said, he had a petition to present to their lordships which was deserving their most serious consideration, it was a Petition from certain Weavers at Manchester. It deserved their lordships' consideration, from the time at which it was signed, and the circumstances under which it was presented. The petition was distinguished for good sense and moderation; and the petitioners, he was happy to see, strongly disapproved of the improper conduct of some of the workmen in destroying machinery. They stated, that they did not conceive that their deep distress had been caused by machinery. It gave him satisfaction to learn, that the weavers who signed the petition could, at such a time of distress, perceive that their sufferings were not caused by machinery, but by the Corn-laws. They stated two very good reasons why the Corn-laws injured them. First, they stated that the Corn-laws prevented their getting food as cheap as they might otherwise get it; and secondly, that the Corn-laws prevented such other countries from taking our manufactures, as had no other means of paying for them than by corn. Thus their operation was twofold, and they injured the manufacturers doubly. Before he sat down, he must do the noble 743 earl opposite the justice to say, that he had declared it as his opinion, that some alteration was necessary in our present system of Corn-laws. He hoped he still retained that opinion; and though he was sorry that the time was not yet come for acting on it, he hoped, when it did come, that the noble earl would not recede from his declaration. The petition was so temperate, that he should move that it be read at length; which was accordingly done.
The Marquis of Lansdown
did not rise to offer any observations on the contents of the petition just read. He did not wish to introduce any thing that was matter of controversy; on the contrary, he desired to avoid expressing any opinion on the particular question which was the subject of the petition. But he would, with their lordships' permission, take that opportunity of adverting to some circumstances which must be known to their lordships, connected, he was sorry to say, not only with the distress of which the petitioners complained, but a multitude of other persons, unhappily involved in the same distress. When he observed, from the state of the papers on their lordships' table, that it was in their power, as he understood it was the intention, of putting a speedy termination to the labours of the session, he wished to take that opportunity of urging on their lordships' attention, and on the attention of his majesty's ministers, the expediency of not allowing the session to terminate without making some provision to relieve distress that was so excessive as almost to induce despair. In any suggestion he might be disposed to make to meet that distress, he knew all the difficulties which he should have to encounter: he knew that taking any step to remedy, or even to mitigate such extensive evils, must be opposed by many obstacles; but, when he considered the peculiar circumstances in which those evils originated which now prevailed over so many districts; when he considered the many circumstances which took this situation out of the ordinary range of those occurrences; it was not desirable that parliament should interfere; and he knew well, and the older he grew the better he knew it, that parliament ought not to interfere to relieve those distresses, which would inevitably occur from variations in the seasons, and from changes in the relation of supply and demand; yet these suffer- 744 ings were so much out of the ordinary course, that it was impossible parliament and the public should remain unconcerned or inactive spectators—But, not to enter into topics which had been made, or could be made a matter of controversy, it was universally allowed, that the present distress was a consequence of that unexampled spirit of speculation which existed last year, and that thus this distress grew out of causes, over which these persons had no control though they were unhappily the victims. And, when he considered that the measures adopted during this session, for the regulation of the currency—measures, to which he had given his assent, as inevitably necessary for placing it on a secure foundation; but measures which, probably, by checking paper circulation, had also given a check to commercial enterprise; he thought a case was made out, which called for the cautious, but effectual interference of the two Houses of parliament; an interference that he was more anxious to urge on their lordships, because, from the circumstances of the case, there was a necessity for a vigilant—he might say, a vigorous and severe—interposition of the law, to protect that property, which it was not more for the interest of the proprietors, than it was for the interest of the unhappy transgressors themselves, should be protected. He felt that the interposition of the law was indispensable; but it was impossible also not to feel, that the circumstances which led to such excesses were such as to inspire compassion for a people so affected. Mr. Burke had said, "that when a man was starving, his case was taken out of the ordinary principles of justice, and necessitated in others a departure from the principles of punishment, and brought the case within the jurisdiction of mercy." The conduct of these people fell within this rule. For some temporary purposes, the parliament—though this was a principle rarely to be acted on—had, by a direct vote, placed the means of giving relief in the hands of the king's government: and he knew no measure he could, on the present occasion better recommend. He knew he should be told, by persons who felt as anxious as he did for the relief of these persons, that the best way was by public and voluntary subscription; and he was one of the last persons who would deny its advantages, or endeavour to depreciate the efforts of individuals who promoted this mode of re- 745 lief, as, in his opinion, it was a better mode than any other, of alleviating distress in all cases like that of the present year; when distress was local, and when a subscription had been properly entered into for the Spitalfields weavers; but, when he took into his consideration the magnitude of the present evil, and the great difficulties of the country, he feared that a sufficient relief could not be obtained by this means; and he felt anxious that some provision should be made by parliament against that great and extensive evil which at present existed. He might also be told, though certainly not by the noble earl opposite, that some relief might be given by a reduction of taxation. He had always been one of those who had held, that in most cases a diminution of taxation was the speediest, the safest, and the most economical relief which could be given; and he had frequently found it his duty, in his place in that House, to urge on their lordships, and on his majesty's government, a reduction of taxation. Much had already been done; and, though he was not prepared to state that more could not be done, and done advantageously; yet he did not see that any reduction of taxation could immediately remove that evil which was the subject of their lordships' apprehension. Relief obtained from a reduction of taxation was slow and gradual, and could not immediately benefit those who were so reduced that they had no means of purchasing the means of subsistence, and who, however much prices might be reduced, could not obtain the enjoyments that were, in ordinary times, within their reach. He felt strongly the unhappy state of the population, and hoped he should induce their lordships to listen to his suggestion as to the expediency of making a provision, either by direct vote which could not, however, be proposed there, or by that more constitutional and safer mode, of an address to his majesty, assuring him of the ready concurrence of their lordships in any advances which the ministers of the Crown might think proper to make for the limited purpose of rescuing from starvation, under their temporary distresses, the population of the manufacturing districts. He was well aware that, under ordinary circumstances, this would be an objectionable course; but the case was very different when distress prevailed, not from scarcity, but from want of employment. He thought 746 that the proposition which he now suggested might be adopted with advantage, until that state of things should arrive which was so anxiously looked for, and which, he doubted not, would be ultimately realised. If any difference of opinion prevailed on this subject, he was quite sure it did not proceed from want of feeling, but from a conscientious desire to advance the best interests of the community.
The Earl of Liverpool
said:—I feel myself called upon, not only by the observations of the noble marquis, but by the importance of the subject to which he referred, to address to your lordships a few words. I do not wonder at the appeal which the noble marquis had made; but I trust he will do me the credit—nay, he has done me the credit—to believe, that I, in common with every individual in this House, feel as he does for the unfortunate state of the manufacturing districts of this country—a state which no man can see, of which no man can hear, without being appalled at the distress that so widely prevails, nor without feeling the deepest regret at the unhappy events which led to it. In attempting, however, to provide a remedy for this distress, various considerations suggest themselves to the mind, with respect to any plan that may be adopted. If parliament were to interfere, on the ground that this distress called for its interference, I beg your lordships to observe, that it would be the first instance with the exception of Ireland, to which will hereafter refer) in which it has interfered, by a vote of the public money, for the relief of any local distress. The very merit of the existing system of the poor-laws—which some consider an evil, and which others consider a good—is, that those who are in distress have the means of obtaining relief, without coming for that relief upon the public purse. If you administer relief in one instance, there is no knowing where it will have an end; and I conjure you to reflect how often cases may arise, in which it will be most difficult to distinguish where you should give assistance, and where you should withhold it. I conjure you to reflect, that some years back, when very great distress prevailed among the agricultural classes, and you were called upon to apply some remedy, after minutely considering the matter, you were obliged to abandon all hopes of giving any effective 747 aid. I am well aware that a principle of this kind was admitted with respect to Ireland, a few years ago; but the circumstances then were very different to those that exist now. They were essentially different, inasmuch as no poor-laws existed, or had ever existed, in that country; but they were not different on this account only; for, in consequence of the peculiar situation of Ireland, you were enabled usefully to employ the money that had been raised, in the erection of public works, in the formation of public roads, and in many other ways, which were applicable only to the state of that portion of the kingdom. Therefore, I say, before parliament has for the first time drawn upon the public purse, with a view to relieve any local distress—a system which, if it be once begun, there is no knowing where it will have an end—every other experiment ought to be tried; and when I look upon the voluntary efforts, and individual exertions, that have so frequently distinguished this country. I cannot but hope and expect, that this mode will prove successful in the present case, as it has done in many others. When I recollect that a sum was collected for Ireland, so considerable as to exceed 300,000l., I confess that my hopes are high in the anticipation that voluntary efforts swill be sufficient to relieve all the distress that at present prevails elsewhere. If, then, it be possible to expect this, which would be every way more desirable, far more in principle, and far more in execution, than any other method that could be devised, surely this plan, of all others, should be resorted to; for I know of no individuals, or body of men, to whom there would not apply a real objection to their administering charitable relief. That relief may be effectually administered by a committee, but not by the executive government. The difficulties and the objections, therefore, apply less to this than to any other mode of affording relief. When I say thus much, it is imposslible for me to avoid adding, that the time, and the events which have recently happened, render a revision of the existing laws which regulate the price of food absolutely necessary. I stated very early in the present session my opinion, that though I felt some alteration in the Corn-laws to be expedient, this was not the proper period when such alteration could be safely and properly made; and I now say further, that, in- 748 dependent of the objections which then existed, the very circumstances of the times put it totally out of the power of parliament to consider what ought to be the permanent price of corn; but I also say, that parliament ought not to separate without releasing the corn now in bond, and throwing it into the country, and that parliament ought not to separate without investing the king in council with the power of admitting a further supply; if such further supply should be considered necessary, giving the usual six weeks' notice of such intention. These measures it is in the power of parliament to grant, and their effects may be most beneficial. I am aware that the last is a power with which no government would wish to be intrusted. When the Corn-bill was brought in, it was desired by many to invest the government with such a power; but I then opposed such a principle, because I conceived, and I now conceive, that all laws relative to trade, and more especially those that relate to so important a subject as the food of the people, ought to stand upon some fixed and settled rule; but there are circumstances that form an exception to a general principle, and, under these circumstances, it becomes the duty of ministers to ask to be intrusted with such a power, and it becomes equally the duty of parliament to grant it.
The Earl of Malmesbury
said, that he felt it necessary to offer a few words relative to the important observations that had been made by the noble lord at the head of his majesty's government. He had some time since stated, that if ministers conceived it necessary to admit into the market the corn remaining in bond, he would acquiesce in the proposal so to do. But with respect to the important measure of granting a power to admit additional quantities of corn, he hoped he might be allowed time to reflect on a subject of so much moment. He felt for the sufferings of the manufacturing classes, but he lamented deeply that they had been led to suppose that those sufferings arose from the present state of the Corn-laws. In Mr. Jacob's report, which he understood was of the highest authority, it was stated, that the foreign merchant, or corn-grower, including the duty of 10s. which even the noble baron (lord King) was disposed to allow, could not import corn into this country from the north of Europe under 60s. a quarter. But, for 749 the last three years, wheat in this country had always been under 60s. a quarter. It was a delusion, therefore, to attribute the distress to keeping foreign corn from the market. He had understood that one great cause of the present distress was a want of demand in the foreign market for our manufactures; and the deluded people who broke up machinery and called for the abolition of the Corn-laws, were at the same time preventing them-selves from ever again finding a foreign market, and were destroying their best customers at home. Those best customers were their fellow-subjects, the landed and agricultural interest. He would suppose that the landed interest formed three fifths of the whole; and what good could the manufacturers get by treading down so large a portion of their best customers? He should be ready to support any measures which tended to do away delusions like this. It might sound strange, but it was, nevertheless, true, and it was confirmed by experience, that the price of corn was cheaper and steadier when it; was all supplied by our own land, than when a part of our supplies were brought from abroad. Taking the average of the last five years, and allowing for the altered value of the currency, it would be found, that the price of corn had been lower in these last five years than before the American war. It was only by supplying ourselves that we could be sure of a steady and settled supply. He concluded by apologising for having addressed their lordships, and by declaring his willingness to invest the king in council with the power mentioned by the noble earl.
said, that the Report of Mr. Jacob was most important; but, at present, it was only ex parte, and ought not to be calculated on as authority. He was not disposed to enter into this question, but he could not avoid observing, that the bonded corn now in the country was insufficient to do much good. He agreed with the noble earl at the head of the government, that it was inexpedient to recur to any parliamentary measure for affording relief in cases of distress, except under very urgent circumstances, but he conceived those urgent circumstances now to exist.
The Earl of Lauderdale
said, that he felt as acutely as any noble lord the distress of the manufacturers; but he thought it was indispensable, before they began to 750 give relief, that their lordships should understand what was the cause of the distress; and first institute an inquiry. If their lordships proceeded on the supposition that the calamity was occasioned by the high price of food, they would induce in the country at large an opinion that was false in toto. The noble lord who spoke last but one had stated, that the price of corn had been both stable and low under the present system, and their lordships would find, that the system of the Corn-laws had had no effect whatever in producing the calamity. He had inquired into the subject, and, from the best information he could obtain, he believed there was no want of demand abroad for our manufactures; but the manufacturers found themselves hampered, and could not employ the men, because they could not find the means of paying them. What caused this? Was the country in adversity? Had it met with any misfortune No: Until the meeting of parliament had any such distress existed, or was there any expectation of it? No. The manufacturers he had conversed with, all said there was no such want of employment—no such distress; and that both had been occasioned by the alarm spread abroad by the new measures brought into parliament. He could state that there was no one class of manufacturers, no man among the monied interest, who would not go much further than he had gone, and say that there was nothing to justify the measures of the noble lord. Credit was a tender thing. When any alarm was generated, men became immediately cautious; they drew in, and there was, for the time, an end of credit. The manufacturers, he could shew in evidence, were willing to employ their men; and they could find a market for their goods, but they could not find any means of paying them. There was no disinclination to employ the workmen, but there was a want of means to pay them. Rash or incautious measures might have the same effect on the landed interest; and, if the noble earl determined to interfere in the management of corn, he might excite alarm among the agricultural interest, and, by so doing, put the agricultural labourers in the same situation as the manufacturing labourers of the country. Now, he must say that, if this should prove to be the case, the whole responsibility would be on the ministers; for he had never known a more rash or imprudent measure than 751 that of coming down to parliament, within a fortnight from the close of the session, and proposing a measure which was almost sure to create alarm, and which he could not but say presented appearances that might in some degree justify that alarm. He thought that, if that measure should be carried, it would go near to inflict as great a calamity on the agricultural labourers of the country, as had already been inflicted on the labourers employed in manufactures. What was the nature of that measure? Why the minister wanted the two houses of parliament, without inquiry, to empower him to admit any quantity of foreign corn into the country, and to set at liberty that which was now bonded in the warehouses. This was a very serious and important power, and he trusted that, until their lordships gave the noble earl the power he sought, he would, at the same time, be forced to call parliament together at an early day, in order to consider the state of the country. Though he did not oppose the proposition for releasing bonded corn, under the present circumstances of the case, he still thought that the noble earl, in calling for the other measure at that late period of the session, was asking too much from the confidence of parliament.
The Earl of Liverpool
said, that the speech of the noble earl who had spoken last, made it necessary for him to say a few words. He agreed entirely in the opinion, that to ascribe the distress to the Corn-laws, was wilfully to blind one's self to the state of the country, and to all the proceedings that had taken place within the last twelve months. He had already said, that he thought some alteration in the Corn-laws ought to take place, but he would repeat now what he had said before, that, if there existed no other objection to the adoption of a permanent system than the present distress, still that of itself would render this an unfit time for such a proceeding. But then the reasoning of the noble marquis was far more cogent than that of the noble earl. The noble marquis argued thus; "Here is the distress, from whatever cause it has proceeded, and now it remains for your lordships to deal with it in the best way you can." If it had not proceeded from want of demand, what else could it have proceeded from? No man in his senses could deny that the great cause was overtrading. How else, if there had not been 752 a glut, could it have happened, that whereas there was a brisk demand last year, there was only a small demand, or none at all, this year? These facts were not to be controverted, and the natural inference was, that certain branches of our commerce were over-done. The circumstances of the country were greatly altered since the passing of the Corn-bill in 1815. Let their lordships look at the property-tax, and the other taxes which existed at that time, and no man could say that 80s. which was the maximum price then, would be better for the grower than 60s. which was the maximum now. What, then, was the amount of the general proposition which he had submitted to their lordships' consideration? Why, that parliament ought not to separate at the present moment without throwing bonded corn into the market; and that the king in council should have a discretionary power to admit further supplies at a certain duty. He could not conceive any proposition less likely to create alarm. He did not call for such power on any general principle; but, until a permanent system could be adopted, he thought that a specific measure was rendered necessary by the peculiar circumstances of the case.
The Earl of Malmesbury
wished to know at what duty it was proposed to introduce foreign corn now in bond?
The Earl of Malmesbury
said, he perfectly accorded with the first part of the proposed measure; but as to the second, namely, the allowing ministers to introduce corn hereafter, if they thought it expedient, at the same rate of duty, he could not at present give his unqualified assent to this proposition, not having considered sufficiently the subject. He thought there might be many objections urged to it, and perhaps it would have a pernicious effect in the corn-market. It would be rather hard, he was inclined to think, on the agriculturists. He presumed that the measure would only be of a temporary nature, and that it would extend no longer than the meeting of the next parliament.
§ Lord Dacre
said, he was inclined to think, that a reduction of taxation would afford great relief to the country, and would be desirable to be resorted to. The occasion of the present distress, as viewed by ministers, he thought was so 753 manifest, that he who ran might read; it being neither more nor less, in their estimation, than the high price of provisions. This was the view held out to the country by the proposed measure; and to no other conclusion could the people come. Now, it was true, that the poor manufacturers might, and God forbid that they might not, have recourse to the poor-laws for relief. So that ultimately they would return, in time of distress, to the resource afforded by the land. Thus the noble lord held out to the country, that the distress arose from the price of provisions; and next that the land was to bear the burthen of the relief. He was, in general, ready to support the measures proposed by the noble lord; but he could not approve of this mode of relief, because he contended that the distress was not caused by the present price of corn, but was the result of other measures brought forward by the noble lord. The non-application of former means, owing to the suspicion under which credit laboured at present, prevented labour from being brought into action. He was well-informed that the masters, possessing the same means as before, only suspended their orders for want of temporary credit to enable them to apply those means. He would not now enter into the merits of the measures which had been brought forward this session. He concurred in the wisdom of them in theory; but he was not prepared to admit the prudence of enacting them at the present period, because their effect was, to produce a suspense of that credit upon which alone machinery existed; and until that credit was restored, the distress could not be reduced. If the noble lord's measure was said to be advisable as a precaution against a possible contingency, and not one of immediate relief, it would be proclaiming, that the land was the cause of the distress, and that the land must bear it.
said, that there could be but one common feeling as to the distresses which unhappily prevailed in some of the manufacturing districts. All who heard of them must feel sorrow. The proposed measure he conceived likely to be attended with beneficial, results. He was not prepared to say that any alteration in the Corn-laws would have the effect of preventing a repetition of distress. He thought much of the suffering might be deduced from a cessation of demand for the articles manufactured, and from 754 over-trading. These, however, were questions requiring the serious consideration of the House. The report of Mr. Jacob, which had been alluded to, contained facts of deep importance, and worthy of mature consideration, with respect to foreign corn. There was an authority given him before he commenced his inquiries, which rendered the report of more value. He hoped that parliament would not separate without every member having had an opportunity of weighing the facts and opinions contained in that report. It was also a subject well worth inquiry, whether the crisis had not assumed a character which it would not have assumed had it not been for the steps taken by his majesty's government.
§ Earl Grey
said, he was in general desirous to leave the discussion of matters of this kind to those who were best calculated to discuss them, yet he felt it impossible not to make a few observations on the present occasion. He would not arrogate to himself any feelings occasioned by the present distress, different from those which were experienced by others. It was impossible to reflect upon it without its making the heart sick. It was dreadful to contemplate a population dying with hunger. In such a case, undoubtedly, the first duty was to give them succour. They had been called a deluded people. It was too true that their feelings and efforts were directed to the destruction of property, by which they themselves would ultimately suffer. The delusion must be corrected by reason; the violence must be suppressed by the rigour of the law; but at the same time, another and a more imperious duty was, to bring relief to that distress which was the foundation of those excesses. He would not distress himself by describing the sufferings of those individuals. It was sufficient to say, that they rendered the present superior to all common cases, and called imperiously for relief. With that view he thanked his noble friend for the enlightened speech in which he had brought forward his proposition, and he thanked him still more for the wisdom of that proposition;—namely, that their lordships should come forward with an address to the throne, praying for the application of a sum of money, or some other mode of relief, to the suffering part of the population. But, having performed that duty, which he admitted was not without its difficulties, from the danger of its being 755 made a precedent hereafter, their lordships had another duty to perform; namely, to inquire into the state of the country, with a view to ascertain the causes of this distress, in order to obviate them in future; and he insisted that it would be a dereliction of the duty of this and the other house of parliament, if they did not continue the session until they prosecuted such inquiry. He could not, therefore, talk of parliament being about to separate. In every point of view it was their duty to remain sitting until this object was effected. Here was a dense population driven, not by sedition or disaffection towards the government, but by absolute distress, into acts of violence against authority, and that property from which they derived their subsistence. Such was the state of the country at present, and such was the state which the law contemplated, when it enabled ministers, at a short notice, to convene parliament to inquire into the cause of its distress. Were their lordships, then, to be told, that parliament was about to separate without proceeding to make any such inquiry? He repeated, that it was a duty imperative on ministers to take care that parliament should not separate without instituting an inquiry into those causes, and adopting some permanent measures against their recurrence. If that was his opinion generally, it was greatly increased by what he had heard from the noble lord opposite. They had heard a great deal respecting the erroneous impressions which prevailed as to the Corn-laws being the cause of the present distress. He had not yet said any thing on that subject; but his noble friend near him (lord Lauderdale) must excuse him if he said, that it ought to be approached with calmness and caution, and consideration as to the state of the country; and not with an attempt to force by declamation the adoption of any particular opinion. When his noble friend deprecated such a mode of proceeding, he would ask him if he was wholly free from such conduct himself? He did not say that the Corn-laws did not want revision; but, looking at the average price of corn for the last two or three years, he could not bring himself to believe that it had any thing to do with the present distress. He did not say, he repeated, that they did not require revision; but the subject was one which ought to be approached with the greatest care and caution. The worst 756 evil attending it would be to keep it in a state of fluctuation. However, with respect to the present clamour about the Corn-laws, he must say, that there never was a more imprudent measure resorted to than the notice which the noble earl had given last session that would be reviewed in this. A great part of the evil which now existed arose from the non-fulfilment of that pledge. Now he did not say that there were not weighty reasons for not bringing forward that subject now—he thought there were; and one of them was the present state of the currency; for, while that was unsettled, it was impossible to say what ought to be the amount of the duty. But all that only aggravated the imprudence of such a premature notice. Had the noble lord consulted what was due to his own character he would have abstained from saying any thing on the subject, until the proper period arrived for bringing it forward. He therefore could not say that the noble lord stood guiltless of the cause of the present clamour about the state of the Corn-laws being unaltered. But, if that was the consequence of the measure of last session, what must be the consequence of this? He perfectly agreed with his noble friends, that it could only have the effect of aggravating the evil. What said the noble lord opposite? That the present state of the Corn-laws had nothing to do with the present distress. But then he proposed a measure of relief. And, how did he propose to relieve it? By lowering the price of corn; by throwing the bonded corn upon the market, and admitting the importation of foreign corn. Did it not follow, then, that the noble lord considered the price of corn as the cause of the distress. ["No," from lord Liverpool.] The noble lord might disclaim it; but why reduce the price of corn, but because he considered that the manufacturers were suffering from high prices? If such was not his belief, this measure was certainly calculated to create the delusion. And what would be the effect amongst the agricultural interests, when they saw government lowering the price of corn, not to the manufacturers alone, but to the country generally? What, but to produce a state of the greatest alarm? He could not but view this measure as the cause of great apprehension, in common with many other measures of the noble earl this session. With respect to the second mea- 757 sure proposed by the noble earl, that could not be introduced without inquiry; and if the House granted to ministers the power they asked, he hoped they would accompany it with a provision by which they would be bound to call parliament together immediately. The noble earl said, that this measure was not intended as one of relief, but as the means of enabling government to prevent the first article of provision from reaching a famine price. But what cause was there to apprehend any probability of that? Why fear it this year, any more than last year? Upon the principles of the noble earl, this ought to be a general measure, not a temporary one. He certainly did not see the bearing of it, except that it tended to increase the alarm which the only sound part of the population, the agricultural classes, now felt; and thus to destroy the only market which was now open to the manufacturers. And here he left this matter,—certainly to be discussed hereafter, but with caution and temper; and he would conclude with what he had stated at the outset, that he hoped they would not separate until they had probed the evil to the bottom, and ascertained its real causes. He was one of those who were friends to a metallic circulation, and he was always strongly favourable to every measure which had that for its object; but, after all that had happened, he must repeat the doubts which he expressed a year ago, as to whether this country could go through the distress attending such an alteration. Faith must be kept with the public creditor; but it was a sound maxim of law, that "nemo tenetur ad impossibilia." If they were once placed in a situation in which they could not keep the country in a state of decent prosperity, they could not be held to do that which was impossible; and therefore it would be their duty not to throw the whole state into utter confusion. When, in the eleventh year of peace, he found the country in a state of deep distress, occasioned by the pressure and expense of a war which he had ever condemned, he felt that nothing effectual could be done for the people, unless government took the matter seriously in hand,—unless ministers evinced a thorough determination to probe to the bottom, promptly and decidedly, the cause which had produced so much evil; and, having done so, applied themselves with equal promptitude to the adoption of those general reforms which 758 were absolutely necessary to restore the country to a healthful and prosperous state. If this were not done, those distresses would come on, from time to time, in an aggravated form, and would ultimately produce such a convulsion, as he hoped the country might recover from hereafter, but which the present generation could not pass through without experiencing a degree of suffering which he was not prepared to describe or to express. This he wished to impress on the minds of his majesty's ministers. It is necessary that they should show to the country, not only by their expressions, but by their acts, that they were desirous of relieving the people from all unnecessary burthens of every description. They ought to evince a sincere and energetic resolution to carry the most rigid system of retrenchment into effect; and, if they did not, they would create a degree of discontent and dissatisfaction, which could not be contemplated without alarm. Whenever these subjects were brought forward, they must, of necessity, be fully discussed; and he hoped that, in the present season of famine and distress, ministers would not desert their posts, but that they would at once proceed to an inquiry into the cause of all those evils and calamities. He trusted that parliament would not separate, until they had satisfied themselves and the public at large of the reason of those manifold misfortunes. He trusted they would not leave the country almost in a state of absolute and complete ruin, without having the immediate means in their power (for such would be the case if parliament were now to separate) of attaining the great objects of tranquillity and prosperity.
§ Earl Bathurst
said, that, as to the distress of the manufacturing districts, and the necessity of alleviating that distress, there was, he believed, but one feeling throughout the country. Every where an ardent and anxious wish prevailed to give the suffering manufacturers whatever support could be given to them. If he had any doubt of the wisdom of the proposition made by the noble marquis, it was founded on his belief, that if it were acceded to, it would open the door for applications of this kind from time to time; and they would press so frequently on the country, that in the end it would be found to be a great national evil. Therefore, and therefore alone, it was, that he was averse from any measure of 759 that nature. With respect to the question of the currency to which the noble earl who spoke last, had adverted, he could not help expressing his regret that the noble earl, entertaining the sentiments which he had that evening uttered on the subject, had not taken opportunities which had previously occurred, for delivering his opinion, and fully discussing that question. The noble earl had, up to the present time, refrained from doing so; and he thought that the noble earl had abstained from declaring his view of the Subject, at a time, when, in his opinion, the noble earl was called on to state what his impression was. He had not, how-ever, thought fit to declare that he entertained the doubts which he now avowed. He had reserved the exposition of his sentiments until a measure, avowedly for the relief of the country, was brought forward. As to the proposition of his noble friend, he must do his noble friend the justice to say, that he did not attribute the distress of the manufacturing districts to the operation of the Corn-laws. His noble friend never stated that to be the cause; but, on the contrary, he had always maintained, that that distress was mainly attributable to over-trading, to the immense extent to which speculation had been carried. In consequence of that, the market became over-stocked, while the demand was sensibly diminished. Such was the argument of his noble friend. The measure now proposed by his noble friend was intended as well for present relief, as, if circumstances called for it, to ward off future distress. What his noble friend proposed was this—that in the event of a rise in the price of corn, a power should be granted to check the increase of price by admitting a greater supply. It was quite clear, if the price of corn should rise, that that circumstance must produce such an aggravation of the existing evil, as made it necessary for the legislature to adopt those measures that would prevent the increase of price, and thus also prevent the distress which prevailed from being extended and aggravated. Under those circumstances it was, that his noble friend had proposed the two measures which had occasioned the present discussion. He conceived it to be possible, that corn might rise after the close of the session, to what was stated to be famine price, and he was anxious to provide for such an exigency. What did the noble earl opposite consider 760 to be a famine price, taking into account the state in which a large portion of the manufacturing population was placed? Undoubtedly 80s. was a famine price, situated as the manufacturers now were: and yet, unless the price of corn rose to 80s. per quarter, it was not in the power of the government as the law now stood, to let the corn at present in bond go into the market. Of the large quantity of corn now locked up in the different warehouses, not a single quarter could come out.—It must perish in those warehouses, unless the price of wheat rose to 80s. He repeated it, that not one particle of that bonded corn could come out of the warehouses for consumption in England, under the existing law, until British wheat had arrived at the price of 80s. a quarter. What was bonded previous to the passing of the act, might, by the measure of last year, be taken out when wheat had advanced to 70s. per quarter; but, all that was bonded subsequently to the passing of the act, could only be taken out of bond when wheat had reached 80s. the quarter. Was that a situation in which any person who felt really, truly, and sincerely for the suffering poor, could wish to remain for one moment longer? He thought there could be but one opinion on that subject. With respect to the precautionary measure of his noble friend, by which it was proposed that the Crown should be allowed to open the ports for the purpose of admitting a further supply of foreign corn, at a certain rate of duty; namely, 12s. per quarter, it was a power, which, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, he thought every person must wish the government to possess.
The Earl of Rosslyn
said, it had been stated, that the noble earl did not attribute the existing distress to the operation of the Coin-laws, or to the present price of corn; but let their lordships look a little to what must be the effect of the conduct of ministers on the country; let them look to the opinions which that conduct must necessarily inculcate on the mind of every man who was suffering distress at that moment. The noble marquis had stated that this was a case of such excessive misery as called for immediate notice, and he proposed a measure for the relief of those who were suffering. But, what was the answer of the noble earl opposite? He said, "We cannot agree to that proposition, because it would form a dangerous precedent;" and he added, "but we 761 have to propose a different measure, namely, the admission of bonded corn into the market." Here they rejected one measure of relief, and they proposed another, which was intimately connected with the corn question. The measure now proposed did not go to guard against any future contingency. It could not be said, that the admission of bonded corn at present was a measure of precaution against any distress that hereafter might arise. Now, in opposition to what had fallen from noble lords opposite, he must contend, that ministers, by their acts, must lead the whole country to believe, that the high price of corn was operating most injuriously to the country. They, by their conduct, encouraged the clamour about the Corn-laws: they, by their acts, would induce the people to believe, that the price of corn so far from having nothing to do with the distress of the country, was the primary cause of it. They, by the course they had adopted, encouraged the clamour which existed amongst the suffering manufacturers, against the Corn-laws, and against the agricultural interest, who were in favour of those laws. They did all that men could do by their acts to encourage the belief, that those laws were pernicious. As to the second part of this measure; namely, the power to be given to the king in Council to open the ports, he must say, it was impossible that it could be more necessary in the present session than in any other, except it were maintained that the price of corn was now operating injuriously; or, if not causing, at least greatly aggravating, the evil. When the noble earl who spoke last talked of a famine price of 80s., let him recollect, that if there was no work, and no wages even for those who had work, any price might be called a famine price. For himself, he was of opinion, that much of the present evil was owing to the operation of those measures by which government had effected a great alteration in the currency of the country. They had been the means of encouraging the employment of manufacturing labour. But, if there was no demand for manufactures, and if the want of that demand was the cause of all this distress, why then, as the poor could have no means of purchasing corn, 40s. a quarter must be a starving price as well as 80s. In such a state of things, it mattered not what the price was. His own persuasion was, that it 762 was the duty of the noble earl opposite, and the duty of the House, to inquire seriously and deeply into this question; and if necessary, to afford some relief to persons suffering both from want of employment, and want of means to purchase food. They would do a great deal more good, and give more relief to the people, by looking the evil in the face, and seeking a permanent remedy, than by reducing the price of corn, for the present, by letting the bonded corn come into the market.
The Earl of Liverpool
wished to say a few words in explanation. It was not his intention to discuss the general question on this occasion. He must, in the first place, disclaim that he had ever asserted that the price of corn, or the state of the Corn-laws, had caused the present calamity. Not only did he think that they had not created the existing distress, but he believed that they had nothing to do with it. He had not stated, neither had he meant to state, that the measure proposed by him was intended as a measure of relief that ought to supersede that species of assistance to which the noble marquis had alluded. He had stated the objections he felt to the measure of the noble marquis—not as one which under no circumstances should be resorted to, but as one fraught with so much public inconvenience, that nothing but absolute and overbearing necessity could justify its adoption; and he came, in consequence, to this conclusion, that voluntary contribution and voluntary assistance were better than the measure which the noble marquis recommended. As to the question of the Corn-laws, he had stated before and he would state it again, that that question was not the cause of those distresses. They had, however, seen, that the price of corn had been rising for some weeks past; and, without doubt, if it continued to rise, that circumstance would act as a very great aggravation of the present evil. When noble lords argued this question, they ought to take this fact into consideration—that though there were individuals who had no employment at present, there were others who had some work for which they received a small price. Now, no person could say that the amount of wages paid for their bread was not to them a most material consideration. He would, therefore, contend, that the two measures—the one admitting bonded corn into the market, and the other 763 giving the king in Council the power to open the ports, and to let in further supplies—precautionary measures, with a view to preventing any thing like a famine price, which at any time it was dreadful to contemplate, but the effects of which would be terrible now—were the best that could be devised under all the circumstances. He thought it was the duty of ministers to propose, and of parliament to adopt, measures that would prevent the price of corn from rising to that amount which would aggravate the present distress in a tenfold degree.
The Earl of Limerick
observed, that the present average price of wheat was 61s. Now, if the famine price of wheat was not below 80s. with the promise of good harvest before them, what likelihood was there of the necessity of putting any such power as that desired into the hands of ministers?
said, he did not rise to prolong the discussion which had taken place upon this important subject. He merely wished to remark upon the inconsistent course pursued by his majesty's ministers. At the commencement of the session they had given it as their opinion, that that was not the time for altering the Corn-laws, or for entering into consideration upon the subject. Now, however, they were of opinion that the present was a fit moment for altering the Corn-laws, without consideration. Now, it appeared to him that his majesty's ministers were endeavouring to obtain that surreptitiously which they could not otherwise hope for, by taking advantage of the feelings awakened by the distress of the country, to achieve that alteration in the Corn-laws, in which, otherwise, the House would not be induced to concur. They pretended to talk of this as a temporary measure; but he cautioned all those who were hostile to any change in those laws to be on their guard against this insidious attempt to bring about a permanent change without inquiry, and under the cover of the prevailing distress.
The Earl of Darnley
dwelt upon the increasing distress of the country, with which he did not believe his majesty's ministers were adequately acquainted. He implored the noble earl over and over again, before he brought his measures to maturity, to look at the extraordinary circumstances in which the country was placed. The state of destitution in which 764 the manufacturing districts were plunged was clearly proved. He feared the noble earl was not aware of the mischief which must arise from the want of immediate assistance; and therefore he conceived it to be his duty, and the duty of the House, to call on the noble earl to adopt some more efficient measure than that to which he had adverted. It was absurd to talk of the danger of creating a precedent, when individuals were actually expiring from want. The noble earl and his majesty's ministers would not satisfy the public, the country, or the starving manufacturers, if they did not take measures of a different nature from those that were proposed.
§ Here the discussion terminated.