§ SIR WILLIAM CLAY
Sir, I rise for the purpose of asking, first, of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers), and in the next place of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, questions which, not in my own estimation only, but I believe also in the estimation of many other hon. Members, have an important bearing on the proceedings of this House. In so doing I am happy to say that I shall not have occasion, or at least in the very 472 slightest degree, to claim that indulgences which the House ordinarily extends to Members who have questions publicly to ask, namely, the permission to make such previous statement as may render such questions intelligible. ["Order, order!"]' I shall not, I repeat, have occasion to avail myself of that—
§ MR. COBDEN
Sir, I rise to order. I think it will be admitted on both sides of the House that it will be exceedingly inconvenient that a question should be put, accompanied by a speech, unless it is under circumstances which would admit of a reply. The hon. Gentleman, I submit, would, therefore, better promote the object he has in view if he wishes to make a statement by letting it be understood that he will finish with a Motion.
§ SIR WILLIAM CLAY
Sir, I have no intention to make any speech, but it is important that I should put the question, because I think it will have an important bearing on our proceedings here to-night. With these simple words of preface then, as my hon. Friend the Member for the West Biding will not permit me the smallest indulgence in that respect, I ask, first, of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I believe, in so doing, it will be more in accordance with the usage of this House in similar cases, whether he will be willing to withdraw that Amendment which he has put into your hand on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, on the understanding that if it be withdrawn the House will acquiesce in the Resolution proposed by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston)? I ask of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton whether, on a like understanding, he will be prepared to withdraw his Motion? And again I ask as a second question of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether, in the event of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton refusing to withdraw his Motion, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) will accept the Resolution proposed by my noble Friend the Member for Tiverton as a substitute for his own Amendment?
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
My sense, Sir, of public duty will, I am sorry to say, compel me to make a speech, and to bring myself strictly within the rules of the House. I shall conclude with making a Motion. Sir, I beg in the first place to state, that in a new Parliament—having had long experience in this House—I am one of the 473 last persons who would be disposed to strain the privileges of an individual Member to an undue extent, inconsistent with the transaction of public business; and I shall trust, after the statement which I have to make to the House, that they will be of opinion that this is an exceptional case, and that I am justified in the course I am about to pursue when I make a formal Motion "that this House do now adjourn." Having, Sir, placed myself strictly within the rules of the House, and having given to every Member of the House who may think proper to follow me the opportunity of stating his opinion with respect to the matter now pending, I think it right, after the question put by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir Wm. Clay), and before Her Majesty's Government give an answer to the question he put, to make the statement which I am anxious, with the permission of the House, to address to them. The noble Viscount the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), at the close of the discussion on Tuesday evening, tendered to the House, not in the form of a direct Motion, but rather in the shape of a suggestion, certain words in lieu both of the original Motion and of the Amendment, which he thought constituted a middle course, and one upon which, consistently with the honour of all parties, we might arrive at an agreement. Now, Sir, it is impossible that I, who am one of the surviving colleagues of the late Sir Robert Peel—who took a most active part in 1846 in pressing on the attention of Parliament the policy of a repeal of the Corn Laws—who had the good fortune, after the dissolution of that Government, to enjoy the confidential friendship of Sir Robert Peel to the last hour of his life—it is impossible I should not feel a deep and peculiar interest in the subject which stands for further discussion on the present occasion. And it is right, Sir, that I should state to the House the exact truth with respect to the part which I have taken, both with reference to the original Motion and with respect to certain words which the noble Lord has suggested as the medium of a possible agreement on both sides of the House. I hope the House will not regard it as presumption on my part if I state frankly all the concern I have had both in the framing of the original Motion, and in reference to the words in question. I did not arrive in London until late in the evening preceding Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, and on the morning of 474 that Speech, having to take my seat before two o'clock in the afternoon of that day, I had not an opportunity of conferring with any one, except my noble Friend the Earl of Aberdeen, one of my former colleagues, with whom happily I maintain the most cordial and sincere friendship. My noble Friend told mo what were the terms of Her Majesty's Speech on the question of an unrestricted policy with respect to matters of trade. He told me, also, that he had, in concert with my former colleagues, considered those words, and that they had come to the conclusion that, upon the whole, it was not expedient to be a party to moving an Amendment on the Address on the occasion; and he added, that he had also had an intimation that the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell) and his former colleagues had arrived at the same conclusion. Sir, I saw no other person until you took your seat in the chair on that day; but I think I met in the lobby of the House the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), who addressed you with so much ability on Tuesday evening, and he informed me that although the opinion of himself and several of his friends had been decidedly in favour of moving an Amendment to the Address on that occasion, yet, to prevent disunion among the friends of free trade in this House, and in a new Parliament, that he had declared his readiness to abstain from moving an Amendment; but that as he, as well as myself and my former Colleagues, and the noble Lord the Member for London, were of opinion that the words of the Speech on the subject of free trade were unsatisfactory, it had been suggested that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, on the part of the free-trade party generally, should give notice of a substantive Motion on that subject; and that it was thought on all hands that, considering the part he had taken in these discussions, that he had fought the battle manfully from the beginning, it was due to him, in the last hour of the success of that policy which he had so long and so earnestly advocated, that he should take a prominent part. I told my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester. that I entirely agreed in that arrangement —that I was extremely glad there would not be an Amendment to the Address, and that I thought a substantive Motion was preferable, and particularly rejoiced in the selection of my hon. Friend the Member 475 for Wolverhampton as the organ of the Free-trade party in this House on that occasion. So matters stood when I came into the House; and I certainly fully expected, considering that the terms of the Speech were somewhat ambiguous, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, would avail himself of the ordinary opportunity, before the commencement of the discussion on the Address, to give notice for a particular day of his intention to introduce the promised measure on the part of the Government. You, Sir, are always most particular on that day, when the mover and seconder of the Address are present, that the discussion should commence at the appointed hour. That hour is half-past four. You waited until twenty minutes to five—longer than usual—in consequence of the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and when the right hon. Gentleman entered the House, my impression was—and I do not think I was singular in that impression—that he was about to give notice for a particular day on which the measures of the Government would be introduced. He did not do so. The noble Lord the Member for North Northumberland (Lord Lovaine) moved the Address in a speech of great ability; but still I could not fail to remember that he had displaced in the representation of the county of Northumberland one of the most distinguished Members of the Free-trade party—my right hon. Friend Sir George Grey—that he had effected that victory in Northumberland principally on the ground of advocating protection as against free trade, and I could not believe that if protection was to he abandoned, it was a Percy that was to perform that operation in this House. When the speech of the seconder of the Address was nearly concluded, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, sitting immediately behind me, stretched forward and asked, "Shall I still give notice of my Motion?"—I did not know what others said—I said, "Certainly, give your notice." That notice was given in point of time before any declaration of the policy of the Government had been pronounced in either House of Parliament, and it was made in the absence of any day being appropriated by the Government for the introduction of those measures which had been promised. I listened with attention to the debate which followed; I weighed well the terms of Her Majesty's Speech; 476 and on the following morning, in addition to the information which I had derived from the discussion here, and from hearing the announcement on the part of the Government, made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I had the advantage, through the ordinary channels, of reading what passed elsewhere, and of considering the statement made by the head of the Government. Having been a party to a notice given of a Motion, I frankly avow—considering the position to which I have alluded—that I took particular interest in reference to the mode in which that Motion should be framed; and on the morning of the 12th, having Her Majesty's Speech before me, and the speech to which I have alluded as having been made elsewhere, I endeavoured to frame the terms of that Motion. I shall state to the House without disguise what was the spirit in which I endeavoured to frame that Resolution. I remembered, as the noble Viscount the Member for Tiverton reminded us the other night, that this—whatever may be our differences of opinion—is an assembly of Gentlemen; and I was roost anxious, in framing that Resolution, to insert nothing in it which I thought would wound the feelings of any of those who perhaps, without changing their opinions, were ready to change their course with reference to a specific policy about to be triumphant. And also I am bound to say I did not forget that I myself had been a convert from former opinions, and was the very last person in the House who ought not to have some regard for the feelings of others in such circumstances. Now, will the House bear with me whilst I state how I proceeded in framing that Resolution? I took the Speech of Her Majesty and the paragraph which refers to protection and free trade, and I took the speech also made elsewhere, to which I have referred, and I endeavoured to insert in the shape of a Resolution everything which I thought necessary for the distinct assertion of the principle for which those who were attached to the policy of free trade contended, and to omit everything in the Resolution to which those who were willing, under the circum stances, to depart from the policy of protection, and to adopt that of free trade, could reasonably object. That is the spirit in which I endeavoured to frame the Resolution. I have the original Resolution be-fore me as so drawn, and with the permission of the House I will read it. The words are— 477That it is the opinion of this House that the improved condition of the country, and especially of the industrious classes, is in a great measure the result of recent legislation, which has abolished taxes imposed for the purpose of protection, which has thereby diminished the cost of the principal articles of food, and which has established unrestricted competition.It is the opinion of this House that, without inflicting injury on any important interest, this policy, firmly maintained and prudently extended, will best enable the industry of the country to hear its burdens, and will thereby most surely promote the welfare and contentment of the community.These were the original Resolutions; I have already told the House that, though inadequate yet honestly, I do consider myself a representative of the policy to which I was a party, under the guidance of my late most distinguished Friend Sir Robert Peel; and I put to myself the question— if my right hon. Friend were still alive, in the present circumstances, with no sinister object in view—for he disregarded all sinister objects—what with reference to the good of the country and to the security of the policy he had at heart, and its firm maintenance on the surest ground—what, under the present circumstances, would be the line he would take? And I assure you, Sir, and this House, on my honour, that to the best of my judgment, with my intimate knowledge both of his feelings and his general course of proceeding, I believe he would have framed a better Resolution, but a Resolution in the spirit of the one which I have read. Now, I sent this Resolution to my noble Friend the Member for the City of London, with whom, I am happy to say, I have been in cordial and friendly communication. ["Hear!"] Now, that cheer convinces me that there is an undue and an erroneous suspicion that there is a factious party spirit at work; but I am about to show to you—I think conclusively—that you have been premature in coming to that conclusion. What was the answer of my noble Friend? He said to me—On the whole, I approve of your words; I have seen none which I prefer; but I think there is an objection to the Resolutions, as they stand without some safeguard. If carried adversely, the Government will be of opinion that they are intended to obstruct the course which they deem it their duty to take, and that it is not desired by the House to see the measures which they have announced as prepared.And my noble Friend, so far from desiring to pursue a factious course towards the Government, recommended the insertion of the third clause, to which I will now call 478 the attention of the House. It is in these words:—That this House will be ready to take into consideration any measures consistent with these principles which, in pursuance of Her Majesty's gracious Speech and recommendation, may fee laid before it.I thought that suggestion admirable; I thought it a great improvement; and it was in entire accordance with my desire that the Government should not be interrupted unduly in the presentation of their measures for the consideration of the House. Having obtained the opinion and sanction of my noble Friend, I then met my Lord Aberdeen and my Colleagues in the Government of the late Sir Robert Peel who had been officially responsible for the repeal of the corn laws. We discussed most carefully the words of the two Resolutions: they underwent some alterations, and the terms of some of them were changed. But in a matter of this kind, the entire truth ought to be stated to the House. I shall state exactly the result of those deliberations, and the changes which were effected in consequence of the interview which I had with my former Colleagues. I will now read how the Resolutions stood after that interview. The first Resolution was in these words:—It is the opinion of this House that the improved condition of the country, and especially of the industrious classes, is in a great measure the result of recent legislation, which has established the principle of unrestricted competition, has abolished taxes imposed for the purpose of protection, and has thereby diminished the cost of the principal articles of food.Now, Sir, I must state to the House that in framing this Resolution, I had particular attention to the words of Her Majesty's Speech; and if the House will allow me, I will call their attention to those words. The part to which I am about to call the attention of the House states the matter hypothetically—If you should be of opinion that recent legislation, in contributing, with other causes, to this unhappy"—[Laughter,] I beg pardon of the House——"this happy result has, at the same time, inflicted unavoidable injury on certain important interests, I recommend you dispassionately to consider how far it may be practicable equitably to mitigate their injury, and to enable the industry of the country to meet successfully that unrestricted competition to which Parliament in its wisdom has decided that it should be subjected.Now, understanding distinctly from the various speeches made, both in this House and elsewhere, that if the policy of a conn- 479 tervailing duty on corn were abandoned, it was thought indispensable by the Government that compensation for alleged injury-should then be sought by some other mode than by a countervailing duty, I thought that these words, which had been deliberately adopted by the Cabinet, and which Her Majesty under such advice had delivered from the Throne, studiously raised the presumption that such "injury" had been inflicted, and opened the door to the admission of compensation. Now, I will tell the House frankly, that in framing the second Resolution, I sought to traverse that presumption, and to assert—at least by implication—that there was no such injury, and that in reference to the future, the policy of free trade might be firmly maintained, and even prudently extended, without inflicting any injury upon any class —thereby shutting the door against compensation. Now, it is rather a nicety— but it is necessary that the whole truth should be stated. As I drew the Resolution at first, I had put these words:—It is the opinion of this House that without inflicting injury upon any important interest, this policy, firmly maintained and prudently extended, will enable the industry of the country to bear its burdens.Thus placed, the Resolution might be supposed to have a retrospective effect, as well as a prospective. I individually had the strongest opinion that there is no case which gives a retrospective claim to compensation; but still I am bound to say that some of my former Colleagues in the Government of the late Sir Robert Peel thought that that question would be more fairly left open—that the Resolution should be merely prospective in its effect, and not combine the retrospective and prospective assertion of the principle. It was thought better that these words just quoted should follow after the word "will," rather than precede it, thus giving it entirely a prospective, and removing altogether the retrospective character of the sentence. It was accordingly thus amended:—It is the opinion of this House that this policy, firmly maintained and prudently extended, will, without inflicting injury upon any important interests, best enable the industry of the country to bear its burdens, and will thereby most surely promote the welfare and contentment of the people.I was willing to adopt that suggestion, because I felt that whenever the question arose, and the Government thought fit to raise it with respect to compensation for the past, I should be enabled then to say, 480 "this policy strictly maintained did not give rise to any just claim for compensation." I was content, therefore, to withdraw those words which might be supposed to have reference to the past, leaving only those which had a prospective effect. Subject to these observations, I adopted the Resolutions as I have read them to the House; and I placed them at the disposal of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, in order that he might see whether it were possible to obtain a common consent to them. The Resolutions became the subject of discussion among the most distinguished Members who had been the consistent advocates of the repeal of the corn laws. It was deemed by them that the reference to the repeal of the corn laws should be more specific, and that it should be declared in express terms that that "Act was a wise, just, and beneficial measure." Now, Sir, considering the course which I have taken with respect to that repeal, if the question were put to me absolutely, Will you or can you dissent from the terms of that Resolution? I could not, as an honest man, say that I dissented from them. I certainly say that I should have infinitely preferred—perhaps from an overweening parental partiality—adherence to my own words; but when I found that they would not command general assent, I said at once, "If it be the opinion of a majority—a decided majority—of freetraders that there should be that special reference in these terms to the repeal of the corn laws, I cannot refuse my assent to that proposition." I heard no more of this until the Government—I think on the Friday following—presented the terms of their Amendment. I looked deliberately at that Amendment; and I must say that, weighing the difference of those terms, and considering the grave objections which I entertained to them—to which it would be inexpedient now to refer, but which, if the discussion should proceed, I hope by the kind indulgence of the House to be allowed to state—considering that I had to decide between the Amendment laid upon the table and the original Resolution as proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, I had no doubt that it would be my duty to support the original Motion. And I must add, that if the question of free trade is to turn upon words, I was more disposed to adopt the words of the consistent advocate of the repeal of the corn laws, in the person of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolver- 481 hampton, rather than take the words of the Government suggested by the Chancellor fit the Exchequer. I heard no more of this until nearly the close of the debate on Tuesday evening, when the noble Viscount the Member for Tiverton, certainly without any previous concert with me, proposed the Amendment which is now upon the table of the House. The terms of this Amendment are conditional—in the event of either the original Resolution or Amendment being withdrawn, the noble Lord will move it. The House will recollect the words of the Resolution as agreed upon between the noble Lord the Member for the City of London and myself; and the House will now see how nearly the words in the Amendment of the noble Viscount are in conformity with them. The Amendment of the noble Viscount proceeds as follows: —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, has abolished taxes for the purpose of protection"—Then comes a small alteration. In my Resolution the words were—and has thereby diminished the cost of the principal articles of food.In the Amendment of the noble Viscount there is an insertion which I think of importance. The words inserted arc, "and increased the abundance." The sentence runs thus:"—and has thereby diminished the cost and increased the abundance of the principal articles of food." Now, Sir, the reason which has induced me, from a sense of duty, to rise before the right hon. Gentleman answers the question of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) is a most important variation in the words tendered by the noble Viscount, as contrasted with the words to which the noble Lord the Member for the City of London and myself had given our previous consent. The noble Viscount says—That it is the opinion of this House, that this policy, firmly maintained and prudently extended, will—I had inserted here the words—"without inflicting injury upon any important interest—These words have entirely disappeared, and the proposition now is, that, these words being omitted, the sentence shall run— best enable the industry of the country 482 to bear its burdens, and will thereby moat surely promote the welfare and contentment of the peopleI told the House distinctly that these words, "without inflicting injury on any important interest," with the Queen's Speech before me, were deliberately inserted by me, and adopted by my noble Friend and my Colleagues in the Government of the late Sir Robert Peel, prospectively for the purpose of barring the question of compensation for the future. I attach the greatest importance to those words; and whatever may be the feelings of others—before the Government gives the answer as to whether they will adopt or reject the proposal of the noble Viscount—I thought it but fair to tell Her Majesty's Government and the House the course I had taken, and that, so far as I am concerned, I could not be a party to a compromise of the question if these words are omitted. On the other hand, if there could be common consent to the insertion of these words— if the Government would assent to the reinsertion, I, for one-—having no authority to speak for others, but still, for the sake of free trade itself, and for the sake of combining the largest possible support to a Resolution fixing great principles, upon the eve of the introduction of a measure by Her Majesty's Government having reference to those principles, and from an anxious desire that those principles should be sustained by the largest possible majority, if not by the common consent of the House—I would earnestly, sincerely, and, if it be necessary for me to say so, would honestly entreat my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton in that case, with the consent of the House, to withdraw his original Motion, and to adopt the Amendment. I am ashamed of having trespassed upon the time of the House, but I thought it might consider my intrusion an exceptional ease, in reference to this subject; but I can assure you that I was actuated by no motive whatever of a personal or a sinister kind. If it would not be considered as inconsistent with the honour of the Government, I believe that, with the concurrence of my friends on this side, we might arrive at a most reasonable settlement, and one satisfactory to the great majority of the House; so that to-morrow the Government, without any interruption or difficulty, might have the opportunity of introducing its measures. We then should have the opportunity of giving them the fairest and 483 fullest consideration. For my part, I am ready to consider them, not in a hostile, but in a friendly spirit—since they are to be founded on the principles for which I am contending—and I shall fairly try any measure of compensation which might be proposed by the most rigid rules of equity and justice.
§ The Motion for the adjournment of the House having been seconded,
§ LORD LOVAINE
said, that he should not now have intruded himself upon the attention of the House, after having so lately addressed it, had it not been for the personal allusion made to him by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham). It was true that he (Lord Lovaine) did beat Sir George Grey at the last election for North Northumberland. It was true, also, that he beat that right hon. Gentleman by polling a larger number of votes than the right hon. Gentleman had polled at the previous election. It was true, likewise, that he beat the right hon. Gentleman after he had been tried five years as the representative of that county. But it was equally true that the contest was conducted in the fairest, most open, and most gentleman-like manner; and he believed Sir George Grey left the hustings, on that occasion, with the same good feeling that he (Lord Lovaine) had entertained when he himself was a beaten candidate at the election before. He was aware that with the gratification of the victory, he had likewise to incur the difficulty of maintaining this high position, but he certainly did not expect that, upon entering the House for the first time after a lapse of twenty years, he should be subjected thus early to a direct and personal attack. It was the more extraordinary when he reflected that amongst the many changes and chances of the political career of the right hon. Baronet's (Sir J. Graham's), he was only a few years ago in direct opposition to Sir George Grey. ["Question!"] He would speak to the question, and he would declare his conviction that the object of the debate was not the triumph of the principle of Free Trade, but it was merely the effort of a faction to procure the defect and discomfiture of the opposite party. He believed that the right hon. Baronet had stated that the house of Percy ought to be the last to abandon the cause of Protection. He supposed that it was owing to the changes already alluded to that the right hon. Baronet had forgotten that upon his side of the question, 484 under the late Sir Robert Peel, stood the heads of the house of Percy. And why had he (Lord Lovaine) come forward for the county of Northumberland? Simply and solely because, though the heads of the house of Percy had voted for the introduction of corn free of duty, because they believed that it would be for the public good, they were determined not to see the farmers run down, not to allow their com-plaints to pass unheeded, and their sufferings to remain unredressed. He had been misrepresented the first night of the Session, and that for the sake of a poor antithesis. What he had stated then, and upon the hustings broadly and openly was, that in his opinion duties should be imposed for revenue and not for Protection; but that efforts should be made to secure justice to the farmer by the abolition of all the restrictions to which he was subjected; and he would appeal to the right hon. the Member for Oxford, if there was anything in that statement contrary to the doctrines of Free Trade. He had to apologise to the House for thus trespassing upon their patience in a matter personal to himself; but he trusted that it would be remembered that it was hardly possible for him to sit still, when called upon in so personal and unusual a manner.
I wish, Sir, to say a few words with respect to the question raised by my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham), and I rise simply in the hope that anything which may fall from me may only be of such a character as to contribute to an issue of these discussions such as shall be at once satisfactory to the feelings of the great body of the people and likely to promote the undisputed permanence of the present commercial policy of the country. I venture to hope that some progress has been made towards a settlement of that question, and that if we can agree upon the question which has been raised by the right hon. Baronet with respect to the insertion of certain words in the Amendment, suggested by my noble Friend near me (Viscount Palmerston), that then, although we should not be entitled, in point of form, to say that either the Amendment of the Government or the original Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C, Villiers) had been withdrawn, yet that both these concessions would be made by both parties respectively interested to the general feeling, and that we might come to something like a common agreement. Now, the whole question before us relates 485 to one only of the two changes which have been made in the Resolution. There is a change in the Resolution of the phrase "in a great measure" to the word "mainly." I do not believe that any Gentleman considers that any objection is to be taken to that change, and shall therefore speak only of the words proposed to be inserted in the second Resolution. It is proposed to insert after the word "policy," the words "firmly maintained and prudently extended;" and the question we have to consider is, what will be the bearing of these words upon the sense of the Amendments, and how far it will be agreeable to the feelings and wishes of the great body of the House that those words should be inserted. It is now necessary for me to state what my responsibility is with respect to the present Motion. I am one of those, I confess, who strongly felt that it was necessary, under the circumstances of the election of the present Parliament, that a sanction, the most full and formal which our Constitution contemplates, should, so far as depends upon Parliament, be given in express words to the policy of free trade. And, therefore, I have been entirely favourable to the view of a proposition being submitted to this House on the subject, failing a distinct declaration on the subject in the Speech from the Throne. At the same time I so entirely sympathise with my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham) in the feeling that it was most desirable, if it could be obtained, to avoid the introduction into such a Motion of any words—I will not say which were disgraceful, but—which were deemed or thought disparaging to any body of Gentlemen in this House—I go to a further point, and do not hesitate to accept the responsibility for myself individually which the right hon. Baronet has just ascribed to several of his Colleagues in the Government of my illustrious Friend the late Sir Robert Peel—the responsibility of holding the opinion that the question of compensation, or relief, or redress, or whatever you may choose to call it, to the agricultural interest, important as that question may be, and strong as our opinions may be upon the one part of it or another, was a question which ought not to be settled in a Motion directed simply to the purpose of establishing the policy of free trade. It appeared to me that we had but one of two alternatives to adopt. We knew quite well that the Members of the Government had given out to their constituents, and had universally held out to them, either 486 that Protection would be restored, or that, if Protection was not restored, endeavours would be made to afford specific relief to that interest supposed to be injured by the effects of the free-trade policy. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given notice that, on the 26th of this month, he would propose his Budget to the House, and it was to be presumed that in that Budget proposals of this nature would be included. I do not think, I confess, whether rightly or wrongly, that in respect to these questions of compensation which are supposed to be connected with the repeal of the Corn Laws, that we ought to preclude the Government from submitting any measures whatever which in their opinion they might think right by an anticipatory vote of this House. I held that it was plain we had but one of two courses to take—either to allow the Government to go forward with unfettered hands, and to propose their Budget upon the principles owned and acknowledged by them, among which I am happy now to include the principle of free trade; or else, by meeting them at once with a vote of want of confidence, in a true, sound, and constitutional manner to exercise the functions of the House to put a period at once to the existence of the Administration. So far, therefore, as regards this question, it appeared to me that it was not our duty to take a vote at the present moment on the subject of relief to any interest supposed to be injured by recent legislation, but that we ought to wait for the proposal of the measures of the Government, and to try their measures upon their merits, objecting, of course, to measures of compensation, should we find such measures included among them, where our opinion leads us to decline to follow such a course of conduct. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle, on the other hand, attaches, I believe, considerable importance to the readmission of these words, and I understand the right hon. Baronet to have given to the House in the most distinct manner the construction which he fixes upon them. I frankly say that his construction is wholly unexceptionable to me. He says that he proposes to exclude the claim of compensation with respect to prospective measures, by the phrase in his Motion—that in deference to others, more than in pursuance of his own views, he has been content to leave the question of compensation or relief, so far as it grows out of past measures of policy, to be tried 487 when we come to consider the proposals of Her Majesty's Government. If this be so, I think, if the House has a sense of what is due to its own dignity and to its own character in the country—that if there be happily a disposition in the various parties and sections of which this House is composed to seek for grounds of agreement, rather than of occasions of difference—I think I may say that the Resolution of the right hon. Baronet, admirably drawn up by a master hand as I think it was, and filled up with the words he proposes to insert, would be a Resolution which may be adopted both by the hon. Mover of the original Motion, and the right hon. Proposer of the Amendment of the Government, without the slightest dishonour or disparagement, and without the slightest sacrifice of consistency on either side. The Resolution so adopted will leave open every question which the Government can wish should be left open, and it will finally close up that great Imperial question which, upon this side of the House, we all feel the time has arrived finally to close. If this view be taken—such, at any rate, is my conviction—this Resolution will afford us the means of meeting on common ground for the purpose of considering measures alike beneficial to the country and honourable to the moderation and good sense of the parties of which this House is composed. I venture, therefore, for myself, earnestly and respectfully, to make an appeal to my noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) near me. The spirit with which he has entered into the discussion is one with which I do not hesitate entirely to concur. I cannot, however, refrain from saying that, although my mind was fully made up to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton in preference to the Amendment of the Government, had that been the issue raised, yet I cannot help saying that, while there are several grounds which would have made it painful to me, as well as to my right hon. Friend, to take that course in opposition to the Government, I should still have taken it without the slightest doubt or hesitation, though not without regret. My noble Friend near me has by his Amendment saved us from this alternative, which would not have been satisfactory to the great bulk of the House; and I must also say that I think the country would have been perplexed and puzzled by a close division, upon whichever side, between the two Motions so nearly approximating in 488 their terms the original Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton and the Amendment of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that the interests of the Free-trade policy, which are to be considered as paramount, will be infinitely better served by the concurrence of the great bulk and body of this House in the adoption of the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, with the addition of those words referred to by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), than they could possibly be by the defeat of the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton by a narrow majority, or even by its acceptance by a majority in all probability not much larger.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said: We have been reminded, over and over again, that this is a new House of Commons, and that it is so is evident not only from the nature of the opposition, but from the whole course of proceeding on this debate on both sides; for in the nine Parliaments during which I have sat in this House, I never before saw anything like the manner in which it appears the House, and, what is still more to the purpose, the people out of doors, are about to be trifled with. It was only the other evening (Friday) that it was resolved there should he a call of the House on Monday. Monday came, and 400 or 500 Members assembled to answer to their names; but instead of calling them over as they had resolved, and for which purpose only those Members had been summoned, the House immediately proceeded toun vote what it had voted on the previous Friday, and that in the absence of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), at whose instance the Resolution had been passed. I confess I should like to have seen my hon. Friend's face when he learned that the call of the House had been abandoned. But we were told the whole purpose of the call was answered, some thirty or forty Members haying come to the table and taken the oath of abjuration, which having done, of course they immediately went out of town again. Well, we have had one night's debate on the Resolution of my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers), and some of the best speeches I ever heard, particularly that of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), have been spoken. We were told that we had a great duty to perform to the; people. We were to declare that the legislation of 1846 was wise, just, and beneficial, and that not a word of the Resolution of 489 my hon. Friend, in which that declaration was contained, was to be changed. And not only that, we were told that there was a tribute, a debt, due to the memory of that illustrious man who passed the Act of 1846, which could only be paid by a public recognition of the policy on which that Act was founded. Now, after all this, we have these various Amendments. First, there is the Amendment of the Government; then we have the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston); and now, it appears, we are to have something more recent from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham). What next were they to have? The right hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Gladstone), told them that the country would be puzzled and perplexed at their proceedings; the country might well be puzzled and perplexed at them. Now, what I should recommend is this: the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle has moved that the House should now adjourn. The right hon. Gentleman has moved that as a matter of form. Now, I say, we had better take the right hon. Gentleman at his word, and let the House adjourn until it can make up its mind—or that we should constitute a Committee, and put the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) at its head, to draw out this Amendment—this Amendment upon an Amendment—which we are to have, to which all are to agree, which is to settle the whole question, and make us all friendly, and prevent anything more being said either about Protection or Free Trade. I see no reason why we should not adopt the Motion, and adjourn at once for that purpose. But as questions appear to be the order of the day, there is one party, I think, of whom a question should be asked, and that is the noble Viscount the Member for Tiverton. How came the noble Viscount by the right hon. Baronet's Amendment? By what method of "appropriation" did he obtain that document? But this new Amendment is conditional, it will he observed—it is only to be brought forward in case the Resolution of my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers), and the Amendment of the Government, should be withdrawn. Are we to understand, then, that there is to be no division? But suppose the debate proceeds—and I thought it a very pretty quarrel as it stood, and am truly sorry it was disturbed—but suppose the debate is continued, and the Amendment of the Government should be carried, 490 and my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers) should be defeated—what I want to know is, will the noble Viscount then move his Amendment to the Resolution of the Government, which will then become the main question, and which it will of course be competent for him to do? If he do not, the country will not be much perplexed—they will then say the whole affair is a cross. The country will begin to think that those Gentlemen below me—the Whigs—and I only wish Whiggery was about to be buried for over with Protection—feel they are not quite ripe for office—that they have not quite made up their minds for office— though no doubt the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle has been rewhigged for the occasion. They—the country— will understand that the cause of all this mess in which we find ourselves involved is, that the party below me are not quite prepared to turn out the Gentlemen opposite. We were made fools of on Monday last, as though it had been the 1st of April —we have discussed the question brought forward by my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers) a whole night, and we are on the point of discussing it again, and bringing it to a conclusion, as I hoped, satisfactory to the people of this country—and now we suddenly find ourselves removed further than ever from that settlement. Under these circumstances, I hope the House will agree to adjourn, and leave hon. Gentlemen below me some time to settle amicably as they may the difference that appears to exist between them.
§ MR. CAYLEY
trusted that he might be allowed to address the House upon the point at issue, the more especially as he was an old soldier upon this question, and he hoped that he had been a consistent one. Ever since protection had been abolished in 1846, he for one had never endeavoured to restore it. He was perfectly conscious that it never could be restored. When the hon. Member for Wolverhampton made his speech the other night upon the Address, he thought that if that hon. Member did not know that protection was dead, and that there was no possibility of restoring it, he was the only man in the country who was ignorant of the fact. It seemed to him, therefore, to be somewhat unfair that he should be placed in such a position as that predicament in which he now found himself—without any locus pœnitentia —without any means of escape. He admitted that free trade had conquered protection. After the verdict of the coun- 491 try pronounced by the recent election, he for one would never attempt to restore protection, nor try to obtain compensation, except for financial injustice. The passage in the Address which was the subject of criticism, as he understood it, meant that, if the finances of the country did not correspond with the recent commercial legislation, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer would propose such measures as were equitable and just. With less than justice he should not be content. That was what he understood was recommended in the Speech from the Throne. For his part he was ready to be loyal to the law; and it was unfair, when he was willing to obey the law and carry it out with simplicity and singleness of purpose, that he should be asked to recant everything which he had ever said. Freedom of person, freedom of speech, were still left them, and he was in hope that a liberal Opposition would have also allowed them liberty of thought. He did not recant his opinions, although he might have modified them. At the same time he saw the House placed in a most unusual dilemma, and he thought that it would be for the national interest, and for the benefit of the public service, if some concessions were made upon all sides. He, for one, was perfectly willing to permit the words of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle to pass without opposition, if the hon. Members for the West Riding and Manchester should consent to them; and he entreated his hon. Friends whom he saw around him to allow the discussion to come to an end, and to leave the policy of free trade, which they could not reverse, free from attack. As to Sir Robert Peel, he always gave him credit for the honesty of his convictions. He did not object, on the contrary he thought he was quite right, having changed his convictions, to change his policy. There was only some difference between them as to the mode in which he carried out his change of opinion, as regarded his party. Wishing to see this unseemly discussion closed, he implored the House to forget all party dissensions, and at once to proceed to transact the other business of the nation, contenting themselves with the acknowledgment by Gentlemen upon his side that protection is dead, and cannot, under circumstances like the present, by any possibility be restored.
§ MR. ROBERT PALMER
said, he thought the matter had been quite sufficiently debated. The question at issue was, whether the Government should be 492 called upon to assert an abstract proposition, or whether the House would adopt the Amendment moved by the Government. Now he had no hesitation in saying that his own feelings, and that of a large number of his friends, were in direct antagonism to the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers), and that he should record his vote against it. He could not possibly concur in the first paragraph of that Resolution, namely, that the Act of 1846 was wise, just, and beneficial. He had had some experience in that House, and had hardly expected to be called upon, and certainly was not prepared, to turn round and recant all he had said for the last twenty-six years. He did not concur that in the opinion of the House 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 nation to bear the burdens to which they are exposed, and would most contribute to the general prosperity, welfare, and contentment of the people. If he accepted that paragraph, he would be casting a slur, he would be pronouncing a condemnation of all their previous conduct. For his part, he was not prepared to recant the opinions which he had previously expressed and previously advocated; opinions which he begged the House to remember were not formed to-day or yesterday, upon this subject of protection to native industry. They were opinions which had been framed on the opinions of Mr. Huskisson, on the opinions of Mr. Canning, on the opinions of Sir Robert Peel, on the opinions of the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell), and last, not least, upon the authority of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham). He had not adopted them hastily, or without consideration. They were, however, perfectly aware that the sense of the country was against their opinions. They felt perfectly confident that if they were to propose a direct Motion to renew the duty on corn, they would be left in a small minority. He was totally ignorant what course the Government would pursue. All he wished to say was, that if they adopted the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), he protested against being made a party to that Resolution. The country might be in favour of Free Trade, and he bowed to its decision; but if it were put to him "aye, or no," to say whether for the last six-and-twenty years he had been all 493 wrong, and that he would on no occasion endeavour to procure means of remedying or alleviating the distresses of that class which, he believed, had been injured—he must protest against being made a party to such a Resolution.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I cannot but hope, Sir, that the conversation which has taken place this afternoon affords an indication that we have a prospect of coming nearer to an agreement upon this great question than I had ventured to anticipate. I must say that what we have heard from the hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cayley) is alike honourable to him and gratifying to us, as coming from a man of his position in the House and in the country, who, always perfectly independent, always respected for his excellent judgment and sound sense, has hitherto strongly supported Protection; and who now, finding himself defeated on that question, gracefully acknowledges his defeat, and yields his private convictions to his sense of public duty and national interest. I should hope, also, that his example will influence those who have acted with him, and that others on that side of the House will adopt the advice which my hon. Friend—if he will allow me to call him so—has so judiciously propounded to the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) has put a question to me; he wants to know how I came by the Resolution that was originally framed by my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham). I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that I came by it by very lawful means. I made a slight alteration in it, for the purpose, as I imagined, of avoiding discussion now on collateral points— as to compensation, for example—it being understood that the words proposed by my right hon. Friend apply to the future, and leave the Government open to propose such measures as they please with regard to the past, leaving us equally open to object to those measures if they ever should be brought forward. I have no objection to the insertion of those words, and I understand the hon. Member for the North Riding also to assent to those words. Now, Sir, my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury has asked a more practical question. My hon. Friend asks what shall I do, supposing the Resolution of my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers) to be rejected— will I then propose my Amendment as a substitute for the Amendment which Her 494 Majesty's Government have tendered? I will answer that question by asking another question. Will he support me if I do so? [Mr. T. DUNCOMBE: Yes; I will, as against the Government.] Well, I assure him that if I am encouraged to expect adequate support in that Motion, I shall undoubtedly propose it; and I should really hope, from what has passed this night, supposing the Motion of my hon. Friend to be either withdrawn or to be negatived—that is to say, the putting of it to be negatived—that I might hope to have a general acquiescence in the Resolution of which I have given notice, and for which, as the House is aware, I am greatly indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham). But, Sir, I do trust that both sides of the House will agree that it really is of great national importance that this great question should be set at rest; the question being, not what hon. Gentlemen on one side of the House or on the other side think of the justice or the wisdom of the measures of 1846, but what they determine to do in regard to the maintenance of that policy, and to its prudent extension, so far as it may yet remain to extend it; and if the House be of opinion that that policy must be maintained—and I think there can hardly be ten Members of the House of a different opinion, because all must see, whatever they may wish, that its reversal is unattainable—if the House, or a majority of the House, have opened their eyes to the truth that that policy is irresistibly established, and that it is beyond the power of any party in this country to reverse it—I say let them calm the public mind; let them set at rest those expectations which may still linger in the breasts of persons out of doors, that by some change on the part of the Government that policy may by possibility be reversed; let this House answer by a solemn affirmation the question put to it by Her Majesty's Government when the present Parliament assembled; and, without inquiring what are the opinions of individual Members on past transactions, let us, unanimously if possible — if not, by the largest possible majority—affirm what is to be henceforward the foundation of the commercial legislation of the country.
§ SIR BULWER LYTTON
said, that the sole question which the House had to decide was, the adoption of a form of words affirming the principle of free trade, which 495 should satisfy the common sense of the great body of the people out of doors, and, at the same time, should not inflict an insidious condemnation on Gentlemen upon his side of the House for having conscientiously advocated the principles which they believed to be true. For his part, he could not accept the Resolution of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, because it did insinuate a condemnation upon the motives and past conduct of his hon. Friends. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton had, however, proposed a Resolution which was worthy of one who had been long accustomed to unite our national honour with our political interests. He had listened with very great attention to the speeches of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, and of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle. In the Resolution they proposed there were certain expressions in it which made him prefer the Amendment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but he felt that having agreed upon the thing they meant to do, there was no necessity for extreme niceness of verbal criticism, provided the honour of Gentlemen was sufficiently protected. He did not consider, in having accepted the Resolution, that he was thereby precluded from doing his best for his constituents in the way of relief—not, indeed, attempting to obtain a renewal of protection under false names, but by a fair and impartial application of free trade, which, indeed, was what the fanners themselves demanded. Cordially agreeing in what had fallen from the hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire, he called upon Gentlemen opposite to exhibit the same conciliatory spirit. It seemed to him that it would be something majestic and worthy of them, as a representative assembly, if they could on such an occasion' lay aside their party interests and political jealousies, and join unanimously in the affirmation of a principle which was to guide their future policy. It was for the interest of the principle itself that its affirmation should not be carried by an insignificant majority; when the evil incurred by the bitterness of contest would be ill compensated by the insignificancy of the triumph. He, therefore, earnestly recommended hon. Gentlemen to follow the example his hon. Friend had set, and thus propose the final and peaceful settlement of this momentous question.
The MARQUESS of GRANBY
Sir, I 496 was anxious to ascertain, whether or no the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) would accept or reject the proposal made to him.
The MARQUESS of GRANBY
Well, of course, I must leave the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton to decide for himself whether or not he will persevere with his Motion. For my own part, Sir, I have no hesitation in saying, that. I hope the hon. Gentleman will persevere with his Motion. ["Hear, hear 1"] Yes, I say, I hope he will. I heard the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) declare the other evening that those hon. Gentlemen who pretended to be free-traders, but who were not prepared to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton in approval of "recent legislation," were no free-traders at all. Now, my own opinion is, and I tell the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), that if he does not divide upon his Amendment, the opinion will go out to America that the House of Commons is in favour of Protection—that he dared not divide the House on the question. Last year a similar Motion was proposed in this House, and I received no answer to the speech which I then made —no answer to it is made now, and foresee that, in the present House, unless the hon. Member perseveres with his Motion, that I will not have an opportunity of addressing it. Sir, I, for one, cannot give my assent to any one of these Resolutions. I totally dissent from each and all of them. I agree with an hon. Gentleman who has spoken, that there is so much confusion—so much mystification—so much doubt and obscurity about them, that I, as well as others, am quite at a loss to make out what the difference between the several propositions is. I own, Sir, that I am completely baffled. So that, if this debate be continued, I hope that I may not be debarred from expressing my opinion; but, in case I should not have that opportunity, I now distinctly avow my determination to dissent from all those Resolutions or Amendments; I 'do not think, whilst I admit the general prosperity of the country, that that prosperity is owing to recent commercial legislations I think it is owing to other causes. I believe that the Free Trade system itself has not as yet been fully developed. I 497 must repeat a hope that the House will give me another opportunity of relieving my mind upon this question—upon the question whether or no the country at large has been benefited by those commercial measures—I mean permanently benefited; for I do not deny that the poorer classes are better off now than they were previously to 1846; and I say, further, that if this he so, I think that some apology—some acknowledgment—-is due to the memory of that distinguished individual. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, Sir, I say that some acknowledgment is due to the memory of that man whose patriotism I, for one, never doubted—and the purity of whose motives I never impugned. I say that, if what is alleged in the Resolution proposed to us be true, which I deny —then that some acknowledgment is due to his memory—an acknowledgment that he was not only patriotic and conscientious, but that he was also foreseeing and sagacious. May I add one word; may I address myself for one moment to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—may I tell him that I cordially agree with him in what he stated the other night? I fully admit that the right hon. Gentleman never brought the question of Protection before the House of Commons. But I am sure that he, too, will be ready to admit that, at all events, he has been generously, and without reserve, supported by the Protectionist party on this question, both in this House and out of it. Sir, with these few words I quit the subject for the present. I am not about to oppose myself to the deliberate verdict of the country as expressed against Protection. It is not my wish to agitate England in favour of that principle; hut, entertaining the opinion as I do, that the prosperity which I admit exists, and which, I fear, will not last, is owing to other causes than Free Trade, I beg to conclude, thanking the House for the indulgence with which they have listened to me, by saying that I reserve to myself the right to maintain those opinions whenever and wherever I may think fit to advocate them.
§ MR. BUTLER JOHNSTONE
said, that he had listened with the greatest attention to the remarks of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and had come to the conclusion that there was but little use in the House of Commons wasting its time about a mere abstract form of words. He believed the real question was the passing 498 a formal Resolution as to whether Free Trade was to be adopted or not. After the frank admission of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that they bowed to the decision of the country, he thought it useless to discuss the subject further. For his own part he entirely coincided in the Amendment, and in the observations of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As for Protection itself, there was no longer any use in talking about it— never was an enemy so stabbed, maimed, and mutilated. As an independent Member of that House, and exercising a free and unbiassed opinion, he would vote against the Resolutions of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, because they contained an indirect attack upon the policy, character, and conduct of hon. Members on his (Mr. Johnstone's) side of the House.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
My hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire seems somewhat to complain that I have not before replied to the question of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets; but I confess that that question was of so peculiar a character that it was difficult for me to address myself to it. It seemed, in fact, to be a contingency dependent upon an hypothesis—"If an hon. Gentleman with whom I have no political connexion is prepared to do something, am I then prepared to do something else?"1 naturally thought that the most logical and legitimate course would have been for the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton, or his friends, to have expressed their feelings upon the subject first; and then, when I was acquainted with their views, I could, of course, communicate my own to the House. But as the hon. and learned Gentleman has not risen, I, on the part of the Government, take the liberty now of addressing you. My noble Friend the Member for North Leicestershire (the Marquess of Granhy)has reminded me how generously, and without reserve, I have been supported by the Protectionist party in this House and in the country; and I can truly say, Sir, that ever since I have been honoured by that confidence, of which till the last hour of my life I shall be proud, I have done every thing that any ability I possess could command, or any energy I had could accomplish, in behalf of the cause of the land of England. I think it has been unjustly treated by recent legisla- 499 tion; but, as far as the terms go which I have used in the Amendment I have laid upon the table of the House, I cannot resist the conviction that recent legislation, so far as it has produced cheapness of pro-visions, has contributed to the welfare of the working classes. One would suppose, Sir, from some observations that have been made, and from the derisive cheers which occasionally arise from Gentlemen opposite, that a Protectionist Government had suddenly come down to the House of Commons to announce that they had changed their opinions. I can only say that if any Gentleman supposes that to be the case, he must take a very erroneous and perverted view of what has occurred. Here is a Government which in no way succeeded to office in connexion with that question. With the consent and concurrence, not only of the House, but of the whole country, it was determined that the question of protection should be left to the decision of the country, to be declared by a general election. The verdict of the country has been of an unmistakeable character. We have bowed to that unequivocal declaration. If we had acceded to office in order to advocate a system of protection—if we had dissolved Parliament on that question, and found that the country would not support us, we should have felt it our duty immediately to relinquish the posts which we now occupy; but, Sir, I am not aware, from all that has occurred, that that is at all our duty; and if there be any Gentleman in this House who thinks that it is our duty, and if it is the opinion of the majority of this House that it is our duty, that is an issue which can casily and speedily be tried. Sir, I have said myself that this Was a question of taxation. No one has pretended, for example, that the native industry of any country has a right to any artificial support unless it be subjected to some peculiar burdens or to some weight of taxation which otherwise might not be considered of an equitable character. If I find that protection, as it is called, being now abrogated, it is yet possible to recommend to the House a policy which will relieve the interests that are suffering from the withdrawal of that system, and which will allow them to compete with the industry of the world as fair rivals, I think that that is not only a consistent course for one who has advocated the principle of protection in former times, but that I am still doing my duty to that party in this House and out of it who have so generously sup- 500 ported me; and I declare most sincerely that it is only because I think I can bring forward measures which will have the effect of relieving all those interests that have suffered from the precipitate abrogation of past laws, and at the same time of contributing to the general advantage of the community, that I consent for a moment to hold the position which I now occupy. Sir, I shall now advert—although physically, as you will perceive, I feel it almost impossible to address the House—I shall now advert to the point which is particularly before us—the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, as amended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle, and the contingent Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton. Now, Sir, we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle a minute narrative of his connexion with the documents now upon the table of the House. The House will perhaps permit me, on the part of the Government, with equal frankness, and I hope with not less brevity, to detail the course which we have thought it right to pursue, and the cause which induced us to take such a course. We have heard to-night from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle a complete vindication of the passage once so much criticised in Her Majesty's Speech. That right hon. Gentleman told us to-night, that although, in his opinion, there was no claim for compensation by any interest in the country for any injury they may have experienced from recent legislation, still he thought it was a legitimate subject for Parliamentary decision. I think the right hon. Gentleman took a constitutional course, and used constitutional language in speaking on that subject, For what, Sir, were the words of Her Majesty's Speech? After laying down in an unequivocal manner that the principle of our commercial legislation had, after due deliberation, been settled by the country in favour of the principle of unrestricted competition, Her Majesty said that if the House should be of opinion that any great interests had suffered by the recent legislation, which had contributed to the common weal, Her Majesty recommended that the House should take their claims into consideration, Why, Sir, that is exactly the course which the right hon. Gentleman approves of. The right hon. Gentleman used the word "compensation" again and again; and upon that word, indeed, he 501 based most of his observations, and the course which he recommended to the House. But I must say, Sir, that it would have been convenient to the House, when a person of such high authority founded the recommendation of a certain policy upon a phrase, if he had at least referred to some authentic record for the sentiment which he quoted. I have had no opportunity of previous investigation, but I confess I don't remember that in any Parliamentary discussion of the question the word "compensation" was ever brought forward. It is possible that the right hon. Gentleman may or may not have found such a phrase in some electioneering speech or another, by some Member or another sitting on this side of the House; but the right hon. Gentleman is the last person in this House who ought to encourage our having recourse to electioneering speeches, in order to deduce from them the opinions of great statesmen, and the maxims that ought to regulate the policy of the English Parliament. Well, Sir, I contend that upon the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman himself, the passage in Her Majesty's Speech is fully vindicated; that that Speech was drawn up on the true principle—of course, with that due reserve which should always exist in all Royal documents of the kind—that there was a clear and definite statement as to the state of the country, and other important points, and also allusions equally Parliamentary and constitutional with reference to points of other importance which were left to further consideration. I say that the expositions of the First Minister of the Crown, and the humble words which I may have used, would have removed any doubt, had any doubt existed, as to the meaning of that-particular passage in Her Majesty's Speech. But the right hon. Gentleman says that a doubt did exist on the subject, because I did not, before the Address was moved, name the day on which I would bring forward my financial statement. Why, Sir, there were peculiar reasons which rendered it impossible to fix the day for that purpose then; and I thought that, before the Address was moved, to say that on an early day I should bring forward my statement, without fixing the precise day, would have had an air of a not very satisfactory kind, and that it would be much better, as the day could not be fixed, to refer to it in the few words which I should probably have to address to the House in the course of the evening. But, Sir, there is no doubt 502 that, from the first, there was some misconception on the subject; a misconception which I must say, was eagerly fostered by those who found it convenient for their own purposes to do so. At last it became evident that there was a general feeling in the House that there should be some declaration on the part of Parliament, expressing their opinion that the verdict of the country had been decisively unfavourable to the principle of a protective policy; and, although I think myself, as a general rule, that declarations of that kind by new Parliaments are not extremely expedient; because, after all, they do not settle any question—they do not bind even the next Session—they do not in any way affect opinion; and I should be sorry myself— wishing most sincerely that the principle of unrestricted competition should not now be disturbed—I say, I should be very sorry if the only security for that result was a hasty vote at the commencement of a new Parliament. But, hearing that there was a general feeling on the subject, and believing from many indications which I met with in the House that the Resolution to be proposed was not of a party character —that is, not of a party character in the more limited and odious sense of the phrase —we were of opinion that no opposition should be made, if some Resolution was brought forward which was in its character quite unequivocal as to the fact that the country had decided in favour of the system of free trade, and that it was the duty of the Government hereafter sincerely to adhere to the principle of unrestricted competition in their financial and commercial legislation. For myself individually, of course I could have no objection to such a Resolution, because in the measures which I have to recommend to the House, if there be one feature more decided than another, it is that they are based upon the principle of unrestricted competition—that that principle must be hereafter the basis of our whole commercial system; for, unless unrestricted competition be the principle of our financial and commercial policy, that which I would recommend cannot be supported. I will not now—as I could not feel justified in doing so on a previous occasion—I will not now, I say, be led into any reference to the character of those measures; for I am sure the House will feel that it would be most unfair to do so. All I can say, in answer to my noble Friend (the Marquess of Granby) is, that, as he acknowledges, and all must acknowledge, 503 that the verdict of the country is opposed to that principle which for so many years we supported—feeling that it is impossible for any man in this House to propose legislation founded upon that principle with any success, or with any hope of carrying such measures, I trust he will find, when those measures are brought forward, that I have not been unmindful of the just claims of those who, I think, have been unfairly treated by recent legislation. Under these circumstances, what was the course which Her Majesty's Government took? My noble Friend (the Earl of Derby), to whose opinion we deferred, met his friends, and communicated to them frankly his opinion that, if a Resolution were brought forward declaring that the verdict of the country had been expressed in an unequivocal manner, and announcing that it would be the duty of Her Majesty's Ministers to adhere to and develop the principle of uurestricted competition, it would be most unwise in any way to keep alive the controversy by opposing it; but that it was perfectly open to any Gentleman on this side of the House who objected in any way to acknowledging what may be called almost a fact rather than a prevailing dogma, to take no part in the debate or in the division, if there were one. It was the noble Lord's opinion, however, that, as to the fact, we should heartily and unequivocally endeavour that the declaration should be unanimously adopted by the House of Commons. Now, the draft of a Resolution also reached me which I was told was to be submitted to the House. I am sure that what has occurred to-night must be very instructive, especially to those who have taken their seats in this House for the first time. They must have received a rich lesson as to the mode by which the opposition is carried on. All I know is, that when we sat on the benches opposite we were more discreet. I do not remember any such frank confessions having ever been made in our time. When we change sides, our youthful adherents will have received a lesson as to how it is possible to combine and manage mankind. Well, I say, a Resolution—I suppose it came from the clouds—fell into my hands, and although it was most precise and unequivocal in the declaration that the country had decided that the principle of unrestricted competition was to be the principle of our commercial policy—and that in all their future measures it was the duty of Ministers to adhere to that principle, there 504 was nothing in that Resolution which I or any other Gentleman on this side of the House could not have accepted. Under these circumstances, my noble Friend recommended those who are proud to be his followers frankly to accept that Resolution, if it were brought forward. There was no secret made of the advice which he gave. We should not have cared if it had been made known at Charing-cross; and probably it was made known at Charing-cross. But the most remarkable circumstance is, that the moment this advice was known, three odious epithets were put into the Resolution. Now, that is not the way to bring about a unanimous decision of the House upon a subject of such vast importance; for the only consequence of such a course must be, that the hon. Member for Manchester and his Friends will never obtain their object by it; because, whether they gain the division or not, it can only be by a small majority, which would necessarily give the country and the world the idea that upon this vital question, which we are all agreed is settled at last, there are arrayed two great parties. Well, Sir, a Resolution very different from the Resolution which I first saw, was at length placed on the table of the House, and it became us then to consider what was the course which we should pursue. It was quite clear that, if the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton persisted in moving his Resolution, there would not only be a division, but a division of a most balanced kind; that, instead of commencing the new Parliament by a declaration which would stop further agitation on this controversial topic, we should commence the new Parliament by a movement which would render this question again the means of demarcation between parties. It was suggested, I believe, that the Resolution of the hon. and learned Gentleman would not only be injurious to the feelings of Gentlemen on this side of the House, but that it had not been received with much favour by many Gentlemen on the other side. It was, therefore, not impossible that we might have moved the previous question with some prospect of success. To have recommended our friends, for the sake of unanimity, to have acceded to the Resolution, was quite impossible. It is all very well to say that these are only words—that many who did not think the legislation of 1846 wise and beneficial may be of that opinion now, though they thought otherwise 505 then. But, Sir, no one can have two opinions as to the meaning and the motive with which these words were inserted; and we were of opinion that in public as in private life, it was a mistake to submit to insult. Under these circumstances, we endeavoured to draw out a distinct Resolution which we considered would conciliate your opinions to such a degree that we hoped it might he accepted. I have not the Resolution at hand, but I can sufficiently recollect to know that it most unequivocally declared our opinion that the welfare of the working classes was attributable to the cheapness of provisions occasioned by recent legislation. We thought that that was a declaration which would have been received by hon. Gentlemen opposite as a sign of a conciliatory feeling on our side; and we did hope that hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House—however they might object to the policy which produced that result—although they might still be of opinion that great and unnecessary injuries had been incurred by a particular class occasioned by the precipitate legislation on the question—would still not attempt to deny the fact that cheapness of provisions had contributed to the welfare of the working classes. We therefore made that declaration most unequivocally. We laid down, as we thought, in language which could not be mistaken, what our opinion was as to the principle of our commercial legislation. We did that in language so distinct and so precise, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford himself said, that language could go no further on that point. We said more than that; we said that it was the duty of the Government rigidly and unreservedly to adhere to this principle in all the measures we should bring forward in future. And this Resolution has been called a frigid Resolution. I can assure the House that it was not conceived in any spirit of that kind—it was brought forward in a spirit of conciliation to all parties, and we were in hopes that it might have been accepted by the House as sufficient for the purpose. There is another Amendment—the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton—which is contingent upon the Amendment which I have proposed. And, besides the Amendment of the noble Lord, there is a fourth Amendment, which has been announced to-night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle. It is difficult to discuss an Amendment which is not printed; 506 but, as far as I could follow the right hon. Gentleman, his Amendment means this— that if Ministers bring forward measures which injure certain classes in the country, those classes shall have no claim to compensation. I understand this to be the result of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment: that in subsequent legislation, such as we have intimated, there shall he no compensation claimed, but that the House will reserve to itself the right of considering the propriety of compensation for legislation that has passed. If that he his meaning, I shall not be very captious on the subject. But we have to decide what we shall do if the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton persists in the course which he has taken. I shall certainly resist the Resolution of the hon. and learned Gentleman on the grounds which I have already stated to the House. I think it unjust, ungenerous, and unwise; and I think that the House will regret the day that they adopt or sanction that Resolution. With respect to the two Amendments before the House, I confess that the question is really assuming too trifling a character. Between the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton and ourselves there is a clear case of difference. He has asserted his opinion in a way which is most injurious to us, and in a way which I think, as a matter of general policy, is unwise. To such a Resolution, therefore, I shall give my unhesitating opposition. But, with respect to the Amendment which has been suggested by the noble Lord, I confess, that although I may have that parental fondness which has been already confessed in the debate, I cannot feel that I should be justified in opposing the general feeling of the House in any respect whatever. In the noble Lord's Resolution there may be expressions to which I might demur; there may be expressions in it which I might regret to see placed on the Journals of the House with my individual responsibility and sanction; but, after all, that is a mere fighting about words, and not about facts. There is no difference of opinion between the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton and the Government respecting the fact that the country has adopted in an unequivocal manner the system of free trade; and I must say that nothing surprises me more than the deep regret which some hon, Members opposite show that the country has adopted that system. It seems always to occasion them irritation that the question does not still 507 remain an unsettled question, to divide the House as before. I believe that there is so difference between us with respect to facts; that it is a mere question of phrases; and I certainly shall not oppose the general feeling of the House as regards any preference they may have for the Amendment of the noble Lord over that of the Government. That is a question of very minor importance. The real question before us is, whether the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton and his friends are to outrage the feelings of this side of the House, and of many Gentlemen on the other aide, by a course which I think— totally irrespective of personal feeling—is most impolitic and unwise.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I hope, Sir, notwithstanding some parts of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the tone of his concluding observations, that the House may yet be able to arrive at a decision on this subject which will, at least, include the great majority of the House, and settle the important question which has so long been in dispute between what is called "Free Trade" and what goes by the name of "Protection." I shall not now enter into the early part of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman as to whether the Government are or are not properly a Protectionist Government—whether they came in on the ground of Protection, or were at all bound to adhere to the system. I hope, Sir, there may come another day when I shall have an opportunity of expressing my entire dissent from the statements of the right hon. Gentleman. But this is not the time to do so. It has appeared to me that when this Parliament was assembled, it was desirable, in the first place, that some decision should be come to on the great question of commercial and financial policy on which the country has been so long divided; and that, in the next place, it was desirable that those who had made themselves the peculiar advocates, and styled themselves the sole defenders, of the interest which had been affected by recent legislation, should have a full and ample opportunity of laying before this House and the country the measures which they consider will repair any evils which may have been done, and at the same time conduce to the general interests of the country, These two principles have guided my conduct since the commencement of the present Session, I own that with respect to the first of them it appeared to me that 508 a great mistake had been made by Her Majesty's Ministers in not advising Her Majesty in the Speech from the Throne to make a clear and explicit declaration upon the subject of Free Trade. I quite agree with the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department in the general prudence, on ordinary occasions, of not giving advice to the Crown to allude in the Speech from the Throne to questions and topics which may immediately excite debate. But, Sir, this is no ordinary occasion. This is a great and extraordinary occasion; and, whatever might have been the previous opinions—whatever might have been the views of Her Majesty's Ministers, I think it was a duty which they owed to the people of this country to advise Her Majesty to place upon record in the Speech from the Throne a decision upon the question, whether or no the commercial policy which has now been in existence for the last eight years, was to be maintained and extended, whether it was to be reversed, or whether it was to be altered. Sir, I am confirmed in this view by the course the right hon. Gentleman has taken, because there is no question now as to whether it was wise or not to have an abstract Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman himself has proposed a Resolution in regard to our commercial legislation, and has thus, as it were, introduced a sort of supplement to the Queen's Speech, supplying what was deficient in that Speech. My opinion is, that those who sit on this side of the House, and all those who have taken an interest in this great question of Free Trade, showed remarkable forbearance in not moving an Amendment to the Address in answer to the Speech from the Throne. The terms of the Speech I hardly ventured at the time to criticise with the severity which I think they fairly provoked, because I felt that it was desirable to avoid a division upon the Address, in consequence of the melancholy occasion which was adverted to in the first paragraph of the Speech. I think, however, that if any hon. Member had pointed out in all their force the deficiencies and obscurities of that part of the Speech which adverted to this subject, it would have been almost impossible that some hon. Gentleman would not have said, "We cannot separate without an Amendment to such an Address. Now, the Speech, after stating, among other things, that certain important interests had been affected, proceeded to say that this House was not only to consider whether or no 509 those interests might be relieved from the effects of the unavoidable injury which had been inflicted upon them, but that we should also consider whether we could enable the industry of the country to meet the unrestricted competition to which Parliament, in its wisdom, had subjected it. Why I hold, Sir, in the first place, that the industry of the country—taking it in its large and general sense—is fully able to meet competition, and has never been so able to do so as it is at the present moment; and the slightest reference to any official documents will show what is the state of the industry of the country in that respect. In fact, if it were not able to meet the existing competition, that prosperity of the working classes which is admitted on all sides could not possibly exist. But I say, further, that if the industry of the country could not meet unrestricted competition, it is impossible for you to enable it to meet such competition; and that the Parliament which had subjected the industry of the country to a competition which it could not meet should not be described as a wise Parliament, but it should be said that Parliament, in its folly, had submitted the industry of this great country to a competition which it could not successfully encounter. Such were the obvious defects of the Speech, and I repeat that I think great forbearance was shown by hon. Members in abstaining from moving any Amendment. It was not, therefore, I think, surprising that tome hon. Gentleman should immediately bring forward a Resolution on the subject; and no one was so much entitled to be heard with respect in this House on such a question as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. My hon. Friend gave notice of a Motion on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that Her Majesty's Ministers were disposed to accept the Motion when they heard it; and that immediately on their acquiescence becoming known three odious epithets were added to the Resolution. Now, I must say the fact is—and it is a fact within my own knowledge—that the very first suggestions made to my hon. Friend upon the subject all contained the words "wise and just," as words fit to be introduced into the Resolution; and I myself was one of those who, long before the meeting in Downing-street which has been noticed, advised my hon. Friend to put the words "wise and just" into his Resolution. It ap- 510 peared to me that, Parliament having sanctioned this legislation, the principal act of all those by which the condition of the country had been improved was a wise act. I also consider that the epithet "just" was equally applicable to these measures. The epithets are said to be "odious." I cannot conceive why they should be regarded as odious. The existing commercial system was established by an Act of Parliament, and are we to declare that Parliament was unjust in carrying such an Act? I certainly never shall consent to such a declaration. But, besides this, I have in mind, and I dare say others have in mind, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton had in mind, that which was so properly and so honourably said by as honourable a Member as this House contains—the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (the Marquess of Granby)—that if the Act of 1846 was a wise Act, some tribute is due to the memory of that illustrious statesman, who in the debates upon that measure, when it was passing through this House, and in his last words with respect to it, enforced the justice of that Act above all other considerations. Well, it appeared to be thought, however, that although this epithet was not an odious one, still its use would raise a controversy and a doubt and hesitation on the part of some of the free-traders in this House, which I think it was not desirable to create; and, therefore, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham) showed me the words that he had drawn, I said I thought that those words, with the addition which I ventured to suggest, were fully sufficient, and answered the purpose which I conceived we ought to have in view. I thought that, on the one side, the words would be sufficiently explicit, and that, on the other, they would not give any unnecessary offence. I proposed to add the words "with respect to the consideration of future measures," in order that it might be clear that the proposed Motion was not a vote of want of confidence, because I thought that, if a vote of want of confidence was to be proposed, it ought to be proposed directly, and not by a side-wind. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton was, of course, the person to decide upon the various suggestions he might receive, and he thought, upon the whole, that those considerations which I have already mentioned in favour of calling this "a wise, 511 just, and beneficial measure" preponderated, and he placed his Resolution in that form upon the table of the House. The question was thus fairly before the House, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer placed his Resolution upon the table as an Amendment. I own it appears to me that the Resolutions he has proposed are so equivocal— falling so far short of the length to which any Resolutions should go—that they would leave it hereafter a matter of dispute whether the Act of 1846 was not an Act of injustice and folly—a measure the injustice of which we should remedy as soon as we can, and the folly of which we should attempt to correct, by reversing the system as soon as popular opinion would allow us. I think the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment so much open to such as interpretation that I, for one, could never consent to its substitution for the words proposed either by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton or by the right hon. Member for Carlisle. The question, Sir, however, is one between Free Trade and Protection. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night accused me of audacity in saying that such was the question; but still that is the question to which my mind is turned, and to which the mind of the country is turned. The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks the only question is whether he should continue to hold office. [Cries of "Oh, oh I"] The right hon. Gentleman accused me of audacity for saying that this was a question of Free Trade or of Protection. I say that is the question for the Representatives of the People in this House to consider. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are not indignant at my being accused of audacity; that does not offend them; but that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should attach any importance to holding office is a suggestion which they cannot bear to hear. I think, however, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said this was nothing but a question between those who sit on this side of the House and Her Majesty's Ministers, and whether hon. Gentlemen opposite, by their conduct during the last five years, are bound or not to support Protection. Now, I say that is not the question. If the debate should continue, I may make some comments upon the right hon. Gentleman's statements upon this subject; but I do not hold that that is at all the question. An occasion may arise 512 when we can discuss that subject; but the question now before us is one large enough to hide out of our sight anything behind it —namely, whether that great system of commercial policy which the late Sir Robert Peel from 1842 to 1846 proposed and carried, and which we carried on from 1846 to 1852, in the shape of the Sugar Duties and the Navigation Laws, is, as a whole, a system beneficial to the country, and which ought to be persevered in, maintained, and extended. Now, I say it is desirable that all those who are of that opinion—all those who think it is a beneficial system—should unite, if possible, in one vote for the assertion of that doctrine. Don't tell me that what you are pleased to call abstract Resolutions are of no importance. Why, Sir, the stability of our currency has stood upon these abstract, or rather not abstract, but practical, Resolutions. When the currency was defaced in the reign of William III., in 1696, the Ministers of the Crown came to the House of Commons, and said they would not change the standard of value of the gold and silver coins of the realm in fineness, weight, or denomination. From 1696 to the time of Mr. Huskisson, that Resolution regulated and prescribed the laws with reference to the currency. Mr. Huskisson, when a question arose about the currency, got the House of Commons to reaffirm that Resolution. Other questions about the currency were raised when Lord Althorp was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he proposed and carried the same Resolution; so that from 1696 to 1852 the stability of our currency may be said to have stood upon that Resolution, and on the firmness of Parliament in adhering to that standard. Why, then, Sir, should it not be the case that after a dissolution of Parliament— after the opinion of the country has been fully taken—we should solemnly decide-what is to be the general policy of the nation? and why should it not be the case that the Resolutions we may adopt should control and govern the commercial policy of this country for generations to come? Why should it not be the case that that great country which was alluded to the other day—the United States of America —which has recently chosen by an immense majority a President known to be favourable to Free Trade—why should not that country unite with us in promoting such a policy, so that these two great States of the same race, and governed by institutions very nearly similar, may make 513 this great principle of Free Trade the rule of the intercourse of nations throughout the world? Such is the issue which this contest is to decide, and not that petty issue which the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer has put before us. Then, if I may venture to give advice to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, it is, that, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has declared, though not in very gracious terms certainly, his willingness to substitute for his own Resolution the Resolution which was first drawn out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), and which was placed on the table of the House by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), that my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers) should declare likewise his willingness to accept that Resolution, and that all those in this House who are in favour of Free Trade—whether they are like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, or like my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cobden), and other hon. Gentlemen, freetraders of very long date, or whether they date from 1842 or 1856. or whether they date from the month of November in the present year—whatever may be the date of their Free-trade professions, should unite, and that they should give to the Resolution the stamp of the authority of the British Parliament.
§ MR. COBDEN
Sir, in the early part of this conversation, I felt considerable difficulty to comprehend what was the tendency of the remarks of some of the speakers, and it was only by degrees that I arrived at a full understanding of what is the question at present at issue. When I listened to what was said by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), and other hon. Members, about behaving in a gentlemanly way to each other, and coming to a unanimous agreement on this great question, I was almost for a moment unconscious of what really was at issue between us; but the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), and the remarks of other speakers, have completely developed what we are now discussing and disputing about. It appears that a Resolution prepared by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, which contained a phrase asserting that the free-trade measures which had been passed since 1846 had not had the effect of inflicting injury on any great interests—a 514 phrase inserted, as the right hon. Gentleman now distinctly tells us, to meet any claims for compensation by certain interests, and to bar all claims by asserting that no injury had been done to important interests—it appears that this Resolution, by what means we have not heard, dropped into the hands of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton; and that he—taking this Resolution, and cutting out that important passage asserting that free trade had inflicted no injury, and, therefore, no compensation was called for—and having dispossessed the Resolution of that all-important phrase, it somehow found its way to the Carlton Club, and there, at a meeting of the Protectionist party it was resolved unanimously that they would accept this Resolution. ["No, no!"] Oh, not unanimously? ["No!"] Well, then, it seems we are not going to be that happy family which is so much desired. It appears that we cannot manage this matter in this drawing-room, gentlemanly fashion. I admit the excellent tone, and to a great extent I admit the soundness and the sufficiency, of the Resolution drawn up by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle; but it seems to be assumed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that those whom he is pleased to call the free-trade party had agreed to that Resolution, and then, after finding that the Carlton Club and Downing-street— ["No, no!"] Not the Carlton Club, then, but Downing-street, for it seems the Carlton Club are not free-traders yet, and that the Reform Club and the Carlton Club are not shaking hands yet— after finding that at a meeting in Downing-street, that place which was once called a barracoon when hon. Members were summoned there—it was resolved, though not unanimously, that the Protectionist party would endorse that Resolution, that the free-traders afterwards infused into it three odious epithets, with the view of preventing a portion of that body from adopting it. Now, I beg to say, and I think it is no presumption on my part in doing so, on this question, that it might not be unreasonable to expect that, before a Resolution had been adopted by the free-trade party, I should have bad the perusal of it. I can say this, I never saw that Resolution before it was handed to the Carlton Club or Downing-street. I never read that Resolution, and I was no assenting party to it. I was from the first of opinion that, whatever the phraseology, the Resolution should 515 affirm the justice and wisdom of the policy of 1846. I have always said, "Affirm its justice and its wisdom, and I will not quarrel with you about the phraseology of the Resolution." We therefore stand in this position: you have adopted, at least a majority of you have adopted, a Resolution, from which you have expunged the assertion of the justice and wisdom of the policy of Sir Robert Peel, and erased that phrase which bars you from compensation. That question of compensation has assumed immense importance since this discussion arose, because we have the evidence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which the noble Member for North Leicestershire (the Marquess of Granby) has elicited, that in the Budget which he is preparing there are measures to ameliorate the condition of the agricultural classes. He has told us that the policy of 1846 was injurious to the interests of the landowners, and he is prepared to apply remedial measures. What does the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) say to that? The last time I met him was on the platform of the Free Trade Hall at Manchester. I never knew any one who had gone through the ordeal of standing on those boards in any danger of being seduced in this House. Least of all should I have supposed that the hon. Baronet would nibble at a bait deprived of half its goodness and virtue. If the hon. Baronet had the whole Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle, there might be something to excuse him; but to take the bait, after it was modified, at the hands of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton admits of no excuse. I am astonished at the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets not having had more sagacity. We have certainly been talking over matters without much reserve, and it seems to have come out in the course of this discussion, that there has been some little dexterity used in framing the right hon. Baronet's Resolution, in order to meet the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone). It seems that with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, who on one occasion did vote with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on a Motion for compensation, it was feared some scruples might arise, and this Resolution was so framed -that, whilst it should bar prospective com- 516 pensation, it should not shut out the Protionists from retrospective compensation. It bars compensation for future free-trade, but leaves the door open for compensation for past free trade. That reduced to plain common sense—the test by which I would try everything — means compensation for corn and cattle, but no compensation for butter and cheese. I think the right hon. Gentleman, if he applies his mind to this question, will find better reasons to alter his judgment, than to abide by a precipipate vote given on a former occasion. I think if he compares the actual condition of things now with what they were in 1849, he will find novel arguments, which are every day developed, for asserting that no great interest has been affected by the change which has taken place. I will just allude at this point to the question, whether we are to give compensation at the expense of the taxpayers for the measures already passed; because if you admit that principle, then I say we have gained nothing, because it will be very easy for you, if you are determined to take money out of the pockets of the people in any other way, it will be quite as easy to do so by way of the tax-gatherer as by Protection. I myself will undertake to abolish Customs Duties, and to put down the Excise, and yet to levy a tax which by its incidence shall inflict greater injustice, and produce greater miseries, than a revival of Protection. I beg you not to dally with this question. Yon say because a majority of the House is ready to affirm principles contrary to your views, you are ready to make your bow. Now we do not bow to majorities— and I give hon. Gentlemen warning, that if they raise this question of compensation in the shape of taxation, you are beginning a struggle which, if my past consistency be any warrant for truth-telling, I will venture to say you will find just as disastrous as that through which you have passed. What I am most anxious to do is this—I am not going into, nor do I wish to go into, the question, but I want to bring this House to a vote to test the question whether, after the dissolution, we stand in as good a position as we did before; for in the last Parliament, not only did we affirm the free-trade policy to such an extent that no one could be found to impugn or dispute it, but in two instances, when the, right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought forward Motions to give compensation—that was the meaning in which they were understood by the country—the 517 late Parliament on each occasion in a very large House refused compensation. Now I want, as early as possible, to have a division to know the starting point; and after the elections—after the turmoil in which the country has been placed by those elections—after the scenes of extravagance, riot, and corruption by which we are told the country has gained a great triumph— to see whether we stand in as good a position as we did before. Now, let us bring it to a test. We have a question pure and simple submitted to the House, and therefore I entreat my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) that he will not shrink from the Resolutions he has moved, that we may at once go into the discussion of the main question, and get a division, when, in the result of that division, we shall know what is to be the work of free-traders in future.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
acknowledged the distinct manner in which the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire expressed his views at all times; hut the hon. Member did not always make the same statement with respect to the same circumstance in two different places. The hon. Member for the West Riding said, that whatever might be the issue which the House wished to try, the issue he wished to try upon the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton was, whether the claims of those who held themselves to have been injured by recent legislation should or should not be considered. He (Mr. Newdegate had been tolerably consistent as a Protectionist, and perhaps, in some degree, he represented the Protection societies, and he believed he was correct in saying of those with whom he had acted, that they acknowledged the decision of the country to be against protection. They believed that the question had not been decided by those to whom he addressed himself, but by circumstances, to which, however, he did not intend then further to allude. Acknowledging that decision, those with whom he acted were determined to see whether the present Government would not consider the injuries, the pressure of which they knew to exist. If this House were pleased to affirm a simple free-trade Resolution, he, being a Protectionist, but acting on a conviction that the majority of the country had declared in favour of free imports, would take no part till he saw whether measures for relief would be proposed by Her Majesty's Government. The hon. Member for the 518 West Riding adverted to the presence of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets at the Free Trade Hall, at Manchester. It was well known that the hon. Member for the West Riding was the must successful demagogue of his day, with good will, he (Mr. Newdegate) believed, to become an autocrat. The hon. Gentleman had given them at that meeting the means of knowing how the present Resolution was to be interpreted; for the hon. Member told the people at Manchester what was the interpretation they should place on the votes of any Protectionists who should vote for such a Resolution as that proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton. He (Mr. Newdegate) had constantly endeavoured to do his duty as a Protectionist, and the Times newspaper asked what he had gained by it? He had gained nothing but hard labour; but he had secured his honour—he had secured the respect of honest men; and, after the House had heard the words he was about to read, he should ask hon. Members to consider what would be his position if he voted for the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton? Let the House judge from what was said at a meeting summoned by the hon. Member for the West Riding, preliminary to the discussion of this very question now brought before the House, on the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton. The hon. Member for the West Riding said—I think we are fairly entitled to say this, that whatever else the men may be, we insist upon having a free-trade Administration; and when I say a free-trade Administration, I mean a body of men, if they are the men now in office, who shall distinctly and emphatically repudiate all the doctrines they have been promulgating in their past lives upon this great question. We have seen that done before by greater and better men than they. …. But it (their recantation) must be emphatic. They must say that free trade does not lower wages. They must say that free trade does not cause a drain of gold from this country. They must say that free trade has not thrown land out of cultivation in this country. The must say that the land of this country is still worth something.Who had denied it?And they must say that wheat—good wheat—has not been imported into this country, and cannot be, at 24s. per quarter?Who ever said that?Those are a few things they must say, when they said the very opposite before; and we must have no accompaniment about compensation. Compensation! Well, but I deny that there has been any loss. I boldly declare, and challenge the adversary to deny it, that the value of land in 519 this country—agricultural land—taking one acre with another, is greater now than it was in 1844.That is, before the repeal of the corn laws. The hon. Gentleman seemed to have felt that he had overstrained the credulity of his audience, and went on to speak about compensation. He (Mr. Newdegate) rejoiced that the Government had resolved to resist the proposition brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton. They were bound, as men of honour, to resist it, unless they were prepared to turn round upon and condemn their whole previous conduct. If they did resist this Motion, they should have his vote; because, of all circumstances that were to be lamented in 1846, he had most lamented the shock which had been given to public confidence in public men by the Government of the late Sir Robert Peel on that occasion. If a second Conservative Government, by any similar act, gave a similar shock to public confidence in public men, it would do more to subvert the institutions of the country than the worst efforts of the wiliest democrat. The noble Lord at the head of the Government took the only means by which to bring this question between the farmer and the present commercial legislation to a legitimate solution, when he submitted it to the decision of the country. He (Mr. Newdegate) would not dispute any Motion merely affirming free trade, so far as the present Parliament could command the future legislation of the country. In deference to the decision of the country, he should wait, because he wished to reserve his opinion until he should see whether justice was to be done to the classes which had been injured. He had not thought fit to let the speech of the hon. Member for the West Riding pass without noticing the gloss which that hon. Gentleman had put upon the question at issue. The question which the House had really to decide was, in fact, according to the hon. Member's formal declaration at the meeting in Manchester, which was preliminary to this Resolution, not whether compensation should be given, but ther cer the character of public men should wheth ntained.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
said, he rose to explain a misunderstanding into which the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) had fallen. The hon. Member seemed to think, and of course thinking so he could not help resenting it, that there was some connexion between the vote given 520 by him (Mr. Gladstone) in 1850, and the framing of the Resolution. He begged to say there was no such connexion. He would not at that moment discuss the grounds of that vote, but he considered he approached the question of compensation or relief with hands entirely free. The opinion he had formed was, that in framing the Resolution, certain general principles should be declared—principles which he had endeavoured to state to-night in the plainest terms he could command.
§ MR. STAPLETON
said, as a Member who had never sat in Parliament before, he owed no allegiance to any one, and he was as willing to vote for a Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer as for a Resolution of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers). In a proper and logical way, taking the Resolution of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton first, he had to consider whether he could conscientiously support it, and whether in supporting it he should be carrying out those views he had professed upon the hustings —whether he should be fulfilling the promises he had then made, and answering the expectations of those who sent him. The constituency he had the honour to represent had sent him there in preference to a gentleman who had sat on the opposite (the Government) side of the House, and who had declared himself a free-trader as fully and as frankly as the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had done; but he said nothing on the point of compensation, and because he said nothing on that point the constituency would not re-elect him. He marked between these two Resolutions a very great distinction, which had not yet been noticed, and it was this—that whilst Gentlemen of the Manchester school regarded the question from one point, as consumers, and as the great mass of the people regarded it, those on the Ministerial side of the House regarded it from another point, as producers, subjected to unrestricted competition. The question presented different aspects, according to the point from which it was viewed, and in choosing between them he confessed he preferred that aspect in which it was regarded by the great body of the population, rather than that in which it was regarded by particular men. He understood from the speech of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to grant some kind of compensation for this unrestricted competi- 521 tion. Now, he said unrestricted competition with compensation at the expense of those who were to have the advantage of it, was no Free Trade at all. If they gave the people Free Trade, only on condition that they paid for licence to enjoy its advantages, it was not Free Trade. In conclusion, he begged to observe, that it struck him that no decision could be come to with unanimity which would satisfy free-traders in the country, because the people would not believe that those who till now had been united against Free Trade, were as anxious for it as the hon. Gentlemen who composed the Manchester school.
§ MR. C. VILLIERS
I rise, Sir, in consequence of the call which is now made upon me; but, as the old Members of this House must know, I have, as having already moved the Resolution, but small discretion in dealing with it now. I was summoned to this House to-day about half an hour before it met, by a letter from the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay), who said that he had some very important communications to make to the House, as well as some questions to put in which I might be interested; and he begged that I would be in my place. Well, I came, accordingly, and having heard that the object was for me to withdraw the Resolution, I have been listening for some time to hear some reasons assigned by him or by anybody else, why I was to do so, and accept the Resolution of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton instead. Now, Sir, I think there is no doubt that I am the mover, though I am told that I am not the author of this Resolution. Although I have not, it seems, the honour of its paternity, I have the liability of its support, and that I am willing to accept and to vindicate. Now, Sir, my statement on this matter will, I am afraid, be different from those that have preceded it, for it will be very simple. My purpose has been very simple throughout this matter, and that is, perhaps, why I cannot understand the new views that I hear to-night, and why I cannot understand some Amendments which have been proposed. On this side, if I am not mistaken, there was a general agreement as to the propriety of the Motion; and my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) has, in a very friendly spirit to myself, stated that there was also some propriety in my being the mover. It was then agreed upon, that I was to submit a Resolution on 522 the subject of Free Trade to the House. Well, Sir, I had to ask myself what was the purpose and the occasion of such a Resolution. I think that I state the general opinion on this matter correctly to be, as looking to the purpose of the late dissolution, and to the verdict on the subject of free trade given by the country, that there was not explicitness enough in the Queen's Speech, or clearness enough on the part of the Government, to satisfy the opinion of the House or the country on the subject—that the verdict upon the question which the First Minister had submitted to the country should be solemnly recorded by this House. The opinion of the country was taken upon the question of our recent commercial policy, and that has emphatically been, that this policy has produced great advantages, and improved the condition of all classes, especially the industrious classes, and that it was wise, just, and beneficial. It was my object to introduce these views into my Resolution, and I have done so; I have farther done what I believe the country has as much at heart, declared that this policy should be extended as well as maintained. It then proceeded to affirm the distinct and positive principle, that it was the opinion of the country that it should be further extended and maintained, as being to the interest of all classes, and the best mode of promoting the welfare and contentment of the people. The Resolution so drawn was submitted to many Gentlemen on this side for their approbation, and they considered that it was in accordance precisely with the views that ought to be expressed. The Resolution was drawn in the spirit which I have stated, and no other whatever. That Resolution was framed for no other earthly purpose but that. I had instructions, if I may call them so, to draw up this Resolution, and to submit it to the House. I do not deny that a great number of Gentlemen did favour me by sending suggestions. They all embodied the views which I have expressed, and seemed to have no other object but my own. I had no less than ten or twelve Resolutions sent me, and every one of them, without exception, expressed an opinion that recent legislation had been wise and just. I venture to say it never entered the mind of a human being—certainly, I venture to say that nothing would surprise the public at large more than to hear that in calling that legislation wise, just, and beneficial, it was designating it by three 523 odious epithets. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has alluded to the very open way in which the proceedings of different parties in this House are communicated to each other; hut I must say that there is some danger in that kind of openness, because the right hon. Gentleman has been induced by it to trust to information of the most unfounded kind. The right hon. Gentleman stated distinctly that he had it as an undoubted. fact that the three odious epithets—"wise, just, and beneficial," were introduced the moment after it was discovered by the Mover or his Friend that the meeting at Lord Derby's consented to acknowledge the principle of Free Trade. I acquit the right hon. Gentleman of any intentional misrepresentation; but I should not be doing justice to myself or my friends, did I not give the most complete contradiction to that statement which it is possible for me to give consistently with Parliamentary language, because it is most undisguisedly and unequivocally untrue. My noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) has stated to the House, that, in drawing up a Resolution on the subject several days before the meeting at Lord Derby's, he also inserted these offensive words. I have said that every other Resolution that was sent to me contained these words; and I will say, further, that this Resolution that I have moved was not altered at all after the meeting in question, it having been agreed upon before; and at this moment I don't know whether it is because I was never in diplomacy, or that I am not in office, or that, perhaps, according to the new rule, that I am not a gentleman, but I cannot understand what there is offensive in these words. I don't know how such a construction can be put upon them. It is the truth, and an opinion generally formed upon experience of the policy. If hon. Gentlemen have been in error, they must take the consequences, and allow that measures that they thought would be hurtful have been the contrary. A confession of error is rather humiliating, perhaps; but Gentlemen who have enjoyed the very highest degree of respect in this country have not been ashamed to avow that they have been in error, and there is no reason why they should. I cannot see what there is offensive in this Resolution, unless there is something ulterior which these words interfere with, but which I know nothing about. Certainly, one would not have thought it odious that this language should be applied, after hon. Gen- 524 tlemen had admitted that they were mistaken in objecting to the Free-Trade policy, but are now ready to adopt it. I wish this could be explained. It was not the intention of anybody in using these words. Why is that construction to be put upon them? It must have some bearing on their ulterior projects which they do not see fit to disclose to the House. As I have before said, I proposed those Resolutions for the simple purpose of recording the opinion of the House. I believe that they express what was the opinion of the last—I believe that it is the opinion of the new—Parliament; and I believe it is the opinion of the country at large, that the recent legislation was wise, just, and beneficial; and they wish to have it so declared by their representatives. And if Gentlemen opposite did not think so before, experience ought to justify them in concluding that it is so now. I was surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berkshire (Mr. R. Palmer) declare himself proof against experience. "Don't tell me," said the hon. Member, "about the country having flourished under Free Trade, or about experience. I have been in this House for twenty-five years, and during that time all the great men have at some time declared against the adoption of Free Trade." Why, such a rule of action would shut out all improvement; we all of us here profit by experience every day, or ought to do so. I do not deny that some Gentlemen who supported Protection may have done so from a conscientious but, however, erroneous belief, that it was the proper policy to pursue; but why should they now hesitate to declare that, although they believed its effects would be most disastrous to the country, they find it has been just the contrary? We hear much of recent and sincere conversions; but I own that the specimens of these kinds of conversions have not been so apparent to me. If those conversions are genuine, it is indeed a marvel how those words in the Resolution can be incompatible with the honour of Gentlemen opposite. Since this conversation began, as far as I have heard, the declarations of hon. Members opposite do not go beyond that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the North Riding (Mr. Cayley), who assures the House that he will never do again that which it is impossible for him to do, and restore Protection; but they don't say they would not if they could, or that they think themselves wrong; and with respect to many Gentlemen on the other 525 side, I do not think there are any symptoms at all of despair as to the ultimate triumph of their views. They admit themselves to be under difficulties at present; but give them time, and they do not at all abandon the question of Protection. Are we, then, to be tender about their consciences, or their particular position with reference to this question? and am I, in my connexion with this subject, to consult the views of Protectionists? Why, I never thought of drawing up a Resolution to please hon. Gentlemen opposite; I had no such intention. My idea was that there was a majority in this House in favour of Free-Trade policy, and a minority against it; and if the Ministers of the Crown had been really Free Traders, they would probably have declared themselves so in the Speech from the Throne, or have made it quite obvious to the House that they were honestly in favour of this principle. It is because there is evidently yet a serious difference of opinion upon the success of the Free Trade policy, and because the majority feel bound to declare their opinion, that I have proposed this Resolution, and that I now feel bound to adhere to it as truly and simply declaring the opinion of the country.
§ SIR WILLIAM CLAY
said, that he had been called upon to state the reasons why he had asked the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) and the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer to withdraw their respective Motions, so as to admit of the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) being adopted. He would reply to that call. But, in the first place, he wished to set right an inaccuracy in the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. The hon. Gentleman said that he (Sir W. Clay) sent him a note half an hour before the House met, in which he did not specify the nature of the question which he was about to put to him. On the contrary, he had himself left the note at twelve o'clock at a place where he understood the hon. Gentleman's letters were generally left, and in that note he told him that he would suggest that the hon. Gentleman should withdraw his Motion, and adopt as a substitute the Motion of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston). Now, if he (Sir W. Clay) wanted any justification for putting that question, he should find it in what had 526 passed during the debate, because a very large proportion of the leaders of parties and most prominent Members of the House had declared that it would be the better course to accept the Resolution of the noble Lord, in preference to the Resolution of his hon. Friend. That had been declared by the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell); it had been declared in substance by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), as well as by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone). It had been assented to by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and assented to, as he (Sir W. Clay) distinctly understood, with the addition of the words on which his hon. Friend near him laid so much stress. He thought it strange that he should be asked, after this all but universal consent, why he should object to the Motion of his hon. Friend. He would tell him, however, why he objected to it, and why he thought it could not have the effect which his hon. Friend desired and anticipated from its adoption. He objected to it, because, instead of merely affirming the justice of a Free-Trade policy, it insisted on the humiliation of the large party opposite. He (Sir W. Clay) wished, for his part, to obtain the widest possible assent of the House to a declaration that the policy of Free Trade was to be the policy of the country. He was therefore persuaded he was doing right in endeavouring to stop the debate, because it appeared to him to tend to no useful purpose—that its only effect could be to widen existing differences of opinion, to embitter feelings of irritation which we ought rather to seek to soothe and to allay, and thus to alienate those whose union it was desirable to promote for the general welfare of the country. Did his hon. Friend near him doubt his (Sir W. Clay's) devotion to the principles of Free Trade? He did not believe that any man would venture to doubt it. Nine years before the year 1846, he proposed a Resolution for the repeal of the corn laws; indeed, if he recollected rightly, his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton commenced the career in which he had so honourably distinguished himself by seconding that Resolution. His objection to the Motion was, that it called on a great party to admit, in terms, that a particular measure which they opposed, was, at the time they opposed it, "just, wise, and beneficial." That was a humiliation 527 which it was neither wise nor generous to attempt to force upon men of honour, and to Which it could not be expected that they should submit. What was the course taken by men of good sense and kind feeling in private life? If they found persons with whom they were engaged in pursuit of some common object (and had not all the Members of that House a common object—the good of their country?), and who had formerly differed with them, disposed to agree with them in opinion, and co-operate in action, did they refuse to accept their co-operation unless they would recant every word they had ever said? The noble Lord the Member for London said that it was justifiable for the House to accept an abstract Resolution. He (Sir W. Clay) had never denied it. It was because the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton made it impossible to have as large an assent as possible that he objected to it. He wanted the abstract Resolution to be carried by the largest possible majority. The difference between the two propositions before the House was this, that one asserted simply, although in the most emphatic terms, the principles of free trade, while the other was couched in terms that inflicted a feeling of mortification upon their political opponents. This was not an occasion for the indulgence of any petty personal or party triumph. He hailed with joy the accession of the great party opposite to the ranks of Free Trade, and he was very sorry that his hon. Friend had not thought fit to accede to his proposal. If his hon. Friend persevered in his Motion, and he (Sir. W. Clay) had no choice but to vote for that Motion or the Amendment proposed by the Government, he should, although with very great regret, vote for the Motion; but if the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer withdrew his Amendment in favour of the Resolution proposed by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, then he should vote for the noble Lord's Resolution, in preference to the Motion of his hon. Friend.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I think it necessary to remind the House, that the question before the House is not the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, but that this House do now adjourn. I will also remind them that this is a day devoted to Notices of Motion, which, by our Rules, will take precedence of the Orders of the Day; but owing to this Motion for adjournment, the House has been drawn into a 528 discussion on an Order of the Day, instead of the Notices of Motion.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he was ignorant of Parliamentary tactics, but he rose to prevent mistake as to any change in his opinions. He would remind the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), that constituencies in general did not adopt the opinions of candidates, but sought candidates whose opinions coincided with their own. This had occurred in his case: he was not returned by the overwhelming power of great landowners to aid in keeping up their rents, but because he was known to have a strong opinion as to the injuries inflicted on the farming class, who were entitled to relief from peculiar taxation as a matter of justice rather than compensation. If the change of 1846 had been injurious to them because it was hasty, it was an act of injustice, and could not come within the category of "wise, just, and beneficial." He thought with Mr. Huskisson that the right kind of Free Trade was to have moderate protective but not prohibitory duties; and that, he believed, was the only policy under which the country would prosper in future. If they were to have unrestricted competition, it should be unrestricted; all burdens should be removed from farming produce; and farmers should not be prevented from using that produce free from duty in the most advantageous manner as regarded consumption by themselves, their labourers, and their cattle. He objected to the term compensation being fastened upon the farmer, in an offensive sense; he claimed the removal of restrictions by unjust taxes and burdens.
§ MR. STANHOPE
said, he could not admit that the agricultural interest had suffered no injury. His county (North Lincolnshire) was a fair test of the operation of the Free Trade policy. The farmers held their land at moderate rents; they had a laborious and excellent peasantry; and if any men could have withstood the evil of free trade, those were the men who would have done it. He had seen men once independent obliged to rely for their bread on the charity of their landlords. In that county, where men received a higher remuneration than in any other, the labourers were in a far worse condition since the Act of 1846 than before. Without sufficient employment and sufficient remuneration, the cheapness of provisions was no benefit. Believing that great injury had been inflicted, he could not assent to the words "wise, just, and beneficial;" and, consistently with his duty to his constituents as 529 tenant-farmers, he could not affirm any of the Resolutions now before the House. He was aware the question was settled by the decision of the country. and to that decision he thought it his duty to bow. The only constitutional course for a Member of Parliament, when a question was decided by the country, was to apply himself, however strong his personal feelings might be, to carry out that principle. If they were to have unrestricted competition, their industry ought not to be trammelled by any fiscal or unnatural regulation. If the soil of England was to compete with the soil of the whole world, they should be permitted to grow any crop they could possibly cultivate. He trusted that if they were obliged to accept of the principle of Free Trade, that the agriculturists would no longer be compelled to contribute so much to the revenue of the country.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, that under the circumstances of the case, he would ask the leave of the House to withdraw his Motion for its adjournment.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.