influence to induce the House to reject that portion of the measure which related to real property. But I will not go into further statistics upon that branch of the question; suffice it to say that if there was no pretence of the nature I have suggested for the Corn Laws in 1815, there has been none since, nor is there any at the moment at which I am speaking. It was, in fact, the law of the strong carried against the weak; it was a wicked and cruel law, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton has repeatedly shown. And that was its characteristic from the hour when it received the Royal Assent down to the hour when it was repealed. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer twits my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers) about the extent of loss which the country has suffered in the reduced value of food which has taken place since the repeal of the Corn Laws; but, in answer to that, I will take leave to call the attention of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. B. Ball), who is the honest supporter of the principles of protection, to the statement I am now about to make. I have made inquiries—extensive inquiries—amongst families in different classes of society on the subject, and I find that the actual cost per head in each family of the article of flour, in all its various uses in a household, is about 10d. per week, which is about equal to 45s. per head per annum, which, for 22,000,000 of persons, gives something like 63,000,000l. sterling. Now, if the food of the people of the United Kingdom cost 60,000,000l., with wheat at 40s. per quarter, with wheat at 60s. the cost must be 90,000,000l. But the right hon. Gentlemen thinks, no doubt, that the nation has taken all that difference from the farmer and the agricultural class, and if the same quantity were consumed now as before, of course the loss would fall on their shoulders; but seeing that a vast proportion of this extraordinary quantity of food is brought from abroad, and paid for by our manufactures, the 30,000,000l. can form no indication or measure of the loss which the agricultural class has sustained. Well, then, how is the balance made, up, because I admit that the agricultural class has sustained a loss? We 420 never pretended to deny that, but always said that it would be the one result of the repeal of the law. But if they have a loss, it is made up by increased production, by greatly improved cultivation, and extended markets for the sale of wool and animal food. They had also, like all the rest of the population, lighter burdens to bear and cheaper living, besides an enormous gain to all classes of our population who are consumers of agricultural produce at all. Now the Chancellor of the Exchequer admits fairly that the country has decided against him, and I think that every Gentleman on his side of the House will also admit that the country is decidedly with us. There is much unanimity both in and out of doors on the subject, notwithstanding that many objections are entertained on the other side of the House to free trade; but the free-trade majority in this House is but a faint and inadequate index of the free-trade majority that exists throughout the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton submits a Motion which he considers to be wholly, entirely, and explicitly in confirmation of the decision of the country, while we believe that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is made with a reservation which may possibly involve us in hurtful and injurious consequences in the future. Therefore we propose the Resolution, and prefer it to the Amendment. Can any free-trader doubt for a moment whether, with the interest of free trade—because that is the matter before us—it is not for the advantage of the country that the House should agree to the Resolution rather than the Amendment? Can any one, I say, who is a free-trader, conscientiously doubt which it is proper to do? But if any man does doubt, let him just turn for a moment to the course taken by the supporters of the Government on a recent occasion when they were before the country. I am disposed now for a moment or two to ask the attention of the House to the opinion expressed in July last, when the conclusion of the elections was not so apparent as it is now. What were the opinions of hon. Members opposite, as well as Members of Her Majesty's Government, then? Now, there is a Gentleman just come into this House to whom I can refer. I have not the pleasure of his acquaintance, but he bears the name of a noble Lord who was the leader of the Protectionist party after the break-up of the Peel Administration in 1846. I have often wondered 421 during the last few days what would have been the course Lord George Bentinck would have taken if he had been alive to see what we look upon to-night. I think I know the course he would have taken when beaten by facts, when the case was closed against him. I think he would fairly have admitted his defeat, and I think he would have said what we did to Sir Robert Peel after the heavy charge which we brought against him, namely, that if the repeal of the Corn Laws was necessary, he was not the man who ought to carry it—"We are not the persons who ought now to be entrusted with the guardianship of free trade, or to undertake the further extension of that policy." That, I think, would have been far more satisfactory to the country than the position you are now taking up of sticking pertinaciously to office. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cry "Oh, oh." Well, then, I will withdraw that expression, and recall to their recollection what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He told us that he did not mean to give up place. Now my opinion is, Lord George Bentinck would have said, "No, if we still hold our former opinions, we had better give up place, and go into opposition, where, at any rate, there can be no imputations thrown out against our motives." To revert now to the opinions of the supporters of the Government, the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) is reported to have said, that "he believed it was impossible that a free-trade policy could ever be carried out in this country, and he would do his utmost to have that policy reversed." I am reporting from the paper that came into possession of the Queen's Speech so mysteriously—I refer to the Morning Herald, which is considered often obscure, and at the best of times not over-distinct, or easily to be comprehended. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) speaking at Coleshill, on the declaration of the poll, avowed himself—To be as much a protectionist as ever, and he was satisfied that if Lord Derby saw that it could be easily attempted, protection would be restored in its old form; or if it could not, Lord Derby would retain office to improve the position of the farmer.Now, that formed precisely the reservation in the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is to be feared at the present time. At the South Warwickshire election, one of 422 the present Members (Lord Brooke) speaking at the nomination, said—His own opinion remained unchanged upon the question of free trade, and he thought the changes which Sir Robert Peel made in our commercial policy had been most injurious to the interest of the country.The hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bagge), pledged himself at the election—To support Lord Derby's Government believing that the noble Lord was disposed to assist the agricultural interests against the inroads of free trade.The hon. Member for West Sussex (Mr. Prime) said—It appears to me that free trade is only calculated to diminish the employment of every trade and profession. All the working classes are suffering from it, and the manufacturers and shopkeepers are endeavouring to meet the falling-off in their profits by extending their trade.The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Yorke), said nothing more than what I expected from him. He is an independent gentleman, and I am sure he will honestly carry through, if he can, the opinions which he entertains. He expressed his—determined adhesion to the principles of Protection, and his surprise at being called upon to renounce those principles on the ground that they were untenable. It might just as well be asked of a man enclosed in an iron cage to give up his notions of liberty; but he should retain his opinion, and take the first opportunity that occurred of recording it in favour of Protection.Another of the hon. Members for Cambridgeshire (Lord G. Manners), the brother of the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests, expressed "his determined intention to support the Government of Lord Derby, believing that the noble Lord would remedy the hasty and inconsiderate legislation of 1846." The hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. Stanhope), said—He wished to protect not only the farmer, but the British labourer, against excessive foreign competition." "If they disagreed with him on the subject of a 5s. duty on wheat, why should they not have a sufficient duty on oats, barley, and beans, which would enable them to sell their wheat at a cheap rate to the consumer?" "They who voted for the repeal of the Corn Laws were Destructives. He alluded to the deadly enemy of the agriculturist—Graham, and Cobden and Bright coupled with him.I now come to the third Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. E. Ball). He is reported to have said, "The more he thought over the matter, the more he was convinced that free trade was one of the greatest curses that ever befell this country." I hope the hon. Member is of the same opinion 423 yet. [Mr. B. BALL: Quite so.] I do not find fault with the hon. Member, because he has repeated the same opinion in this House with great fairness, and pursued a straightforward honest course. The hon. Gentleman is not in office, he holds no employment under Government, he is not a privy councillor, nor does he hold any political position in connexion with the Ministry, and therefore he has nothing whatsoever to gain by changing his views or tactics. He therefore presents to us what I cannot help feeling to be the mistaken opinions of the farmers of Cambridgeshire. He is one of those in this House who treats them with no duplicity, but says precisely what he means, and does the best for them that he can. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire (Mr. Halsey), at the last election, declared "that he had not in the slightest degree changed his opinion as to the policy or impolicy of free trade." The noble Lord the Member for South Lincolnshire (Lord Burleigh), said that "in his opinion the Bill of 1846 not only remained, but was actually strengthened by experience." He then gave to the simple farmers half a column of statistics about ships, colonies, and sugar, and something about corn, and then, no doubt, excited by the triumphant nature of his own efforts, he exclaimed, "Surely these facts were enough to make him adhere to his resolute opposition to free trade;" and the noble Lord concluded his address by "denying the assertion that free trade had produced happiness to the people." The House will perceive that I am endeavouring to show how anxious the free-traders opposite are to carry out the principles of unrestricted competition. Well, but it is only fair that we should know what these Gentlemen were when they were supposed to be speaking to their constituents with openhearted frankness; and to proceed, I may mention that the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (the Marquess of Granby), declared that "he would ride the horse of protection as long he was fit to go out with." The right hon. Gentlemen who now form the Government entertain a contrary notion, for their opinion seems to have been that they would ride the horse of protection only so long as he was fit to get "in" with. But to return to the noble Marquess, who told his constituents that "when the noble stead was not 'fit,' he would take the beast of burden as far as he would carry carry him." The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Captain Vyse) said— 424If again sent to Parliament, he would support the present Government, which he believed to be Conservative, Protective, and Protestant. Lord Derby had said that the best and easiest way to relieve the agricultural distress was to reimpose a moderate fixed duty on corn; but he said, if the country was against it, although he retained that opinion, he would endeavour to afford that relief in another shape.That is precisely what is meant by the Amendment. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Mr. Knightley) said—Attempts had been made to sow dissension among them by stating that Lord Derby had abandoned Protection and had deceived them. He had said, what he had always said, that, if he could, he would restore Protection. If he could not do that, he would give an equivalent in some other way.The noble Lord the Member for East Gloucestershire (the Marquess of Worcester)—admitted that the feeling of the country was favourable to the continuance of free trade, but he should go to Parliament determined to support Lord Derby by every means in his power, as he was convinced Lord Derby would propose a reduction of taxation in favour of agriculture.The hon. Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Fellowes), gave them a series of statistics to show that the poor-rates had increased in a greater ratio than the income tax, and concluded with the remarkable statement, "that the labourer would be better off with the quarter loaf at 6d. than 5d." with this remarkable proviso, "if he had a wife and four children." Another Member for the same county (Viscount Mandeville) said—he was still as strongly as ever in favour of protection, although the country was opposed to it, and he looked to the present Administration for such measures of relief as would enable agriculture to meet the altered circumstances.Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department made a speech which I think more blame-able in him than it would have been in any other Member of this House. I read the speech of the right hon. Gentleman carefully, and I was obliged to turn back to the head of the page to see whether it was the right hon. Gentleman that had been speaking, as I did not think he would have been guilty of so much inaccuracy. Indeed, I cannot up to this moment bring myself to believe that he did intentionally and designedly mistake the case. But he appears to have made a very curious division in his speech, which suited his own position admirably. He approves of everything that 425 Sir Robert Peel did from 1842 to 1846. I believe he did give his vote against the hon. Gentleman the Member for Somersetshire's Motion, relating to long and short hours.
§ MR. BRIGHT
But the right hon. Gentleman approved by his speech, to which I am now referring, of the policy of 1846, and then the right hon. Gentleman came down to the spring of 1846, which is the epoch of that particular Act which we are now discussing. The right hon. Gentleman disapproves of the subsequent policy of Sir Robert Peel, and then went on to speak of the local taxation upon land. He seemed to think "the local taxation left on land was 15,000,000l., and that crime and pauperism had diminished from 1842 to 1846, while from 1846 to 1849 there had been an increase of crime and pauperism." It is an exaggeration of the statement of his Colleague, who placed local taxation only at 12,000,000l.; but really with some hon. Gentlemen a difference of two or three millions seems of no consequence. The right hon. Gentleman went on to show that pauperism and crime increased under a low price of corn. If he had looked at the returns, he would have found that in 1836 the commitments in England and Wales were not more than about 23,000, and that they rose by 1842 to considerably more than 30,000; and then from 1842, when we had a succession of good harvests, down to 1846—the same results were produced to the country which free trade had made perpetual, and the commitments fell off. Why, this is an argument which I used over and over again previous to 1846. The mere erasure of a Corn Law from the Statute-book of this country could be of no value. If you could always have an abundant supply of food; if there were no obstruction to the purchase of food; if the world's price were the market price of England, then the mere existence of an Act with certain words in it could make no difference to the country; and if the famine of 1846 and 1847 had not occurred, the condition of this country might have continued what it was previously. And I say that the right hon. Gentleman, occupying the position which he did, with the authority of so high an office to support him, had no right to present these statistics to his audience at Midhurst, unless he were honestly satisfied that they bore on the case that he was discussing; but he 426 concluded, by arguing that the farmers were entitled to some equivalent for the advantages of which they had been deprived, and for burdens continued. Now there is a Gentleman in this House—I don't know whether he is in his place—I mean the hon. Member for North Essex (Sir J. Tyrell). [Here Sir J. Tyrell came forward and took his seat in a more prominent position.] I ought to apologise for rousing the hon. Baronet from his slumbers, and to compliment him on his admirable temperament, seeing that he can slumber on such an occasion as this. The hon. Baronet said, at the nomination for North Essex—'All he asked for farmers was fair play,' which is precisely what we always ask from them too—'and an alleviation of their burdens. That was a relief which Lord Derby wished to carry out. He, for one, treated with sovereign contempt the insinuation that the old and tried friends of the agriculturists should be regarded as impostors, He said if they were impostors, it was clear that Mr. Lennard—[who, he (Mr. Bright) supposed was the hon. Member's rival]—was an impostor also.'The hon. Member for Rutlandshire (Mr. Noel) said—With regard to free trade, his opinions were unchanged; he was still a protectionist; he had always advocated a moderate duty on foreign corn, believing that a moderate duty would benefit the farmer without materially raising the price of bread.The hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Frewen), was remarkably definite in his explanation. He said, at his nomination, that he "certainly was most decidedly in favour of protection;" and on the question being put to him, "Will you bring it forward in the House of Commons?" he answered—If no other man of greater ability would bring it forward, he would. He would do his best to get a Member of greater ability than himself to bring the question forward, and he certainly would give it his cordial support; he was not going to change his opinons.I come now to a borough Member, the hon. Member for Wareham (Mr. Drax). This, I should observe, is a very peculiar borough, and I hope the noble Lord the Member for the city of London (Lord J. Russell) will take care to include it in any measure which he may bring forward for the reform of the representation. The hon. Member himself and his friends, have, I believe, entirely swamped the constituency by creating votes of a character to which independence cannot possibly belong; and if he had had an independent constituency to 427 deal with, he would certainly not have made the observations which I am now about to read. He said—'He felt great pleasure in congratulating them on the fact that protection was not dead.' 'You hare heard me say years ago,' he continued, that I could never countenance free trade; I never was a free-trader, but a free supporter of native industry.' And then he concluded with this remarkable statement, 'It may suit some to advocate free trade, but those who do so are of the Manchester school.'Well, now, I come to a Gentleman who, I am afraid, is not in the House—I mean the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln (Colonel Sibthorp) one of those who hold opinions on this subject which are said to be unchangeable. He avowed himself "a staunch protectionist of native industry," and he said he would not go to the Crystal Palace because he thought that it was encouraging foreigners to the prejudice of our own countrymen. "He would not have gone there," he added, "if anybody would have given him 100l. to do so." I now come to a young Member of the House, who is at the same time old in subtle tactics—the hon. Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins). He said—The 41b. loaf cost 5d., he wanted to make it but a penny more; then the formers might live, and it was much better to have little with a smiling face, than a great deal with the ruin of those who were connected with agriculture; it was better for lawyers to have little with a smiling face, than for all those who were unfortunately driven into a course of litigation to be ruined.In all the examples I have yet given, I have, with one exception, that of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, left untouched the declarations of Members of the Ministry; and to these I will now turn. At the nomination at Kirkwall, the Lord Advocate said—Let this be understood, that I am for free trade on just and equitable principles; and free trade without reciprocity is nothing more nor less than political suicide.Well, now I come to another case—the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. Christopher). I have a book here which I have no doubt he has seen with great approbation. I do not know whether he is present; he was very much concealed behind Mr. Speaker's chair in the early part of the evening, and perhaps he is not present now, but I believe his Colleague is here. Here [holding up a book] is a published book called the Poll Book of the North 428 Lincolnshire Election. There is a circle upon it, and in this circle the words "Glorious Protection Triumph, 1852." On the title-page there is a shield, and, though I am not versed in heraldry, I can perceive as far as I can make out within the shield portraits of three donkeys. The book is dedicated to the tenant-farmers and yeomen of Lincolnshire. It contains a narrative of the election, which is "commented upon," as is stated, "in a conservative and protectionist spirit." There are also a number of pieces of poetry, and the writer says, "It is remarkable that the waggery all proceeds from the conservative party, the free-traders of Lincolnshire having no spirit left." I will now-read a few extracts from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Christopher), and I am very sorry he is not here. He said—'He valued his own independence; he did not undervalue the high position he held in Her Majesty's councils, and he despised the man who did undervalue it; but at the same time he would never sacrifice his own independent principles, or the principles which he believed animated the district of which he was the representative. He held, in common with the Government, the same principles as he did in opposition, and he should do his utmost to give effect to those principles on every occasion on which he addressed the electors of that division of the county; on every occasion on which he addressed the House of Commons. He had invariably maintained the right of protection to native industry, and he never intended to deceive them.' 'A plain question,' he said, 'would be put to the electors, and that question was, whether they would return a sufficient number of representatives to enable the Government to alter and revise the existing policy.He then went on to say, as if to show how entirely unchanged his opinions were, and that he held all the worst doctrines of the very worst school of protection—He held it to be a safe principle, in general terms, that they ought to levy from the foreigner, in the shape of customs duties, as large a portion of revenue as they possibly could, without interfering with the comforts of the people, by which means the foreigner would be made to contribute to the taxation of the country, and native industry would to that extent be protected." "Those," he added, "were the broad principles on which he thought the policy of this country ought to be based.But, now, here is the point which I think he ought to consider, with reference to his own position. He said—He never had deserted his professions, and he never should desert them; and if, from any cause, he felt it necessary to desert them, he would take the first opportunity of resigning his seat into their hands, so as to enable them to elect some one more worthy of their confidence.429 In his address he said—The question of protection will be decided at the next general election. From that decision there can be no appeal. To abandon you at such a crisis would be a base dereliction of the public duty.So far, then, for that Member of the Government. There is one other case to which I wish to call the attention of the House; in fact, I think there are two. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes) said—With regard to British labour and British industry in general, he should pursue the same course as he had taken hitherto, provided the different constituencies of the Kingdom would empower him to do so; he would give to British industry every protection to which he thought it so fairly entitled.So there is no change in the opinions of that right hon. Gentleman. There is another hon. Member—an hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir F. Kelly) whom I see in his place. I think it fortunate for him that he is a lawyer, because, whatever the reason may be, I fancy the House docs allow to lawyers rather more latitude than it concedes to the unlearned. It is, however, a very bad system, and it tends, I think, to produce a very corrupt morality. The hon. and learned Gentleman, long-experienced in Parliamentary and public affairs, in addressing some thousands of the constituency of East Suffolk, says—The question is, whether you will, by your representatives in Parliament, and by the power with which the constitution has invested you, support and advance what is called the doctrine of free trade in this country, or whether you are satisfied that it has already done enough of evil, and are ready to withstand its further progress, or at least its progress in the same direction, with all the powers which the constitution has enabled you to confer on your representatives in Parliament.And then he says, after speaking of the measures of Sir Robert Peel—for it is curious how these things are done—they might have been concocted beforehand at a Cabinet meeting, for they all agree with free trade up to 1846, and dissent from it after 1846—he says—When I come to the last, and I lament to say the crowning act of Sir Robert Peel, when I come to the repeal of the Corn Laws, it is there that I stop; it is there that I protest; it is there that I deny any substantial good; and I affirm that that measure was followed by unmitigated evil.It is a remarkable fact that the hon. and learned Gentleman was unable to foresee anything of this kind when he voted, as I understood he did, for the repeal of the Corn Law in 1846. He says— 430I here repeat without dread of contradiction that the effect of the free-trade legislation of 1846, and the great influx of corn into this country from abroad, was not to put one additional pound of bread per annum into the mouths of the people of this country.Why, the Suffolk farmers themselves cried out, "Oh, oh!" and laughed. The hon. and learned Gentleman said "I will prove it." There is an opportunity for him on this occasion to prove the assertion which he then made. There is one other Member of the Government, respecting whom I wish to call the attention of the House to one or two observations which he made in that very remarkable borough where the farce of an election is periodically performed, I mean, the borough of Stamford. The right hon. Gentleman to whom I now refer (Mr. Herries), is a Member of the present Government, and I really think that, for the objects of this discussion, this passage is more important than any that I have read. He says—We have unfolded our views most fully; we desire to have protection to existing interests; and on looking at the elections, so far as they have gone, it is responded to from most parts of the country. Our side"—that is, the protectionist side—"our side are already considerable gainers. Although we have lost sixteen seats, we are gainers of thirty-two seats in the boroughs already declared. In Liverpool the free-trade party have lost two of their ablest advocates, who have been replaced by two stanch protectionists.The hon. official Member (Mr. Mackenzie) for Liverpool has gone round the compass before on another question, and I have no doubt he will, from practice, have less difficulty in performing the evolution on this occasion than some of his colleagues. The right hon. Gentleman says further, after enumerating triumphs at Grantham, at Grimsby, at Boston, and at Lincoln, "We may willingly accept the challenge and abide the issue." Why don't you "accept the challenge and abide the issue?" Why don't you, instead of losing character with your friends in the country—why don't you, instead of destroying all reputation for morality when you have a seat on that bench—why don't you, in a manly manner, fall in defence of those out of doors, who, though mistaken, have nevertheless trusted you with a fidelity that can never be exceeded? Come to this side of the House, clear off your old errors, and if there be any question on which you can displace those who succeed you, do it as factiously, as earnestly, and as speedily as you can. Now, my object in reading these extracts was to show that it is not quite so 431 apparent as some hon. Members seem to imagine that we are all agreed on this question. I do not believe—whatever the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer may have said with regard to his own opinions upon the policy of the Government—I do not believe that his followers are free-traders; and, not being free-traders, how can they have any confidence in him if they are sincere, and he is sincere? Or how can we have confidence that you will guard the citadel of free trade, and carry out a free-trade policy for the future, when we know that three-fourths of those who keep you in office are as much opposed now as ever they were to the policy which we advocate? But there are other testimonies besides these extracts. I have here a circular which was sent to me the other day containing a long list of subscribers to a publication of an English translation of a speech of M. Thiers. It is dated November 2, 1852; therefore it is a very modern production. Now bear in mind that this is a speech of M. Thiers, one of the greatest speeches perhaps that he ever made, delivered last year in France in favour of protection. Now who are the subscribers? Let me observe that when a man subscribes only for himself, he generally limits his subscription to one copy. In this case the first subscriber is "The National Society for the Protection of British Industry," 100 copies; the right hon. the Earl of Derby, 10 copies—remember this is since the Government came into office;—the right hon. the Earl of Malmesbury, 10 copies; the right hon. Mr. Walpole, 10 copies. The number increases in proportion to the audacity displayed in avowing protectionist opinions, and hence we find Sir FitzRoy Kelly down for 20 copies. Then, the rule being still consistently observed, we find the Marquess of Granby subscribing for 40 copies; and then, dropping down to the moderate state of the political thermometer, we perceive the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) subscribing for 20 copies; while the Chancellor of the Exchequer's name is not amongst them at all. All these copies, however, are subscribed for. The work is a translation of a speech of M. Thiers, to be circulated amongst the manufacturing free-traders in this country. I have observed that here is the name of the Earl of Derby. I find these words: "To which translation has been added that of a note on Russian wheat;" and considering what that noble 432 Lord knew about Russian wheat a few years ago, I think almost any book that he could read on the subject would add to his information on that point. Well, now, after reading these statements to the House, I ask, can any man who honestly wishes that free trade should receive a final and approving verdict tonight—can any man of that kind doubt the wisdom of the course which my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers) has taken? Shall we doubt on this question whether the Act of 1846 was a just, a wise, and a beneficial measure? Shall we allow any evasion? Shall we act in such a manner that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is a great master of words, and who, if there be a chink to get out at, is certain to escape, may hereafter say, "The House of Commons never pledged itself in any manner to that Act, so as to preclude itself from considering whether direct compensation should not be made to farmers and landowners in consideration of that Act having been passed?" Now I state distinctly that if any proposition were made in this House by any Government to impose one form of tax upon any other interest, whether less upon farmers or landowners or more, than upon other classes of the community, I have not a particle of sympathy for manufacturers as against farmers and landowners, that would induce me to support any inequality of taxation. I do not believe—I state it from my honest conscience—that there is anything so permanently dangerous to the institutions of a country, as for the Government to go about amongst various classes taxing here on one ground, excusing there on another, and observing an inequality out of which must necessarily grow a distrust of Government, and a contempt for the institutions under which the people live. I deny that we support this Motion from any feeling of factious opposition to the Government; on the contrary, whenever a proposition is brought forward by itself, having no reference to the law of 1846, I am sure that I am only speaking the general sentiments of Gentlemen on this side of the House when I say that we will give it fair and full consideration, and I trust a candid and honest judgment. But now we have something more to do, and it is not a question between the House and the Government. I, for one, would have nothing to do with this Motion, were it a mere Motion of faction. Oh, oh!"] No, I say that apart from 433 protection and free trade, I would not have voted for a Motion of direct want of confidence against the Government. I am not one of those who would be ready to take such a course as that. We advocate a measure and a policy which we understand; but nobody can say of us that we have acted otherwise than consistently with the object for which we have been sent to the House of Commons, or that we have ever made ourselves the tools or servants of any party or Government. But then I want a final verdict on this question, a verdict delivered in terms not liable to be misunderstood, as were the terms of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Yes, those terms were drawn up purposely to mislead, as was the paragraph in the Queen's Speech. On the other hand, suppose we pass the Resolution of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. There is not a man in the United Kingdom who will not know that by it the Parliament have confirmed the Acts of 1846 and 1847, in compliance with the universal wish of the country. When you decide, also, that the Bill of 1846 was a wise and beneficial measure, your newspapers will carry your resolutions to all parts of the world; among others, to the United States, where a free-trade President has been lately returned by an overwhelming majority. The Protectionist party in the United States were in the same position as the Protectionist party-were in here; but they did not give up the doctrine of protection, although they were beaten. Now, if Franklin Pierce should learn that this Parliament has given an irreversible verdict in favour of free trade, will not he be likely to promote for you that reciprocity for which you are so anxious? Don't you think that if this country, by supporting the Motion of my hon. Friend, shows that the advantages of free trade are universally appreciated, it may bring other nations round to the doctrine, and so much more will the free-trade policy be advantageous. Let us, then, put upon the books a Resolution that nobody can mistake, and it will have a good effect, not only throughout the United Kingdom, but in every civilised nation in which the subject is under discussion. I cannot help, before I sit down, addressing a few words to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor can I help contrasting the position of Sir Robert Peel in 1846, with the position which Lord Derby and his friends occupy now. 434 Sir Robert Peel was a man for whom, up to the time I got a seat in this House, I entertained the greatest aversion. But from the time he took office in 1842, I believe that this country never had a Minister who did more, and more honestly, for his country; and I think the line of conduct he adopted after he left office was calculated, if possible, to make his name more revered than his conduct as Minister. I believe there is not a man in this House who does not believe that Sir Robert Peel was honest. He had no inducements for what he did with a majority of ninety at his back. Finding himself irresistibly compelled to repeal the Corn Law by the justice of the case, he did repeal it, and in so doing exposed himself to an amount of vituperative attack and suspicion which I say no Member of this House would be justified in any like circumstances in inflicting on any other Member. But having repealed the law, Sir Robert Peel did not seek to retain office. Had he taken a selfish course and dissolved Parliament, he would have had a large majority in his favour, and no combination in this House could have turned him out. But his strong apprehensions of the state of things in Ireland, and the consequences that might happen there from a dissolution, made him take the course he did, and thus subject himself to the ignominious treatment he received—ignominious not to him, but to hon. Gentlemen opposite. He followed the course which he deemed just and expedient, and did not hesitate to submit himself to a political martyrdom for his conduct. What is the case with the Earl of Derby, about whose chivalry so much has been said? These are hollow phrases which are now very common, but we may have different notions as to their signification, and the Earl of Derby no doubt looks at the question from a different point of view from that which I occupy. But does it not appear that the noble Lord has clambered into office by holding principles in the country, which his right hon. Colleagues says he never held in this House? Do hon. Gentlemen mean to say that when Mr. Chowler was talking of the farmers having more horses than all the rest of the Kingdom, and being best able to ride them, and Mr. Ball was saying he would rather inarch on Manchester than Paris—we shall be very glad to see him when he comes, whether on horseback or on foot—does the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exche- 435 quer mean to say that his party were not attempting to repeal the Act of 1846? Why, every one knows that your whole agitation for six years has been, the first part of the time calumniation of Sir Robert Peel, and during the latter part demands for the protection you had lost, or for some compensation in place of it. I was surprised at the right hon. Gentleman, who is the Will-o'-the-Wisp of the party, when I heard him in his speech of this evening endeavouring to get them out of their difficulty. Why, there is not an agony or contortion the semblance of which he has not submitted to in endeavouring to submit the case of the distressed agriculturists to the House. The right hon. Gentleman objects to the words "just, wise and equitable," which I look upon as being the very pith of the Resolution. No man of sense imagines that Government will attempt to restore protection; but I believe it is for the good of the country, and the character of the House, that we should establish by a final decision to-night, that which was believed by the majority of 1846, namely, that the Act abolishing the duty on foreign corn was a just, a wise, and beneficial measure. I must call the attention of the House to the admissions made as to the prosperous condition of the labouring classes in all parts of the country. Look at their employment, how steady it is, and how satisfactory their wages. Look at their moral and social condition, and observe what tranquillity prevails all over the country. Is that no compensation to you, the holders of five, ten, and 20,000 acres? Is it no advantage to you, even if you had suffered pecuniarily—which, as a body, I believe you have not—but if you had, is it no compensation to you that you can enjoy, without the envy of any class, your high ancestral position—enjoy it without the consciousness that some poor wretch is suffering in order that you may be rich? If you look at it in that light, you will find in the condition of the labouring classes ample compensation for any injury which you suppose the repeal of the Corn Law may have inflicted on you. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on a recent occasion, I think, in Buckinghamshire—and I should advise him when next he goes there to be a little more careful, for the speeches of eminent men are reported, and what he states in Buckinghamshire he does not repeat elsewhere—charged the revived Anti-Corn Law League 436 with being a Jacobin club. I do not know precisely what that means; but I believe it is looked upon as something rather unpleasant and inconvenient in a country. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have known better. He ought to have known that during the last six years he has not contributed a feather weight, while we, whom he vilifies, have contributed a great deal. Ten or twelve years of our political lives have been devoted to this one object, and although all men should revile us, we stand acquitted by our own consciences, believing that we have worked successfully for the good of our common country. I ask the House to sanction its own policy, to set its seal irrevocably on what it did in 1846, and by its vote of to-night to establish on a firm basis the charter of free industry to the people of this Kingdom.
§ MR. KER SEYMER
said, he did not think it necessary to follow the observations of the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House. But he could not help thinking if the hon. Gentleman were anxious for a speedy solution of the question, he had taken a very curious mode of arriving at it. He (Mr. Seymer) had never heard a speech more calculated to provoke a long debate than that of the hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. Seymer) denied that hon. Gentlemen upon the Ministerial benches had, as a party, raised the question of protection. Individual Members of that party, feeling strongly for the sufferings of their constituents, certainly did raise that question. But the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) used to say he would not meet these petty attacks upon free trade. He said "raise the question upon a specific Motion, and I will meet you." Well, when he (Mr. Seymer) and his friends raised the question of protection, and when the hon. Member for the West Riding met them by a free-trade Motion, he and his friends would do their best to answer the hon. Member. The question for the House was, whether the people were able to understand from the statements of the Ministry the course which would be taken with regard to our commercial policy? He contended that they were. But there was something peculiar in the atmosphere of the House of Commons. He had returned from breathing the pure air in the wilds of agricultural and Protectionist Dorsetshire. In that county there prevailed no political mists; neither were their hopes or fears excited for one party or the other. 437 They had been told by the Earl of Derby that it was big intention to appeal to the country, and that nothing but the possession of a majority would cause him to attempt to reverse the existing commercial policy. The noble Earl said the question was to be decided—not for ever, for that was absurd—but decided, for the present, by the result of the appeal to the country. On taking his seat in that House, he (Mr. Seymer) found a very different state of affairs. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) declared that the country was paralysed, and that too with the funds above par—in consequence of not knowing the intentions of Her Majesty's Ministers. How very strange that the country could not understand that which was perfectly intelligible to the minds of the Dorsetshire agriculturists. But the reason why, the country and that House could not understand the declarations of Her Majesty's Ministers was very plain—it was because of the amount of party spirit by which they were in a great measure affected. It was because hon. Gentlemen sitting on the shady side of the House were anxious to cross to the Ministerial benches again; and if not able to eject the existing Ministry, at least to damage them as much as possible. Of course, after the declaration made by the hon. Mover of these Resolutions (Mr. C. Villiers), he absolved him from such an intention; but at the same time that hon. Gentleman brought forward a series of Resolutions to which it was quite impossible Her Majesty's Ministers could agree. He hoped, however, that the original free-trade champion would he beaten in that free-trade House of Commons; though, no doubt, that would be considered by the free-trade party as advancing the free-trade question. He maintained that the country had no sympathy with these party manœuvres. He was tired of the Whigs, and was anxious that Her Majesty's present Conservative Ministry should try their hands at those practical reforms which might be introduced consistently with the genius of the Constitution, and with which the Whigs had been trifling for the last five years. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell) seemed to wish it to be understood that there was something in the constitution of that House that hindered him from carrying out those reforms, and had left to an ungrateful country a legacy of reform. He could only say that he had no prejudices on the subject of the franchise; and if 438 the subject was brought forward by Her Majesty's present Ministers he should deal with it in a candid and liberal spirit. If the House of Commons, as at present constituted, was to deal with the question of those reforms on which the hearts of the people were said to be set, all that was wanted was that the Ministry should be able and willing to deal with them. Such a Ministry they now had, and they should have his cordial support. It was said that all this had arisen from the ambiguity of the language in the Queen's Speech. It was said, that this Speech first said the industrious classes were prosperous, and then that they were suffering. Suppose, it was said that the labouring classes were prosperous. He freely admitted that the agricultural labouring classes were prosperous, and he rejoiced from his heart at it. He was as sincere a friend to the labouring industrious classes as any hon. Member present. If any illustrious foreigner had been in the House during the debate on the Factory Bill, he would say that humanity was on his (Mr. Seymer's) side of the House, and the flinty hearts on that of the Manchester benches. But they were not the only industrious classes. He supposed that the farmer, who rose early and took his rest late, was one of the industrious classes. He supposed it would be allowed that the master manufacturer, who managed the varied relations of a large concern, was one of the industrious classes. His industry, he rejoiced to say, was prosperous, but he wished he had a little sympathy for others. It might, therefore, be assumed consistently with truth that some of the industrious classes were prosperous/but others were suffering. Now, it should be borne in mind, that owing to the prosperity of the country they had a surplus revenue, and in the distribution of that surplus he thought it but fair that the suffering class should be considered. If any inequalities existed which in their former artificial state were not observed, that class had a right to be considered in any alteration or revision of taxation that might take place. With regard to the terms of the Resolution of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, he invited the House to say, "that the Act of 1846 was a wise, just, and beneficial measure." Now, a measure might be very successful, and yet not have been a wise measure at the time it was passed; and it might not be just, unless accompanied by those other measures that were required to make it so. He would not de- 439 tain the House by quoting Hansard to point out the measures which it was said should accompany the repeal of the Corn Laws, but would observe that not one of them had been passed. Then, they were asked to say—That the maintenance and further extension of the policy of free trade, as opposed to that of protection, would best enable the property and industry of the country to bear the burdens to which they were exposed.He ventured to say that that which would best enable property and industry to bear their burdens would be an equal distribution of taxation; but if he took the Resolution of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, he would debar himself from obtaining that adjustment of taxation which he believed to be necessary. Then, he was asked to vote that that House was "ready to take into consideration any measures connected with the principles of the Resolution which might be laid before it by Her Majesty's Ministers." It was not, usual, however, for the Opposition to teach them what measures of the Government they should support, and he certainly would rather take information on that point in the usual way from a Secretary of State than from Gentlemen on the other side. The hon. Gentleman had used a great many arguments to prove that there was no distress among the farmers. On this point many balance-sheets had been published and not answered. It was all very well for a fancy farmer to say his books were on the safe side. He did not believe they were ever very safe, for the fancy farmer seldom made such profit. One thing, however, had been done—it had made the farmers all active politicians. There never was a greater mistake than to say that the farmers had been urged on upon that question; they had felt upon the question strongly themselves, and had urged on the class above them. It was well known that the farmers were in the habit of voting in accordance with the wishes of their landlords; but he appealed to hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they could show any instance of a free-trade landlord having induced his tenants to vote for free trade. It had been notoriously the other way. He rejoiced that this valuable class of the community had learnt to value the franchise, and that the agricultural voters would become an enlightened political constituency. That was one good result that had followed free trade. One word with regard to a point which had been touched upon by the 440 hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), he meant with regard to political morality. Hon. Members could not forget the celebrated debate in 1846, which had led to the resignation of the Peel Ministry. It was not by any combined movement, because at the time there was a great difference of opinion among the Protectionist party. Many hon. Members believed that the obligations of a party leader had been departed from by the right hon. Baronet, and withdrew their confidence; but many still voted with him, and he (Mr. Seymer) was one of those. He did not blame those who took a different course. He thought those hon. Members whom the right hon. Baronet had so often led to victory, and whom he had abandoned, had great cause of complaint, and. he (Mr. Seymer) was not surprised at their abandonment. But he must remind the House that the right hon. Baronet was not turned out by the combined action of what was called the Protectionist party. He would say also that that party, which might more properly be called the Conservative party, separated from Sir Robert Peel on the question of protection. In that party there were various shades of distinction. Some thought it impracticable to restore protection; others there were who looked in vain for the signs of reaction which might enable them to restore protection; and he (Mr. Seymer) had looked to his own constituents in that way. Many believed that the country was getting tired of free trade, and that the period would again arrive when protection might be restored. The question was, what were they (the Protectionists) to do after Sir Robert Peel had been displaced? Were they to leave the country to the tender mercies of the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) and his Friends? Could they look to Sir Robert Peel? Certainly not. They soon found out that by the course the right hon. Baronet took on the question of sugar. He did not blame him; the right hon. Gentleman felt strongly on the question of the admission of slave-grown sugar, but he supported the Bill of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell). That he took to be the true state of the case with reference to the party which had been accused of turning Sir Robert Peel out of office. But, as regarded the late Ministry, they were not turned out—he might say they fell out. Their most able and distinguished Colleague had been unceremoniously turned out; that tended to weaken the Government, and 441 ultimately compelled their resignation. That being the case, the charge against the Earl of Derby assumes a very different aspect. He did not think the conduct of the noble Lord called for that virulence of language which he had heard that night. Considering the question was a party move, the materials were somewhat incongruous. He saw the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, the author of the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, sitting by the side of right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) the leader of the opposition to that Bill. On that bench he saw hon. Members from Ireland, supporters of what they were pleased to call religious equality, and who had come there to obtain the repeal of that Bill. He saw there the noble Lord the author of the Militia Bill, which he believed to have been necessary for the defence of the country; and he saw behind him hon. Gentlemen, of what was called the Manchester school, who thought the country sufficiently well defended already, and some of them believed that it was too well defended, believing that free trade would put an end to all prospect of war in future; but in that they were, he was happy to say, opposed to what was the general feeling of the country. He saw an hon. Member the eloquent assailant of the Church, and another who was most ardent in its defence. A certain noble Lord, of some literary reputation (Viscount Maidstone), was reported to have said, that after Lord Derby's Government the "Deluge" might be expected; but he thought he might go back still further, and say, that after the present Ministry there would be chaos, for there never appeared to be a greater confusion of opinion than among hon. Members opposite. In the present instance they had found a valuable gold mine, which they were all intent in working with all the energy of Australian diggers. But the vein would soon he exhausted, and then where would they be? He had confidence in the present Ministry, and did not wish to see the country thrown into confusion. He thought the language of Ministers sufficiently clear not to mislead the country. He did not think it was either generous or right in hon. Members opposite, whatever their political opinions might be, to force those words upon Her Majesty's Government which must necessarily be offensive to hon. Members on that side of the House. How far they might act upon it by their votes, he could not say. It appeared to him unfortunate 442 that the final settlement of the question of free trade should be mixed up with a party Motion, and that in a House where they were prepared to carry out the views of the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), they should be met by a Motion which they would be obliged to oppose, and, as he thought, successfully. The public would find it difficult to understand these things, and they would fancy that the free-trade party were beaten in a free-trade House. That would be a very remarkable consummation for the question of free trade to arrive at. At that late hour he would not trouble the House further, but would conclude by giving his cordial assent to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and opposing the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton.
§ MR. F. PEEL
Sir, however divided in opinion this House may be on the question that is now submitted to us—although one party will vote for the Resolution, and another party will vote for the Amendment—I apprehend that we shall all readily concur in one point, and that is, that Her Majesty's Government have made great advances, and are continuing to advance at a very convenient speed from one set of principles to another—from protection to that which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated to be popularly but most erroneously called "free trade." Why, I really feel that I ought to make some apology for employing a term apparently so offensive to the right hon. Gentleman as that. I remember a time when Her Majesty's Government, then in opposition, felt some reluctance to make use of the word "protection," and substituted for it the more fashionable phrase of "countervailing duties;" and so in the same way we are now called upon to give currency to the new expression of "unrestricted competition"—a good expression in itself, no doubt, but to my mind not so clear, not so handy, not so intelligible, as that familiar word of "free-trade," which I shall use, using it in the sense in which Her Majesty's Government use the term "unrestricted competition." Now, Sir, I have no desire to enter into the general question of free trade. I conceive that that is a question which is admitted and conceded upon both sides of the House. If any evidence should be required in its favour, we may be safely 443 referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers), and the speeches which I have no doubt would be made in support of that great principle by other hon. Gentlemen who will follow in the course of this discussion. But I am desirous of stating shortly what are my reasons for giving the preference to the Resolution of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton over the Amendment of Her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman has appealed to us to review dispassionately and fairly the position of the Government; and I am sure that, speaking for myself, I have no other wish but to take that course. I acknowledge and have always considered that from the time that Her Majesty's Government acceded to office, they became virtually and substantially free-traders to a considerable extent. I have never thought that any of the great measures in which the principle of free trade is embodied, incurred any risk from Her Majesty's Government succeeding to the responsibilities of office. The Act repealing the corn laws—the Act repealing the navigation laws—the Act admitting sugar the produce of foreign free or slave labour upon equal terms, or, at all events, upon an approximation to equal terms with sugar the produce of our own Colonies, I considered were, from the first moment, placed far out of harm's way, and beyond the reach of any Government to disturb. I did not believe that any Government, however deeply imbued with protectionism, would have the courage to assail the foundations of those great and imperial measures. I never thought that Her Majesty's Government would venture to bring forward any plan, for example, for again preventing the produce of three quarters of the globe from coming to the shores of this country in any but British ships. I never expected any plan to be submitted by a Protectionist Government for again handing over the carrying trade between one colony and another colony, between this dependency and that dependency, or between all our dependencies and the mother country, to a monopoly of British shipowners; and I felt certain that we should never again have any duties imposed upon cotton, or wool, or timber, or any other of the raw materials of our manufactures. I felt certain that no duties would ever again be placed upon our provisions, our live stock, or even upon corn itself. I am now ready to give the Go- 444 vernment credit for being free-traders even to a fuller extent than this. It is impossible for me to resist the evidence of the Amendment of which they have given notice. I accept it. I believe it is their desire henceforward heartily to abide by and faithfully to respect the principles of free trade in any measures of financial or administrative reform which they may hereafter submit to this House. But if I am asked whether I am content with this rate of progression, I say at once that I am not. The right hon. Gentleman has said that there is something unfair, something ungenerous, and, what he thought was much worse, something even unwise, striking at the root of all government, in pressing forward a Resolution of the nature of this proposed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton: it was wounding the susceptibility of hon. Gentlemen opposite—it was an unnecessary outrage upon their feelings. I admit that, in all probability, if left to themselves, what with the combined pressure of public opinion out of doors, and the House of Commons within, Her Majesty's Government might, at no distant period, judging from the rate at which they are now advancing, repeat in the most approved fashion the whole creed and all the formularies of free trade; and the line of argument which they have adopted to-night is that of calling upon us to hail them as converts, rather than to try arid brand them with the stigma of apostacy. But, Sir, I must state why I think there is nothing unfair in pressing forward this Resolution. In the first place, it is impossible not to comment upon the manifest opportuneness of this change on the part of the Government, and the obvious bearing it has upon the duration of their tenure of office. It is clear, too, that only the upper part, if I may so express myself, of the Protectionist party, first that portion which has been exposed to the warmth of the rays of official dignity, has accepted free trade. All the residue are as far from adopting it as ever. Why, I must appeal to the extracts which have been read by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) as evidence of what I say. Can it be disputed that in the month of July all that portion of the party of which I am now speaking were as strong Protectionists as ever they were? Is there, then, anything ungenerous to them in assuming that they are still as unripe, as crude, as indigestible as ever was fruit turned away from the light and warmth 445 of the sun? I think, therefore, that it is reasonable to exact from Her Majesty's Government some positive test of their sincerity, something that should act as a line whereby we may probe and fathom the depth of their counsels, their convictions and their plans. It is impossible to forget that for seven long years—eager as the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down now is to disclaim protection—they were the sworn advocates of a policy the very reverse of that which is enunciated in this Resolution of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, as well as in the Amendment of the Government; and that now only at the last moment are they prepared to abandon that policy, and to discontinue pressing upon us its adoption. I repeat, therefore, that nothing is more reasonable than that we should exact from them some resolution by which they shall recant once for all the false doctrines which they had imbibed, and put it in our power, out of their own mouths, and by their own admission, henceforward to convict them, if occasion should require, of the injurious and obstructive course which they pursued while they were in opposition. Sir, I must also say that I think something is due to the past. We cannot forget how hard a measure the right hon. Gentleman especially, along with his colleagues, dealt out to others for a change of their conviction—and I must add, a change of conviction which had tenfold of the palliation for it, and not one-tenth part of the provocation in it, that has now the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government. Not that I wish—far from it—to embitter the political discussions of the present day with an infusion of personal topics. I neither desire myself, nor do I wish to see anybody else, press invidious points of that description. I have no wish to see Parliamentary passages, which reflect no credit on Her Majesty's Government, reacted in this House; but I do think that some reparation is due to the past, and at this solemn conjuncture it would be a fitting act of retributive justice if those who heaped obloquy upon the authors of the Act of 1846, should now have the candour to come forward and acknowledge that it was a just, wise, and beneficial measure. But, Sir, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Manchester that this is not a question between the House and the Government; I do not consider that this is in any degree a party move. I can only say that, for my part, I have no desire to see Her Ma- 446 jesty's Government dispossessed of their offices; but I consider on the present occasion the House is discharging a solemn act of duty towards the country. The performance of this act of duty has been imposed upon us by Her Majesty's Government itself. There was no occasion why this duty should have been devolved on the House—on the contrary, there was every probability that it would not be. The Government stated distinctly in the last Parliament that they appealed to the country to know what course they should adopt with reference to their commercial policy; and it was acknowledged by a right hon. Gentleman who is admitted to be familiar with that description of subjects—the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War (Major Beresford)—that the sense of the country had been decidedly adverse to them. Nothing, therefore, could have been more simple than for the Government to have come forward, and frankly admitted in Her Majesty's Speech that the question was settled, and that henceforward they abided by the sense of the country. It was not necessary in taking that course for the Government to make Her Majesty a partisan, as has been said by the right hon. Gentleman—nor need She have given an opinion one way or the other—but She might have been allowed to speak as plainly on that question as She did on other topics introduced into the Speech. But, instead of taking that course, the Government adopted one entirely opposite. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department (Mr. Walpole) admitted that the paragraph of the Speech to which we looked with most interest, was framed with a studied ambiguity, and so as to be capable of a double construction. It was meant to be taken in one sense or the other according to the humour of different parties; it was so framed, that a Protectionist follower of the Government should conceive that it leant to his side, whilst a friend to free trade should accept it as speaking the language of his own doctrines. The real object, no doubt, was to prevent either party, if possible, from proposing an Amendment to the Address. I say, therefore, that that being so, it became absolutely incumbent upon this House to avail itself of the first fitting opportunity which should be presented to place upon record a declaration of its opinions on this important question so clear, so unambiguous, so decided in its precision and its perspicuity, and at the same time so 447 general and Comprehensive, as should satisfy every man what are the views of this House—what are the views of the Government which we honour with our confidence, and so as to remove every ground, I do not say only of solid and substantial objection, but to leave not so much as a plausible pretext for taking exception to the Government on the score of their commercial policy. That, I conceive, was the course which the conduct of Government made it incumbent on this House to pursue. Now, Sir, I understand that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton has brought forward his Resolution in pursuance of this plain and imperative duty. Being laid upon the table of the House, I had of course an opportunity of reading it. It appeared to me to effect its object in the manner which I thought was desirable, and I determined in my own mind that I would give it my support. Then came the Amendment of Her Majesty's Government; and I confess I see no reason why I should alter my intention of voting for the Resolution of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and support the Amendment of Her Majesty's Government. Some might think it becoming that a proposition emanating from the Government should have preference over one from a private Member; but with respect to this particular question there can be no doubt that a Resolution comes more properly from an independent Member of the House than from Her Majesty's Government, because they have somewhat ostentatiously declared that they have no principle of locomotion in themselves—that whether they were to go backward or forward, was a question to be decided by Parliament and public opinion, and that this House was to pull the strings by which they were to be set in motion. The right hon. Gentleman has threatened us certainly with a resignation of the Government in the event of this Resolution being carried. But I can hardly treat a menace of this kind as very formidable; for this would appear to me a most singular course—a straining at a gnat after swallowing a camel. Will you swallow the substance of free trade, and wince at its shadow? Will you gulp down the whole potion at a draught, and grumble at us because the preparation is made up in a particular way? I confess I am not much deterred by the threat of the Government; I must take this opportunity of saying that I by no means undervalue the admissions which have been made by them, and which 448 I regard as significant and suggestive. In the first place, they have admitted an improved condition of the working classes, and the general prosperity of the country. It is right, however, that it should be borne in mind that the prosperity is in no degree due to those who now compose Her Majesty's Government; on the contrary, it has accrued in despite of their strenuous and persevering exertions to depress and keep down the condition of the labourers in this country. I make this statement upon the authority of the Government itself—upon their admission that free trade has brought us cheap provisions, and that cheap provisions have done much to secure the prosperity of the working classes. Surely, if that be so, fortune was never more blindfold, never so eccentric in the distribution of her favours, than when she metamorphosed the hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite—who have contributed nothing to that prosperity—into great officers and Ministers of State. Well, then, if this prosperity is not due to hon. Gentlemen opposite, to what is it due? By their own admission, wrung from them reluctantly in the first instance, it is due to unrestricted competition. Here, then, we have the recognition of an important fact, and of its being traceable to a particular cause. Still I think the House ought not to omit to ask what inference we shall draw from this avowal. Do you intend we shall construe it as implying a change of convictions in your minds, or a change of intentions only in your policy? Unless Ministers have really and sincerely changed their convictions, they can hardly expect that we should entrust them implicitly with the charge of this great question. What reason, however, is there to conclude that there has been any such change in their convictions? We know well enough that the Secretary for the Colonies was but the other day of opinion that nothing short of arresting the descending scale of discriminating duties in favour of British colonial sugar could possibly pluck the West Indian colonists from the despondency into which they had sunk, and place them again in the prosperous position they had been wont in former times to occupy. Members of the Government also have declared over and over again in the Course of the present year, that whether they should be able to carry their opinions into practice or not, they considered that a moderate fixed duty would alone place the agriculturists of this country in a post- 449 tion of fair competition with foreigners. If, on the other hand, there is only a change of intention in Her Majesty's Ministers, I do not think they are entitled to claim credit for liberality, or any very kindly treatment at our hands. I conceive they have changed their intentions simply because necessity compelled them to do so. Take away the pressure, and what security have you that their ancient errors will not again sprout up with all the rankness and luxuriance of their former vegetation? These are the general views with which I support the Resolution of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, in preference to the Amendment of the Government. But when I come to look clearly into that Amendment, I find still greater reason for feeling distrust and suspicion of it. The Resolution of the hon. Member looks backward as well as forward; it reviews the past and surveys the future, and does both in the most complete and explicit manner. The Amendment merely glances at the past, and is studiedly ambiguous as to the future. I never remember to have read a more frigid and unimpassioned admission of the great blessings which have resulted from free trade. There is not an inhabitant of this country, from the Queen on Her Throne to the humblest peasant in the land, who has not derived advantages of one sort or another from free imports. No one can deny that free trade has added new strength and stability to the institutions of this country, and given us fresh confidence in their durability. No one, I am sure, can deny that it has given us new securities for international tranquillity, and cemented the bonds of peace between different countries. Who will refuse to recognise the magnificent extension of our foreign trade? There is not a loom, not a spindle, not a factory, nor a workshop, which is not producing more than it has ever done before; and it will be found that our foreign trade has increased fifty per cent in ten years, from 50,000,000l. to 75,000,000l. Yet all that we have in the Ministerial Amendment is a cold and unimpassioned reference to the cheapness of provisions. No doubt this cheapness is one of the greatest benefits derived from the recent policy; but Ministers have taken pains to make this admission as valueless as possible, by declaring that cheapness, if left to its own single operation, would have led to a reduction of wages, commensurate with the fall of prices. They have announced that 450 the reason why wages are so high must he sought for in the imports of gold, and the extensive emigration that is proceeding. I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have answered the appeal so pointedly made to him by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and explained the manner in which gold and emigration had operated to improve the condition of the labouring classes. I, myself, think that they have influenced it in a very slight degree. Look to the agricultural districts—we know that there are not more employed in agriculture now than there were thirty years ago, and the emigration of this year, though more extensive than ever before, has certainly not come up to the natural increase of births over deaths; whilst with regard to the manufacturing districts I believe that emigration, so far from raising the rate of wages, has rather had a contrary effect, because the multitudes coming from Ireland have inundated Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the midland counties, with numbers of labourers competing for employment and depressing the scale of wages and the standard of living amongst our own working classes. With reference again to that part of the Amendment which is prospective, it appears to me to be unsatisfactory in omitting all reference to the important question of compensation. We know the position which Government holds on this subject. They have told us recently, in Her Majesty's Speech, that the agricultural classes are suffering from competition, not because it is unrestricted, but because they are burdened with special taxes, imposed to countervail in some respect the advantages they enjoyed in the way of protection. I have no wish to prevent the Government from bringing forward those measures of a general character which they have promised; but they do not affect the question of compensation. The agricultural classes, according to the Ministerial view, are asserted to be in a position of disadvantage as compared with the rest of the community, and to be subjected to a disproportionate share of taxation. If you bring forward measures of general advantage to all classes, what peculiar advantage do the agriculturists derive? They will remain in the same relative position that they were in before; and there will still remain the special injustice to be redressed, and inequality to be removed. I think it important, therefore, to take this opportunity of setting at rest once for all the question 451 of compensation. I will only add that the more I examine the Resolution and the Amendment, the more reason I see to approve the one, and disapprove the other. I see nothing factious, nothing like what the right hon. Gentleman called a vexatious movement, in this proceeding. I do see two things clearly enough—I see a Government halting between two opinions, trying to shape their course between difficulties that present an unpleasant alternative on either side, and to reconcile the retention of office with a character for consistency. On the other hand, the country is clear, decided, and explicit in its views. The right hon. Gentleman, in concluding his speech, appealed to the new Members of this House to lend him their support on this occasion; I hardly venture to make an appeal to them on behalf of my own views. I am as young in years, almost as young in public life, as they; but I am sure of this, that if they wish to earn a title to the confidence of the country, they will record their vote in support of this Resolution, and prove thereby that they are the true representatives of the sense of the country, and that their conduct breathes the spirit of the people, and is stamped, as it should be stamped, with the impress and image of its mind.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I shall not detain the House but for a few minutes in requesting their indulgence to allow me to state shortly the view which I take of the propositions which have been submitted to the House, and of the position in which the House seems likely to be placed. I have stated on a former occasion, and I repeat it now, that I think it was not only proper, but under the circumstances in which we were placed, absolutely necessary, that some Member should propose to the House a Resolution answering the question which Her Majesty's Government put to the country by the dissolution of the last Parliament. If, indeed, that portion of the Speech from the Throne which treated of the question of free trade and protection had been couched in language more plain and unambiguous, it is possible that the Address in reply to the Speech might have been accepted as the answer of the House on the part of the country to the question of preference between the two opposite principles of commercial policy. The Speech, however, was in that respect undoubtedly as ambiguous as words could make it; and that fact increased the necessity, in my 452 opinion, for such a course as that which has been now taken. Now, Sir, it was not necessary, indeed, with a view to settling what should be the policy of the Government and of the Parliament, that any opinion should be expressed upon the subject; because I think that those who have watched the progress of public opinion, and have observed events in this country, must have long since made up their minds to a full conviction that a reversal of the policy which was adopted in 1846 and the succeeding years, was as impossible as any physical event that could be mentioned. But it was fitting that Parliament should express an opinion, and in many respects it is most desirable that that opinion should be expressed with all the weight that the opinion of the Parliament could carry; and in order to give to that expression that weight which is proper that the expression of its opinion should carry, it is, in my humble opinion, most desirable that the opinion should be expressed, if not with unanimity, at least by as large a majority as possible. Now, Sir, in regard to the Resolution which my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. C. Villiers) has proposed, there is not one word in that Resolution to which I, for my own part, should not be ready most implicitly to subscribe. I concur in the opinions expressed in that Resolution:—with regard to the past, with regard to the present, with regard to the future, I think the measures of policy of which it treats were wise, were just, and have been beneficial. I think with him and with the Government, according to the opinions expressed in Her Majesty's Speech and in their addresses, that the improved condition of the country, and especially of the industrious classes, has been mainly the result of that recent legislation which has removed protective duties, and which has established the principle of unrestricted competition. I need not say that I concur with my hon. Friend and with Her Majesty's Government in being ready to affirm that that system ought to be, and must henceforward be, the guiding rule of the legislation of this country. Well, then, Sir, if the Motion of my hon. Friend were put by you to this House "Aye" or "No," I should be compelled by my own convictions to say "Aye" to that Resolution, and to concur with him in all the affirmations which it contains. But, Sir, I cannot but consider also, not only my own convictions and opinions, but the opinions of others who are desired to concur in the proceed- 453 ings of this House. Now, Sir, there is a large party in this House who have entertained opposite opinions. That party have—honourably I think—yielded their personal and original convictions to their sense of what is the opinion of the country and of this House. I am far from joining in taunts and reproaches upon those who so yield their early impressions to the irresistible force of events. Why, Sir, in a free country like this, there could be no more dangerous doctrine to establish than this—that it is disgraceful to men to yield their convictions to the force of counteracting events and circumstances. If every man in this country were to he chained for ever to the opinions which he entertained in the earliest part of his career, there could be no progress or improvement in the land. We meet here from day to day for no other purpose than to convince each other; and every man who endeavours to persuade people to come round to his opinions, debars himself, I think, in justice from the right of reproaching them when he has succeeded. Then I say that I think that, so far from casting reproaches upon that large party in this House and in the country who have surrendered their original impressions to the convictions which an overwhelming course of events has produced, we should consider that course as honourable to them as it is beneficial to the country. And the Resolution proposed by Her Majesty's Government does in my opinion contain the fullest acknowledgment of the benefits which the present system of commercial legislation has produced, and does pledge every man who votes for it to contribute to render that system henceforward permanent. And I am wholly at a loss to understand how it is possible for any person to conceive that a man who votes for that Resolution can afterwards shelter himself under any ambiguity in its language to back out of an opinion to which I think that Resolution irrevocably pledges him. Now, with regard to the present and to the future, I really see little difference in substance and effect between the Resolution of my hon. and learned Friend, and the Resolution proposed by Her Majesty's Government. If anything, the Government Resolution is in some respects stronger—in form, I mean—than that of my hon. and learned Friend, because it concludes with an expression of the opinion of the House as to what it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to do—a rather unusual thing, I think. I certainly, 454 for my own part, should prefer the form adopted by my hon. and learned Friend, in stating the readiness of the House to consider any measures which might be proposed in conformity with the policy which this House affirms ought to be established. But I must own that there is a passage in the Resolution of my hon. and learned Friend which I regret to see there, and which does appear to me to he fairly considered by Gentlemen opposite as a bar to their acceptance of that Resolution. Now, Sir, all that the country asks of Parliament—all that, the country cares about, in my opinion, is, what Parliament means to do in this matter—what is to be the principle upon which the legislation of the country is to be founded. I do not think that the country cares, and I do not think that it has much right to care, what may be the private opinions of Gentlemen as to that policy. I think it is rather following the example of tribunals whose conduct we are not much in the habit of approving; it is somewhat like the practice of the Inquisition to compel people to come before you; and, not content with declaring that their conduct will be in conformity with your views and intentions, to force them to go down on their knees and recant their opinions, or to profess opinions which you choose to impose upon them. Sir, we are here an assembly of Gentlemen—and we who are Gentlemen on this side of the House should remember that we are dealing with Gentlemen on the other side; and I, for one, cannot at all reconcile it to my feelings to call upon a set of English Gentlemen unnecessarily, for any purpose that I have in view, to express opinions they do not entertain, or to recant opinions which may be still lingering in their minds. I will grant, if you like, that they still think that the measures of free trade were not just; wise, I think, they can hardly refuse to acknowledge them, when they say that those measures have mainly contributed to produce the improved condition of the country generally, and of the industrious classes especially; for it is hard, I think, to say that measures which have had such an effect have not been in their nature wise. I myself am of opinion, that when the party who still call themselves by the antiquated name of Protectionists come to consider calmly, and free from the irritation of former disputes, the free-trade measures and their results, they will come round to our opinions on the point of justice as well as on that of expediency. But it is, in my 455 opinion, unnecessary, and is nothing to the purpose, to know what they think as to the original justice or injustice of this policy. I should, therefore, Sir, very much wish that some middle course could be suggested, and that some Resolution might be proposed, which, on the one hand asserting in the broadest manner the determination of this House to further and continue the policy which we approve of, should, on the other hand, be free from those expressions which prevent the Resolution of my hon. and learned Friend from being unanimously adopted. I must say, Sir, that part of what has passed in this evening's debate, seems to have been somewhat full of practical inconsistencies. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), while urging the Government, and those who sit behind them, to adopt the Resolution of my hon. and learned Friend, has done his best to render it impossible for them to do so. The hon Gentleman wants, he says, to have the authority of a vote of this House go forth, not only over the length and breadth of the land, but across the Atlantic ocean to America, in order to convince, at this critical moment, not only the people of England, but the people of the United States, that the free-trade policy is built upon a rock, never to be shaken, and that nothing can ever change the course of our legislation upon that point. But at the same time the hon. Gentleman, by a very amusing catalogue of quoted speeches, and by the general tenor of his taunts about changes of opinion, appears to me to have done all that he could to reduce the majority—if the majority is to be in favour of the Resolution of my hon. and learned Friend—to the smallest possible amount. Now, I would beg my hon. Friend, if he would allow me to call him so, to consider the consequences of turning into a party movement—into an ordinary party struggle—that which I think should be purely a Motion tending to elicit from this House a solemn affirmation of a great principle of domestic policy. Now, when I say "the consequences," I do not allude to those contingent results which were indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which have also, I think, been pretty well adverted to by those who have spoken upon this side of the House. I speak not of the result of this debate with regard to the stability of the present Cabinet; I treat the matter upon other and different grounds. Suppose that the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend is that 456 which is first brought under the consideration of this House. Well, that Resolution, will either be carried or it will be rejected. But I think it is plain enough to be seen from the tone and temper of the House, that whether it be carried or whether it be rejected, it will be carried or rejected by a very small and narrow majority. Now, I will first suppose that it will be rejected—not at all an impossible supposition. [Laughter.] I say that is not at all sin impossible supposition; because I think I am not mistaken in believing that there are many Members of this House, not only many of those younger greenhorns who have been appealed to by the speakers on both sides, but many of the more experienced old stagers of Parliament—I believe, I say, that there are some, if not many, who would be disinclined to convert this Motion into an opportunity for overturning the Government; and I confess I am one of those holding that opinion. I think that this is a separate question altogether, and ought to be kept separate from any considerations of confidence or want of confidence in the Administration. I think that it is, I may say, profaning a great principle of domestic policy to convert it into a mere engine of temporary party warfare. But supposing it were to happen that the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion were to be rejected—what, I would ask, would be the impression which would go forth over the length and breadth of the land, and over the Atlantic to the United States? Why, the impression would naturally be, that the free-trade party was in a minority in this House of Commons—that the verdict of the country, as expressed by the House of Commons, was against free trade; and if anybody doubted whether the fact was so or not, they would appeal to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, who roundly declares that all who vote for the Amendment must be Protectionists at heart; and consequently it would be inferred that those who rejected the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend must be still Protectionists, and then people must say, "You have got a Protectionist House of Commons, and how can, we possibly rely upon the permanence of a system which is at variance with the settled convictions and declared opinions of the majority of the House of Commons? That would certainly be a great calamity, and is a thing to be avoided, as one which would be very mischievous in. its effects. But suppose the Resolution to be carried by 457 a majority, say of ten, twenty, or thirty. I will ask any really sincere free-trader whether he can think that that would be a satisfactory result? Can it be a satisfactory result, compared with a vote unanimously given, as it might be, I should hope, by the whole House of Commons, affirming the principle of free trade as the permanent foundation of the commercial policy of this country? Now, it is very natural that Gentlemen who have spent many years in praiseworthy endeavours to carry a particular question—who have been thwarted by those whom they thought actuated by prejudice or by interest—and who at last have carried their point and enjoyed their triumph—it is not unnatural, I say, that they should wish to carry their victory to the utmost possible extremity, and to trample upon their defeated antagonists. But I think on an occasion like this, when the great interests of the country are the subject of discussion, and when the decision of Parliament may have, on the one hand, a most advantageous result to the cause of which so many persons are so honourably the champions, and when, on the other hand, evil consequences might be produced to the interests which they wish to support generally, I think we might, all of us, cast aside the feelings arising from the contest which is over, that we might accept the hand which is tendered by those with whom we have hitherto been fighting, and that we ought not to be too nice in requiring or compelling them to state what is the degree of conviction that has been wrought on their minds. If they consent to act with us, I think we ought to be satisfied with that; and I think it is ungenerous on the part of the majority—if majority there be—to endeavour to compel the minority to subscribe to opinions of which they may not entirely approve. Such a course, in preventing unanimity—or almost unanimity—for in fact I should prefer to have just two or three voting against the proposition, for the look of the thing, and for the sake of greater contrast—such a course would be, in my opinion, not only ungenerous, but it must fail of its purpose, and we only deprive ourselves of the authority which a unanimous vote would give to this House. I say I think it is not only ungenerous to ask Gentlemen to express opinions which they do not conscientiously entertain, but I think it is impolitic and unwise, as well as unjust—that we are defeating our own purpose, and depriving ourselves of the principles of a policy which we think essen- 458 tial to the interests of our country—we are depriving those principles of a great amount of support which is now tendered to us, and which only rests with us to accept. Now, we have been discussing two propositions. I do not presume to lay a third proposition on the table; but at the same time, I will just read that form of words which, if they were encouraged by any manifestation of opinion on the part of any great body of the Gentlemen in the House, I should be ready to tender for your acceptance. The form of words I think required is one which, on the one hand, affirms the doctrine of free trade and its permanent establishment; while on the other hand, it is not liable to the objection of requiring those who may agree to it to recant opinions which they may have honestly at a former period have entertained. What I propose will appear, I fear, almost a plagiarism upon my hon. and learned Friend, the terms are so near alike. The Resolution I would propose would run thus:—That it is the opinion of this House that the improved condition of the country, and especially of the industrious classes, is mainly the result of recent legislation, which has established the principle of unrestricted competition, and abolished taxes imposed for purposes of protection, and has thereby diminished the cost and increased the abundance of the principal articles of food to the people.Nobody can object to that.That it is the opinion of this House, that that policy, firmly maintained and prudently extended, will best enable the industry of the country to bear its burdens, and will thereby most surely promote the welfare and contentment of the people.That this House will be ready to take into consideration any measures consistent with those principles which, in pursuance of Her Majesty's gracious Speech and recommendation, may be laid before it.Well, now, I really would submit that these words contain everything which my hon. and learned Friend has proposed in regard to the future, while they contain nothing which any hon. Member who has yielded his opinions to the inevitable force of events might not with perfect honour to himself subscribe to and support. But, now I shall be told that this form of words, by omitting the word "just," opens a door for the question of compensation; and that I take to be the real point. But now I say the insertion of the word "just" does not shut the door at all to the question of compensation. It will be equally competent to the right hon. Gentleman the 459 Chancellor of the Exchequer, or any other Member, when we come to consider the financial arrangements for the year, to propose changes of taxation for the purpose of giving what they may call "relief," or what others may call "compensation" to the agricultural classes, with the word "just" there as if it were not there; and I hold we should not stand in any degree the worse—we who may be disposed to resist that proposal—because the word "just" was not in the Resolution, though we should if the word "just" were inserted. I think there is nothing so undesirable as mixing up together questions which are not connected, but essentially different. I hold that these two questions are quite distinct—the one question, whether the commercial policy shall be maintained, and the other whether, in consequence of that policy, any particular class of men have a claim for what they may call compensation or relief. You may affirm the maintenance of the principle of free trade, and you may with that maintenance entertain one or the other of the two opinions in regard to compensation. It is perfectly competent for any man to think that the principle of unrestricted competition ought to he maintained, and that its maintenance entitles no man to compensation; or he may entertain the opinion that it has inflicted hardship on certain classes, and that those classes have an equitable claim to consideration. My own opinion is, that the compensation to the agricultural classes is to be found in those circumstances which were so well adverted to by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester—in the improved condition of the country, in the cheapness of everything which they have to buy out of what I must admit in many cases must have been their diminished rents, in the contentment of the people, in the cordiality of feeling which has been established between the tipper and the lower classes—in the love and affection of all around them, and in the absence of all that invidious jealousy which, before, the lower classes were naturally led to feel towards their superiors, from a belief that the laws were calculated to put money into the pockets of the landlords at the expense of the great mass of the consumers in the country. I say that that is the compensation which I think the landed interest are entitled to; and that is the compensation which they have already obtained. This is my opinion. I do not quarrel with any man for entertain- 460 ing a different notion. But when these questions come before us, let them come distinctly, and we shall not be the less able to negative any proposal which we may disapprove of, because we have united in voting and affirming the establishment of free trade. Now, what is the calculation of those who insist on the insertion of those words? I suspect they hope to be in a majority. If they are in a majority to-night in affirming the insertion of the word "just," cannot they make the same muster on any future day, when any proposal is brought forward the effect of which will be to give that compensation which they think ought not to be afforded? Those who wish to shut the door against the principle of compensation would be just as able—and I say, better able—to shut that door when the proposal comes, than they would he to-night, by an indirect expression, a side-wind, to shut out a claim we do not distinctly negative, and which is not distinctly brought under the consideration of Parliament. I have only to say I deplore the condition in which I think the House is about to find itself. I do not think it is to the credit of Parliament, when a great question of domestic policy has been put to the country, and when the House is called on to make an answer to that question, that we should turn it at once into a mere party struggle; that those who get up on one side should say they mean it as a censure on the Government, when they only mean it as an affirmation of a principle; and that a Resolution should be so worded, as it were studiously, to prevent a large portion of the House, who would be disposed to agree in the affirmation of that principle, from concurring in the Resolution. It is evident, Sir, this debate cannot end to-night; and I can only hope that hon. Gentlemen will well consider this matter between this and the time when the debate shall he resumed, and that a spirit of conciliation may be found to animate both sides of the House. If, on the one hand, those who sit opposite would be disposed to take such an Amendment as I have ventured to suggest; on the other hand, my hon. Friends who sit on this side might be contented with something like what they have proposed, free from those expressions which hurt the feelings of hon. Members opposite; and the result would be that we should all unite in what would then be an overwhelming affirmation of a great principle of domestic policy—an affirmation which would not only be satis- 461 factory to nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of every thousand in the country, but which would be of the utmost importance to our relations with every foreign country in the world.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after Twelve o'clock.