, in rising to move—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty that She will be graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the depressed condition of the agricultural interest, and the causes to which it is owing; whether those causes are of a temporary or of a permanent character, and how far they have been created or can be remedied by legislation;said: Sir, I trust the House will find a sufficient apology for my intrusion upon its attention in the importance of the question I desire to submit to its notice; for there are few questions, I apprehend, of greater importance to the community, or of more national concern at the present moment, than the condition of the agricultural interest within the United Kingdom. That condition is, unhappily, one of extreme depression, and although, no doubt, it is true that periods of 1426 similar distress have not been by any means unknown in this country on former occasions, yet there is reason now to believe that the severity of the existing distress, so far as the occupiers and owners of land are concerned, has rarely, if ever, been equalled, and, probably, never exceeded, at any time in this country before. Sir, I should not venture to make such a statement as this on my own experience or recollection; but that is the view entertained by men of the widest experience, and who have watched the course of public affairs in this country now for a great number of years. I am sure I need quote in support of this statement no higher authority than that of the present Prime Minister, who publicly said, only a short time ago—Although I can recall several periods of suffering, none of them have ever equalled the present in its intenseness.It would be easy to multiply proofs on this point to any extent, and although I think it is improbable that either the fact or the character of the present depression will be seriously questioned or disputed in this House, as it has sometimes been outside these walls, the House, I am sure, will excuse me if I make one or two statements with regard to England, Scotland, and Ireland, which bear directly on this point. Let me take the case of Ireland first. Ireland is what may be termed an almost purely agricultural country, and, as such, is undoubtedly entitled to a foremost place in our consideration on any question of this nature. What is the case, then, Sir, with respect to Ireland? I am afraid that the long list of bankruptcies and failures is common to both countries; but we do not see in Ireland what we see today in England—farms lying vacant and advertised everywhere. That is prevented by the excessive and unhealthy competition for the laud, which forms so prevailing and so unfortunate a feature in that country. I always thought myself, Sir, that the great blot upon the Irish Land Bill of 1870 was that it made no effort to alleviate, or in any way to deal with, that deep-rooted source of the misfortunes of Ireland. That it can be held accountable in any way for its creation I altogether deny. For that, Sir, I am afraid we must look to the selfish—the bitterly selfish—commercial policy of 1427 England in former days, and in her dealings at that time, with, what then was not unlikely to have become, a great spread and great improvement of manufacturing industries in Ireland. But be that, Sir, as it may, the competition for the land in Ireland to-day unhappily does increase the difficulties and the hardships of the Irish tenant farmer when he is called upon, as he is called upon to-day, to contend with another kind of competition—namely, the unlimited importation of foreign food into his country, thereby diminishing, as I am told, the profits of his produce, sometimes by one-half, sometimes by more—by the whole of the rent he is called upon to pay. It requires no wizard to tell the Irish farmer who it is that receives the lion's share of the benefit from this imported food; and I must say, if I was an Irishman, in the presence of this great Irish agricultural distress, I should be tempted to exclaim—" Why are the interests of agricultural Ireland to be sacrificed to the interests of manufacturing England? " Again, let us look at the list of farms which are vacant and advertised everywhere to let in England—the outward and visible signs of a distress which is real and which is extreme, and the fruits of which we are witnessing to-day in the withdrawal of capital from a business which, apparently, is ceasing now to pay. What is the case, Sir, in Scotland? There, an unhappy combination of disastrous commercial failures, with a winter of unprecedented severity, has seriously and grievously affected the great sheep farmers of the Highlands, who are suffering with their brethren of the Lowlands, and these, like ourselves, are troubled by causes which, unhappily, are common to us both. Sir, that depression, unfortunately, is by no means confined to agriculture alone. We have passed, and we are passing still, through a period of general stagnation in commerce and in trade, causing everywhere widespread distress which, I am sure, commands the sympathy and the attention of us all in no degree less than the condition of agriculture itself. In fact, Sir, I myself should have included a reference to the depression of trade in the country in the terms of this Motion, but for two reasons. There are, as I think, many hon. Members far more competent than myself to deal with this 1428 branch of the question; and I doubt whether any Commission could, within any reasonable time, be able to grapple with so enormous a question as would be presented by an inquiry into the condition of trade and of agriculture combined. At the same time, Sir, I should myself most cordially support any Motion for an inquiry into the condition of trade, such as that which is contained in an Amendment which I see placed on the Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, although it would, perhaps, be as well if I should at once state that I think the object he has in view would be better met by a Motion for a separate inquiry into this branch of the subject. Now, there are many persons I know who think that this unfortunate state of affairs is in a great measure owing to our persistence in a policy of what is called Free Trade without Reciprocity—a system by which we purchase, without any restriction, the goods of all other countries, and are not allowed, with similar freedom, to send ours again to them in return. And the remedy they would propose for this state of things would be a return in some form or kind to Protection. Well, I confess I should be sorry to rashly commit myself to that opinion to-night. Free Trade, I confess to myself, and probably also to others of my generation, has always presented itself as a question which, whether for good or for evil, was settled during the last generation with the deliberate sanction and approval of the nation; and certainly, therefore, I would not myself be prepared to hastily or too lightly discard that which has been for so long accepted as the universal decision and opinion of the country. At the same time, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that while the assurances and predictions of Mr. Cobden and other distinguished men at that time have not been fulfilled, but have, on the other hand, in many respects, been proved by experience to be entirely and totally wrong, the circumstances of to-day have entirely altered from those under which Free Trade, at that time, was adopted. When, for instance, the dangers which might arise to this country if England alone, among nations, adopted Free Trade, were pointed out by its opponents, they were always met with the assurance, repeated by Mr. Cobden over and over again, that these dangers could 1429 never arise, because all other countries, seeing the obvious benefits we should derive from Free Trade, would hasten to follow our example. I will ask the permission of the House to read one short extract from his works upon this point. Mr. Cobden said, on one great occasion—We have a principle established now which is eternal in its truth and universal in its application. It must be applied in all nations and throughout all time. If we are not mistaken in thinking our principles are true, be assured that these results will follow, and at no very distant time.Sir, I make no comment on that language, which is the language of Mr. Cobden, because comment is needless. As to the future effect to be produced on agriculture in England, among the arguments by which, at that time, Free Trade was supported and carried in England, one of its most distinguished advocates declared—these are his words—No country produced more corn than was necessary for its own wants; and there was nothing in the circumstances of any foreign nation which would make it a formidable rival in agriculture to this country.I cannot doubt, Sir—["Name, name!"]—that that statement, at the time it was made, was strictly accurate and true, because it was made by a right hon. Gentleman who still sits in this House—the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright). But what a marvellous contrast does it present to the facts and circumstances of which everyone is cognizant to-day. I ask hon. Members to look for a moment to the corn and meat producing countries to-day—the United States of America. I find there are in America 32,000,000 acres growing wheat and producing 420,000,000 bushels, as against 3,000,000 acres producing about, I believe, 90,000,000 bushels in our own country. Again, I find that there are in America 33,000,000 cattle, 38,000,000 sheep, and 34,000,000 pigs; as against 5,000,000 cattle, 28,000,000 sheep, and 2,000,000 pigs in Great Britain and Ireland. I think, after that, it must be admitted that there is no small or inconsiderable change in the circumstances of to-day, as compared with the circumstances of that time. I do not mention these things for the purpose of exciting a debate on the relative merits of Free Trade and Protection. I assure the 1430 House that is not in the least the object or purpose I have in view. But I do it to show that really it is not to be wondered at, seeing how widely the promise and the performance have differed, if there should have arisen, in the minds of a good many people, doubts of the wisdom of our continuing longer in pursuit of a policy which, in reality, is not Free Trade at all, but only Free Trade under restrictions—and restrictions of which all the advantages go to the foreigner, and none of the benefit is received by ourselves. I do trust, therefore, that if these doubts and these opinions should find expression to-night, in the course of this debate, they will not be met, as they have already been met out of this House, by what I can only describe as intemperate and foolish abuse. They are the views and opinions of honest and conscientious men, who ought not to be told, as they have been told already, that they are only the fools, simpletons, and lunatics of the community. I do not, Sir, wish further to pursue that part of the question; and I will proceed, with the permission of the House, to the more immediate subject before us—namely, the causes of the present depression, and how far it is probable that they are of a passing or permanent character. Sir, the reality of the present distress has found its expression in various forms. One of them is what is called the Farmers' Alliance. Its programme is to be found in a circular lately issued, and its complaints are specified under eight different heads. I am sorry I have left it behind me; but I think I can state them from memory. I do not believe myself that if the whole of this programme were adopted in its entirety it would be found to afford anything like substantial relief from the evils with which we are surrounded and of which the farmers unhappily have to complain to-day; but, nevertheless, I wish for a moment to allude to some of the points in this programme. Now, what is the source of all our agricultural troubles? It is exceedingly simple, and it is this. The business of farming is, at present, apparently ceasing to pay. That is an exceedingly painful, and, of course, if prolonged, must be a disastrous position not only to the farmers and tenants, but to the whole country. But can it, in any way, fairly be traced to any one of the reasons implied in the 1431 programme of the Farmers' Alliance? Is it because the tenant farmers are not represented in Parliament? That is the first allegation. I heartily wish I could think that it was, because then the remedy would be extremely easy. Tenant farmers would then have nothing to do but to return to this House Members who, according to the Farmers' Alliance, would represent them better than they are represented at present. I can only say, with the most perfect sincerity, judging from the specimens we have here already, and speaking myself as a landlord, we should hail with rejoicing the advent among us of men more practically acquainted with the business of farming; and the first result of such a state of things would be the speedy exposure of many of the crude and mistaken fallacies we hear recommended on the other side. What is the next point? Better security for the capital which is employed. Well, no one admits more freely than I do that it is essential to good cultivation. In fact, high farming cannot be conducted without that; and if it could be shown by experience that security could not be obtained without some compulsory measure of legislation, I would consent to it without hesitation. But what are the facts of the case? I declare I really do not know one single well-managed estate where it is wanting. I suppose there are some, or this complaint would not be made; but where it is the case, really the tenants must allow me to tell them there is no one to blame but themselves. With farms lying vacant all over England, if a tenant farmer cannot make satisfactory terms for himself, I am perfectly certain nobody else can. I can only say, from my own experience, that no tenant farmer in the County of Lincoln, which I represent, would ever dream for a moment of taking a farm upon terms by which he was deprived of either the benefits of the Agricultural Holdings Act or of the custom of the county, which is almost the same thing; and I do not understand why farmers in any other part of the country should do so. But, be that as it may, of one thing I am perfectly certain—that neither the absence of capital, nor the want of security for it, can in any way be held accountable for the present depression; and for this reason, which will be admitted to be conclusive, nowhere has 1432 capital been more largely employed, and nowhere, it will be acknowledged by all, has security for it been more adequate than in that same County of Lincoln; and yet, I am sorry to say, nowhere is the distress more severe than it is in that county at present. The third point in this programme to which I would just allude for a moment is "greater freedom in the cultivation of the soil and the disposal of its produce." This, I must say, is very much a matter of detail on which I could not express my opinions fully without addressing the House at much greater length than I should be justified in doing. I may, however, state in general terms that this particular question is just one of those which must be settled by agreement between the landlord and the tenant when they first make their arrangements for the letting and the taking of the land. Personally, I am in favour of giving to tenants the utmost freedom of cultivation that is compatible with maintaining the condition of the land; but I do not believe that much permanent good is to be got by the tenant by means of a greater freedom of cultivation than this. If a tenant happened to be in sore stress, the most absolute freedom of cultivation might afford him a little temporary relief; but, generally speaking, my views on the subject are summed up in a few sentences of a letter which I received this morning. My correspondent says, among other things—My opinion is that, to encourage greater freedom in the cultivation of the soil and the disposal of its produce, is to give to the bad tenant what the good tenant does not desire or find it profitable to follow, and all the advantage which a bad tenant would reap from it would be at the expense and to the disadvantage of the land.At the same time, although that is my general view, it is not a matter upon which I should be willing, or, perhaps, even able, to lay down any positive opinion. In these days landlords ought to be ready, in their own interest as well as for the interest of their tenants, to give every liberty that can be reasonably desired; but on this point I would much rather hear the opinions of my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) and of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), who will probably speak in the course of the evening, than 1433 I would express my own. Still, I am afraid there yet remain some other points in reference to which I must trouble the House with some observations. The first of these is the Law of Distress and Hypothec. These subjects were discussed at great length in this House not long ago, and a general opinion was expressed—an opinion with which I cordially agreed—that it is desirable to limit the operation of this particular law. Then, what shall I say as to the Game Laws and their reformation? As far as I am personally concerned, I care little as to the preservation of game as long as people will preserve foxes; but I cannot, for a moment, accept the view that the Game Laws are in any way responsible for the present distress in the agricultural parts of the country, for it is perfectly well known that those laws have existed for years in good as well as in bad times. The same remark applies to the other points in the programme of the Farmer's Alliance. While I gladly acknowledge the justice and propriety of most of the objects which the members of the Alliance have in view, and admit that they are objects which it is within the competence of the tenant farmers to obtain for themselves, I am not in a position to accept them as either affording any correct indication of the causes of the present distress, or as providing, even if the programme was adopted in its entirety, any real and substantial remedy for what has been so loudly complained of. No; we must look elsewhere than to the programme of the Farmers' Alliance for a description of the real causes of the present distress. Bad seasons, resulting in a bad yield of our produce and the bad prices we have received for that produce—I have said before, and I say again—are, in my opinion, the real and the sole causes of the present depression in agriculture of which we complain. We have been growing less corn and receiving less money for it, as well as for meat, and for wool, and for cheese, and for nearly all other farming commodities which you can mention, and the difference which this has made to the producers has been something enormous —not less, we are told, than £58,000,000 during the last season alone. That fact surely is, in itself, one which must afford matter for most serious reflection to hon. Members on both sides of the House. 1434 We cannot control the course of the seasons; but with regard to the prices by which, as I think, agriculture has been so grievously and so severely affected, it is not, to my mind, perfectly clear to what they are owing, and how far it is probable they will be of a passing or a permanent character; and I say that we ought to be able to get, and are entitled to have, more information than we possess at present upon this point. Because, however distasteful it may be to some of the hon. Members who hear me, it is a fact none the less, which sooner or later we must all recognize, that upon the answer which we shall receive to this question the future of agriculture in the United Kingdom must, more or less, mainly depend. I am almost afraid that in alluding to prices, and especially when I complain, in the producers' point of view, of their being so low, I may be treading on delicate ground—and, indeed, I am almost afraid of shocking the nerves of the hon. Member opposite, who has placed upon the Paper an Amendment to my Motion, to the effect that, under no circumstances, could relief be obtained by imposing taxation upon the importation of the food of the people. ["Hear, hear"] That Amendment was framed, Sir, if I may judge from the cheer with which my last sentence was received, as a friendly and timely warning to me on this point. If it was so intended, I beg to express my thanks to the hon. Member; but I must, nevertheless, express my opinion that the Amendment is an unwise and unnecessary one. It is an unnecessary one because, as far as I know, no one has ever proposed, or proposes now, that I am aware of, to impose any taxation upon the importation of food from abroad. It certainly, therefore, seems to me to be rather like an unconscious confession of weakness on the part of the hon. Gentleman, to be in such haste to defend his fortress and to guard his position, before either of them have been attacked. Further, I think the Amendment unwise, because to pass it would be to affirm and to place on record our conviction that, in no possible circumstances or combination of circumstances, whatever contingencies might or might not arise in the future, it would be unwise, undesirable, and impossible for us to do so. I must de- 1435 cline altogether to place myself in such a position; and although I am sure I hope that I shall not startle the mind of any hon. Member excessively, I am, compelled by truth to confess that I am quite able to imagine a state and condition of things—although I trust they are not likely to happen—under which it might not only be desirable, but an absolute and a positive necessity, in the interests of the whole country, for us to do so. No one, either in or out of this House, would regret that necessity more than myself; but there is one thing I should regret more, and that would be that the production of food in our own country should cease, or should even be greatly diminished. Yet, Sir, I believe that very unpleasant alternative is far from being so distant as, I suspect, most people imagine. We may be sure that the production of food in our own country will continue for just so long a time, and no longer, than it continues to pay to produce it; and how long that will be depends upon two things, and two things alone—namely, the cost of its production, and the return which it will yield—in other words, the amount of the price for which it can be sold. Now, I know that I may, perhaps, be told—and I daresay I shall be so told in the course of this debate—that it is an entire mistake to suppose that the present depression in agriculture is in any way owing to the lowness of prices of which we complain; because it is shown, and I observed that this is the contention of Mr. Caird, whose words I read in The Times shortly before I came to the House, that prices are not lower now than they have been before. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, Sir; I quite understand what that cheer means; but I think the statement is to be met and answered in more than one way. In the first place, I am not at all prepared to admit that these returns can be strictly relied on, and, supposing they were, they would prove nothing, because the cost of production in these days is very much greater than it was then. There has been a very great increase in the rates, an increase of which, I think, we have all of us had a good right to complain. But there has also been a still greater increase in the cost of labour—one of the most serious items of increase with which the farmer has to contend—and I may observe, in passing, that that additional expense is 1436 owing, in no small degree, to the Education Acts which have been passed, by means of which the farmer has been deprived of that which was most valuable to him—far more valuable, I suspect, than most people imagine—I mean the boy-labour which he used to employ, and by means of which alone the land was cleaned of weeds and maintained in that condition of which we have so long been proud. That is one reason; but there is yet another to which I would ask leave to call attention. We must remember that the prices of almost every commodity that could be mentioned are higher in these days than they have been in any former period, and this only means that gold is now more plentiful. If you will turn to the years 1849, 1850, 1851 and 1852, and again to the years 1563, 1864 and 1865, when the prices of wheat were at their lowest, and averaged only 41s. 7d. per quarter, you will find that the importation of wheat into the country for the same years averaged only 20,000,000 cwts. as against 50,000,000 cwts. in the year 1878. From these facts I draw the conclusion that our crops in these years were not short ones; and whereas in those years short crops were, at all events, accompanied by an increase in price, we have now to contend with short crops and short prices—a new and unhappy experience which has been reserved for the years 1878 and 1879. I do not scruple to say that, in my opinion, if the prices which farmers have been lately receiving are to continue, or to fall, as we are threatened they will, even lower than they are now, the duration of agriculture in England must, and can, be only a short one. I do not myself believe in the possibility of any sufficient or material reduction being made in the cost of producing food in this country. It can only be done, so far as I know, by a reduction of rent; but even if the whole rent could be remitted it only bears so small a proportion to the requisite outlay on farming —and I am now speaking of average arable farms which form the great bulk of the land under cultivation in this country—the cost of production would still, in bad seasons, be greater than the return. This is no mere fancy on my part. I know of my own knowledge various average farms in this country on which the loss last year exceeded the 1437 whole of the rent; so that, even if the tenants had been rent free, the balance would still have been on the wrong side. Well, then, Sir, if the cost of production cannot be reduced, it is obvious that the farmers have only to look to the prices which, in the future, they will receive for their produce; and I must confess that it seems to me those prices will be governed, not by the market at home, but by the American market. What we want to arrive at, therefore, is this —namely, the lowest price at which American food can be sold here at a profit to the exporters, including the cost, not only of production, but of freight and transport—for that is the price which, in future, English farmers will have to accept for their own. If that price is one which will fairly remunerate, also, the English producer, all well and good, and the present depression will pass away; but if, on the other hand, it should be found that American food can be supplied to this country at a price cheaper than that at which we can produce it, I do not know how it is possible to resist the conclusion that our own cultivation must pass away, unless the country chooses to take steps to prevent it, I need not point out the disastrous effects which would result from anything like this to the whole country. It would mean nothing less than the ruin of agriculture, which is by far the largest of our national industries. This is not a question of class, but is, I think, a national question of the greatest and highest importance. The aggregate capital of the whole of this country has been computed at £8,500,000,000, of which £2,700,000,000 must be credited to the industry of agriculture—in other words, nearly a third of the whole amount, and three times, I believe, as much as is employed in any other industry in the Kingdom which could be mentioned; while the population dependent, directly or indirectly, upon agriculture cannot be computed at less than 10,000,000 or 12,000,000 of people. I arrive at these numbers in this way. I take the population of the whole agricultural districts in England, Scotland, and Ireland, excluding that part of the population which may be called urban; although a great part of that might, I think, be fairly included, because it is impossible not to perceive that the incomes and 1438 fortunes of all the tradesmen, shopkeepers, men of business, mechanics, and others, as well as those whom they employ, residing in the towns and what may be called the rural capitals of agricultural counties, are intimately bound up with the prosperity of agriculture. If this was done, the numbers would be increased to between 15,000,000 and 16,000,000. Let me also point out to the House that to no class in the country is the welfare of agriculture more important than it is to that class which is engaged in manufactures. The agricultural industry forms the chief element in their home market; and it has been computed that the home market, as compared with the foreign market, bears the proportion of eight to one—that is, that the home trade is eight times as large as the export trade of the country. I know, Sir, that this calculation is very likely to be disputed; but I believe that its strict accuracy can be maintained and proved. Such, at all events, is the opinion of some of the highest authorities we possess in this country. If any hon. Member is disposed to dispute my position, I would refer him to a very remarkable article which appeared in The Times, in the month of November, 1877, under the heading, " Foreign Competition." But I have a most unexpected ally on this point in the right hon. Gentleman, the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), who, in a letter which appeared in The Times two days ago, stated it to be his opinion that " Much of the present depression in trade was owing to the bad harvest." The right hon. Gentleman never spoke a truer word in the course of his life. There is no doubt that a good harvest encourages, as a bad one depresses, the trade of the country. You are suffering, and severely, in common with us, from the results of indifferent harvests; but let me ask the right hon. Gentleman, what does he think would be the position of trade in this country if there were no harvests at all? and let it be remembered that there certainly will be no harvests, unless it pays to produce them. How far this is likely to be the case in the future will depend upon this, and this alone—namely, whether America can undersell us in food in our own country. I know that at present this is to a great extent a matter of speculation, and depends upon a great 1439 variety of causes and considerations upon which we do not possess the information which we ought to have, and which we have a right to expect. For instance, there is the question of freight, than which no question can be more important, and 1 would ask on this point whether freights are likely to be higher or lower in future than they are now? Opinions differ upon this point. I have myself heard both views expressed. Then, again, there is the question of that great displacement of labour which has recently occurred in the United States, and has transferred so many hands from the workshops of the East to the prairies of the West. Will those hands remain in the West, or will they return to their former occupations? All these are questions on which we must have information. What we do know at present is the reverse of encouraging, and it is this. It has ceased for years to pay to grow corn in this country alone; but then we had stock to fall back upon, and meat and corn taken together have hitherto paid a very fair profit to the English producer. But, now, English farmers have to contend with the new meat trade in America—a trade which has recently sprung up, but has already attained alarming proportions. I speak, of course, from the agricultural producer's point of view. The rate of increase in this trade has been most rapid. In the year 1875, the number of cattle imported was 299, in 1876 it was 380, and it has progressed in the following ratio:—11,523 in 1877, 68,903 in 1878, and 20,733 in the first five months of the present year, notwithstanding its being winter and in spite of the recent Orders in Council ordering slaughter of animals at the port of debarkation. It is hard, therefore, to tell in what direction the energies of the farmers can be best directed. I entirely agree with what was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham in the letter to which I have referred on the consolation of cheap food in times of distress. Undoubtedly, cheap food is a blessing to the whole country for which we cannot be sufficiently thankful, and, for my own part, I should desire meat to be so cheap as that it would be within the reach of every working man and every agricultural labourer; but there are two sides to this question also. You must 1440 not deprive the working men and the labouring classes of the means of earning their livelihood. Cheap food purchased at the expense of our own cultivation would be a most costly commodity, and, in the long run, the most ruinous we could possess. Now, Sir, I have endeavoured to state to the House some reasons why I think we ought not to accept the proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue); and now I wish I could bring my observations to a close, because I have trespassed at great iength on the patience of the House; but I must ask the attention of the House for a few moments longer, while I say that, although I cannot accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Tralee, I shall claim him as one of my supporters when I ask for the speedy removal of all the restrictions and taxation imposed on the production of food in this country. What are those restrictions? There is, in the first place, the malt tax, in regard to which I will not go into detail, because I am fully prepared to rely upon the Report of the Select Committee, which contains the following passage—Your Committee consider that the result of the evidence taken by them is that the Malt Tax prevents the farmer from cultivating his land to the greatest advantage; that it obstructs him in the use of a valuable article of food for cattle.There is no doubt, then, Sir, that the malt tax is a hindrance to, and a restriction upon, the production of food in this country. Meat could, undoubtedly, be produced at far less cost without it, and I maintain that we are entitled to ask for the removal of this heavy burden upon the production of food, and that an equivalent revenue should be raised upon barley, or some other produce from abroad. Seeing that the consumer is taxed already, it can make no difference to him to put some additional tax upon foreign produce; and when we have to make a choice between home and foreign produce, I cannot help thinking it a monstrous and glaring evil that our interests should be sacrificed to those of foreigners. In the category of taxation on the growth of food in England I must include all those burdens upon land which agriculturists think fall so unfairly and so unequally upon them, which in the presence of so much distress in agri- 1441 culture they surely are entitled to ask, shall be removed, and removed at once. I do not put that suggestion forward as a remedy which by itself would be adequate to the occasion; but I am prepared to maintain that whatever may be the outcome of this inquiry, the time has now arrived when, upon every ground of justice and expediency, these burdens shall be no longer imposed upon agriculture. I, therefore, ask for this inquiry upon grounds which I hope that the House will deem adequate and not altogether inappropriate to the occasion. The interests of commerce and agriculture are both suffering together; but their position is in one aspect different. When times are hard manufacturers may reduce the scale of their operation—they may work half-time, or perhaps they may even close their work-shops altogether for a time; not so with agriculture. There you are engaged in a never-ceasing contest with forces powerful though silent, and the work of nature. If you guide and you direct her she becomes at once your friend and fellow-labourer, if you leave and you neglect her she at once becomes your foe. No half-measures, no half-time will do for agriculture; if once the cultivator holds his hand, he must hold it once for all. For my own part, I believe that we are approaching perilously near that position now. But notwithstanding this, I take no gloomy or desponding view of the future of the industry of agriculture, upon the condition, and on one alone—that we are united firmly in the aims and the end we have in view. I indicate no remedy tonight—my object is inquiry. When inquiry has been made, and when information has been obtained, we shall not be backward in advocating remedies which I hope may be found not inadequate to the occasion. I, therefore, ask for union among the agriculturists; not one word have I to say against the alliance of the farmers, if they think that it is required by their needs. I wish, however, to point out to the farmers that what is wanted is something more than merely the alliance of a class. What I wish to see, and what I am satisfied we shall see if it is required, is one great national and agricultural alliance—a union which shall include not only the landlord and the tenant, but the peasant and the labourer as well. The landlord may bargain with his tenant for the rent, 1442 and the labourer will likewise bargain for his hire; the division of profits must ever be a question to be settled by themselves. But they must all remember that the land is the commodity on which we one and all depend, and that any serious and lasting blow to land will be destructive to us all. I would say then to my brother agriculturists and to all whose interests depend upon the industry of agriculture, and I do not know where to draw the line, above all let us be united, and then, dark and gloomy though it be to-day, I shall view with neither fear nor apprehension the future of the good old cause of agriculture which has for so long prospered in the past, and which I trust and pray is even yet about to enter on a new lease of prosperity in future. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. T. BRASSEY
said, he rose with great satisfaction to second the Motion which had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire in his very able speech. It was earnestly to be desired that the great agricultural interest should be assured that they had friends on both sides of that House, and that the proposal now before the House, and any other reasonable proposal for the benefit of agriculture, would receive full consideration in Parliament. He thought the case for a Royal Commission was very fairly stated in a recent number of The Economist newspaper. The writer of the article in question said—We are in the midst of the most extended and severe agricultural distress which has prevailed in this country for, perhaps, 30 years; and it becomes necessary to investigate the development of an industry which is the largest and most powerful and diffused of any in the United Kingdom.The landed interest of this country was now, for the first time, brought face to face with an extensive and vigorous competition. It was a competition which it was the interest of the consumer to encourage, and one with which the Legislature would be too wise to interfere; but it was also a competition which must have very serious effects on the agriculture of this country, and which might possibly result in throwing some of our inferior lands permanently out of cultivation. It could not be said that English agriculture, under the conditions which had until lately prevailed, 1443 had been unsuccessful or unskilful. M. Léonce de Lavergne, in his able work on English agriculture, had done full justice to the ability and enterprize of our farmers. Our land, though on the whole inferior, had yielded more wheat per acre than that of any other country. Taking sheep and cattle together, more animals were raised for the butcher in England than in any other part of the Continent. The practical skill of the British farmer had been conspicuous in the management of sheep. The improvements in the breed were commenced in Leicestershire by Mr. Bakewell, and the results in the increased production of mutton were signally illustrated by M. Lavergne. He said that, assuming that France and the United Kingdom each possessed an equal number of sheep which number he took at 35,000,000—it being actually 32,500,000—each country would obtain from its flocks an equal quantity of wool; but the weight of mutton, assuming 8,000,000 sheep to be slaughtered annually, would be in France 39,600,000, in England 99,000,000 stone. But the United States had lately poured into our markets such copious and increasing supplies of wheat and animal food, that it had become evident that our old-established systems of cultivation, however perfected they might be by the expenditure of the capital of the landlord and by the skill of the occupying tenantry, must undergo a very serious change. It was most important, therefore, that the lauded interest of this country should be informed, through the inquiries of the proposed Commission, as to the probable course of trade with the United States in agricultural produce; what were the articles in which it was hopeless to undertake a competition with the superior natural resources of the great Continent of the West; what were the articles in which our soil and climate and vicinity to our markets gave us the greatest advantage; what steps should be taken to relieve a landowner, whose resources were exhausted, of the responsibility of ownership; whether our arable lands were rented too high; what additional securities should be given to tenants; and whether the usual conditions in leases were too stringent. On all these subjects they might look for valuable suggestions from the Report of the Commission. And, first, as to the mode of cultivation. 1444 This question of the description of produce to which English agriculture should be especially directed was of the last importance both to owners and occupiers. It was said that the English farmer could afford to pay a rent equal in amount to the freight and railway charges on produce imported from America; but this could only be true when the land he cultivated was equal in point of fertility to the soil cultivated by his American rival rent-free, or when the article he was producing was protected from competition by difficulties of transport. The mode of cultivation he believed to be a far more important question for the future than a reduction of rent. The changes which had lately passed on the formerly prosperous agricultural interest had been traced to the foreign importations, and the obvious deduction must be that the British farmer should throw his strength henceforward into the cultivation of those articles of produce which suffered the greatest amount of deterioration from a long sea voyage, and which involved the heaviest charges for freight. It was shown, in the Return which had been obtained by the hon. Member for East Retford, that while the price of wheat had been kept down by extensive foreign importations, a great and sustained advance had occurred in the price of meat. Mr. Caird's analysis of the total value of the home and foreign agricultural produce showed very clearly where the British farmer was best protected by advantages of situation against foreign competition. Of wheat, cheese, and butter, we imported a quantity about equal to our home production. Our main supplies of wool were from abroad. Our chief supply of barley, oats, and beans was drawn from home. In a few important articles, however, our home farmers had an undisputed monopoly, and these items included potatoes, of which the annual production was valued at £16,650,000 sterling; milk, £26,000,000 sterling; hay, £16,000,000; and straw for home consumption, £6,000,000. Already the agricultural interest had come to depend, not on wheat, but on meat, butter, and hay, which still fetched a good price. Turning from wheat to animal food, they found that the importations from abroad had increased in a still more rapid ratio. According to Mr. Caird, the value of 1445 our importations of animal food had risen in the period, 1857–76, from £7,000,000 to £36,000,000. It seemed probable that the trade would be prosecuted with ever-increasing activity. According to a calculation published by Mr. Clarke in The Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the average meat supply of the United Kingdom in 1876 was in the following proportions:—Meat from home animals, 79 per cent; meat from imported live animals, 6¼ per cent; imported fresh meat, 2; and imported salt meat, 13 per cent. The importations of fresh meat were doubled in 1877. It was a very important subject for inquiry by the proposed Commission, whether that importation was likely to continue and to increase in the same ratio as it had lately done. The answer must depend on the cost of rearing stock in the United States, on the rates of freight, and on the extent of loss by deterioration in transit. First, as to the cost of rearing cattle. He had lately been in correspondence with some friends in Boston, from whom he had derived much interesting information. The business of the herdsman in the far West was conducted on a vast scale. There were herdsmen owning herds of not less than 75,000 head. They fed their cattle on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. The country was very dry, and could not, therefore, be cultivated. The herdsmen held the land under the United States Government, and let their cattle roam over a vast extent of country, where they fed all the winter out-of-doors. They were making every effort to improve the quality of their stock, and, meanwhile, their herds were filled up with large numbers of cattle from Texas. He was informed that the loss of cows was only about 1 per cent, and the loss of steers about ½ per cent, annually. It cost six dollars, or 25s., to bring into the world and raise a four-year-old steer. Such an animal was worth, at Chicago, from 35 to 45 dollars, and the cost of transport to Chicago was only eight dollars. At the present prices, the herdsmen realized profits of from 25 to 40 per cent. He had stated the facts as to the cost of rearing cattle in the United States at the present time from a source of information on which he could very confidently rely; but it was essential for the guidance of the 1446 agricultural interest that a more extended inquiry should be made by the instrumentality of a Royal Commission. In considering the expediency of laying down arable land in pasture, it was important to ascertain whether the importation of American cattle was likely to continue and to increase at anything like the present rate of development. It was said that beasts were becoming scarce in Canada. Railways would not long continue to carry cattle at the same price which they had been willing to accept in a time of severe commercial depression. It was a question, again, whether the United States Government would not levy a charge for pasturage on the public lands when the trade had been developed, and was known to be lucrative to the keepers of stock. Even a charge of 1s. an acre would materially affect the cost of breeding and rearing cattle which roamed over such vast territories. The effect of any such charge might be the more seriously felt, because the Americans could not put an animal on the market in less than from four to five years. A grass-fed animal could not be fit for sale in a shorter period. It was an important question for the Royal Commission to examine whether it would not be wise policy for the British farmer to combine with, rather than compete with, the American herdsman, and to import, to some extent, the lean stock of America to be fattened on our more luxurious pastures. Having referred to the expenses of rearing cattle in the United States, he would turn to the cost of transport to this country. On this Mr. Caird remarked—Under any circumstances, the English producer has the advantage of at least 1d. a-lb., in the cost and risk of transport, against his transatlantic competitor. It is an advantage equal to £4 on an average ox. Of this natural advantage nothing can deprive him, and with this he may rest content.It was important, however, to observe that the cost of transporting live animals across the Atlantic had been very rapidly reduced since the publication of Mr. Caird's book. Ho was informed by Mr. Beazley, the well-known shipowner of Liverpool, that at first steamers obtained freights of about £6 per head. The rates had gradually been reduced, until now they were only £2 10s. to £3 per head. He had received from Liverpool further particulars, which showed that 1447 the loss of cattle during the Transatlantic voyage was being rapidly diminished by the improved appliances which were being perfected by experience. The following figures gave the importation of cattle into Liverpool from the United States during the past year:—In February, out of 4,828 oxen shipped, 468 were lost on the passage; of 1,277 sheep, 120 died. In March the importation was reduced by 2,000 head; 1,829 oxen were shipped, but only 9 lost; 1,236 pigs were shipped, and 75 lost; 1,454 sheep were embarked, and 143 lost. In April, 1,993 oxen were shipped, and only 8 lost; of sheep the number embarked was 8,818, and the loss 164. The number of pigs shipped was 2,925, and the loss 447. In May there was a great increase in the numbers of cattle landed in Liverpool from the United States, and the loss was comparatively small; there were shipped 6,281 head of cattle, of which 187 were lost; of sheep, 13,064 were embarked, and 217 lost; of pigs, 5,834 were shipped, and 418 lost. With regard to the prices realized for the imported cattle, Mr. Beazley had furnished him with the following details:—They find it," he said, "better to kill immediately after arrival, as the animals are shipped fat and in good condition, and, as a rule, in the regular traders fitted for the purpose, arrive in fair condition.Mr. Beazley further informed him that 422 head from Montreal, not in particularly good condition, sold at an average of £22 8s.; 349 head from Montreal, in better condition, sold at an average of £24 2s.; six superior beasts fetched £31 per head; 440 beasts sold in London on June 2, at an average of £24 1s., ex City of London. That steamer only lost 6 out of 600. He ventured to say that such facts as he had quoted had a most important bearing on the prospects of the British farmer. They must extend their survey to foreign countries, and they were entitled to ask the assistance of a Royal Commission in order to complete and perfect their investigation. Agriculture was suffering in his own neighbourhood from the serious fall in the value of hops, the fall being due to over-production on unsuitable land. Some 14 years ago the Excise duty on hops was repealed. It was announced at the same time by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) that the Custom House duty 1448 must be repealed. But although hops were thenceforward exposed to unrestricted competition from abroad, the foreign trade necessarily required a certain interval of time for its development. In the meanwhile, through a period of about four years, the growers of hops were in the happy but ephemeral position of emancipation from the Excise, while foreign competition was not yet felt. Farmers were making every year a profit on hop cultivation equal to the fee-simple of their lands. Such a state of prosperity could not possibly endure. It attracted a severe foreign competition, and sent down the price of hops. Meanwhile, the high profits had encouraged farmers to extend the cultivation of hops to land not at all adapted for the purpose. The only remedy must be to convert some of those hop lands into orchards. Soil that had been under cultivation for hops would grow excellent currants. Farmers, however, were hanging on in the hope of a return to the old prices and the old profits. This could never take place in the teeth of foreign competition, and the sooner the illusion was dispelled by the Report of the Commission the better it would be for the landlords and the occupiers of land. Not only were hop gardens very suitable for conversion into orchards, they were well adapted for market gardening. A far larger supply of vegetables could be absorbed in the English market, and the returns upon this description of produce grown in rotation with farm crops would be found very satisfactory. We wanted information as to what articles of produce it was useless to grow in competition with the foreign producer; but might we not also learn something from their methods of management and cultivation? As an illustration, he would specially refer to the manufacture of cheese. The total quantity of cheese manufactured in the United Kingdom was estimated at 2,000,000 cwts.; the importations in 1876 amounted to 1,500,000 cwts. The value of the annual home product was estimated by Mr. Clarke, in a recent paper in The Agricultural Society's Journal, at £3 15s. per cwt., or a total of £8,370,000. The finer qualities were produced in only a small proportion of the dairies of England. For cheese of superior quality excellent prices were still obtainable; but he was informed by 1449 an agricultural relative in Cheshire that large quantities of the cheese made last year had not fetched more than 30s. or 40s. per 120lb., while the best qualities fetched from 70s. to 80s. The same experiences had been obtained in all parts of the country. The question, therefore, that we had to consider, and which he should like to see examined by the Royal Commission, was whether the acreage of farms in the dairy counties had been judiciously apportioned, and whether the farmers themselves had anything to learn from the processes of manufacture adopted in the United States. The increase in the manufacture of butter and cheese in the Eastern States of America had been most remarkable. Mr. Victor Drummond, in his recent Report, gave the value of the cows in the different States at £62,000,000 sterling, and the value of the cheese and butter which they produced at an equal amount. The production had increased 33 per cent within the past year. The exportations of 1878 paid more than £250,000 sterling for freight to Europe. The introduction of what was called the factory system had had the effect of materially increasing the production. The Americans worked on the co-operative plan. All the farms within a radius of, perhaps, four miles, sent their milk to the same dairy, where the production of cheese was carried on, even by small occupiers, on the most extensive scale, and upon the most scientific and economical system. Mr. Drummond gave details as to the processes of making butter and the milking of cows by a mechanical process, which deserved the attentive study of our own farmers; and he looked to the Report of the Royal Commission to bring its discoveries in a prominent manner under their notice. Some might, perhaps, regard the proposed Commission with suspicion, as a compromise with, and an encouragement to, the Protectionist Party. But the Government knew too well the almost universal feeling of the country to allow the door to be open to any such misunderstanding. If the Commission was appointed, care would, he felt sure, be taken to exclude even the discussion of the exploded doctrines of Protection. There were protectionist countries which had flourished, not because, but in spite of, Protection. But we were not in that position. A large proportion of our 1450 population could only live by successful competition in the neutral markets with the rival industries of foreign nations. We could hold our own only by the cheapness of our productions. More than one-fourth of our total consumption of agricultural produce was supplied by foreign importations; and if we made the workman pay dearer prices for his food, and admit—as we must, unless we contemplated a gross injustice—that wages must be proportionately advanced, we should raise up an obstacle to the success of our export trade, which might prove fatal to its prosperity. We had long since accepted the greatest happiness of the greatest number as the aim of our financial policy, and we should not be shaken in our faith by the temporary misfortunes of any interest, however important, and however solicitous we might be for its welfare and prosperity. Very numerous precedents might be cited for an inquiry, not with the view to legislation, but to the accumulation of valuable information for the guidance of the industry and the commerce of this country. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), in his recent volume on Free Trade, had enumerated the five Parliamentary inquiries into agricultural distress between 1815 and 1845. Inquiries bearing upon our trade and commerce had not been less numerous; but he would only refer to a very recent example. In 1873, when the consumers were alarmed by the increase in the price of coal, a Select Committee was appointed, which collected a most valuable body of evidence bearing, not only on the economic, but also on the commercial aspect of the question. The Committee concluded their Report with an emphatic declaration that the true policy of the country was to maintain an inflexible resolution of non-interference on the part of the State. It was not desired that there should be legislative interference on the part of the State with the supply of agricultural produce; but it was urged by those who supported this Motion that when a great interest was in difficulty it might fairly appeal to the Legislature to assist in collecting information for its guidance. Turning for a moment from our own country to foreign nations, he found that in 1868 a full Report was presented to the French Government on the state of agriculture in France. This enquête agricole was 1451 conducted by M. Monny de Mornay, and embraced every question connected with the land, such as inheritance, registry, advances of money for improvements, labour, drainage, railway and road communications, and protective duties. The question of large and small farms, and peasant proprietorship, offered another subject, concerning which it would be very desirable that some information should be collected by the Commission. One other subject it seemed inevitable that any Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the causes of our agricultural distress must consider—namely, the effect upon cultivation of the limited ownership of a large part of the soil of this country. We had it, on the authority of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, that it was impossible to place a limited owner in as good a position, as regarded the management of an estate, as an absolute owner; and Mr. Pusey's Committee reported that it seemed very desirable that estates under settlement should be endowed with every practicable privilege attached to absolute property. The necessity for giving increased facilities to limited owners for raising money for agricultural improvements had been established whenever an inquiry had been instituted into agricultural affairs. According to Mr. Baily Denton's evidence, quoted in the Report of the Lords' Committee on the Improvement of Land, out of 20,000,000 acres requiring drainage in England and Wales, only 3,000,000 had as yet been drained. The importance of this question in a public point of view was fully recognized in the Report of the Committee. There were many owners whose embarrassments could only be relieved by the sale of the whole or a part of their estates. To convert, for example, arable land into permanent pasture was a costly and tedious process. Mr. Caird had recommended that settlements of land should be limited to lives in being, with large powers of sale. He would be sorry to advocate any legislation which seemed calculated to impair the valuable political and social influence of the hereditary families of this country; but the position of an owner who could not do justice to his property was miserable to himself and a public calamity. Such an owner might derive immense advantage from the conversion of a portion of his landed property into per- 1452 sonalty, and the law allowed personal property to be tied up in settlement under trustees for as long a period as an entailed estate in land. While the owner required large powers of sale, the tenant required greater security of tenure. In the speech in which he moved for a Committee of Inquiry in 1845, Mr. Cobden stated that the primary cause of the distressed condition of agriculture was the deficiency of capital in the hands of the farmers. That deficiency he attributed to insecurity of tenure. Mr. Cobden quoted many witnesses, and relied particularly on one whose authority would be acknowledged by hon. Gentlemen opposite—he meant Lord Stanley—who, at a meeting held some time before at Liverpool, had spoken as follows:—I say—and as one connected with the land I feel bound to say it—that a landlord has no right to expect any great and permanent improvement of his land by the tenant unless he shall be secured the repayment of his outlay, not by the personal character and honour of his landlord, but by a security which no casualties can interfere with—the security granted him by the terms of a lease for years.The relations between the agricultural labourers and their employers would form part of the inquiry referred to the Commission. The cost of labour had not increased in recent years so much as it had been supposed. In urging the necessity for the appointment of a Royal Commission, it had been his duty to dwell only on the gloomier circumstances that affected British husbandry at the present time; and, indeed, it seemed not improbable that for some years to come the landowner might suffer a loss of income. But English enterprize had never given way before difficulties. That was not the tendency of the national character. We had been successful in raising agriculture to a high pitch of perfection. If we were to depend on the foreign supply of wheat, the cultivation of our soil would require readjustment, and the period of transition might be a severe trial; but, by the united action of landowners and tenants, and by removing the trammels of an antiquated system of Land Laws, we should triumph in the end. There was always in favour of agriculture what M. Léonce de Lavergne had designated the economic re-action. If the agricultural interest could have been destroyed, it would have been destroyed a hundred times. It owed its preservation to the 1453 fact that it was necessary—that it was indispensable. The labourer was never in a more favourable position than now, and he had always the resource of emigration. The present difficulties of the tenant farmer would be finally adjusted by competition. Lastly, the landowner might remember that the capital value of land in England was independent in a large degree of purely agricultural conditions. It was the one exchangeable article which admitted of no increase, and the accumulation of capital which diminished the profits of the merchant would augment the competition for land. It would compensate for the loss in agricultural by the gain in residential value. The action of these economic laws might be impeded, but could scarcely be promoted by the Legislature, excepting in so far as they might enhance the value of the land by increasing the happiness of the people. He had great pleasure in seconding the Motion of his hon. Friend.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words " an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that She will be graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to in- quire into the depressed condition of the agricultural interest, and the causes to which it is owing; whether those causes are of a temporary or of a permanent character, and how far they have been created or can be remedied by legislation,"—(Mr. Chaplin,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ VISCOUNT MACDUFF
said, that the hon. Member who had introduced the Motion had taken a very gloomy view of the present state of British agriculture, and although he was perfectly willing to admit that in some localities things were far from what we could desire, yet he must say that he thought it was rather early to set up a cry of despair, as if the whole class of British farmers and landlords were threatened with utter extinction. He had heard that in the past, similar grievances had from time to time found, as on this ocsion, an eloquent exponent in that House. But the result had generally proved that the depression complained of could be traced to ordinary, natural, and economic causes. As far back as 30 1454 years ago, no less a person than the present Prime Minister had brought forward a Motion not unlike the one they were discussing that day, and it was then even asserted that the rents of the land had undergone a reduction of 25 per cent. Was anyone prepared to deny that since then the rent-roll of the country had enormously increased? It seemed to him that in order to justify the appointment of a Royal Commission, it would be necessary not only to point to a depressed condition of affairs, but also to indicate remedies sufficiently strong, even if heroic, to remedy the state of things complained of. But he had conversed freely with many experienced agriculturists on this matter, and not one of them had ever failed to point out innumerable causes for this unfortunate depression which were not far to seek, but the remedies for which seem hardly to have been indicated by his hon. Friend. The fact was, as had been shown so often, that we had had a series of indifferent harvests in this country, and, generally speaking, in Europe. In America, the great corn-producing plains had been so greatly developed by the influx of capital and population into vast districts hitherto unknown, that practically a new element had been introduced into the question of our food supply. Owing to the longstanding depression of trade in the United States, and the sudden gigantic development of the railway system on that continent, a competition had set in which had reduced the freight from the uplands to the Atlantic sea-board to a preposterously low rate. In addition to this, the enormous increase in the tonnage of our Mercantile Marine, which took place during the years of inflation now past in this country, coupled with the lack of occupation for it, had ended in landing in this country the agricultural produce of America at rates little more than nominal. He could well sympathize with the feelings almost of dismay which must have come over most farmers that very week, as they read in The Times of the estimated increase of 60,000,000 bushels in the yield of American wheat compared with last year. Was it seriously supposed that a Royal Commission could remedy this state of things, or interfere with the elements? For he was glad to hear that his hon. Friend did not boldly ally himself with 1455 the new Protectionist Party which was now feebly endeavouring to put forth a sickly growth in the country. Whenever there was a temporary lull in what he still believed to be the advancing prosperity of the country, a cry was set up, and every sort of quack nostrum was propounded; whereas, a more patient study of facts and figures would tend to show that the differences were not so fundamental after all between these times and those which were everywhere looked back upon as a period of undoubted prosperity. It was only quite recently that any fall of appreciable extent had taken place in the aggregate amount of our commercial transactions; and, comparing the most recent figures of our imports—the last five months of this year—with those of last, he only saw a difference of about 10 per cent; from £160,000,000 sterling to £144,000,000. The difference in exports was even smaller, or about 8 per cent—from £79,000,000 to £74,000,000. He need not remind the House how large a part of that money difference was to be accounted for by the "shrinkage" in the values. To take other tests—whether we looked at the number of paupers in our workhouses, the amount of savings in our savings banks, the traffic on our railways, the amount of cheques passing through the Clearing House—the result seemed to him at least everywhere the same—namely, that there was an undoubted diminution of our commercial progress, taken as a whole. But considering the high speed which that progress had attained, might it not be questioned whether a great country like ours ought not to be able easily to bear some slight reduction in the aggregate of its prosperity without being too ready to confess to disaster and despair? He gathered from the hon. Gentleman and his supporters that they viewed with great alarm the increase which had taken place in the local rates. Everyone connected with land must deplore this increase, which he knew was felt heavily at the present time. Was it desired to seek further relief for the rates at the expense of the Imperial Exchequer? They had generally been told that the present Government had gone as far in that direction as it was possible; and, for his own part, he was not without apprehension that that relief did not wholly find its way into the pockets of 1456 the farmers. Although landed proprietors might like still further relief in this form, he was much mistaken if the mass of the tax-paying people would not have a good deal to say about such a proposal at the present moment. That, however, was certainly one of the many questions which a Royal Commission might inquire into with advantage to the agricultural interest. He could perfectly understand the line of argument of a noble Duke in "another place," who certainly had the courage of his opinions, and did not hesitate to propose an import duty all round, as a remedy for the existing depression of trade. He should have supposed that his hon. Friend would have armed himself with similar courage, and proposed a return to the sliding scale, as he noticed that a meeting of the Essex farmers had just done at Romford. That would have been worthy of a Royal Commission, and of his hon. Friend's distinguished advocacy. Nor would he have been alone, for these views had found a feeble echo in the country, and even in that House. But it was proposed, apparently, to issue a Royal Commission without any direct reference to protective measures, and he supposed, therefore, that unless it was to go into the whole question of legislation affecting land, which he thought it ought to do, this august body would chiefly occupy its time in discussing the latest prognostics on the weather from the other side of the Atlantic. It was usual, when a Commission was asked, to point out some specific remedy for the evils complained of; and in this case, unless you were prepared to advocate a return to Protection on the one hand, or on the other a thorough examination of every law which affected the soil, he could not see how any practical result was to follow from a Motion so restricted as this. Well, then, was it the question of agricultural labour that their Royal Commission was to be called upon to elucidate? No doubt, that was one which occupied greatly the attention of all concerned in the land. A gradual but inevitable change was taking place throughout the country, owing mainly to the facility of intercourse which was urging the country labourer, who formerly never wandered far from home, to seek richer soils beyond the seas, or to migrate to some manufacturing district in the neighbourhood. It was, 1457 therefore, inevitable that the price of labour must be, he feared, everywhere increased. No doubt, this question of the price of labour was one of the most important factors a farmer had to reckon with, and one which, at the present time, tended greatly to increase the difficulties of his position. He was one of those who thought that he might borrow a few more leaves from the book of his manufacturing neighbours, and introduce such further improvements in agricultural machinery as to reduce still further the cost of production or increase its efficiency. But a Royal Commission could hardly deal with a question of this sort, unless his hon. Friend were prepared to suggest that the rate of wages was to be regulated by an Act of the Legislature rather than by the perhaps now antiquated law of supply and demand. He was not without some slight experience of agricultural matters himself, and he was inclined to believe, at any rate, as far as his own part of the world was concerned, that the moderately-sized and even small farms—such as an active man could well superintend himself, into which he could introduce the greatest economy of labour—were destined to be mainly the farms of the future. But these were questions of an essentially practical nature, which he did not feel himself justified at the present moment in dilating upon. He wished, now, to look a little deeper into this whole question, and to remind the House that there had been, ever since he had had the honour of a seat in it, no lack of Bills introduced bearing upon farmers' grievances. Had they found his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) among the supporters of such measures, or was it only when there was a chance of rents falling that agricultural grievances were to be aired? Speaking as a Scotch Member, he might appeal to frequent endeavours to obtain a hearing for certain well-known questions; but, on these occasions, they had always been met by the strongest opposition from English county Members, and had been told that their ideas were revolutionary and subversive. As an instance of this, he might say that the Law of Hypothec had long been an open sore to the farmers of Scotland, and so strong had been the feeling upon this subject, that a Bill had been introduced for its abolition by a Conservative Mem- 1458 ber during every Session of this present Parliament. If hon. Gentlemen sitting on the other side of the House had really been anxious to place farmers in a more advantageous position, surely that Bill would not have found such a united body of Conservative opponents arrayed against it? As a Scotchman, he hardly liked to mention the question of the English Law of Distress; but he bad noticed that it had formed the subject of discussion at several agricultural meetings, and he felt that he could not do better than respectfully recommend it to the champion of the English farmer. Well, a few years ago the Conservative Party had an opportunity of showing their devotion to their farmer supporters when they introduced an Agricultural Holdings Bill. What was the conduct of hon. Members opposite? Any proposal to make it more stringent was scouted as a gross violation of the rights of property, and the idea of making it compulsory seemed to send a thrill of horror through the Conservative benches. Now, if hon. Members who supported this Motion would refer to the proposed Commission the whole question of the security of the tenant's capital invested in the soil, he for one would certainly vote for such an inquiry, were it only to hear repeated such evidence as that given years ago by a land agent before Mr. Pusey's famous Committee, and which formed such a complete survey of the matter that he could add to it no words of his own. The witness said—I am convinced of this—that where landlords cannot make improvements, there are so many cases where the tenant has the means of making them, that he could make them very much to his advantage, and very much to the landlord's advantage; because I consider that, under the present system in our country of letting farms, farms are what we call 'beggared out.' There is not a farm that I have re-let, but every tenant who has quitted has taken everything out of the farm that he possibly could. If a system could be laid down where that never could be allowed to be done, and any outlay that the tenant had made upon that property, whether in improvements by building or manure he should have the certainty of being repaid for, I think the benefit would be immense, both to the landlord and the tenant, and the public.In Scotland, he might say that many of the difficulties of this question had been got over by the admirable system of leases, which ought, as he thought, to prevail everywhere. He hoped, then, 1459 that his hon. Friend would have no scruples in attacking at once the whole question, and getting his Royal Commission to extend to agricultural "fixtures" some of those arrangements long ago made for trade "fixtures," to the equal benefit of the trade and the tradesman. To pass to other topics, Bills had not been wanting to amend the Game Laws with regard to ground game, which in Scotland, and in England also, was a subject of daily vexation to farmers; but the language used to combat such moderate proposals had always been such as to make one imagine that the landlord's right to his hares and rabbits was one which was intimately connected with the stability of the British Constitution. And yet these, and similar questions, were those which farmers had always, but in vain, wished to see solved. They were surely entitled to have them referred to this Royal Commission. One more condition was necessary to make this Royal Commission readily acceptable, and that was the opening up of the whole question of transfer, devolution, settlement, and entail of land. It was admitted on all hands that legislation was still required on the transfer of land, as the Act of 1875 had been almost a dead letter, only 48 titles having come on the register. He would not go into the question of entail, because he noticed that there was already an Amendment put down on that subject; but he might just say, that, as far as Scotland was concerned, in spite of the legislation of 1848, entail was still a recognized grievance, and one which seriously interfered with the full improvement of the soil. There were proprietors in Scotland whose children were born before 1848, or who had no children at all, and who, practically, found their estates as much tied up as if no facilities had been given to landlords in that year. Everyone in Scotland would be glad to see the tedious and expensive applications to the Court of Session with respect to improvements got rid of, and power given to the local Court of the Sheriff to dispose summarily and cheaply of all such applications. In England it had been suggested by many practical reformers that the powers of sale of tenants-for-life might be enlarged, so as to enable them, by the sale of outstanding parts of their estates, to have a readier access to their capital for 1460 improvements and other purposes. No one could deny that there were considerable difficulties in the way of the free application of capital to land, in spite of the practically unanimous opinion that such application was both desirable and possible. It had been well said that "a settled estate is an estate which has not and may never have a real proprietor." Who, then, was to improve that estate? Who had power enough to do so, and who had the requisite inducement? Not the nominal owner, for he was generally a tenant-for-life, obliged to hold an estate out of all proportion to the means he had for its improvement, and was frequently embarrassed with enormous charges. Next came the remainder-man, who had, perhaps, consented, under pressure, to re-settle the estate at a time of life when he understood little of its responsibilities, but felt the necessity of securing himself an allowance. He could do nothing to improve the estate, because he was not in possession. Then came the occupier. He generally knew best what improvements were most wanted, and which would pay best; but he was not likely to receive much encouragement from the two persons he had just mentioned, who were bound hand and foot by their unfortunate legal position. He would not, then, dwell any further upon the many evils affecting the agricultural interests of this country, for he feared he had already wearied the House. He felt it was a time of severe pressure and some anxiety, but not of despair. It was because lie sympathized deeply with the present distressing condition of the farmer that he wished to see those evils removed which he had endeavoured only lightly to touch upon. Ho had ventured to urge that the proposed Commission should thoroughly investigate them. If it failed to do so, it must prove wasteful of public time, and barren of results.
MR. MAC IVER
thought inquiry should be extended to the condition of our home industries generally, to manufactures as well as to agriculture. He felt that the Government could not be indifferent to the prevailing commercial depression, but that it would be best to leave them to institute inquiry at their own time and in their own way, when it became really apparent that the manu- 1461 facturing constituencies desired it. He had no desire to underrate the importance of the export trade of this country; but it seemed to him that our home trade was even more important, and that manufactures and agriculture had common interests. If our manufacturing population were idle they could not buy agricultural produce, and if agriculture remained depressed our manufacturing industries would be depressed too, because those who lived by agriculture had less money to spend in manufactures. We were, he thought, too much dependent upon foreign nations for our supply of food. There was not a country in the world that would now take our manufactures in exchange. The question was not so much whether Free Trade was desirable as whether it was practicable. It was idle to say that, as trade had formerly revived, so it would again. There might, indeed, be some temporary improvement; but it could only be temporary. What he wished to point out was that the conditions had changed, and that it was our duty to face those altered conditions. He could not indicate those altered conditions in better words than by the following quotation from a leading article which appeared in The Times a few weeks ago:—Is the system of Commercial Treaties to be allowed to lapse without an effort on their behalf, and almost without a discussion in Parliament, while there may yet be time? The question becomes daily more and more urgent. Unless something is done quickly, the principal Continental countries will all have reverted by the end of the year to a system of higher duties than that under which the trade between them and with the rest of the world has been carried on for many years.Was it necessary for him (Mr. Mac Iver) to say more? The House knew what our own Colonies were doing. Everybody was closing his doors to us, and it was not reasonable to expect any substantial revival of our export trade under such conditions. Statements had been made, no doubt, upon the authority of Board of Trade statistics, that, although the value of our exports had diminished, their volume had been maintained. The fact was that the character of our exports had changed, and that we were now exporting raw materials where we formerly sent manufactures; and we were even, to some extent, importing manufactures from those who formerly 1462 sent us raw materials. Our exports of woollen manufactures were rapidly decreasing, and our imports of the same goods as rapidly increasing; and the same was true of manufactures in iron and steel, of silks, and of cottons. In corroboration of that assertion, he desired the attention of hon. Gentlemen to the following analysis of the statistics of the Board of Trade bearing upon the point, for which he was indebted to Mr. Sutcliffe, a public auditor in Bradford, and to whom he (Mr. Mac Iver) desired to express his obligations:—Exports of woollen manufactures, £17,343,208 in 1877; £16,723,009 in 1878; imports of woollen manufactures, £5,335,276 in 1877; £5,996,575 in 1878. Exports of iron and steel, £20,113,915 in 1877; £18,393,974 in 1878; imports of iron and steel, £2,585,610 in 1877; £2,793,486 in 1878. Exports of silk manufactures, £1,705,153 in 1877; £1,921,166 in 1878; imports of silk manufactures, £14,475,516 in 1877; £14,986,089 in 1878. Exports of cotton manufactures, £57,035,019 in 1877; £48,086,710 in 1878; imports of cotton manufactures, £1,736,937 in 1877; £2,058,676 in 1878. Within his own (Mr. Mac Iver's) experience, he remembered the days when large quantities of rails from South Wales went to the United States; but that now their largest export was "spiegel," a description of ore whose special usefulness was to enable the Americans to make steel rails for themselves. He remembered, too, the time when linens from Belfast went to America in large quantities, but to-day those quantities were small. Sheffield now sent unfinished goods to save the duties, and work was done in America which used to employ people here; our manufacturers were ruined, and Sheffield artizans had the mockery of cheap food offered to them at the cost of starvation. There were no wages, because manufacturers could no longer sell at a profit; and the case of Lancashire and Yorkshire was not greatly better than that of Sheffield. Our one-sided Free Trade brought the productions of other lands to our doors, to the destruction of our home industries. It destroyed our home market for our own wares, and opened no markets abroad where we could sell the goods which we desired to produce. Our people were idle, and we were paying the rest of the world to work for us. 1463 It was a wages question. What was called Free Trade meant—to the working man—hard work, long hours, and low wages. How else could our manufactures now find their way into foreign markets? Goods, in order to pay, must not only be produced as cheaply as the foreigner could make them, but cheaply enough to pay the duty too; and these duties were being everywhere increased against us, while we continued to receive all foreign manufactures duty free. Trade with the United States was in no exceptional position. With returning prosperity the Americans were, no doubt, taking a little more of our wares, but nothing in comparison with what we bought from them. Vessels were sailing outwards almost in ballast, taking coals for the return passage because there was nothing else to carry, and ordinary freight-carrying steamers were entirely dependent upon the homeward earnings for the expenses of the voyage. No one could have been further wrong than Lord Norton, when writing to The Times, or than Lord Derby was when speaking at Liverpool, the other day, in regard to the future of the carrying trade. As regarded our exports, he (Mr. Mac Iver) saw no "blue sky." There was none. He had been examining the Board of Trade Returns for May; and while it was perfectly true that, for the first time for many months, they seemed to show improvement, there was, nevertheless, very little real encouragement in the figures. Shipments to Bombay were larger, because they had been held back waiting the reduction in the duties, and it was reasonable to expect that reduction would bring permanent improvement; but, except a few things for America, there was no other increase as regarded any item of healthy trade. The principal increase was to Germany, where goods were being hurried forward to escape the new tariff; but almost everything else had fallen off, except exports of raw materials to Belgium and America. His experience as a carrier showed him that the trade of the world was changing its character. His own vessels wore now taking cotton, and other raw materials, to Continental ports which formerly took manufactures; and while it was perfectly true that the general trade of the world was in an unsatisfactory condition, he had many reasons for disbelieving that the com- 1464 mercial depression elsewhere was as great as with ourselves. Foreign nations liked a system under which they had the run of our markets, while we were excluded from theirs. Many miles by sea cost no more than a few by rail, and the natural protection, therefore, lay, in many instances, with the foreigner rather than with our own manufacturers. As regarded cost of conveyance to London, Rouen was practically nearer than Bradford, and the foreigner, free of our markets, was in a position of advantage over his British competitor, because he had two customers, while our manufacturer, excluded from France by a 30 per cent duty, only had one. The entire destruction of our home industries, therefore, was only a question of time. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) was quite wrong in saying, in his recent book, that there was no home industry that had yet been seriously affected by foreign competition. Woollens, cottons, silks, iron, loaf-sugar-making, all were " going to the bad; " and almost any kind of inquiry would prove this to be so. Foreign nations were never likely to accept Free Trade so long as we took their wares duty free. It was not to their interest and Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, book iv., chap. 2, told us plainly enough what we ought to do in such circumstances. John Stuart Mill, evidently, was of the same opinion; the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) was not, and in his recent article in The Nineteenth Century magazine abused such teaching as Adam Smith's in no measured terms. Further reference to Mill's Political Economy was, however, worth attention, for Mr. Mill was, undoubtedly, a great authority; and anyone could see, from the end of the 4th chapter in book v., that he, at least, did not believe that all taxes were borne by the consumers. Sir Louis Mallet, however, was the author of a pamphlet, which was at the present moment being circulated by the Cobden Club, in which he put the value of our imports of manufactured and half-manufactured goods for 1877 at £49,081,241. Where such figures were obtained he (Mr. Mac Iver) could not imagine; for he found in The British Empire newspaper a detailed list, compiled from the Board of Trade Returns, and that the amount was in reality 1465 about one-third as much again. By misprint or other error, certain imports were given as £49,081,241, while the Board of Trade figures gave £64, 635,418. He (Mr. Mac Iver) knew that nothing could be further from Sir Louis Mallet's wish than to mis-state the facts, and that the Cobden Club equally wished to be truthful; but now that an inaccuracy so grave had been brought to their notice, it was about time that they took steps to correct it. We imported, certainly, manufactures of one kind and another to the annual value of nearly £65,000,000, and 10 or 15 per cent duty on these would yield no inconsiderable revenue to go in reduction of other taxation. As Mr. Mill said—A country cannot be expected to renounce the power of taxing foreigners, unless foreigners will in return practice towards itself the same forbearance. The only mode in which a country can save itself from being a loser by the revenue duties imposed by other countries on its commodities is to impose corresponding revenue duties on theirs.Yet that was precisely the power which those who were opposed to him (Mr. Mac Iver) had already renounced, and which they desired should be permanently renounced. He thought an inquiry would show that such a power could still be useful, and that the sooner we resumed it the better; useful in raising revenue, useful in enabling us again to negotiate Commercial Treaties upon advantageous terms—useful in restraining unfair competition with our home industries—useful in bringing a pressure to bear that would re-open foreign markets to our productions—useful in restoring that prosperity which under one-sided Free Trade, we had thrown away. A system like the present, under which we gave everything and got nothing, was a bad system. There was no question—or, at all events, he (Mr. Mac Iver) raised none—of restrictions on the one hand and Free Trade on the other; but Free Trade required two to make the bargain, and, unfortunately, the rest of the world was against us. We were simply an object for the rest of mankind to plunder, and had too long been the willing victims of a "war of tariffs," which we had but to "lift our sword" to stop. He hoped to see the day when we would be Free Traders within the British Empire, buying what the Colonies could send us, and paying them with our manufactures. A system 1466 like the present, under which our imports were steadily increasing and the exports diminishing, could only bring disaster. There was no sufficient explanation of the £150,000,000 annual balance on the wrong side, and he thought an inquiry would establish that some considerable portion of it was actual loss of wealth. London, it was true, was a financial centre for the transactions of the world; but that could hardly explain it—the figures were too big. Profits on foreign investments did not figure for much in the Income Tax Returns, and certainly did not explain it. He looped the Government would grant an inquiry into the causes of agricultural depression, as asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), but that the case of the manufacturers would not be forgotten. His (Mr. Mac Iver's) demand for inquiry as regarded commercial depression was, he thought, strengthened not merely by the Petitions which had been presented, but by a Memorial from bankers and others to the Prime Minister the other day in regard to the demonetization of silver. That was not a question on which he desired to enter, except as tending to show that these gentlemen who approached the Prime Minister, although from a different point of view, thought equally with himself that the continued commercial depression was insufficiently accounted for by any of the causes hitherto alleged, and that there ought now to be some kind of inquiry. He (Mr. Mac Iver), while unable to suggest any mode of dealing with it, was inclined to think the silver question had something to do with our troubles; but he thought our false Free Trade had more, and in asking for an inquiry, did not hesitate to say that he hoped it would lead to a change in our fiscal system. He wished to see Free Trade within the British Empire, Free Trade with all the rest of the world who would extend similar privileges to us, but a 10 or 15 per cent revenue duty upon all manufactures and luxuries sent us by countries who continued to tax what we sent them; and then, he thought, we might reasonably look for returning prosperity and reduced taxation. Our one-sided Free Trade had only brought ruin to us. Past prosperity was due, not to our so-called Free Trade, but to steam navigation, iron, railways, and 1467 the electric telegraph; and now that other nations had got these as well as ourselves, we were handicapped by the theories of Mr. Cobden, which all the world, except ourselves, rejected. A system of protection could be abused, no doubt; but it did not follow that every form of protection was wholly wrong. Those who called themselves Free Traders took very diverse views. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), for instance, desired to maintain the Indian import duties on cotton goods; but, oddly enough, altogether disagreed with Mr. John Stuart Mill in regard to the protection of nascent industries. Mr. Mill said, and he (Mr. Mac Iver) was quoting from page 525 of the second volume of his Political Economy (5th edition)—Protecting duties may be defensible when they are imposed temporarily (especially in a young and rising nation), in hope of naturalizing a foreign industry in itself perfectly suitable to the circumstances of the country.That, he (Mr. Mac Iver) thought, was a reasonable view. Without more than the briefest reference to the divergent views of Free Traders on the sugar question, he felt that he had shown sufficient inconsistencies amongst the political economists to warrant him in saying that, when they could agree amongst themselves, it would be time enough to speak of the "settlement" of 1846. Meantime, it was no settlement at all, and hardly two people were agreed as to what they meant by Free Trade; but he (Mr. Mae Iver) was greatly indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) for a clear and distinct statement of the case which he (Mr Mac Iver) desired to oppose. That statement he would give in the right hon. Gentleman's own words, quoting from The Nineteenth Century magazine of November, 1878. Criticizing the address of Mr. Ingram at the Dublin meeting of the British Association, who seemed to think that what he called "Sociology" embraced truths beyond political economy, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) said—Experience shows that in order to solve the question on which the science—political economy —turns, all that was wanted was the knowledge that the ruling passions of mankind were wealth and ease:—Search, then, the ruling passion; there alone The wild are constant and the cunning known, The fool consistent, and the false sincere; Priests, princes, women, no dissemblers here.'1468 That was, as he (Mr. Mac Iver) understood it, the case really put forward by the followers of the late Mr. Cobden. But he (Mr. Mac Iver) thought there were other and still stronger motives which governed men, and that the right hon. Gentleman had not indicated the basis on which sound political economy rested, but only the great central fallacy round which the teachings of our so-called Free Traders revolved. The case on behalf of agriculture he (Mr. Mac Iver) left entirely in other hands; but it seemed to him that the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) might fairly be congratulated upon the character of the opposition offered to his Resolution. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Tralee (The O'Donoghue) was framed in charming forgetfulness of the circumstance that what he said "can never be" already existed. In point of fact, there was already considerable taxation upon the food of the people, and taxation some of which he (Mr. Mac Iver) thought should be done away with. We taxed tea and coffee, even from our own Colonies; and in India we taxed salt. Food taxation was undesirable; but it might, nevertheless, be the lesser evil; and he would be a bold man who would to-night rise and say that the agricultural interests of Great Britain and Ireland had no new conditions to contend against. The greatest of political economists, Adam Smith, had been entirely mistaken in this respect. Conditions which ho could not foresee had arisen, and it might be well to recall how signally his predictions had been falsified. The following quotation from The Wealth of Nations, book iv., second chapter, showed how utterly wrong Adam Smith had been in regard to cattle:—If the importation of foreign cattle, for example, was made ever so free, so few could be imported that the grazing trade of Great Britain could be little affected by it. Live cattle are, perhaps, the only commodity of which the transportation is more expensive by sea than land.And on the next page were the following statements, which were equally wrong, in regard to grain:—Even the importation of foreign corn could very little affect the interests of the farmers of Great Britain. Corn is a much more bulky commodity than butchers' meat. A pound of wheat at a penny is as dear as a pound of butchers' meat at fourpence. The small quantity 1469 of corn imported, even in times of the greatest scarcity, may satisfy our farmers that they can have nothing to fear from the freest importation.But the Amendment of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) was of a remarkable character and entitled to some special attention. Members were sometimes too much the mouthpieces of the particular party clique whom they might happen practically to represent, and he ventured to say this was precisely such a case, and that this Amendment was not really in accordance with the views of the hon. Gentleman whose name it bore. The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) knew something of grain-carrying steamers. It was only a few, weeks ago that he had, within these very walls, been urging upon him (Mr. Mac Iver) a view altogether inconsistent with this Amendment. The hon. Member (Mr. J. W. Barclay) believed that grain would ere long be brought across the Atlantic regularly for 4d. a-bushel, and leave a profit to the carrier; and if any outward freight were obtainable, he (Mr. Mac Iver) was inclined to think he was not far wrong. The original rate for bringing cattle from New York to Liverpool was £12 a-head, but it was now being done for 50s. to £3. Did the hon. Member (Mr. J. W. Barclay) seriously contend—in the words of his Amendment—that—The conditions and restrictions imposed on the cultivation of land in this country prevent farmers from competing successfully with other nations in the production of food, and, with the recent bad seasons, fully account for the depressed state of agricultural interests?He (Mr. Mac Iver) desired to refer briefly to words used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) in a speech a few months ago to his constituents. He ventured to think the right lion. Gentleman was wrong in describing the policy of those who objected to one-sided Free Trade as a policy of "thieving." He thought, also, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) was unjustified in using the acrimonious language which he had done towards Mr. Wallace, the naturalist. Mr. Wallace's article in The Nineteenth Century magazine, which the right hon. Gentleman thus criticized, was a perfectly reasonable one, and 1470 failed only as regarded those business details of exports and imports which none but persons actually engaged in commerce would be likely to know. The right hon. Gentleman himself (Mr. Lowe) was further wrong; for, surely it was not the case—as stated by him in endeavouring to answer Mr. Wallace—that nine-tenths of the people of this country were the consumers. He (Mr. Mac Iver) thought that, in point of fact, nine-tenths of the people were, or wished to be, "producers," and that it was but the remaining tenth who were consumers only. The working man required work and wages; but that was precisely what our so-called Free Trade system took from him. We offered him cheap bread instead, but left him no money to buy it; and then the Free Traders told him it was all for his good, and that he was one of those consumers to whom the great work of Mr. Cobden had brought such blessings. But the working man, unfortunately for himself, required to produce in order to get wages that would enable him to buy this cheap food; and this was precisely what the excessive foreign competition which Mr. Cobden and his followers brought upon us rendered every day more difficult. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) must have thought his own friends had "no logic," when he ventured to write to them, as he had done the other day, that—But for our free imports the price of bread would be more than double, the price of sugar would be more than three times its present price, and the price of cheese and bacon would be double, or nearly so.Such assertions were, he (Mr. Mac Iver) thought, unreasonable on the face of them. Even Birmingham Radicals knew perfectly well that there might be some middle course between the abuses of Protection on the one hand, and the abuses of Free Trade on the other. There was a middle course even as regarded the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright); for this letter, although inaccurate, was polite, while his former communication, in which he described all those who were opposed to him as "simpletons without memory," was scarcely either accurate or polite, although, perhaps, not so entirely unworthy of anybody 1471 calling himself a statesman as the letter which he wrote the other day in regard to Tories in general, and a Barrow Conservative, of the name of Smith, in particular, in which he (Mr. John Bright) made use of the expression that—"He did not know which was most apparent amongst the Tory speakers—their ignorance, or their faculty for lying." He (Mr. Mac Iver) admitted at once that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham had lost none of his old power of invective. Strong language, however, was the fitting accompaniment of a weak case; and to-night it would be necessary for the right hon. Gentleman, and those who thought with him to bring forward serious arguments, if they had any.
Sir, I do not think I can do better than commence the very few observations I have to make by reading the Amendment of which I have given Notice, which has been for some time on the Paper, and on which I shall, at the proper time, ask the judgment of the House. The Amendment is—That, while this House fully recognizes and deeply deplores the widespread distress prevailing amongst the occupiers of land throughout the United Kingdom, and most earnestly desires to do all that can be done to remedy this distress, the House thinks right to place on record its conviction that no attempt can ever be made to alleviate the distress amongst the occupiers of land by imposing any restrictions direct or indirect upon the importation of food in any shape.It is not my intention to propose that my Amendment shall be substituted for the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin). What I shall ask the House to do will be, after adopting the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, to add my Amendment to it as a deliberate and solemn expression of the opinion of this House upon a great question of public policy. The aim of that policy may briefly be stated to be this—to do all that legislation can do to I place cheap food within the reach of the millions of the United Kingdom. No one, I imagine, will dispute the statement that we are bound to adhere, with inflexible rigidity, to that policy; or will charge me with exaggeration, when I say that the slightest departure from it would constitute the most unpardonable perversion of the functions of a Legislature. It is, unfortunately, true that at a period not by any means remote, Par- 1472 liament, when completely under the control of a class, was chiefly occupied with schemes for enhancing the price of food. Now, Sir, I submit that we cannot do anything which will more effectually establish our claim really to represent the people than to place on record, without a moment's delay, and in terms the most explicit, our determination never to return to a system which, to state facts perhaps somewhat bluntly, but I contend with the most perfect truth, put nations upon short commons in order that the landlords might get the rents they wanted. The time is most opportune, and many circumstances imperatively call for a declaration of opinion on the part of the House, such as that embodied in my Amendment. The agricultural interest throughout the United Kingdom is, to use almost the very words of the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, in a depressed condition. The universal recognition of this fact is of vast importance, as it must limit any controversy that may arise to deciding upon the best means of relieving the distress. I say to the hon. Gentleman "I see as clearly as you do the distress among the occupiers of land. I am as anxious as you can be to come to their assistance. I most earnestly desire the appointment of a Royal Commission, which I hope will thoroughly investigate the causes of the agricultural depression, and prepare an adequate remedy; but, as the antecedents of your Party lead me to suspect that they contemplate trying to relieve agricultural distress by imposing restrictions upon the importation of food, I must respectfully invite the House, at the very outset, to take a course which will satisfy all that to do this is simply impossible." The unequivocal avowal of the great principle of government, which my Amendment includes, will for ever get rid of the delusion that Parliament will make food dear in order to insure the prosperity of the owners and occupiers of land. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are not thinking of something of this kind, I cannot conceive, when I recall the history of their Party, what they can be thinking of. By way of improving the condition of the farmers, they aspire to be considered the special friends of the farmer; but all they have ever done in support of their pretensions amounts really to this—from time to 1473 time they put forward Members of their body who make interminable speeches, crammed with statistics, giving the prices of various articles of produce at different periods, full of advice to the farmers, of which the sum and substance is this—Not to be too lazy, to work harder and more skilfully, and thus be able, in the face of the greatest competition, to pay whatever rent the landlord requires. The climax has generally been reached when some Tory Member brought forward a Motion somewhat similar to that we have before us tonight; but, so far as the farmer is concerned, these proceedings have never been productive of the smallest beneficial result. Against the professions of hon. Gentlemen opposite we have the actual condition of the farmer, which speaks eloquently of the interest taken in him by those who are responsible for his condition, inasmuch as, being the predominant influence in the Legislature, they have used their power for the establishment of a law system which enables them to deal with all the land of the United Kingdom for their exclusive benefit. The farmer has no security of tenure. If he invests his capital, he does so at the risk of having the profits of the investment appropriated wholly, or in part, by the landlord; while every provision is made for the farmer's rapid displacement, should the landlord wish to get rid of him, with or without a cause, or should he break clown by some fault of his own, or owing to circumstances over which he has absolutely no control. Now, Sir, it appears to me perfectly clear that we shall soon be in the presence of a state of things which will virtually affect the position of the occupiers of land throughout the United Kingdom, and materially diminish their paying power. The causes to which I refer are already partially in operation. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire sees what is passing, and what is about to happen, as plainly as I do; and, beyond all question, it is his realization of facts, personal and prospective, that has prompted him to bring forward this Motion for a Royal Commission to inquire into the causes of what he describes as the depressed state of agriculture. The state of things to which I have referred, and which I contemplate, is the pouring into our ports of extraordinary supplies of 1474 food—extraordinary in quantity, as well as quality—which comprise everything for which there is a demand, from regions whose resources have long been known to be illimitable, but which till recently were held to be so remote as to be far beyond the range of serious competition with us. But, Sir, science has developed such facilities of transport as practically to annihilate distance as a barrier to the interchange of commodities between nations, and we may look forward to supplies which will only be limited by the enterprizing spirit of a people whose zeal and genius in moneymaking have never been surpassed. For my part, I regard the prospect of abundance that is opening up before us with unqualified satisfaction. When I think of the swarming crowds in the towns and cities of England and Scotland, of the wonderful increase of population, of the totally insufficient quantity of the food we ourselves produce, it strikes me that there is something providential in this sudden turning on of a food supply which is certain to be abundant and unfailing, at least in articles of what I may call daily consumption. In Ireland, where our population is thin, abundant food will come in aid of miserable wages and precarious employment. Frequently during the last few years have I heard poor men fervently thank God that food was not as dear as it had been. Think of the joy that would fill their hearts at the thought of their homes being firmly secured against the approach of hunger. Fancy the frenzy that would come upon them on hearing that the food which was on its way to their doors bad been stopped by the orders of their Representatives in Parliament, and that that had been done in order to insure high rents for the landlord class. Sir, it is humiliating to admit that there are amongst us those who regard with apprehension—with positive dread—the probability of a plentiful supply of food being placed within the reach of the people of these countries. These persons are represented by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire and his Friends. Well - stocked markets lessen the value of what the farmer has to sell, diminish his rent-paying power, call for the lowering of rent; and this is what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire refers to, under the cloak of euphemism, as "agricul- 1475 tural depression." The object of the Royal Commission which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire and his Friends wish to obtain is neither more nor less than to devise some plan by which the payment of rents can be made easy. I say to the hon. Gentleman and his Friends—" By all means, inquire how this can be done, but start upon your investigation with this fact well impressed upon your minds—that the people of these countries will never consent to your providing the landlord with his rents by imposing restrictions of any kind, or to any extent, upon the importation of food in any shape. You will stand alone in your demand for Protection for agricultural produce." In dealing with this matter, the farmers can hardly be looked upon as responsible agents. You can impose impossible rents upon them, and punish them for not paying; but I was glad to see that, at a meeting of farmers held in London, on Wednesday, a gentleman, who wanted to dilate on Protection, could not even get a hearing. Sir, the present question will be cleared of a great deal of misleading ambiguity by a timely recognition of the truth that agricultural depression means inability, in the presence of severe circumstances, to pay high rents. The rent question will become a grave one, more especially in Ireland, where the overwhelming majority of the tenants have agreed to their present rents only under compulsion. They had to choose between accepting the landlord's terms or eviction, which entailed instant ruin; and, naturally, preferred the alternative that, at all events, gave them a chance of surviving till happier times. The circumstances attending the letting of land in Ireland are thoroughly appreciated by the general community, and have begotten a feeling of universal sympathy for the tenant and of aversion to the landlord, who, it is felt, has been exercising an unjust power. This it is that has led, and will lead, to great tenant right meetings in Ireland, and to the use of strong language, as well in denunciating the injustice of which the tenants are the victims as in endeavouring to inspire them with courage for the assertion of their undoubted right. Sir, the real—the only—method of dealing with the agricultural depression is to establish a fair system for the adjustment of rent. The 1476 coalowner, the cotton spinner, the merchants, and the traders of all classes have had to refer disputes involving millions of money—involving the very existence of themselves and their families —to arbitration, and why should the landlord be permitted to say to his tenant—" I shall have what rent I like, or I shall drive you off the land?" Practically speaking, the issue is precisely the same. The farmer wants to retain from the profits of the land as much as will enable him to live; the workman wants to receive from the profits of his business enough for a like purpose. Both landlord and manufacturer strive to take, or to be in a position to take, more than their fair share. The resort to arbitration is supported by a principle whose application is general. One and all admit that a man cannot be trusted to be the judge in his own case, and I am not aware of there being any grounds for concluding that landlords are exempted from the ordinary failings of human nature. That the system of arbitration has only been put in practice under compulsion does not derogate from its excellence. All the constitutional blessings we now enjoy are the result of pressure brought to bear on those who acted as if the world was made for themselves alone. Sir, unless you decide upon a fair system of adjusting rent, the present race of occupiers will be swept away. A temporary remission of 25, 50, or 100 per cent, is only a passing respite. Great difficulties are before us. We must meet them by doing promptly what justice has been long calling upon us to do—that is, to recognize the right of the tenant to the continuous occupation of his land, subject to the payment of a rent to be decided, when necessity arises, by an impartial tribunal. We shall then, Sir, have no need of resorting to the expedients contemplated by hon. Gentlemen opposite; as a protest against which I shall, at the proper time, ask the House to add the words of my Notice to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire.
§ MR. BENTINCK
accepted the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) that he did not advocate a return to Protection; but he could not help saying that a more able and a more powerful speech than the hon. Member's in favour of a 1477 return to protective duties he had never heard. The question of Free Trade now presented itself under new conditions. Formerly, it was discussed under the influence of assertions by Free Traders that all the rest of the world would soon follow their example; but those prophecies had proved singularly unfortunate. Not only had the rest of the world not adopted Free Trade, but protective duties had been steadily on the increase in other countries, and were likely to go on increasing. As a consequence, perhaps, the Free Traders had changed their tone. They had abandoned argument and resorted to assertion and vituperation. They gave it plainly to be understood that those who differed from them were idiots. If, however, Free Traders were right in their opinion, they must put down the greater portion of the population of France, Germany, and the United States as idiots also. The Free Trade policy amounted to this—that England was to give everything, and receive nothing. For his own part, he held that the wealth of a thousand worlds would not suffice to maintain a country which acted upon such a policy. In connection with this question there were several misapprehensions which he wished to clear up. One was that the Anti-Corn Law League aimed at obtaining cheap food for the million. What they really wanted was cheap labour for themselves. There was no greater fallacy on earth than that which was contained in the words "cheap food." It was a fallacy in the sense that it misled the judgment and good sense of the people of this country. There was no such thing as cheap food in the abstract, and taking as the test the price of a pound of beef or a loaf of bread. What constituted cheap food was this—whether the labouring population—the great mass of the people—were or were not in a position to become possessed of that food. A story which he had heard gave point to that remark. It was an Irish labourer, who, coming to Liverpool, was asked to pay a-dozen for eggs. He replied that he could get them for 6d. a-dozen in Ireland. The shopkeeper retorted, " Why don't you go to Ireland and get them, then?" when the Irishman answered, " Sure, and who is to give me the 6d. there?" This reply contained the whole gist of the matter. They 1478 could not attempt to make cheap food by lowering prices, for it was a fallacy to do so. Labour must be paid out of capital; and if they did not do their best to increase the capital of the country, they were not doing their best to better the position of the labouring classes. Another great fallacy lay in the fact that Free Traders always professed to benefit the consumer; whereas, in order to make a country prosperous, it was necessary to benefit the producers, because the producers embraced nine-tenths of the human race, whereas the consumers, apart from the producers, were a very small class in the community, not more, probably, than one-tenth of the whole. Therefore, Free Traders, for the sake of benefiting the one-tenth who produced nothing, starved the other nine-tenths. Another curious fact connected with Free Trade was this. The late Sir Robert Peel gave the Irish Famine as the reason of his sudden conversion to Free Trade. When he repealed the Corn Laws in 1846, he imposed a 5s. duty for three years upon wheat imported into this country, which duty was in force during the whole period of the Famine; whereas, under the old sliding-scale system, wheat would have been imported into Ireland free of duty. It had been one of the great objects of Free Traders to confound protective with prohibitory duties. He was an old Protectionist—he was a Protectionist still, and the longer he lived the more reason he found for believing that the principles he held were right and. sound. But, while he was a Protectionist, he was entirely opposed to prohibitive duties, than which, he believed, nothing could be more ruinous to a country. When the French Treaty was under discussion, in 1860, they were told that Free Trade had achieved a triumph in the conversion of a French Emperor. But the French Emperor really only became a convert from prohibitory to protective duties, and those much higher than any man in his sense ought to advocate. A great change had come over the country lately. Formerly, they were always told that the condemnation of Free Trade doctrines came solely from the rural districts. But now it came from the towns. His hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver), though he refused to admit that he was a Protectionist, had made a forcible 1479 speech in favour of protective duties. One thing, at all events, was clear; they must either have Protection or Free Trade. Partial legislation would not do. We are now mainly dependent on foreign countries for corn; but in the event of a war, say, with the United States, our home resources would be wholly insufficient; whereas, under the old protective system, we always had a supply of corn enough for the consumption of two years, and were put beyond the risk of finding ourselves in a state of actual starvation. It was to be remembered that we lived from hand-to-mouth much more now than formerly, and that there were certain conceivable circumstances in which we might be unable to feed our population. It was evident that protective duties would remedy that defect in our economy. The advocates of Free Trade might jeer at the notion of Reciprocity; but he could quote the opinions of very eminent men, whom no one could afford to despise. Adam Smith had expressly said that there was a case in which it was proper to adopt a policy of Reciprocity,' and that was when a foreign nation restricted, by prohibitory duties, the importation of some of our products. There might be good policy in a retaliation of that kind, where there was a probability of procuring a repeal of the high duties. Besides that opinion of Adam Smith, he would mention another dictum of a great authority, the late Mr. John Stuart Mill, who had said—The country cannot be expected to renounce the power of taxing foreigners, unless foreigners in return will practice the same forbearance. The only mode in which the country can save itself from being a loser by the revenue duties imposed by other countries on its commodities, is to imposes corresponding revenue duties on theirs.One very considerable difficulty told against the advocates of Protection in the present day, and that was the fact that so many men who held influential positions in the country had, to use a plain word, " ratted " on the question. They included in their ranks the present and the late Prime Minister. Now, however easy it might be to induce a man to " rat " once, it was all but impossible to get him to do so twice; and it was a hope, not likely to be justified by the event, that those distinguished men, whose opinions had been so lightly changed in the first instance, might re- 1480 peat the process in their more mature years. He would only add that he trusted the Government would recognize the gravity of the situation, and that he had desired to make his protest against what he believed to be a mischievous system.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
The hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us tells us he is an "old Protectionist." I do not think the House will disagree with his definition of himself; but it is the only part of his speech I am able to agree with, and I am rather astonished that an hon. Member who generally expresses so much confidence in our Navy should be apprehensive that, in case of our being at war, we are likely to be "starved out," as surely this cannot happen unless we lose command of the sea? However, I like an opponent who has the courage of his opinion, and, unlike the Mover of the Motion before the House, the hon. Gentleman tells us outright what he wants, and thinks the only cure for the present state of things is a return to protective duties. Well, Sir, I will not occupy the time of the House discussing a point which the Mover of the Motion himself repudiates. The Motion standing in my name proposes that this Commission, if granted, should inquire into the operation of the laws relating to the entail and settlement of land. In common with many hon. Members on this side of the House, with, I believe, a few hon. Gentlemen opposite, and with many practical agriculturists and writers on political economy, I consider that many of the evils the country districts are suffering from are due to the operation of the Laws of Entail and Settlement. These laws prevent the application of capital to the soil, and, consequently, retard the progress of agriculture, and they prevent estates that would otherwise be sold from coming into the market. Now, Sir, I am making no attack on large estates. I willingly admit that in many such are to be found land admirably farmed—good buildings and well-cared for farm labourers—in fact, if I wanted to find a model of farming, I should be inclined to look for it in an estate where the landlord made all the permanent improvements, and left his tenant his capital for all the purposes of high modern farming. But how many large estates do we not all know where a different state of things prevails, where, from various circumstances arising 1481 out of the Law of Entail, the landlord is not able to do justice to his property? Take the case, so often referred to, of a limited owner with an encumbered estate and a large family. If a tenant ask for repairs his landlord tells him—"I have done enough for my next heir; you must just work away as best you can." Hence the tumble-down buildings, the undrained fields, and the miserable hovels for labourers, which have brought discredit on so many entailed properties. Sir, I maintain that it is by removing these grievances that landowners who are rich enough to enjoy the luxury of land are likely to strengthen their position. There is no class more interested in reforming the Land Laws than landlords themselves. Another aspect I would ask them to look at this question from is this—would it not be an advantage to have more landed proprietors? Land is confined to a class numerically small. In Scotland, certainly politically weak, and in England under an extended county franchise not likely to be very strong, we hear constantly, with a certain amount of truth, that there is a desire to throw burdens on land. Would it not be an advantage to have more proprietors to defend the land from these burdens? In the county I have the honour to represent (Banffshire), there are only 36 owners of land of over 50 acres, although the county contains 407,000 acres. Speaking as a proprietor, I should be glad to see that number trebled or quadrupled. I shall, no doubt, be told that if land came into the market it would be bought up by some great local magnate. In some cases, no doubt, that would be so; but, at the same time, land having no special sporting or residential attraction, if put in the market in lots of 200 or 300 acres for agricultural purposes in many parts of the country, would readily find purchasers. I therefore maintain that the alteration of the law, while it will not injuriously affect those who wish to keep their land, is calculated to produce an increased number of proprietors. I am not for a moment advocating the system of peasant proprietors, as I think it alike unattainable and undesirable. We have been told by Mr. John Stuart Mill that sales by the rich to the rich are of comparatively small importance; but what I want to promote are sales by the poor landlord to the rich man. Legis- 1482 lation which promotes this must be beneficial to the land. The more marketable you make land the better for everyone connected with it. I know it is not entails and settlements alone that render land unsaleable; it is the expense of conveyancing and the uncertainty as to what it may cost and the time it may take to complete a title that prevents men of ordinary means from purchasing land; but the land must be freed from entail and settlement before it can come into the market. Now, I want to know in whose behalf these entails are made? They certainly do not benefit the limited owner. If we are to judge by resolutions of agricultural associations, they are certainly unpopular with the farmer. They do not meet with approval from the general public. Then whom do they benefit? Why, Sir, the lawyers, and, as far as I can make out, no other human being. An interesting work, no doubt well known to many hon. Gentlemen, entitled the The Reign of Law, has been written by one of our leading Liberal statesmen. A work bearing a similar title, and showing how everyone connected with land is governed by his lawyer, would be equally instructive, and yet remains to be written. Now, Sir, I am not going to be so rash as to attack the learned Profession, I am only condemning a system which has formed the theme of much eloquent declamation on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), and other eminent learned Gentlemen in this House. In 1872 there was a debate on the entail and settlement of land on the Motion of Mr. W. Fowler, then Member for Cambridge, and Mr. Wren Hoskyns, well known for many years in this House, expressed himself in these terms—As to the efforts to facilitate the transfer of land, they were necessarily fruitless as long as land was rendered an untransferable article by 60, 70, or possibly 90 years' old charges, which had to be thoroughly examined prior to a transfer. Lawyers seemed to regard land as if its only use was for settlements and entails, just as Mr. Robert Sawyer in Pickwick could never see a well-turned arm or handsome leg but he looked on it in the light of a subject for amputation."—[3 Hansard, ccx. 1016.]And this state of things, Sir, still continues. Lawyers live upon we unfortunate landowners, with charges for title deeds, uselessly long drawn leases, improvement bonds, drainage rent charges; 1483 they fatten upon all these during our lifetime, and after our death they squabble over settlements they themselves have made, and half ruining our successors with executory charges. A. Committee has been sitting to inquire into the system of registration of land, and they have been peering into what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) has happily termed a " mausoleum of parchments." Until land is freed from the power of being settled beyond the lives-in-being, it will never become a marketable commodity. The hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) is moving for a Royal Commission to inquire into the depressed condition of agriculture. Would it not be well to pay some attention to the Reports of previous inquiries into rural affairs before seeking for fresh information? Now, in the Library are to be found the Reports of the Commissioners and sub-Commissioners appointed to inquire into the condition of agricultural labourers. They were unanimous in attributing the bad condition of labourers' dwellings to the strict Law of Entail and Settlement. Mr. Culley says—It is too evident that the great cottage difficulty is the poverty of the landowning class, the proprietors of heavily burdened estates who, in the present state of the law, are unable adequately to discharge the duties of ownership, either to their estates or to the public.The Report teems with similar passages. I will not trouble the House by reading; but if, in 1870, in the opinion of Mr. Culley, the owners of land were not able to do their duty to their estates, are they likely to be able to perform that duty better now? What is to happen to owners of comparatively small estates then? These properties are already heavily burdened. Farms are thrown on their hands; they have no power of raising money to stock them. Is the owner to adopt the words of the nobleman who, in the days of rotten boroughs, inquired, " have I not a right to do what I will with my own," shut up his house, lock his door, and allow his land to lie fallow? Do not hon. Gentlemen opposite think that if this is to be done on a large scale, it will be likely to raise questions about land that most of us would be glad to see lie dormant during our time? And I maintain. Sir, that the policy under such circumstances is to be wise in time, and give to limited owners a greater 1484 power of managing their estates, or you will have, as Lord Derby predicted, an Encumbered Estates Court for other parts of the Kingdom besides Ireland. It is useless hon. Members coming down here and assuring us that land in England is generally well-managed, when we have such Reports as that of the Lords' Committee in 1873, signed by the Duke of Richmond, Lord Salisbury, Lord Egerton of Tatton, and other large owners, assuring us that out of 20,000,000 acres of land only 3,000,000 is properly drained. We have the testimony of Mr. Caird and other high authorities, and my own limited experience as a landlord for the last 25 years certainly bears it out, that no improvement pays better than well-executed drainage. Have not the general public an interest in inquiring why is land so mismanaged? I attribute this entirely to want of capital, brought about by the operation of the Law of Entail. In this House are many hon. Gentlemen connected with business. Let me ask any of them, be they bankers, merchants, shipowners, or railway directors, how would their business get on if they were told—" There is your income, you must conduct your business on that; but not one shilling of your capital shall you touch; that is to be reserved for your great-grandson; " do hon. Gentlemen think their business would be very profitable? Yet that is the position you put limited owners in. The folly of this system has been seen for many generations. A hundred years ago, Mr. Burke writes—Agriculture will not attain any degree of perfection till commercial principles be applied to it; or, in other words, till country gentlemen are convinced that the expenditure of a small portion of capital on land is the true secret of securing a larger capital by insuring increased returns.I think, therefore, Sir, I am borne out by some high authorities in attributing the want of the application of capital to the soil to the operation of the Law of Entail. I may be told that money can be borrowed from improvement companies; but as long as those companies that lent the money paid a dividend of 10 per cent, was that likely to be an economical transaction for the borrowers? If we are to have this Royal Commission, it should certainly inquire into this branch of the subject. When the question of entail was before Parliament in 1872, 1485 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, then. Prime Minister, said—I heartily concur in the opinion . . . . that the entire subject of the laws of entail, settlement, and limited ownership, does demand the early and serious consideration of Parliament." —[3 Hansard, ccx. 1027-8.]Her Majesty's Government refused to grant the Commission when it was asked for by the Marquess of Huntly in " another place; " but I hope, Sir, that ardent desire to act consistently, which has so marked the character of the Government, both in their home and foreign policy, will not prevent them from granting it now; and if it is to be appointed, its time cannot be better occupied than by inquiring into the operation of our Land Laws; and in begging hon. Gentlemen to include the subject in their inquiry, I would ask them not to resist the Motion in the spirit they have so often resisted measures for their own advantage when pressed on them from this side of the House. I invite them to assist in making the laws relating to land to conform more to the requirements of modern agriculture and the spirit of the age we live in. Under entails and settlements is licked up the capital that might enable a landlord to assist many a farmer out of his present difficulties, and enormously increase the production of the land, to the benefit of the whole people of this country.
§ MR. CLARE READ
Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Agricultural Holdings Act, and on that occasion I supported him to the best of my ability. I then said that, in my opinion, if the larger question as to agricultural distress were to be considered, it had better be considered by a Royal Commission, and not by a Select Committee. I may state that I am still of that opinion, and I can assure the House that the same opinion is entertained by the country out-of-doors. The truth is that the public have lost faith in the way in which the Business of this House is conducted, and they imagine that if a question like this is sent before a Committee of the House there will be the same flood of talk there that is found in this Assembly and, consequently, the same obstruction to Business. Now, Sir, hon. Gentlemen will probably say that if you appoint a 1486 Royal Commission the subject will be shelved for a very long time. But it must be shelved under any circumstances till next year, even if it is remitted to a Committee of this House; but I apprehend that a Royal Commission could at once be appointed, so that it may commence its inquiry during the Recess, and if it has not time to go through the whole of its inquiry before it thinks it right to make a final Report, it can make Reports from time to time as it may deem fit. For my own part, I may say that having sat on one Royal Commission, as well as on several Committees of the House of Commons, I should infinitely prefer an inquiry into this subject by means of a Royal Commission, because in the case of such a body you get somewhat above mere Party lines; whereas it is impossible, in the case of a Committee of the House of Commons, altogether to escape the imputation of Party politics. Before I address myself to the main points on which I desire to say a few words to the House, I wish to make a remark in reference to what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Banff (Mr. R. W. Duff), who has just spoken. I think there is this to be said about the Law of Entail — that whereas there can be no doubt that it has the effect of keeping large properties together, it also, in some measure, preserves a large number of little estates which would otherwise be swallowed up. Many small owners throughout the whole of England are desirous of entailing their estates as if they were Dukes and Lords. I know it is the case in regard to a number of small estates which I could mention that if it were not for the Law of Entail they would very soon be sold. [An [An hon. MEMBER: Very good.] Yes; and I say very good, too. But by whom would they be bought? Why, by the next great proprietor, or some leviathan capitalist. For my part, I am willing to admit that I think very large estates are a burden—an actual burden—to the owners, and no particular advantage to the public; but, on the other hand, I know that there are a great many large entailed estates that are particularly well managed, and that are farmed much better than a quantity of small estates that are in the hands of owners, and I contend that those estates produce more food upon the whole than some of the small estates. Now, Sir, the point to which I desire to direct the at- 1487 tention of the House is a practical question with regard to this inquiry; and I would say, although I have not heard much of it to-night, that the almost invariable burden of the song outside the House is this—that in order to meet these bad times we ought to double the produce of the country. On this point I state, without the slightest hesitation, that with our present knowledge of agriculture and chemistry that is altogether and entirely impossible. I do not say this on my own experience only. I would quote from a very able pamphlet recently written by a great chemist—Mr. Lawes —probably the best practical chemist and the most patient inquirer and investigator into agricultural facts of any man living. The pamphlet from which desire to quote is entitled—Is Higher Farming the Remedy for Lower Prices? And this question he distinctly answers in these words —" Higher farming can only be profitable when the price of produce rises and not when it falls." Well, Sir, I know the House of Commons is not a Farmers' Club; but I believe that, whenever it does condescend to have an agricultural discussion, it is always willing to hear a few facts and details that are drawn from actual experience, rather than theories and arguments that have no such foundation. I do not like to talk "shop" on such an occasion; but I do hope that you will allow me to bring forward some facts and experiences of my own. With regard to the operation of high farming —that is to say, the application of a larger quantity of manure to the land, the same high authority, Mr. Lawes, says—" Beyond a certain point the increase of the crop is not in proportion to the increase of the manure supplied." I am quite sure of this; but I would go even further than Mr. Lawes, and say that whereas the first ton of manure you apply to the soil will in all probability do a great deal of good, it very often happens that the last ton of manure you apply does a vast deal more harm than it does good. You cannot tell what sort of weather you are going to have, and the manure that may give a good crop in one year would very possibly do damage in another year. There are thousands of acres of land in Norfolk at the present moment that in consequence of the absence of sun are a great deal too highly farmed—that is to say, that the growth of barley has been stimulated to such a 1488 degree by the immense amount of moisture we have had, that instead of standing up it is lying on the ground under the influence of the first heavy shower it receives. The next point to which I would refer you is this—that the maximum of fertility, especially in the ordinary soils, is very soon reached; but there is very considerable difficulty in maintaining that maximum. Now, I happen to have two farms. One of those farms has been farmed well for generations; and although on that farm I certainly grow more acres of corn and keep a good deal more stock than my predecessors, I have the greatest difficulty in augmenting the yield per acre. On the other farm which I took some years ago, when it was in a most dreadful state of filth and poverty, although I drained it and steam-cultivated it and manured it very heavily, I have not been able to increase the production more than 50 per cent, and I believe that if, during the last four years, you were to substract from that increased produce the amount of manure and the feeding stuffs I have used on the farm, I have hardly increased the produce at all. Now, Sir, let me turn to the hindrances to the application of capital, particularly in the cultivation of the soil. This is a point that I have mentioned on several occasions in this House, and I do not wish to say much about it to-night; but, at the same time, I may repeat the opinion I have previously expressed with regard to those hindrances, that they ought to be removed. I maintain that opinion still, and I shall always be ready to maintain it on future occasions. But might I venture to quote my own experience, where no hindrances of any kind exist? I pay for my farms what may be called a very moderate rent—some persons might even call it a very cheap rent; but I do not at all believe in cheap rents in these times. However, I cannot say that I am at all over-rented, and I would remark that I have in one case the most ample security, and in the other the most perfect faith in my landlady. I am not troubled with ground game, but have plenty of partridges; if I want buildings, I can get all I want by paying 5 per cent; I have the most absolute freedom of cropping; and I may add that I treat the land precisely as if it were my own. But if it were really my own, there would be this dif- 1489 ference—that whereas I now pay the owners something like 3 per cent, and they have to pay the outgoings and keep the buildings in repair, if the land were my own property I should certainly want 4 per cent, and I should also have to pay all these outgoings and keep the buildings in repair. Therefore, I am quite contented with my position, and I do not want to invest in land even if I had the means. I do not like to parade my losses before the House, for I shall most likely be taunted by someone who will say that I come to the House to attend to other people's business, and neglect my own farm. There may be some truth in this, and in the further remark that it may injure my credit at my bankers, where I may want to overdraw my account before the harvest. But I must add that, during the last four years, notwithstanding that I have done all I could to grow good crops, and have spared nothing in the way of expenditure—because I have £15 per acre invested in the land, and considering that I am put to no expense in regard to fixed machinery, and that I have no pedigree stock or prize carthorses, I think that is ample—yet, notwithstanding all this, I have, somehow or other—I will not call it—lost; but, at any rate, the balance is £2,000 against me during that period. I have said I would not call this lost. Farmers never think the money they spend on their farms lost—they say it is in the land, and it will all come back—and, for my own part, I hope I shall find it; but I do not expect it. Well, Sir, we are told there is another remedy for the present low prices, and that is that we should keep more stock. But if you keep more stock on arable land, it means that you must provide them with a large quantity of artificial food, and its consumption on arable land very seldom pays. Indeed, it hardly ever pays when you winter graze bullocks; and, as a rule, we find that at least one-fourth of the artificial food must be charged on the increased value of the manure, and we look for the profit in the increase of the corn produced. If the corn crops do not pay, and the beasts do not pay, it must he altogether a losing business. Another thing that we are often told is that we must drain the land. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Banff (Mr. R. W. Duff) has quoted figures which he says 1490 are from the Lords' Report on this matter; but I think it is simply the opinion given by Mr. Bailey Denton.
§ MR. CLARE READ
Then that Report is, I fear, monstrously wrong. Twenty millions of acres of land un-drained ! Where are they, I should like to know? Are they in England or Wales, or does the calculation include Scotland? Only 3,000,000 acres drained, and 20,000,000 still requiring draining in this Kingdom!
§ MR. CLARE READ
They were not drained by Mr. Bailey Denton—that is what you mean. They are not drained by the Government money, or by those, different drainage companies we have heard about. That is what is meant by some of these witnesses by land not being properly drained. I confess I am quite staggered by these figures. Why, how many acres of land are there under cultivation and how many under grass in the United Kingdom?
§ MR. CLARE READ
Well, Sir, I think it is 32,000,000. Is not half the land in England light land that never has been drained, and that will never want draining?
§ MR. CLARE READ
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look at the Agricultural Returns, which show the total acreage in crops, bare-fallow, and grass, in Great Britain, which is, I say, in gross, barely 32,000,000 acres, or, in exact numbers, 31,854,532 acres. As to the advantages of drainage I should be the last to deny them; but I would add, let hon. Members go to Kilburn and see what are the advantages that have been derived from drainage there. That land has been perfectly drained, and that only very recently, and yet it is a perfect quagmire. Therefore, when you tell me that the panacea for the present distressed state of agriculture is to be found in the drainage of the land, I reply that in a season like this drainage is of comparative little use. If I may be permitted once more to refer to my own experience, I may say I had a field last year that had been perfectly drained. It had been steam cultivated in the autumn, folded in the winter, was topped 1491 dressed and sown with barley; but in consequence of the cold weather and the immense quantity of wet we had last year, I grew the astonishing amount of 2½ quarters per acre upon it. It was damaged by the wet harvest, and offering it for sale I was bid per quarter for it. Well, I would not take that; so I gave it to the bullocks, and as the bullocks did not pay I lost everything. And now, Sir, I come to the question of rents. We have been told that rents are too high, and in a great many instances this is correct. Rents are too high in certain districts; and in the great majority of instances where they have been recently raised they ought to, and eventually will, come down. In the case of those noblemen and gentlemen who have recently employed professional aid in having their estates re-valued, and who have taken advantage of the improvements of the tenants, I do not doubt that the rents are too high, and I should be glad to see them reduced. But it ought to be recollected, in reference to this subject, how small a proportion the rent under high farming bears to the other outgoings. It used to be said, in the olden time, that if a tenant only made three rents he was pretty well off; but I maintain that if on arable land a high farmer does not turn over five rents he cannot live. You have your rates, your tithes, and your taxes, which are at least one-fourth of the rental, and then you have your labour on your arable land, which I am sorry to say sometimes come to 50 per cent above the rent of that land; and if I might diverge from the point one moment I would say how cheerfully I pay the advance that has taken place in wages, but, at the same time, how bad and how small in quantity is the work I get for the money. Whereas, during the last nine months, we farmers have been at our wits' end to find employment for our people, and have been keeping them on when they have not been earning 1s. a-day, I shall not be surprised when the busy time does come—and it will be a busy time when the sun thinks proper to shine—I shall not be at all surprised, not only that they will not put out their full strength, but if some of them were to strike. Well, Sir, we have also to provide manures and feeding stuffs, and these are quite equal to the rental, and sometimes more than equal. If you 1492 cannot reduce your outgoings in proportion—if you were to take 20 per cent off the rent—there would still remain the other four-fifths, the loss on which would still fall on the tenant. Now, then, I come to what I must call the great delusion that exists as to doubling the produce. Why, Sir, you might just as well say that because I have a horse that can trot 10 miles an hour I can make him go 20. It is a total impossibility. If you were to apply the idea to France or America, there might be some truth in it. We grow twice the yield of France and three times that of America. When we come to find an authority for this assertion as to doubling our production, we see that Lord Derby once made that foolish statement; but I think I am right in saying that Lord Derby is about as much an authority on agriculture as I should be on foreign affairs. The other day, when he made a speech at a meeting of Lancashire farmers, in Liverpool, he did not repeat that statement. The truth is that he was such a thorough going wet blanket that he could not even give them that bit of encouragement; doubtless he had been told something about the impossibility of the thing. But there is one man whose opinion on agricultural matters I greatly value, and who has been taxed with having made this statement; I refer to the Lord Lieutenant of my own county, the Earl of Leicester. Among all the goodly array of aristocratic agriculturists we have in this country, he is the best practical farmer that I have ever known, and I do not believe he ever made that statement; but if he did I do not think his Lordship meant to apply the observation in the extended manner in which people have taken it. If he did, I would ask him how it comes to pass, if the produce can be doubled, that he does not grow more corn per acre than his late father? The Holkham estate is probably the best farmed estate in the Kingdom. If there is a better farmed estate I will ask pardon for my assertion, but I do not know where it is to be found, and I know that it is as well and perhaps better farmed than most others with which I am acquainted. I do not believe there has been any increase lately in the production per acre on that estate. Infact, I will venture to say that if you will take the produce of the Holkham estate for the last 10 years and then go back 1493 to the last 10 years during which it was farmed under the great Coke of Holkham, I believe the advantage would be found to be greatly in favour of the old rather than of the new farming. Now, Sir, there was Mr. Hudson, of Castleacre, who was the best tiller of the soil I ever knew; and in the year 1847, or somewhere about that period, Mr. Caird, as special commissioner of The Times, visited Castleacre, and reported generally on the system of Norfolk farming then in vogue. Well, 20 years after that Mr. Caird visited Castleacre again, and I remember the question being asked by him—" Now," he said to Mr. Hudson" What have you been able to do during the last 20 years. How much have you increased your produce? " I ought here to say that I think Mr. Hudson had, during the greater part of his life, spent no less than £70,000 in artificial food for stock; and he replied— " I have not been able to increase my produce of barley at all; but I have diminished its quality; "—that is to say, he grew a worse sample than before — and he added—" All I have been able to do is to increase the quantity of my wheat to the extent of two bushels per acre." Now, there are many gentlemen who have great faith in Mr. Mechi. Well, what has he done, after having farmed the Tiptree Hall estate so well for all these years, to increase the produce of the soil? I believe I am correct in saying that before Mr. Mechi took that farm the average growth of wheat was something like 30 bushels per acre. Mr. Mechi has loudly proclaimed what he grew in 1868 and 1870, two of the most notable wheat years we have had within the last generation—years, by the bye, which suited the clay land of Essex, but which burnt up the roots and grass and spring corn of Norfolk. Well, I think Mr. Mechi's recent experience is that he grows about 4½ quarters per acre; and after all he has done and expended I do not believe that if his estate of Tiptree were put into the market to-morrow it would realize one quarter of the money that has been spent upon it beyond the natural value of the land—and I am quite certain of this—that if Mr. Mechi were to ask me or any farmer to go over it and fix the amount of rental to be put upon it, I should say that a very fair rent would be 25s. per acre. I will just trouble the House with 1494 one other quotation, and that is from a gentleman, Mr. Beare, who, the other day, wrote in The Nineteenth Century a very able article. Well, what did he say? Why, that if you would take away all the legal impediments to the investment of capital in the soil, he was positive that in 10 years the increase would be 50 per cent. Now, this gentleman has been an Essex farmer, and he retired from farming only last year in order to find more general employment in editing newspapers, and work of that kind. If Mr. Beare is so sure of this, he should go into the County of Essex at the present moment, and there he would hear of hundreds and thousands of acres of land to let at almost any price the tenant may please to offer, and on almost any terms he likes. There is, however, another point on which I would, in continuation, say something. Indeed, I should like to dwell on the point. We have been told by many people that the produce of this Island ought to maintain all the inhabitants ! Why, Sir, what utter rubbish! I quite agree with my hon. Friend who spoke from this part of the House a short time ago, and who said that "The British Empire" could maintain all its population, and I should be very glad if it were to do so, as I think it would be a good thing if we were to depend more on our own Colonies and less on foreigners for the grain and other produce we consume. But for anyone to tell us that high farming is able to maintain all the population of this country out of the produce of our own soil is to put before us what is a complete delusion. I will endeavour to explain what I mean. If we were to grow more wheat, and if we were to produce a larger quantity of meat, we might possibly feed the people with bread and flesh; but how are we to do this? There are only two ways that I can suggest. I am willing to admit that if you drain your land and have proper tillage so as to keep it clean, that is the way to farm; but I do not call it high farming. It is good farming, what we ought to expect and nothing more, but not high farming. There are only two ways in which you can greatly increase the produce of the land—one is, by the direct application of manures; and the other, by keeping more stock and purchasing food for them. But where is 1495 the manure to come from? We have certainly plenty of coprolites in this country, and, in all probability, our phosphates will not be exhausted yet awhile; but our supplies of nitrogen and ammonia must come from abroad. And, then, where is our feeding stuff to come from? Why, hon. Members know very well that linseed, maize, and other articles required for such food are not grown in this country, but abroad; and, therefore, although I cordially admit that if you could by any possibility import the raw material and manufacture food here, if you could have the manures we require sent hither at a reasonable price, without thinking of the Peruvian bondholders, so that we might have our guano and our nitrate of soda cheaper—in short, if we could have cheap manure and plenty of feeding stuffs, and could manufacture our beef and bread here, that would be a good and a great thing for this country. Yet, on the other hand, I do say that we must still import the raw material from abroad. Well, Sir, we are frequently told that in the agricultural dictionary there should be no such word as " impossible." I quite agree with that; but there is another word which has exactly the same meaning on this subject, and that is the word "unprofitable." And when we are told of the hindrances to the application of capital to land, I say that the great and chief hindrance is because the application of that capital to the land will not pay. The agricultural distress that prevails in the country is, I think, now pretty generally acknowledged; even the towns admit that we are not so happy and prosperous as some people imagine we are. The editor of The Statist, as we are told by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid - Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), admits the loss of the farmers on the produce of the past year to have been £58,000,000 on a farm capital of £667,000,000; but there is a remarkable fallacy in this calculation, which I should like to point out to the House. He puts the capital of the tenant farmers at £667,000,000, which is £14 per acre. I think that that is nearly double what the capital really is. If he had put it at £7, or, at the most, at £8 per acre, he would have been much nearer the mark. If this loss of £58,000,000 is a loss of 8 per cent on the imaginary capital of the farmer at £14 per acre, 1496 and that loss fell on the real capital of the farmer, instead of being 8 per cent, it would be more than 15 per cent, and I fear that this exactly tallies with what has really happened. The cultivators of strong arable land during the past four years have lost on an average £1 per acre, and, consequently, their capital is reduced one-half. I would ask, where is this distress most prevalent? It is to be found chiefly on the heavy lands of the Midlands, and it is also very great in all corn-growing districts where clay lands prevail. Again, it is in the best-farmed districts of England—and I speak with diffidence before hon. Gentlemen who represent well - farmed counties—in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, that there is the greatest cry of distress. Consequently, I contend that it is the go-a-head men who have spent most who have lost most; on the other hand, it is the plodding, careful farmer, who has relied on the natural fertility of the land, who has lost the least. There are the occupiers of grass lands; I do not think they took much harm until last year. Those who have been able to rear stock must have had a small mine of wealth. Then there is the case of the small farmer. I am glad to say that he has not suffered to the same extent as others, and it is very easy to say why. In order that the small farmer should be able to make a living, for many years past he has been obliged to do the work of two labourers and live at the expense of one. He does not feel the great—probably the greatest—drawback of agriculture, which is the increase of the cost of labour. He works harder, and perhaps he lives harder, than formerly; but he does not feel the depression in the same way as the large farmer. I wish there were more small farmers—I believe in them; but I do not think the hon. Gentlemen have any idea of the immense cost it is to the landlord to have to provide the buildings required by the small farmers. Only on Monday last I was asked to look at a small farm I next my own parish, and I found that simply to renew the cow-house and pig-stye would cost fully three years' rent. There was a statement in The Times of a few days ago, which came from East Anglia, and which gave a most graphic and accurate illustration of the losses sustained on a largo arable farm; and Lord Norton, on the following day, wrote 1497 a letter in reply, saying he thought the account must be exaggerated. It is very hard to convince some landlords that there has been any loss at all, especially so when it has been a large one; but I believe that the letter I have referred to contains a perfectly fair statement. It relates to heavy land that will not carry sheep in winter, and which did not grow barley. That sort of land has been very hardly hit. We have had agricultural distress in this country over and over again; but we have never had such a period of distress as is now prevalent. It had become a motto that the period of agricultural distress has in former days been a period of agricultural abundance; but it is not so now. We have had four bad harvests together, and we have had falling prices; and one hon. Gentleman says that these coincidences will not return again. On the other hand, I have not the slightest doubt that bad seasons will return again, and that with bad seasons will come depression in our trade and manufactures, because bad harvests must exhaust the resources of the country, and when they occur we shall have a recurrence of these bad prices. Perhaps, Sir, I may be allowed to say a word or two, before I resume my seat, on the farming of the future. I have not the slightest doubt that if our present financial system is continued—whether we have good crops or bad ones—a very large quantity of arable land in this Kingdom will be farmed at a loss, on account of the increased cost of cultivation. The very light land and the very heavy land must certainly go down in grass. These kinds of land were in grass before the days of the Great War, and were only broken up on account of the high price of wheat. In my day, sheep-walks, downs, and rabbit warrens have been ploughed. They never ought to have been broken up, and the sooner they go down in grass again the better. With regard to what will happen during the first 10 years when they are in grass I will not offer an opinion; but I hope that with liberal landlords and enterprizing tenants much may be accomplished. I believe that in the question of the production of milk there is a great future in store for the farmer. I think that we in this country night consume 10 times the quantity of milk we now consume. In many of our large towns there are thousands of 1498 children who never taste milk; and I believe if you could only get 6d. a-gallon for the milk that can be produced on a farm in the summer, and 8d. a-gallon in the winter, that would pay the farmer better than grazing bullocks. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey) has stated, in the lucid, fair, and interesting speech in which he seconded the Resolution before the House, a large quantity of land might be devoted to the growth of vegetables and fruit; but if you were to add 10,000 or 20,000 acres to the land already so cultivated, you would make a very considerable accession; and if you were to add more it might not pay. Deep friable arable lands that will grow roots and barley, and carry sheep, may, I believe, still pay in tillage. May I be allowed to say a word on the malt tax? My hon. Friend adverted to that topic for a brief space, and he was hailed by a sort of derisive laughter from hon. Gentlemen opposite; but let me tell those hon. Gentlemen that it was Cobden who advocated the repeal of the malt duties; and it was Lord John Russell who said that if he repealed the corn laws he would also repeal the malt tax, but he somehow forgot it. Cobden certainly prepared a Budget in which he proposed to repeal many Excise duties, all of which are repealed except the malt duty, which is still kept on, even with the 10 per cent that was added to it in a time of financial adversity. In the case of sugar, because that is a foreign product, there are many advantages given to it in brewing that are denied to malt. Just let us consider for a moment the way in which the farm labourer is treated with respect to malt and beer. Any man who drinks beer in this country has to pay a certain amount of tax; but the moment the beer or malt goes abroad the whole of the duty is returned. Take the case of Portugal. The people of Portugal come to this country and ask us to reduce the wine duty, and, at the same time, they are imposing a duty of 100 per cent on our beer. The labourers in the Portuguese vineyards drink the wine without any tax at all, while we have to supply our labourers at harvest in this country with beer—and they must either have beer or money—and in the end it is the same thing, because the money is spent in beer—the moment we gather in an acre 1499 of barley we have to pay a proportion of the malt tax. Well, Sir, I believe in my heart that if the present depression continues, we shall, in the end, become a great pastoral rather than an arable country, a state of things that will very much diminish the population of the rural districts, whom I am sure we can ill afford to spare, as I think the towns are greatly indebted to the country for sending in fresh blood. I should not wonder that, in becoming a pastoral country like Holland, we shall become like Holland in another respect—we shall become, probably, the bankers and traders and carriers of the world, rather than its great producers. Sir, I have dilated at greater length than I had intended upon what is mainly one branch of the subject which I wish to see investigated by the loyal Commission. I should be glad to prove my case before them, as well as a dozen other matters that ought to be inquired into by that Commission. In conclusion, I have only to thank the House most sincerely for the great indulgence it has extended to me during a much longer time than I had any idea of occupying. I will only add that I trust Her Majesty's Government will grant the Commission that is asked for; and I would repeat to them, in the language of the present Prime Minister in an address to the electors of Buckinghamshire in 1852—We ask for an inquiry into these remedial measures which a great productive interest, suffering from unequal taxation, has a right to expect from a just Government.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
Sir, I cannot expect that in the observations which I have to make there will be much to interest hon. Gentlemen opposite, as they have been interested by the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. But I can promise them one thing—that I shall not go into minute details with regard to the manufacturers of Lancashire, still less with regard to any particular concern with which I myself may be connected. If all the hon. Members in this House connected with various trades in the country were to occupy three-quarters of an hour each by discussing the facts of their own trade, I really know not how Parliament would proceed with its legislative functions with any rapidity or success. I made an observation to my hon. Friend sitting near me, when the hon. Gentleman the 1500 Member for South Norfolk was nearing the end of his speech, to the effect that the hon. Member seemed to be telling us everything about farming, but nothing about the Commission; and it was only, I believe, in the last sentence or two of his remarks that he turned round to the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and made a slight observation with regard to the Commission, which he hoped the Government would not refuse. Now, I do not rise for the purpose of urging the Government to refuse it; but I shall take the opportunity of making some observations upon the question which the Motion of the hon. Member opposite has submitted to the House. His proposition carries us back for a long distance —in fact, further back, I think, than our Parliamentary remembrance will enable any of us to reach; for he takes us back to the period which passed between the year 1815 and the year 1846. Since 1846—and this is a thing to be remembered by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and by those who are suspecting the wisdom of the policy of 1846—since that year until to-night, there has been no proposition, I believe, made to Parliament in favour of a Commission or Committee to inquire into agricultural distress. In the period which passed between 1815, when your old friend Protection was established, until the year when it was abolished, there were at least five Parliamentary Committees to inquire into the distressed condition of agriculture in this country. In 1821 there was an inquiry; 1820 was a disastrous year, and there were Petitions presented to Parliament. In 1822 there was an inquiry; in 1833 there was a Committee; and another in 1836. All these were Committees of this House; and in 1837 there was a Committee on the same subject in the House of Lords. Now, I must remind the House of this fact, that the two last Committees—the Commons' Committee of 1836, and the Lords' Committee of 1837—only reported the evidence. They expressed no opinion upon it. They gave no counsel as to the course which Parliament should pursue. The Committee of 1833 did make a Report of considerable length, and which had in it expressions just such as we all find when country gentlemen had to say something that is necessary to be said to the farmers. This 1501 is one of the observations made by the Committee. You will see how accurate it is, and how near they keep to the truth. They say—The agriculture of the United Kingdom is the first of all its concerns, and the foundation of all its prosperity.["Hear, hear!"] Exactly. Hon. Gentlemen opposite agree with that. So do I, and, no doubt, so will the farmers. But what nearer are you to the success of agriculture by expressions of that kind? And then they go on to quote Mr. Burke. Well, Mr. Burke is quoted very often, and very wisely. He is a man who has left much to be remembered. He said—It is a perilous thing to experiment on the farmers, whose capital is far more feeble than is commonly imagined.Well, Burke had not in his mind's eye as clearly as I have the many long years during which this House, through its great landlord majority, has experimented on the farmers. Now, I will take the Committee of 1836. It was a very large Committee. There were no less than 36 Members of this House upon it; and on looking over the names I suppose that what you call all the Members of weight and influence in the House were upon it. As far as I can find, Lord Eversley and Lord Grey are probably the only men living who, as Members of this House, served upon that Committee. They had before them as the very first witness Mr. Jacob, the Controller of Foreign Returns, and he said what the hon. Gentleman has referred to with perfect truth, that in the years 1833, 1834, and 1835, the harvests were above the average, and therefore there were low prices. Well, men might now come to a sort of conclusion of the same kind—that the years 1877, 1878, and 1879, have been disastrous years, years of bad seasons, and, therefore, of bad crops. That is the only and final explanation, and the only final result to which the Commission of the hon. Member, if it be appointed, can come. Now, Mr. Jacob told the Committee that the product of wheat in this country was about 1,000,000 quarters per annum less than the consumption, and, therefore, that it was necessary to receive, and that we did generally receive, something like 1,000,000 quarters from abroad. But he said that the consump- 1502 tion of wheat in relation to the population was constantly declining, and it was proved, he said, by one particular circumstance among others, which was that there was such a great increase in the growth of potatoes; and he said he believed that in England, or in England and Wales, there were at least 2,000,000 of population whose entire food, or nearly so, was potatoes. Before that Committee was a large farmer named Brickwell, farming about 700 acres somewhere in Buckinghamshire. He said that at Christmas, 1835, he had sold his wheat at 4d. 6s. per bushel. Well, that would be 5s. or 6s. per quarter less than the present price of wheat; and he or the next witness complained that considerable quantities of wheat were sent over from Ireland, and, further, that there was actually a suspicion that the Irish, among their other sins, imported wheat without paying duty—in fact, that it was smuggled from Ireland to this country. [" Oh, oh!"] Some hon. Gentlemen seem surprised at that statement; but I think Mr. Jacob said that an officer of the Board of Trade had been actually despatched to Ireland to ascertain if this could be true. Mr. Brickwell said, too, that there was a great influx of pigs from Ireland; that the country was actually glutted with pigs from Ireland; that the roads were positively covered with droves of pigs. Well, it is not Ireland, it is a country a great deal further off, but where there are a great many Irishmen and Englishmen—it is the English-speaking nation at the other side of the Atlantic that is the dread and terror of hon. Gentlemen opposite now. I have said that the last two Committees only reported the evidence—that is, that in all their inquiry no remedy had been discovered—that none that any rational man could accept had been suggested; but they stated one thing which, no doubt, will give pleasure to the House, as it always gives pleasure to me. They said that—Among the numerous difficulties to which agriculture in this country is exposed, and amid the distress which unhappily exists, it appeared to the Committee that the general condition of the agricultural labourer in full employment is better now than at any former period, and his money wages give him a greater command over the necessaries and conveniences of life.Well, at that period—1833—the wages 1503 of the agricultural labourers in Somersetshire, as stated by a witness from that county, were 8s. per week. So that even then, such had been the miserable condition of the labourers before, that they pointed with exultation and delight to his prosperity, with the then prices of corn, and with wages amounting to 8s. per week. I recollect your Prime Minister standing where I am now and fighting for a cause in which he did not believe. ["No, no!"] Well, I have seen a reference by him lately to " musty phrases." I saw your Prime Minister standing here and with great ability submitting your cause; but he never told you he believed in it, and I recollect his striking that box and concluding one of those speeches, which he would now, perhaps, call musty—with which he regaled the House and delighted hon. Gentlemen opposite, on the subject of what he styled " betrayed agriculture " —by resting his whole cause against those free imports, on the effect they would produce on the agricultural labourer. I ask what has been the effect upon the agricultural labourer? You feel, at this moment, that the position of the agricultural labourer is one as to which you can express satisfaction. The hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire so spoke of it. The hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire, and the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, spoke of it in the same tone; and I believe there is not an hon. Member opposite who would wish that the agricultural labourer should go back, by any possible legislation of Parliament, to the condition from which he has been dragged by the influence of Free Trade. Well, at the time these Committees sat, you had for your agriculture protection of the most stringent kind for not less than about 20 years. The last refuge of cowardice, idleness, and greed—which is the protective system—had been tried and failed. The people were driven to potatoes, as your own witness proved, and the farmers were protected to such an extent that they had, to a large degree, impoverished even their customers. The Committees could not come to a conclusion that if they carried Protection higher, or could do something more in the way of lawmaking, they could relieve agriculture, which then clamoured to Parliament for redress. The landowners on the Committee—they were not cotton spinners, nor 1504 members of the Anti-Corn Law League; they were, for the most part, great landed proprietors—were baffled, and unable to offer any suggestion to the House, and Parliament found itself at a dead-lock. All the nostrums of all the quack doctors, and all the simpletons, had been tried and failed. They were found to be so absurd that they were all rejected; and yet, with all that experience, the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire comes to try the same thing again. He comes tonight with a speech which looks continually at Protection as something he greatly admires and desires and supposes to be possible, and which he hopes may come. If he does, I only hope and believe that he will meet with complete disappointment. What is the proposed Commission to do? The last speaker gave us no information on that point. The hon. Member knows a great deal about farming, and, I believe, on his farms the produce could not be doubled; but there are hundreds of farms that do not produce half as much as his do, and, therefore, those, for the most part, might have their production even doubled. What is it hoped the inquiry may lead to, if it be not to Protection? How many landowners are there in this House? Out of the 638 Members there are probably 400 who are landowners, or the sons of landowners. You are a fair tribunal for deciding on questions of land as regards landowners; but as regards tenants it may be another question. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite what it is they have to propose? They have brought this question before the House. We have calamities enough in Lancashire; but I am not here to ask that there should be a Parliamentary inquiry into our troubles. A Petition was presented tonight by one of my Colleagues in the representation of Birmingham, signed by more than 20,000 persons, saying that there is great distress there, and asking the House to make some inquiry. But no Member for Birmingham is moving for a Commission or a Committee. I ask hon. Gentlemen what it is they are going to inquire into, and what they propose to arrive at? I never hear you utter a word in favour of those things which your tenants, many of them I think with much exaggeration, are asking Parliament to grant them. You have no remedy, and you have no sug- 1505 gestion. If I had 400 tenant farmers before me, and asked the question of them, what would they say? I will tell you what they would say. [An hon. MEMBER: Protection.] They would say it was necessary to give them security for their expenditure in improvements, which I rather think Her Majesty's Government at one time wished to give them, but which you compelled them to go back from, and which your resistance would not allow to pass the House. The moment the emasculated Bill passed the House, from the highest to the lowest of you, and the landlords generally throughout the country, the first thing you did was to get rid of the little that was left of the Bill. ["No"] I am surprised that an hon. Gentleman says "No." I thought that it had been proved by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson), when he brought the question before the House. If I were to ask the farmers another question, they would say the question of game was very important to farmers. The hon. Member who spoke last—I observe he always has a good word for the squires, even when he is speaking for the farmers—well, there is an old proverb which expresses that kind of course which, perhaps, I need not quote but the hon. Member restricted his admiration to partridges, of which he wished he might have plenty. But the farmers have always complained of game. [An hon. MEMBER: Never of partridges.] It is only about three years ago I burnt 1,000 letters which I had received about 25 years ago, from farmers in different parts of the country, on the subject of game, and complaining of its ravages; and, at the same time, I moved for a Committee of Inquiry into the operation of the Game Laws. If anybody brings in a Bill to protect farmers from the ravages of game, or to diminish the inducements to preserve it, hon. Gentlemen opposite will come down in numbers, which they could not exceed even if the Constitution were at stake, in order to expel such an odious measure from the floor of Parliament. There is the question of distress or distraint, on which an Amendment is to be moved by the noble Lord who referred to the Law of Hypothec in Scotland, which, as I understand it, is more extended and more unjust than the law of England. I suppose hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that the Bill for 1506 the abolition of hypothec looked a little towards something of the same kind in England; and, therefore, they were always willing to join in rejecting that measure, and it is only just lately that the Bill has passed a second reading. We are coming to a General Election, and it is remarkable how much the views of hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench are modified with regard to some questions of this kind when a General Election is near. Coming to the question of rates, the farmers, you say, do not like paying so many rates, and they complain particularly of the education rate. In my opinion, if a new rate be imposed during a tenancy, it would only be honourable and fair that the landlord and tenant, if they could so agree, should divide the rate between them. You have transferred £2,000,000 of charges from the rates to the Consolidated Fund, and probably more than one-half goes to the towns, and less than one-half to the farmers of England and Wales; and Lord Derby has told the farmers where the relief finds itself at length—namely, in the pockets of the landlords in the shape of rent. Therefore, with regard to rates, you cannot do more than you have done, and that is of no value as affecting the condition of the agricultural tenant. The Head of the Government said something to the effect that there was no chance of, or propriety in, attempting anything more in that direction; in fact, this has been a good Electioneering and Party cry, and all has been got out of it that is really to be attained. A Commission, in my opinion, will tell us nothing new; but whatever it says with regard to these matters, it will not convince lion. Gentlemen opposite. Why did not the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire look a little further? The ironmasters—some of them are in this House—could tell a dreary story. Some of those who are interested in coal mines know how the inflation of five or six years ago has been followed by a prostration of which they have had no former experience. And what could be told of the cotton trade? In one sentence I will tell you. I will not go into details about carding and spinning, and so on, as the hon. Gentleman did with regard to farming. I will confine myself to a single fact. Here is a slip from a Manchester paper. On it are the names of joint-stock cotton 1507 and weaving concerns in the eastern parts of Lancashire—many of them in the neighbourhood where I live. There are given the names of the companies, the amount of the shares, the sums paid on the shares, and their present price, showing the discount at which they stand, and then, at the end of the column, is the amount of the dividend. Now, in this list there are 122 firms, representing more than 122 mills, and out of these 122 companies 111 have the word "nil" under the word "dividend." Now, do not go away with the idea that these are old concerns with old machinery, and that they are badly managed. On the contrary, a large number of the joint-stock companies in the cotton trade are modern, and with abundant capital. Their machinery is first-class, and they are managed generally by as able workmen as are to be found in the whole trade of Lancashire. There are about 20 other companies named on this slip, 14 of which are marked as giving no dividend. These are paper and other businesses, and the one that has paid the largest dividend—12 per cent—is a brewery. The list only tells of no dividends, and of shares standing at a discount of 30 to 50 per cent; but it does not tell how much has been lost in the businesses. Now, Sir, is it possible that all the people outside the farming interest have none of the sympathies of hon. Gentlemen opposite? If labourers are unemployed, if wages are being reduced, if capital is wasted, if markets are closed or glutted, surely it is a case with which the great landed proprietors might have a little sympathy, and might think inquiry as necessary as in the case of the farmers. If I understand the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire aright, I should be disposed to support his proposition, for I understood him to cheer a suggestion that nothing that affects the land, or the farmer, or the labourer upon the land, is to be excluded from the proposed inquiry. If the hon. Gentleman does not accept that statement, he should say so distinctly, in order that we may know what to vote about. I know au objection has been made to several Amendments on the Paper, on the ground that the Original Motion is wide enough to include them all. [Mr. CHAPLIN: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman himself cheers that; and, therefore, I take it for granted that none 1508 of the matters referred to in the Amendments are to be excluded from the investigation of the Commission. If you are not willing so to extend it now, you may be quite sure the time will come when you will have to do it. I say, with all frankness, to the hon. Gentleman and his Friends, so numerous around him and so sympathetic with him, that he is opening the door, and the door cannot be closed until that full inquiry has been made. You will inquire, for example, into the reason why there are in this country so few owners of the soil. My hon. Friend quoted a work, recently published, which I wish every Member of the House would take the opportunity of reading. If he is on this Commission, it would enable him to fulfil his duty with aptitude and success; and if he is not on it, ho would, perhaps, be able to give some evidence that would help the Commissioners. I should like the Commission—I believe they will be driven to do it—to inquire into a few facts which I will mention. They would find out that in England and Wales 66 persons own 2,000,000 of acres of land; that 100 persons own 4,000,000 of acres; that 710 persons own more than one quarter of the whole soil of England and Wales; that 874 persons own over 9,000,000 of acres, or one quarter of the whole of England and Wales. If they cross the Tweed and inquire about Scotland, which is to be included in the scope of the Commission, they will find that out of 19,000,000 of acres of land in that country, 12 persons own 4,346,000, or nearly one quarter of the whole land in Scotland; that 70 persons own 9,400,000 acres, or one-half of the whole of the land in Scotland; that 1,700 persons own nine-tenths of all the land in that country, while the remaining one-tenth is left to all the rest of the population. If they go to Ireland, they will find that out of 20,000,000 of acres, 292 persons own 6,500,000 of acres; that 744 persons own 9,500,000 of acres, or nearly one-half of all the land of Ireland. And, to sum up, they will find that two-thirds of the soil of England and Wales are owned by 10,200 persons; that two-thirds of the soil of Scotland are owned by 330 persons; and that two-thirds of the soil of Ireland are owned by 1,942 persons. Now, I think I need not ask hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they believe that dis- 1509 position of the land among the population is advantageous to the population, or whether there could possibly exist, under a free and rational system, such a law applied to any other kind of property within the Three Kingdoms? The Commission will have to inquire—I tell the hon. Gentleman opposite that he has opened the door, and it cannot now be closed—the Commission will have to inquire whence comes this gigantic monopoly—how comes it that the great bulk of the population are thus divorced from the soil of their native land? They will ask how it is that there are these great farms, requiring great capital, which are now most disastrously affected by the distress which so unfortunately prevails. They will ask—and hon. Gentlemen opposite should put this question to themselves in all seriousness—how is it that your tenants, as you say, almost universally, but I hope not universally, but locally and partially, are coming to you, owing you 12 months' or six months' rent, and asking you to take 15s. in the pound of the debt they owe you? When these people are in debt to other persons than landowners—say, to their saddlers, their farriers, to the dealer from whom they buy manures or the utensils used in farming—they would not dare to go to them and ask them to accept 15s. in the pound as satisfaction of their debts. That would bring them into liquidation or bankruptcy. But such is their position, with regard to the landowners, that they ask you to take 15s. in the pound as that which they owe you. And many of you—some because you cannot help it, but a greater number, I have no doubt, from sympathy, and generosity, and kindness—make these concessions to your tenants. But I confess there is to me something terrible in the idea that hundreds of thousands of tenant farmers throughout Great Britain —many of them, if you see them, as much gentlemen as the landowners themselves; they live in good houses, they keep hunters, and they educate their children as well as their means permit —should be so humiliated—for that is what they would call it in Lancashire—as to ask somebody to whom they owe £100 as a just and lawful debt to take £75 instead of the £100. That is the state of things in this great, paramount interest which you represent; and, somehow, you are blind. You do not 1510 open your eyes to the fact; so usual with you is this extraordinary thing; you do not appear to regard it as anything of any great consequence when it periodically happens just for a time. The hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire has dwelt very much on the influence of American produce on English produce. He says that English produce decided the market; but that the produce from the United States, or it may be from the Dominion of Canada, will henceforth fix the market in this country. There is a great deal of truth in that. But let the Commission inquire, if it can, how it comes that the landowners of this country and the farmers are looking, not only with alarm, but with terror, to the trade in corn and in cattle which have to be brought from a distance of 3,000 or 4,000 miles across the Atlantic. That is a question which they may fairly examine. And I confess that I am not sure that the statements made have been extravagant or exaggerated. I have met within the last two or three weeks two gentlemen who are intimately connected with these matters in the United States, and I was much startled by some of the facts which they related to me. The land which has been occupied in Minnesota in the States and within the Dominion of Canada is of magnificent quality, I am told, for the production of wheat. Liverpool at this moment is practically as near these farms as New York was a few years ago in regard to transport, and I am not sure that it is not rather nearer. I spoke the other day to a gentleman who was for many years, but is not now, the chairman of one of the most prosperous and best-managed railways in America. He said a change had taken place in the cost of transport, which was astonishing to me, and which must be so to anyone who looks into it. There are some people who not think it is. A man recently told me that he was talking about it to a farmer. The farmer was very much puzzled, evidently distressed, and he said—" I wish that cursed country had never been discovered." But that country has been discovered, and now people are trying to find out where its discoverer was buried. They cannot exactly tell. Columbus lived and discovered America, and died. The Continent which, when he discovered it, was inhabited by a few untutored 1511 savages, is now—excluding South America—the home of nearly 50,000,000 of English-speaking people, and will probably, in the course of 25 years more, be the home of not less than 100,000,000. I may tell hon. Gentlemen opposite that which will not add to their comfort, but it would be foolish to conceal the fact—namely, that the growth in the Western States is such, that the land in the Eastern States is, to no small extent, at this moment going out of cultivation and lessening in value. There is one reason for it which there is not here. There the protective system of the United States has diverted capital in the Eastern States into the manufacture of protected articles, with the expectation of getting increased profits; and the capital has, therefore, been to a large extent withdrawn from the land in those States. Consequently, you find that in the New England States and in New York, and, I believe, to some extent also in Pennsylvania, there is much land which men do not think it worth while to plough, and it is in point of fact, less in value, and, as far as the plough is concerned, it is gradually going out of cultivation. Now, if the Western States, with their growth of wheat, have so much effect upon land which is so near them, what will be its effect upon land in this country? You must remember that when they have 100,000,000 of population in America they will have paid off their debt, their taxes will be at a minimum. They have almost no Army, as we understand an Army in Europe, and no Navy. They have no spirited foreign policy. They have taxes in proportion to their population, and they will grow less and less. How England and how Europe will stand the competition of America in regard to the supplies of food, with the absolute lunacy of the policy of European nations in regard to armaments and taxes, is what anybody may try to imagine, but what I will not try to describe. The farmers in America, as you know, have no rent, no tithes, and no poor rate. You have all these. With you labour is rising, and labour is very dear in America. You are glad that your labourers are well paid; they will have to be still better paid. You complain of the education rate and of the schools. I think the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) referred to 1512 that. He knows perfectly well that the effect of the education of agricultural labourers in this country under the present system of things will be to drive the young and educated and spirited young men from your farms into the towns or to emigrate. That is a thing absolutely certain. They will not live in a country and in a parish where there is nothing but great farms, and where there is not a plot of land which they can get at any price. Your monopoly of land will, as your labourers become more educated, drive those young labourers from you, and every year your labour will become dearer and much less effective. These are matters which it is worth your while to consider, and which I trust this Commission will consider. Your laws, as they are now, would make the labourer's condition perpetual. In America, as a poet of their country said of their population on the land—They till the soil, but own the land they till,and that is the great and final difference between the land and its cultivation in America and the land and its cultivation in England. Now, I will ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, after all, not to be unduly afraid of these questions or of a Commission. You have the most densely-populated country in the world, and, perhaps, in some respects, the richest. You have that which is most busy and most productive. You have land that has always been boasted of as very fertile, and a climate favourable to all kinds of labour. [Murmurs.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not recollect a good year. I say that, with these advantages, the land of England could not only not go out of cultivation, but that it must of necessity, in my opinion, always have a high value, and, if the laws were altered in the way I could suggest to you, a much higher value than at present. I will tell you an anecdote of the late Sir William Miles, the Member for Somersetshire, whom I chanced to meet one day in the Lobby, long after he had ceased to be a Member of the House. He spoke to me in a very friendly way, as he always did, for we had forgotten the difference about long-horns and short-horns, which was the great question when Sir Robert Peel proposed that cattle should be introduced. After shaking hands with me, he said—"I will make a confession. 1513 Your friend Mr. Cobden and you are the best friends we landowners ever, had." I said—" Now, Sir William, I can tell you another thing which is just as good as what we told you in 1846, if you have faith." He looked serious for a moment, and remarked—" Oh, no; I have no faith; " and so he would not listen to what I was about to say. But I will tell it to you now. I believe it would increase the price of land all over the country if you were to abolish all the ancient, stupid, and mischievous legislation by which you are embarrassed in every step you take in dealing with it. Let us have the inquiry then. Let us have it wide and honest. Let us look this great spectre which you are afraid of fairly in the face. You cannot escape from it, and if you meet it boldly it may prove, perhaps, to be no more than a spectre. At least, let us break down the monopoly that has banished so much of your labour from your farms, and that has pauperized so much of the labour which has remained. On the ruins of that monopoly, when you have broken it down, there will arise a fairer fabric; and although it is not possible that I should live to see it, yet the time will come when you will have a million homes of comfort and independence throughout the land of England, which will attest for ever the wisdom and the blessedness of the new policy that you have adopted.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
Sir, the opening of this debate gave promise of a very dignified and very valuable discussion. The subject was one of no ordinary importance—the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the agricultural depression in the three parts of the United Kingdom. The subject was one of great moment, and one which required from Parliament the most considerate treatment. As the debate opened nothing could be more promising. All were agreed that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) was moderate and thoughful, as well as eloquent, and that the speech of the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey) was a good match for the speech of the proposer. I should be tempted to reply to the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), when he asked for one reason for the Commission, that he must scarcely have heard the speech 1514 of my hon. Friend behind him, or he would have known that there was good reason for the Commission. This matter is a very serious one, and the speech that we have just heard has been somewhat of a marvellous one—marvellous in every sense of the word, marvellous in its use of the English tongue, and marvellous in the extraordinary excitement which this subject seems to have caused the right hon. Gentleman. I am totally at a loss to understand what was the cause of that excitement. Here is a proposal, well received by both sides, for a free, open, and thorough inquiry into the causes of the depressed condition of the agricultural interest, whether they were temporary or not, and how far they could be removed by legislation. I should have thought this was a thing the right hon. Gentleman would have jumped at. Here is an interest throwing open all its secrets, if it have any secrets, and I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have hailed, instead of trying to throw cold water on the inquiry. What could have been the cause of his excitement? Was it that the word "Protection" had been once heard? I could not have supposed that the excitement which ran through the speech of the right hon. Gentleman could have been caused by any fear for Free Trade —for the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire said that Free Trade had been adopted by the free voice of the country, The right hon. Gentleman rebuked, in no measured terms, my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) for having delivered, I think, one of the most interesting speeches that I have heard, or the House has heard, for many a long day. He rebuked my hon. Friend gravely, and asked what would be the fate of Public Business if everyone discoursed for three-quarters of an hour upon his own business. Well, my experience leads me to wish that every Member had discoursed for three-quarters of an hour upon his own business, and I think we should have had a great deal more profit than we have lately had. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was something of obstruction in the speech of my hon. Friend; but I think we should have had some support from the right hon. Gentleman lately when the time of the House was unduly taken up. The right hon. Gentleman went on to make an attack on us with regard to 1515 the agricultural labourer. I believe there are very few persons here who hare not done something small or great to raise the agricultural labourer. But I wish to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has got the right to lecture us as to our treatment of our own labourers? I had cause to look into the matter, and I remember that the right hon. Gentleman never showed such an extraordinary interest in the factory labourer as would give him a right to speak as he has done to the owners and occupiers of land as to their treatment of those whom they employ. I think the words which the right hon. Gentleman employed on this occasion are not such as hon. Members are accustomed to use. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's susceptibilities as to Free Trade; but it is rather strong language to talk of "the cowardice, the idleness, the greed" of those who adopt Protection. It is rather strong to damn with those words half the Continent of Europe, the whole of America, all the leading men of France and Germany, and to speak of them as being actuated solely by cowardice, idleness, and greed. The right hon. Gentleman would set them down in the class of quack doctors and simpletons. I do think, when grave subjects of this kind come before us, we should get much more profit, and teach the country something more, if we were to use language such as is generally used by the ore moderate Members of this House. I do not think that such language as that to which I have alluded is quite worthy of the distinguished position of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman, not confining himself to the question before us, went across the Atlantic, and said it would be well worth our while to inquire into the condition of the markets of the West, and of the East, and of the great corn-growing lands of America, and he made one interesting observation on that head. He said it would be curious to observe how Protection had ruined some of the States of America. Well, if that were a fact, it would be a very important one for the agriculturists of England to learn from an impartial Commission, because it would win them from Protection. The right hon. Gentleman talks a good deal about the few owners of the soil. No doubt, it would be a very desirable thing to have more owners of the 1516 soil; but it is not easy to see how, if land acquires a very high value, you are to make it accessible to the poor man. If the right hon. Gentleman had listened attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, he would have heard something which might have led him to a different conclusion. The hon. Member told the House that, as a tenant farmer, he was in a much better position than if he was a freeholder. That goes some way towards proving why poor men are not inclined to buy land in England. I only wish they were. I should rejoice to see a large number of them owners of the soil; but my experience is, that whenever a small man inherits a few acres, he is apt to put his holding in the market, and exchange it for some more profitable investment. But it was rather a curious argument which the right hon. Gentleman used with regard to the giving back of rents to tenants, when he said there was no man in Lancashire who would not consider it an insult to have part of a debt remitted. I thought there were such things as debts remitted even in Lancashire, and that such acts of considerate kindness were not regarded as insults. I must say I regret the extreme bitterness of the right hon. Gentleman's tone. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to belong to a class which formerly existed, and who believed in the natural antagonism between town and country. My impression was that that class had a I most disappeared; but the tone of the right lion. Gentleman certainly revived the recollections of it. Now, as to the course which the Government propose to take in this matter, I will very shortly state what our view is. Notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman said, I believe there are very few in this House who would for one moment undervalue the enormous importance of agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman himself acknowledged that the other day, in the letter which he published, in which ho said—Notwithstanding our enormous supply of food from foreign sources, still 75 per cent of our supply is home supply;so that, even in a money point of view, the abundance of that home supply must be a matter of the greatest interest to every man, woman, and child in the country. Some people have talked rather rashly of the agriculture of Eng- 1517 land, as if it were in a very backward state. The agriculture of England has, on the contrary, been extremely successful. We have been the most successful stock-breeders, most successful in all dairy produce—in butter, cheese, and so on. It must always be remembered that the best foreign judges give us the greatest credit. Our climate is extremely uncertain; but, still, we manage to drag out of the soil much more than any other country, with the exception of Holland. When we talk of agriculture, then it may well be that we should do so as of an interest that commands respect, and a class which is most valuable and important. It has been one of the glories of the country, and that it has been successful is a very great blessing to everybody in the country. It is well, too, that we should remember that our system of landlord, tenant, and labourer is one which has had good results for the food of the people. Neither the tenants nor labourers have been a stupid or backward class. Had they been so, our success in agriculture could not have been what it has been. Our farmers have been enterprizing, and the labourers have been excellent working men. The landlords, too, have come forward to help their tenants. It is impossible not to feel the deepest sympathy and regret when we find such grievous depression and suffering affecting this important branch of industry. I must, however, guard myself against being supposed to allow that this distress is universal throughout England. But I am afraid it is too wide-spread not to be of a serious character. Some three months ago, when a Committee was proposed on the Agricultural Holdings Act, I declined to assent to that alone. I said I had great hesitation in giving a Committee of Inquiry then; but I stated that, as time went on, if the accounts continued bad, the best way would be to appoint a Royal Commission; but I warned those who asked for an inquiry that, if it were once appointed, it would open the door to the full discussion of all questions affecting agriculture. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), most worthily representing the agricultural interests, has thought fit to appeal to the Government to appoint a Commission of this nature. When my bon. Friends come forward so fearlessly 1518 to ask for this Commission, it gives me additional confidence in the soundness of the state of things connected with agriculture. So far as I am concerned, I stated on a former occasion what, in my belief, were the causes of the present depression. Those causes are not, in my opinion, far to seek. This depression has been caused by an unusual combination of circumstances. We have had four or five terribly bad seasons—we have had general bad trade at the same time, the labour market has also been unsettled, and there has also been a withdrawal of juvenile labour for educational purposes, which, however, will be only temporary, and we have had an enormous increase in the steam-power of the world, which is used mainly for the conveyance of agricultural produce. Then, the remains of the cattle disease seem also to explain very much the general depression of industry. It is clear that when an enormous national interest like that of agriculture says, through its Representatives, that it desires that an inquiry should be instituted into the state of its affairs, and into the best mode of developing the resources of this and of other countries, the Government would certainly not be justified in refusing to grant such an inquiry. Before I sit down, I should just like to put the House in possession of a paper of considerable importance which reached our hands to-day. It is the Report of the resolutions agreed to at a special meeting of the Council of the Institution of Surveyors, which was held on the 3rd instant, with reference to the present agricultural distress. The resolutions were agreed to by the following leading gentlemen of the profession:— Messrs. Cluttons, Smiths and Gore, Drivers, Vigers, Beadels, Daniel Watney, Virgo Buckland, Edward Ryde, J. W. Penfold, Rawlence and Squarey, Thomas Huskinson, James Martin, A. F. Sedgwick, and William Scarth. The resolutions themselves were as follows:—I think that the House will agree with me that that is a most interesting document at the present time. In face of the facts I have stated, therefore, I do not think that Her Majesty's Government could have hesitated for a single moment in deciding to appoint this Commission. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver), who has shown so much knowledge and consideration for the wants of the country, I am willing to accept the position he rather invited us to take up —namely, that it would be obviously absurd to appoint a joint Commission to inquire into the state of both trade and agriculture, because the Gentlemen who are fully qualified to enter into an inquiry with regard to the one would most likely not be qualified to enter into an inquiry with regard to the other. As to extending the inquiry to other branches of trade, we have not had a demand at all equal to the demand for inquiry into the depression of agriculture. Before granting an inquiry like that now asked for, we should be careful that by so doing we shall not create a panic. If a panic exists, as I am afraid it does, with regard to agriculture, we should undoubtedly grant an inquiry; but where it does not already exist, we should be most careful not to create it by granting such an inquiry. Being of opinion that the scope of the inquiry should be wide, and following the precedents of 1821, 1831, and 1836, we are prepared to accept the exact words of the Resolution of the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire. Perhaps I should 1520 state why I prefer a Royal Commission to a Committee as a means of inquiry into this subject. In the first place, we could not hope that a Committee, if appointed, could obtain much information in the course of the present Session; and, secondly, a great advantage will be obtained by the sitting of the Royal Commission not being fixed to one place, as it will have power to move about to different parts of the country, and, if necessary, to appoint Assistant Commissioners. As to the constitution of the Royal Commission, perhaps it is right to mention that Her Majesty's Government deem it their duty to recommend that a certain number of tenant farmers should be placed upon it, with the view that the inquiry should be such as to satisfy all classes interested in it, and that the Commission should be so constituted as to include those who have a practical knowledge of the wants and desires of what I may call the ordinary tenant farmers. Beyond this I need scarcely say another word. I may, however, express my belief that after the experience of 1821, 1831, and 1836, we may hope that the great and lamentable distress in agriculture which we are now experiencing will, as before, pass away, and that we may expect a return of prosperity, perhaps even before this Commission has concluded its labours. When we look back at the records of these three periods, and find that almost the same expressions were used then as now, but that, after all, British energy came to the rescue, I, for one, shall not cease to have confidence that before long we shall witness the dawn of better times not only in England, but in Scotland and Ireland as well. To bring about a state of content and prosperity in the great agricultural classes, it is necessary that landlords, tenants, and labourers should pull together. That concord of interests we see growing every day, and we may hope that the result will be most happy; and, whatever may be the recommendations of the Commission, the nation may feel entirely at rest, inasmuch as Parliament will not adopt any course of legislation which is not for the benefit of the community at large.
- "1. That the present distress on heavy clay farms exceeds, as a rule, any that has occurred for the last 40 years; and that in some districts the distress on light land farms and on poor grass lands approaches that upon heavy clay farms.
- "2. That the main cause of distress is the deficiency of yield under the last three harvests, aggravated by the bad season of 1878; and that low prices are a secondary cause.
- "3. That as tenancies are held, some at rents settled probably 40 years since, and some at rents settled in 1874, any uniform mode of treatment is impracticable, and that the question of relief must be considered with reference to the special circumstances of each district and farm.
- "4. That in Great Britain the landlord supplies, say, four-fifths of the capital engaged on an ordinary arable farm, in the form of land, buildings, roads, fences, and drainage, and the tenant, say, one-fifth as working capital; and that the form of relief best calculated to meet the present difficulty is that of temporary aid to the present tenants.
- "5. By laying down arable land to grass, by improving grass lands, by giving cake, or manures, by providing shedding for additional stock, or other buildings, by making roads, by additional drainage, by purchasing tenant right, or by outlay of similar character, the landlord will benefit the present tenant, and maintain the productiveness of his property."
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Sir, the noble Viscount who has just sat down (Viscount Sandon) considered it necessary, at the opening of his re- 1521 marks, to animadvert somewhat severely upon the character of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), who preceded him. Sir, I cannot discover, in that able and eloquent address, anything of the aggressive character which appears to have been felt by the noble Viscount; but, as to the undoubted animation of the speech, I think it will be no subject of wonder to any hon. Member of this House that my right lion. Friend, who is so closely and deeply identified with the cause of Free Trade, should have felt some excitement and some unusual warmth when he finds, for the first time after 30 years, that the benefits of that change arc seriously called in question, and that the benefits which resulted to the whole community from Free Trade appear to be, at all events, partly ignored on that side of the House; while the undoubted misfortunes which have occurred to one section of the community are exaggerated, and attributed solely to the action of Free Trade principles. If I desired, which I certainly do not, to turn this occasion to Party purposes, I might, perhaps, preface the few remarks which I wish to make to the House by some observations upon the remarkable change which has come over the Councils of the Government in this respect since the earlier part of the Session. Twice has a Commission been moved for to inquire into the state of the agricultural condition of the country—once by my hon. Friend behind me, the Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson), who asked for a Committee or Commission to inquire into the operation of the Agricultural Holdings Act. The inquiry, however, was denied; and although the noble Viscount has referred to the fact that ho said it was possible that a wider inquiry was necessary, I recollect that that assurance was couched in the vaguest and most general terms. Then, again, on another branch of the same subject in " another place," an inquiry was flatly refused by the noble Earl at the head of the Government (the Earl of Beaconsfield). I do not think that this debate has generally moved on Party lines, and I do not wish to inquire into the causes which have actuated the Government in granting to the demand of one of their own Party the inquiry refused when it was asked for by 1522 this side of the House. I am rather disposed to enter, as shortly as I can, into one or two important questions which have been raised by the able and interesting speeches to which we have listened to-night. The few remarks I wish to make will be directed to those points. I wish to put before the House, as clearly and as strongly as is in my power, in the first place, that no case has been made out for relieving the landed interest at the expense of the general community; and, secondly, that if such a case had been made out, it would be necessary, first of all, to inquire whether any case of necessity existed which could be relieved without calling for sacrifice from the remainder of the community. It has been shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey), and others, that, although undoubtedly there has been a serious fall in the price of corn, the price of other agricultural produce since the adoption of Free Trade has greatly increased, and it has been mentioned that the value of land has certainly not decreased during the last 20 years. Mr. Caird, whose name has been frequently mentioned in the course of this debate, states, on the authority of official Returns for Assessment and Income Tax, that in England the value of land in 1857 was 141,000,000, and in 1875 that it was £50,000,000, or, in other words, it had increased 21 per cent; and he calculates that the value of that increase at 30 years' purchase amounted to no less than £268,000,000. In Scotland the increase has been still greater. The value of the land has there risen from £6,000,000 to £7,500,000, showing an increase of 26 per cent. In Ireland, I regret to say that the increase is much smaller, amounting only to 6 per cent. I am not going to deny that within the last two or three years a considerable decrease in the value of land may have taken place; but, at all events, up to the last three years—years which, by common agreement, have been the most unfavourable to the agricultural interest which have been known for a long succession of years, there has been a great deal of steady increase in the value of land amounting to something like £500,000 a-year. Sir, under those circumstances, I cannot think that any case has been made out for the landed interest coming to Parliament in 1523 order to improve their position by exceptional legislation. Such is the state of the case as regards the owners of the soil. There is another class interested in the soil, which, by common consent, is admitted to be at this moment in a better position than it has ever occupied before. There is no difference of opinion that the position of the agricultural labourer is one of greater comfort, greater prosperity, and greater well-being than has ever before been known in the history of the agricultural industry. There seems to be some doubt as to whether the third class interested in the soil—namely, the tenant farmers, has shared in the undoubted advantages which have accrued to the landowner and the labourer. Undoubtedly, ho has been suffering from bad times during the last two or three years; but I venture to doubt whether, up to that time, the tenant farmer himself has not shared in the general increase of prosperity. At all events, there is every reason to believe that is the case, when we consider how general has been the outcry respecting the undue scale of expenditure said to have been adopted by tenant farmers in various parts of the country. But, Sir, there are causes altogether independent of any that have, or can be, produced by legislation, which account for the vast deal of depression admitted to exist in the agricultural interest at this moment. Bad harvests have been referred to; but the general depression of trade has had a corresponding effect upon the agricultural interest, and I venture to submit to the House that no interest or trade—and. farming is like any other trade—has a right to claim protection from the State against reverses which have been suffered from natural causes. It would be as reasonable, if the iron or cotton trades which are suffering, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham has pointed out, at least as much as the agricultural interest, were to come down to this House, and ask that some exceptional legislation should be passed in their favour as that, on account of causes perfectly natural and capable of explanation, the agricultural interest should ask for special redress. I do not suppose it necessary, at this time of day, to waste any time in showing that any redress such as that indicated by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) 1524 would be at the cost of the whole community. The hon. Gentleman, a short time ago, was very indignant when I imputed to him that he held doctrines of a somewhat Protectionist, or, at all events, Reciprocitarian character; but I do not think anybody will be disposed to doubt, after hearing the speech of the hon. Gentleman this evening, that he is a most sincere Protectionist at heart. There was only one passage in his most able and, I think, on the whole, most temperate speech, which I must say I heard with deep regret. The hon. Gentleman appealed for support to the Members representing Irish constituencies who sit below the Gangway. I remember very well that, at a time when the principles of Free Trade were less firmly established than I hope they now are, the most common accusation brought against my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) was, that he was always exciting what was called class against class. But the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire appeared to me to-night to wish to do something more than excite class against class. He used an expression which, I think, could only have the effect of exciting one part of the nation against the other. I must say that I did regret to hear the hon. Gentleman appeal to Irish Members, and ask them whether agricultural Ireland was to suffer for the benefit of the manufacturers of England? If that is not a real Protectionist sentiment, I do not know where we are to find one. But, Sir, the whole speech of the hon. Gentleman breathed Protection. No doubt, he guarded himself as well and as carefully as he was able—he was not yet convinced of the necessity for Protection; he hoped the necessity might not arise; no one was more alive than he to the advantages of cheap food—so that it was not too cheap. But the hon. Gentleman quoted, with satisfaction, the failure of a prophecy of Mr. Cobden. It is not my business to defend the accuracy of Mr. Cobden as a prophet; but it was, I think, either Mr. Cobden, or the right hon. Gentleman who sits near me (Mr. John Bright), who said there was nothing more dangerous in political life than to indulge in prophecy; moreover, I think I have heard quoted the saying of an American sage, who said — "Don't prophecy unless you 1525 know." It is extremely likely that Mr. Cobden, when he ventured upon prophecy, may not have been more reliable than others. But if Mr. Cobden has been mistaken in his opinion of some of the effects which Free Trade would have upon foreign nations, certainly the most sanguine expectations which he ever ventured to indulge in of the benefits which Free Trade would confer upon his own country have been vastly exceeded. The hon. Gentleman wants a Commission, as far as I can ascertain, mainly to inquire into the importation of food from America. He wants to know the lowest prices at which food can be imported into this country. He asks the Commission to tell him the price at which foreign food can be imported. Well, Sir, with what object does he want to know that? All his speech, in my opinion, pointed to the conclusion that if the Commission reported that food could be imported from America at a lower price than that at which it could be grown here, then that ground of complaint must be redressed by some protective duty. Now, he does not want a Commission to inquire into that matter at all; there is a much more simple and straightforward way open to him. His position I understand to be this—"Let us have food as cheap as we can, so that it does not come from abroad at a cheaper rate than would pay the farmer at home; but if it can be imported at prices that will not pay the farmer, then we must have a protective duty." If that is his position, he had better adopt the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Nottinghamshire (Mr. Storer), which was carried in his presence at the conference of farmers which took place the other day. Let him fix the rate at which it will pay the English farmer to grow corn—say, 40s., 45s., or 50s., or whatever it may be, and let him at once propose, when it falls below that figure, that an import duty should be placed on foreign corn. You do not even want to know the price of foreign corn; if it cannot be imported at the lowest price, your protective duty will not come into operation. But if it is impossible to grow corn profitably, you do not want a Commission to inquire into the causes; but you can say at once, if it is imported at certain prices, we will then put upon it our protective duty. My hon. Friend the Member 1526 for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey), who seconded the Motion, to the value of whose speech, and the interest of the information which it contained, I bear most willing testimony, advocated the appointment of a Commission on far less mischievous grounds, but still on grounds which, I think, are mischievous. My hon. Friend wants a Commission to inquire into the mode of cultivation abroad, about the conditions of foreign trade, and so on, which he said it was impossible for British farmers to inquire into for themselves. In other words, his object seems to be that the Commission should make its inquiries with the view of instructing the farmers how to manage their own trade. Sir, if farmers are reduced to this expedient, their condition is, indeed, hopeless. What would be the position of other trades or manufactures, if they were unable to collect the facts necessary for the management of their own trade, and had to rely upon the facts collected by a Royal Commission appointed for that purpose? Why, the delay alone in the publication of the Report might make its conclusions altogether fallacious and illusive. Circumstances might have entirely changed, and the advice given by the Commission might be altogether out of date. Passing from the first, I wish to say a few words on the second branch of the subject to which I have adverted. I contend that, even if the case of the agricultural interest had been made out more completely than I conceive it to have been, it is necessary to inquire what remedy affecting the agricultural interest itself can be proposed, before we even dream of asking for remedies to be applied at the expense of the whole community. I maintain that the remedy of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire is the most radical and revolutionary that can possibly be suggested. It may be said that other countries have adopted and maintained a system of Protection; I reply that there is no country in the world which depends so largely upon foreign countries for its supplies of food as England. We know very well with what opposition any attempt is met to increase the duty on even the ordinary luxuries of life. Does anyone imagine it would be possible, without the strongest and most vehement resistance, to impose a tax for the benefit of a special class upon an article of the first 1527 necessity for existence, and so indispensable, as the supply of food? Sir, if the case of the hon. Gentleman be true, or if he can prove it before a Royal Commission, then, in the first place, the remedy must be looked for elsewhere than in the quarter which he has indicated; and if he can prove his case it is nothing more or less than this—that the land system of this country under existing conditions has broken down. The hon. Gentleman has not proved that the land will go out of cultivation, or that the cultivation of the soil is impossible. All that he has proved, or attempted to prove, is that, under existing circumstances, it is impossible that the land will support the three classes which it has hitherto supported—namely, the landlord, the tenant farmer, and the agricultural labourer. The lion. Gentleman has spoken of the land going out of cultivation; I, however, believe that it is utterly impossible that the land of this country should go permanently out of cultivation. Suppose the worst anticipations of the hon. Gentleman to be realized; suppose the land is unlet, and that the agricultural labourer emigrates; does he imagine for a moment that the surplus population of our great industrial centres, who now emigrate to Australia and America, would not go forth into the unoccupied regions of their own country and occupy and cultivate the soil for their own subsistence? We talk about the land of this country going out of cultivation; Sir, I believe that to be utter nonsense. All that is meant is, that it cannot be cultivated under the present system, so as to return a profit to everyone concerned. Now, as this question is brought before us by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, let us see what this system is. It is not one ordained by any natural law, nor is it one which exists, so far as I know, in any other country in the world. It is a system where the greater part of the land is divided into very considerable estates, and where, at the same time, the proprietors, though wealthy men, are, not unfrequently, not complete masters of their own property, and not able to deal with it as they may desire. It is a system under which the cultivation of the soil is carried on by a class of men who are not the owners of the soil, and who are not the actual cultivators of the soil. 1528 It is a system where actual cultivators are not the owners of the land. It is a system under which the land is cultivated by men who are not only not owners, but who have no inducement to become so, and who have no means or hope of becoming owners of the soil. It is cultivated by men who have this one claim upon it—that, in case of old age or absolute destitution, they should be supported without expense and almost without labour from the land. Such is the land system of this country, and, as I have said, it is one which prevails in no other country in the world. I daresay that in giving this description, and in saying that it is an exceptional system, I shall be accused of the rankest Radicalism. But, Sir, it is not I who have brought this question before the House it is hon. Members on the opposite side, who insist upon calling our attention to it, and upon having a Royal Commission to inquire into the condition of agriculture under this system, and who are hinting at what, in my opinion, is the wildest, the most radical and revolutionary remedy which can be proposed—namely, a tax upon the food of the entire people. I am not saying that this is a system which it is necessary to abolish; I do not say that this system is not one which may be best adapted to the country; but I say that it is a system which is so remarkable, that when its results are impeached, as they have been to-night, by hon. Gentlemen opposite, it deserves investigation. I believe that this system is overlaid by conditions, and that there are blots in it which are not essential to the system; which are capable of being amended, and which, in my opinion, must be amended if this system is to continue with advantage to the community. I cannot, at this hour of the night, go into the details which have been ably presented to the House; but I will just refer to one or two points. I believe that one of these blots—one, at all events, which deserves the most careful and fullest inquiry—is our system of entail and settlement of land. Now, Sir, I hope that in saying this I shall not be regarded as saying anything very Radical, even by hon. Members opposite. I should think that those who have a practical knowledge of these things would be the first to admit that there are duties, and important duties, which have to be dis- 1529 charged by the owners of a large estate. But what if the owner of a large estate has not the ability, and has not even the inclination, to discharge those duties; but prefers to devote himself to some other occupation? Is it for the advantage of the land, is it for his own advantage, or for the advantage of his tenants, or the labourers on his estate, or is it for the advantage of the whole community, that that man should, by any artificial system, be forced to remain in a position which he does not desire to occupy, but which, by the disposition of someone 50, 60, or 100 years ago, he cannot get out of? Hon. Members opposite, I should imagine, would be disposed to admit that the expenditure of a considerable amount of capital is necessary upon a large estate; but suppose the owner of a large estate has only a life-interest in it, and that hampered by charges in such a way that he has barely sufficient to maintain himself; how is it possible that the owner of such an estate should make that large and judicious expenditure which hon. Members opposite would be the first to think necessary? I do not omit the consideration of the Act of Parliament which enables limited owners to charge their estates with the cost of improvements. I doubt very much, however, whether any palliative of that kind can altogether override the effect of this system which gives only a limited and life-interest. At all events, I have very strong authority for saying that, up to a very short time ago, this Act had produced very small results. Not long ago, a Committee of the House of Lords, which was presided over by Lord Salisbury, and composed mainly of large landed proprietors, inquired into the subject; and the conclusion arrived at by that Committee, as quoted by the noble Viscount the Member for Elgin shire (Viscount Macduff) was that, notwithstanding the existence of these Acts, only a very small fraction of persons interested in land had availed themselves of their provisions. I have heard the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) say to-night that the conclusions of that Committee are altogether worthless. Of course, I must bow to his superior authority; but I can only wonder where we are to get authentic information, if not from a Committee of the House of Lords, presided over by so eminent a statesmen 1530 and so large a landowner as Lord Salisbury? I come now to the question of small proprietors. At all events, I have the support of the noble Viscount who has just spoken, and who has expressed as strong a wish as could be expressed by anyone, that the number of small proprietors should be increased. I do not venture to express any confident opinions as to whether, under our social system, it ever would be possible, by any legitimate means, to create a large class of small proprietors; but, surely, it is not wise to maintain, if you can help it, a system of law which makes the transfer of land so difficult, and the transfer of small holdings so expensive. That is, surely, a fair subject for inquiry. I wish to say one word on the question of the security for tenants' improvements. My views on that subject are, I believe, pretty well known to hon. Members of this House, for I have had many opportunities of expressing them. In the discussion of this subject nothing can be more satisfactory than the perfectly Free Trade doctrines which are held on the other side of the House. Freedom of contract is their battle-cry. I am very much disposed to agree with hon. Members. I doubt very much whether the State, or Parliament, or anybody else, can make better agreements between two parties than they are capable of making for themselves. I have always been disposed to look with some suspicion upon all plans of compulsory tenant right, from whatever side of the House they might proceed. I ventured to express my opinion several times in the discussion on the Agricultural Holdings Act that little more was wanted than to take care that the presumption of the law was in accordance with justice and equity, and then to leave parties free to make their own arrangements. But in order that there should be really free contracts, both parties should be absolutely free to make them; and I cannot admit, when an owner has only a limited life-interest in his estate —["Oh, oh!"]—I say, I cannot admit when an owner is hampered by the conditions on which he holds his property, that he is in all cases an absolutely free agent to make the best contract which his own interest would induce him to make. Something has been said to-night about the Law of Distress and the corresponding law in 1531 Scotland, the name of which I will not attempt to pronounce. I will not go at length into these questions; but there, again, is a subject which seems to me as well worthy of inquiry. The Law of Distress, as I understand it, is an exception to the ordinary law of debtor and creditor. It is an exception which is supposed to be made in the interest of the landowner and the tenant. On the other hand, it is contended, and contended with considerable show of reason, that this law acts prejudicially both to the landlord and the tenant, and to everyone else concerned in agricultural operations. It is contended that this law merely raises rents and encourages a landlord to take tenants possessed of less capital than ho would otherwise require, if he had not this exceptional security for the recovery of his rent. It is contended also that it is a law which tends to discourage agricultural improvement, because it impairs the security of every creditor of the farm except the landlord. There are other subjects to which I would wish to refer for a short time, but that I am sure the House will be anxious that this discussion should not be unnecessarily protracted. There will be, at all events, no difference upon either side of the House that in such an inquiry as this the effect of local taxation should find a place. That is a question which has long been recognized to be one of the most important, as affecting the agricultural interest. I must candidly admit I see no just claim for the exemption of the land from the burdens subject to which it has been acquired or inherited. But, on the other hand, I do freely admit that in the case of new burdens, which are so constantly being accumulated upon it, there is a ease for inquiry; and I am perfectly willing to hear what landlords and tenants may have to urge as to the proportion in which the rates are to be borne by the occupiers and the owners. I must say that it seems to me well worthy of attention, whether the system which is adopted in Scotland and Ireland might not advantageously be adopted also in this country, whereby, and without prejudice to all existing contracts, the rates are paid by the owner. I fully admit that all these subjects are included in, or, at all events, not excluded by, the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. They certainly were not 1532 included in his speech. The inquiry to which he pointed was one of which I am unable to see the advantage; but one from which I am obliged to confess I think I see considerable disadvantage, inasmuch as I believe it will lead the tenant farmers of this country astray, and will induce them to believe that relief might be found for them, which, I venture to express an opinion, will not be found for them, in a return to Protection. I should have been glad if the speech of the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Sandon) had been a little more explicit. The noble Viscount said the inquiry must be a very wide one; but he did not indicate the numerous subjects over which the inquiry must range. The House must remember that there is a great difference in this respect between a Royal Commission and a Select Committee. If we were appointing a Select Committee, the scope of its inquiry would be regulated by the Order of Reference, and by nothing else, and it would be competent for the Committee to inquire into any subject not excluded from the Order of Reference. But the inquiry of a Royal Commission will be directed solely by the Instructions given to it by the Government, and the terms of the Motion which may be agreed to by the House will have no power whatever to direct the course of the Royal Commission. I think, therefore, before we agree to this Commission, that we ought to hear from the Government a little more in detail what will be the nature of the Instructions under which the Commission will act. It is scarcely sufficient to be told that the inquiry will be a wide one. I have no reason to doubt that the Government will give such Instructions as will cover the whole case; but it would have been more satisfactory to have had it stated in a little more explicit a manner. I do hope, even at this late hour, it may be possible for a Member of the Government to give us some satisfaction on this matter. Had the Government indicated any intention of restricting, or narrowing, or bending in any one special direction, the inquiry of this Commission, I should have recommended my noble Friend the Member for Elginshire (Viscount Macduff), who made so able a speech earlier in the evening, and who seems to me very completely to have covered the field of 1533 inquiry which this Commission ought to undertake, when the Amendment becomes the Motion, to have moved his Amendment and to have taken a Division upon it. But I hope no such course may be necessary, and that the Government will assure us that the terms of the Commission will be wide enough to embrace those subjects to which my noble Friend has called our attention. Tinder these circumstances, I can assure lion. Members opposite, and I can assure the agricultural interest generally, that we on this side view with no fear, but, on the contrary, with the greatest satisfaction, the prospect of a full—so that it be a full—and impartial inquiry into all the causes which affect the agricultural depression, which we, in common with the whole country, so deeply deplore.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am reluctant to trespass upon the House at this late hour of the evening, more especially after the very excellent speech of my noble Friend near me (Viscount Sandon), which fully and satisfactorily expresses the views of the Government on this matter. At the same time, after the observations of the noble Lord, it is necessary that I should detain the House for a few minutes in making one or two observations. The noble Lord has stated, with perfect truth, that this debate has not been conducted upon Party lines. The Motion was proposed from this side of the House in a speech of very great ability, and it has been seconded in a speech also of very great ability, from the other side of the House, and we have also had most interesting speeches from Gentlemen sitting in different parts of this Assembly, taking different views; but all of them, I think, contributing to our enlightenment. Although, however, the debate has not been conducted upon Party lines, I cannot go so far as to say there have been no Party speeches. I do not wish, at the present time, to go into a controversy on these matters; but I do think that the acuteness with which the noble Lord opposite (the Marquess of Hartington) has discerned the evil which is latent in the arguments of my hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin) might, if that acuteness were directed to his own speech, draw some very remarkable inferences from it with regard to the actual position of this question. I think it really requires very few words to 1534 elucidate it. A Motion has been made by my hon. Friend, who is exceedingly well qualified to speak, and who, as we know, does speak on behalf of a very large body of agriculturists in this country. That Motion presses for an inquiry into the nature and causes of the present depression in agriculture. Upon that Motion are founded, I think, no fewer than 10 Notices of Amendment from different parts of the House, every one of them acknowledging the necessity or desirableness of an inquiry of some sort or other. When you have such a concurrence of testimony, it does establish the fact that there is something like a demand for inquiry into something or other, at all events, and something of an important character. Before I say any more upon this question, I will just say one single word with regard to a matter which has not been much touched upon in this matter—I mean the Notice of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver) for the inclusion of commerce in this Commission. My hon. Friend and others know perfectly well the reasons which render it inconvenient, and, indeed, almost impossible, to include an inquiry into the condition of commerce in a Commission such as that which is now to be appointed. If I had time, I might explain the reasons that, in our opinion, render it undesirable to appoint any special inquiry, or to institute any special inquiry into the commercial depression. I hope it will not be understood from that, that we are at all insensible to the distress which is felt, and has been felt, in many quarters of the commercial and manufacturing world, or that we are so taken up with agriculture that we are neglecting the interests of commerce. Returning to the question of agriculture, the noble Lord has said that he thinks no case has been made out for the relief of the agricultural interest at the expense of the community. Well, nobody, that I am aware of, has ever said anything of the sort. The view which we have taken in this matter and, as I understand, the view which has been taken by those who have addressed us is this—that the interest of agriculture is so great and widely spread that it is, to a very great extent, identical with the interests of the whole community, and that the interests of agriculture, truly understood and rightly promoted, are the 1535 interests of the whole community, as all other great interests are. Certainly, in the inquiry which we are asked to institute, it is no question of establishing any exceptional legislation for one particular class; but it is in order that we may see what are the causes that have led to the very general and wide-spread impression that agriculture is suffering from causes which are, more or less, remediable. We think that the case is one of sufficient importance to justify such an inquiry, and we are anxious that that inquiry should take place. If, under the present state of the country, and in the present state of feeling, we were all of us to shut our ears to such a complaint, and to deny that there was anything to inquire into at all, what would be the natural result? You would not put an end to all these complaints, and all this anxiety for inquiry and relief; but you would throw back those who were asking you for guidance to be guided, to a very great extent, I am afraid, by mischievous counsellors and mischievous agitators. The noble Lord professes to be very much alarmed indeed lest this inquiry should lead the agriculturists to look for relief in the direction of Protection. I do not know whether the noble Lord has that faith in Free Trade which I hope he has; but if he has that faith, surely he must think that an inquiry, properly and legitimately conducted, is not likely to disturb that which is true. It is quite idle. If the doctrines of Free Trade are, as I believe them heartily to be, the doctrines of truth, they will come all the stronger out of the inquiry of this Commission, and it will be shown what the real facts of the ease are. It is quite clear, however, from all we hear out-of-doors, from all which we have heard this very evening in this House from Gentlemen sitting on that Bench and elsewhere, that there are many causes at work now which render it desirable and highly expedient, if not necessary, that there should be some general inquiry into the position of agriculture, and that those who are interested in agriculture should be allowed to bring forward and to state what appear to them to be their grievance; that these should be investigated, and that information should be collected in an authentic and perfect form for our guidance under altered circumstances. Nobody can 1536 doubt that the circumstances of agriculture have altered, and have been altering for the past few years, in more directions than one—in some respects for the better, and in some respects altered so as to show that the agriculturists of England are exposed to a competition of a very different character from that with which they had to contend in former days. It is desirable that we should review their position, and that we should see whether there are any matters in which they either require to be relieved of encumbrances, or in which they may receive information which will enable them not to strive for the impossible, and to point out to them in what direction their efforts may be best used. We heard some very suggestive remarks indeed from the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire, although they were sneered at by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. John Bright). I must say, of the two, I should greatly prefer a practical counsellor, like my hon. Friend, to a theoretical counsellor, like the right hon. Gentleman, who does not leave these matters alone, and say these are questions which you had better leave to the farmers and landowners and labourers to work out for themselves, but who dogmatizes in a very superior manner as to the causes of all these things, and who tells us the causes, to put it shortly, are to be found in the wickedness of the landlords. Some of the observations of the noble Lord opposite pointed very much in the same way. There were some very extraordinary suggestions as to the revolution that is to take place in the laud system of this country, which, he tells us, has broken down.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I beg pardon. I did not say it had broken down. I said that if the hon. Member's case is true he must admit that it has broken down.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I do not think that is my hon. Friend's view. The question, however, is one which is to be examined, and must be examined; and if it is to be left to such teaching as that to which we have listened this evening from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, and is to be followed by such suggestive observations as those of the noble Lord, I must say there will be cause enough for everybody concerned to look about them. We have had a great 1537 many assumptions made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham and others, propagated with very great force and positiveness of language, and they are extremely likely to make a very mischievous impression on the minds of those who suppose they are sitting at the feet of teachers who are infallible. Very often we have very extraordinary statements made with regard to what has been done by landowners and by others, which, if you came to examine them, as they will be examined, no doubt, before the Commission, will prove to be very incorrect and altogether unjust. Perhaps I may be excused for taking this opportunity of making a personal statement on behalf of a noble Friend of mine, who has requested me to do so if I had an opportunity. In a recent discussion in this House, and in other ways, a reflection has been cast upon him, which he is exceedingly anxious I should take an opportunity of refuting. My noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond) has been charged with conducting the Agricultural Holdings Act through the Upper House as Minister of the day, and yet that immediately after the passing of that Act he contracted himself out of it. I know that statement has been frequently made. It was contradicted by my noble Friend shortly after. It has, however, more recently been repeated; and I am anxious, on his behalf, to give the most direct and the most complete contradiction to the statement. I mention that as an illustration of the erroneous impressions which get abroad, and, I daresay, get abroad with regard to other persons. I think an inquiry such as is now suggested may be of value in bringing to the minds of the people of this country the real truth with regard to a great many of these questions. The noble Lord asks, what are to be the limits of the course of the inquiry? Well, Sir, the object of the inquiry is tolerably patent, I think, on the face of it. The Commission is to inquire into the depressed condition of the agricultural interest, and the causes to which it is owing. My noble Friend, in assenting to the proposition, guarded himself from the supposition that we admitted that the agricultural interest all over the country was in a depressed condition, though we are prepared to admit that in some parts of the country there does exist considerable depression. 1538 Those who go into this question will have to inquire, then, first, how far there is depression, and what is its extent; and, secondly, what are the causes to which it may be attributed, and which can be shown to have had any bearing upon it? I think it is quite clear that it does not lie with us to say, in the first instance, that you are to seek the cause in this or in that; but you will appoint a Commission to inquire what are the causes which are alleged, and which appear to them to be of a sufficiently important character to notice. Then we shall go on to inquire whether these causes are of a temporary or of a permanent nature, and how far they have been created or can be remedied by legislation. I think that is a tolerably wide, but, at the same time, I think it is a distinct reference, and one which, I think, indicates quite sufficiently what the nature of the inquiry will be. As my noble Friend has already said, we shall hope on that Commission to have Gentlemen representing occupiers as well as landowners, and others who are properly qualified for the conduct of such a Commission. It will be constituted with great care; and I think we can confidently reckon upon those who may be appointed conducting the inquiry not with any Party view, or with the purpose of establishing a foregone conclusion, but with the bonâ fide desire to ascertain the facts, and, as far as may be in their power, to suggest the remedies which may be required.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that very valuable information had been given them as to the nature of the competition with which the agricultural interest in this country had to contend. The hon. Member for Birkenhead had, moreover, given them most valuable information as to the practices with regard to agricultural produce actually existing in this country. He wished to impress upon Her Majesty's Government that no doubt ought to be allowed to exist, but that the Commission now proposed should seek and should furnish authentic information as to the sources and means of that competition with which the agriculturists of the country had to contend not only now, but with which they might have to contend in the future. Ho was perfectly certain that if this branch of the inquiry were shirked or evaded, the deepest dissatis- 1539 faction would be felt by that large and estimable class who were under the impression—and, he believed, the true impression—that they were suffering from a competition more severe than was contemplated when the Legislature adopted the system of free imports. It appeared to him that the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs, who had personified what he called Free Trade, felt that he was placed upon the table for operation, and the noble Lord did not seem at all to enjoy his position. Few people liked to be operated upon, and it was not agreeable to be examined. The fact, however, was—let hon. Gentlemen try to evade it as they might—that, after 30 years suppression of the truth, it was necessary to inquire into the operation of the commercial system adopted in 1846. The truth, he hoped, was now acknowledged, and he rose for the purpose of leaving no doubt about its acknowledgment in the case of agriculture. Sharing, as be did, in the representation of Birmingham, he could not turn a deaf ear to the petition of those who thought that an inquiry should also be directed into the operation of the present commercial system upon the manufactures and upon the various handicrafts which found employment in that great industrial centre. If the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver) should seek to promote such an inquiry, that hon. Gentleman would find in him a most earnest supporter. At present, ho had some reason to fear that this inquiry might be narrowed in an essential point; and it seemed to him that the noble Lord represented to the House that so rotten was the condition of the landed interest in this country that, lest that condition should he discovered and examined in a hostile spirit, the Representatives of the landed interest dared not support an inquiry into the foreign competition which weighed heavily upon the tenantry. He (Mr. Newdegate) repudiated such an idea.
§ MR. B. SAMUELSON
said, that he rose for the purpose of making an explanation. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had referred to him as having given currency to a statement, made on what he believed at the time to be good authority, that the Duke of Richmond had contracted himself out of the statute. That statement was made repeatedly, 1540 and it was made immediately after the Act came into operation, and, so far as he was aware, had never been contradicted by the noble Duke. No communication was made to burn by the noble Duke upon the subject until yesterday. Immediately on receipt of that communication he wrote to the noble Duke, saying that he would take an opportunity in this debate of rectifying the statement and of expressing his regret for having made it. He had risen in his place more than once for the purpose of making this rectification; and he begged now to express his regret at having been misled into an assertion which he now found, by the assurance of the noble Duke, to be incorrect.
§ MR. SHAW
wished to know whether there was to be only one Commission for the three Kingdoms, or one for each country. If there was only to be one Commission, it would take a long time in its inquiries, for there were questions connected with the agricultural interest in Ireland which would require careful and separate inquiry. Their case in Ireland was somewhat different from that of either England or Scotland. There were some points connected with agriculture in Ireland as to which they were specially desirous of inquiry; it had been alleged that the depression in Ireland resulted from peculiar causes. The right bon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had expressed himself desirous of taking away the opportunity for agitation in Ireland. The best way of doing that was to inquire into the facts about which the agitation was got up. There had been a considerable amount of agitation in Ireland lately, and but for this Motion being before the House he should have taken an opportunity of moving for a Royal Commission to inquire into that agitation. If rents in any part of Ireland had been unduly advanced to starvation point for the tenant, that was surely a question into which they ought to have inquiry. If there were no truth in these statements, the sooner that was recognized the better; and if there was any truth, then the fact ought to be exposed, in order to bring public opinion to bear upon such proceedings. He did not wish to take up the time of the House, though some of his hon. Friends had suggested that he should move the adjournment of the 1541 debate; but if the proposed Commission were properly constituted with regard to the interests of Ireland his object would be gained. The hon. Gentleman who had originated this debate had been called to account by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for stirring up national enmities upon this subject. That, lie thought, was the effect of the noble Lord's observations. For his part, he considered that this question of Free Trade was a very fair question to be looked at in connection with national taxation, and he agreed with the way in which his hon. Friend had referred to it. Ireland, as an agricultural country, had been put into a very disadvantageous position by the adoption of Free Trade; although it might be said that, as Irish Members did not object to its adoption, it was adopted by the free will and consent of Irish Members. The fact was, as regarded Free Trade in Ireland at the present moment, that its effect upon that country was never considered by the English people. The English formed a great majority, and were the ruling nation, and only looked to their own interests. It was what they always did, and if Protection were adopted to-morrow, the last thing that would be looked at would be its effect upon Ireland. He should like to know from the Government whether there would be a different Royal Commission for Ireland, with different instructions from that in England or Scotland, or whether there would be only one Commission, and, if so, whether it would contain upon it some Representatives from Ireland?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER,
in answer to the question of the hon. Member, begged to state that the arrangement of the Commission was at present under consideration. It was not in contemplation by the Government to have more than one Commission, and upon that, of course, Ireland would be represented. It would be a question whether the Commission should be movable, or whether they should appoint Assistant Commissioners to make inquiries in different parts of the country.
§ MR. PARNELL
wished to know, with reference to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the terms of the Commission and the Members of it would be stated to the House before the appointment of the Commission, so that 1542 it might be competent for hon. Members to bring the matter forward again if it did not give satisfaction?
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
rose for the purpose of moving the adjournment of the debate pro formâ He did so, because it would otherwise he entirely irregular for the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to rise for the purpose of answering the question of his lion. Friend the Member for Meath. He had listened to the hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Home Rule Party in the expression of his views, and lie had observed that he deprecated any adjournment of the discussion. He was aware that what might he called the Irish side of this question had not been presented in this debate; that he attributed to the fact that Irish Members felt that it would be very difficult for them to arrest the attention of the House upon the Irish side of the question. But he did submit that the question which had now been addressed to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer by his hon. Friend the Member for Meath was a very fair one. His hon. Friend wished to insure that this Commission to be appointed should not be appointed in what he might venture to call the spirit of that debate, which seemed to have been the exclusion of Ireland. He did not mention that as a matter of complaint; for the fact was, Irish Members were as much responsible for not having taken their share in the discussion as anyone else in the House. He was sure that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincolnshire would have been willing to give their views consideration; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be serving a useful public purpose if he would now put the House in possession of the scope of this inquiry. If they were to have an inquiry at all, why not have a comprehensive one? Let them have an inquiry upon which they could base legislation and make proposals, and which might he a guide to them in future legislation. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to make some statement, or give some promise, with regard to this matter; and if he were now called upon somewhat unexpectedly to do this, let him come down to the House in the course of a few days, and answer the question.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, " That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. O'Connor Power.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
could not give the promise asked for by the hon. Member for Meath; it was not usual, in the case of a Royal Commission, to place the names or the Order of Reference before Parliament, until the Commission had been actually issued by Her Majesty. He would take care that the earliest information was given to the House upon the subject, and also that what had been urged by the hon. Member for Mayo should be duly considered in the formation of the Commission. He would remark that the hon. Member for Tralee had addressed the House, and that many Members from Scotland and England, as well as Members from Ireland, had been unable to take part in the debate, although they were desirous of doing so.
said, that many things had been stated in the course of the debate to which he should have been glad to reply, under other circumstances. Ho would only state, however, that he had been misunderstood in what he said with regard to Ireland. What he said was, that if he himself were an Irishman he should be inclined to ask why Ireland was to be sacrificed to the commercial prosperity of England? That was the substance of what he said, and ho thought that the purport of it had been somewhat misapprehended.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, that as one of the few tenant farmers in the House, and as representing a considerable section of tenant farmers in the country, and as, he presumed, one of those mischievous agitators to whom the right lion. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been good enough to allude, it seemed to him that the House would be desirous of hearing his views, as the Representative of the farmers, upon the question under discussion. He had also to call the attention of the House, and of 1544 the right lion. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to the Amendment he had put upon the Paper, which did not, as the right hon. Gentleman had stated, ask for the appointment of this Commission; and he could not conclude the debate without stating publicly, as a tenant farmer, that it was not from any wish or desire on the part of the tenant farmers that this Royal Commission was to be appointed. The appointment of a Royal Commission was not to relieve the crisis in which agriculture found itself, but was pushed forward, they believed, with a different object. For these reasons, and in order to give himself an opportunity of explaining his Amendment he begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
[The Motion, not being seconded, could not be put].
Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that She will be graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the depressed condition of the agricultural interest, and the causes to which it is owing; whether those causes are of a temporary or of a permanent character, and how far they have been created or can be remedied by legislation.