§ The order of the day having been moved,
The Earl of Malmesbury
said, that in rising to propose the motion of which he had a few days since given notice, he assured their lordships that he felt considerable pain and embarrassment—pain, because it was his lot to differ upon the subject from many noble lords whose public opinions were generally in unison with his own, and whom in private he viewed with every sentiment of regard and esteem—and embarrassment, because, when he viewed the circumstances of the country in connexion with this great question, and the magnitude of the interests it involved, he had deeply to lament that some one of their lordships, of greater ability and greater experience, had not undertaken the task. The only excuse that he had to urge for what in him might appear presumption, was the kind indulgence with which their lordships had heard him on former occasions, when this subject was discussed. All he had to hope then, was, that if this cause, which he felt to be one of justice, should fail in his hands, that failure might not be attributed to its want of merit, but to the insufficiency of the individual who brought it forward. Before he entered fully into 1054 the question, he felt it necessary to state the reasons that induced him to bring it forward in its present shape. To some it might appear that he was prejudging that question by the motion which he offered to the House; but his own opinion was, that it was always better, if possible, when agitating an important measure, to give the House an opportunity of displaying its sentiments upon that measure, before it was brought forward in the shape of a bill. He would say nothing on the first of the measures then before the other House; but by the second it was proposed to place a power in the hands of ministers, to introduce 500,000 quarters of foreign corn into this country. The other House might be disposed to consent to that measure without fixing any duty at which the corn should be imported, and without limiting the time of importation. Their lordships might, on the contrary, not be disposed to sanction such a measure without a fixed rate of duty, and without the time of importation were limited. But if that were the case, such a measure would necessarily fall to the ground, because their lordships could say nothing about the duty. To satisfy their lordships of the propriety of his motion, he would enter into a short history of the present state of the question as to the Corn-laws. In the year 1825, the president of the Board of Trade, to whom he believed he might allude, in that speech with which he opened, in the month of March, his propositions for a free trade—he would say, his experiments in trade—distinctly stated, that it was the intention of government to revise the Corn-laws, but that it would not be done that session. The mention of such an intention necessarily had an injurious effect on the landed interest. The consideration of this important subject was accordingly not brought on; but, towards the close of the session two measures were proposed, which were a violation of the existing law. One was for the admission of 433,000 quarters of corn into the home market from under bond, and the other was a bill for establishing a free trade in grain with our North American colonies. The former measure had passed without any opposition; the latter had been strongly opposed. On the debate on the latter question, the noble earl opposite (Liverpool) had stated, that the duty of 5s. a quarter was to be laid on Canadian wheat, but he also stated, that, in his 1055 opinion, there ought to be no duty at all, and that the trade in corn with the colonies ought to be put on the same footing as the corn trade in the mother country. This was the principle of free trade carried to its extreme. This brought them to the close of the last session, and their lordships separated, leaving the country in a state of great prosperity. When they met this year they found a great change had taken place, and that the country was involved in deep distress. It was, however, stated by the noble earl opposite, that it was not the intention of government to touch the Corn-laws this session; that this was not a favourable time for agitating and settling so important a question; and that, in the state of the country, it would injure the agricultural, and could confer no benefit on the landed, interest. In this he entirely coincided with the noble earl: but, within a short period, not above ten days, he believed, the distress in the manufacturing districts had assumed the character of destructive disturbance. On that occasion, a noble friend of his suggested, that a vote of public money would be the proper mode of relieving the distress; and on making that suggestion, the noble earl opposite objected thereto, and stated that there were two more constitutional modes of relief; one was charity—and charitable as that country was, this was very seldom appealed to on so extensive a scale—the Other was the poor-rates; and by them, as the sheet anchor, they must hold at last. He was quite within the mark, when he stated, that, of the whole poor-rates of the country, the landed interest already paid seven-tenths. The noble earl further stated, that two measures were in contemplation of the government. The one to let out the bonded corn; the other to permit an importation of foreign corn, in case of necessity. The ground of these measures was stated to be a possibility of scarcity, or an apprehension of scarcity; but he should prove that this apprehension was not well founded, by showing what quantity of foreign corn had been introduced into this country under the existing laws, since March 21st, 1825. In looking at the returns then on their lordships' table, he found that 433,000 quarters of wheat had been taken out of bond, and 95,000 had been imported from Canada, making a total of 528,000 quarters brought into the market. He might add to this the quantity of 1056 corn to be taken out of bond by the first of the proposed measures, to which he had no objection, amounting to 300,000 quarters, and the 500,000 quarters proposed to be introduced by the second measure, which would make, on the whole, 1,328,000 introduced into the country under the present Corn-law and these measures. As to scarcity, that was a visitation of Providence, which men must be prepared to meet; but he should, he thought, have good ground for adhering to the present law, if he showed, that under it more had been imported in these eleven months than had been imported, on an average, under the system which existed before 1815. The average quantity imported in years of peace and war, under that system, was 450,000 quarters a year; and he had just stated the quantity imported under the present system. To show what effect it had on prices, he would mention, that the average price in May 1815, was 56s.; in 1816 it was 75s.; but in November that year it rose to 96s. In May 1817, it was 105s.; while in May, 1825, it was 60s.— shewing, by the prices of the present year, that there was no very good ground for an apprehension of scarcity. The average prices of this year, and of last, confirmed what he had before stated, as to the improbability of scarcity. The averages were these:—On the 14th November, 1825, two months after the harvest, the price, was 65s. 4d.; while in Feb. 1826 no less than five months after the harvest, the price, instead of having risen, had actually fallen from 65s. to 60s. 5d. per quarter. If the supposition was, that the noble earl was correct, the House would of course expect, that in the present month of May, eight months after the harvest, the price must have increased considerably. Now, the fact was exactly the reverse; for in this month, the price had amounted to no more than 60s. 4d.; so that the price now had fallen no less than 5s. from the sum at which it had stood only two months after the harvest. It seemed to be an opinion now prevailing, that the quantity of corn in hand had decreased. Now, he thought he could satisfy the House, that though the quantity in the warehouses might be less, yet that that fact was no proof of the actual diminution of the quantity of corn in the country. It was a gratifying circumstance to him, that the poor farmers were not forced in the market to sell their 1057 produce at any price they could obtain; but that they were able to retain it, and only to introduce it into the market gradually. Such was the fact, he believed, especially with the farmers in Norfolk and Lincolnshire; and this fact he thought sufficient to justify him in saying, that though the warehouses were not full, that circumstance did not afford any proof that the stock in the country would be insufficient to supply the home consumption.—His objection to the measure now proposed extended itself both to the time and the manner of the proposition. If he could believe for one moment, that the present state of the Corn-laws was the cause of the distress now existing in the country, he should have no objection to the measure; but before he agreed to it, he wished to know, and he must ask that question, whether the Corn-laws were, in fact, the cause of the distress, or if not, what was the cause? Now, he believed, that if he were to ask such a question, he should receive a great number of different answers. The manufacturers of the country would answer him with a declaration, that combination was the cause. The workmen, if they were asked, would answer, that machinery had created the distress. Old-fashioned people like himself would say, that it proceeded from those principles of free trade lately introduced by his majesty's ministers; while another class of men seemed to point out the Corn-laws as its origin. Now, he believed another cause might also be assigned; and that was the unprincipled speculations last year. He knew that very many merchants of the highest reputation were of this opinion, in which he also agreed; but he must say, and he knew that these very merchants supported him in the belief, that the Corn-laws had nothing whatever to do with the matter. As he believed this himself, he wished to convince the world of the truth of his belief; and he, therefore, now presented himself to their lordships, to ask for an inquiry into the matter, as he had no doubt he should be able to prove it, by the testimony of at least six of the most respectable merchants of the city. Within a week he would prove this to be the case, if their lordships would grant him even that time for the inquiry. But he would go further, and show, that not only the Corn-laws were not the cause of the present distress, but that the measures now introduced to remedy 1058 that distress, let it proceed from what it might, were calculated only to increase it. For that reason he was averse to forcing on the present measure, and for that reason he felt justified in pressing their lordships to accede to his motion.— Another reason for his now appearing to claim their lordships' attention was, an expression used by the noble earl at the head of his majesty's government, as applicable to the protecting price at which alone foreign corn was to be admitted to the British market. That noble earl, in the course of his speech on a former occasion, had used the words "famine price;" now, he must confess, he was astonished at the expression, and he could not but ask what had occurred in the course of four short years, since 1822, to make that which was then considered a fair protecting price be now considered and described as a "famine price." He certainly must do the noble earl the justice to say, that he had followed up his description of "famine price" with an avowal, that what in one year might be a moderate price, in another year might, from a change of circumstance, become a famine price. But if that was the case, in what a state were the agriculturists placed, since the 12s. which was this year considered as a fair protecting duty, might next year be called a famine price. It was impossible that the landed interest could go on in that uncertain manner. It was impossible that any farms could be let, or any agreements entered into, if every year the price of corn, and consequently the rent of the land, was to depend on the circumstances of the manufacturers. If, however, there was a famine price as to corn, there would equally be a famine price as to all the other necessaries of life. The noble earl opposite, perhaps, did not minutely examine the bills of his hatter, his tailor, or his shoemaker; but if he did, he would find that a famine price as to corn could not exist, without a similar effect being observable in the price of his hat, his clothes, and his shoes. These were, as well as corn, the necessaries of life. Tea, which was perhaps almost a necessary among the lower orders, would experience the same increase in value; so would education, and so would labour of all kinds, as well as materials; for there was no saying to what point the increase of price ought not to go, since they were all liable to the same operation. If 65 were to be made the protecting price of corn, there 1059 must be a certain number of shillings added on account of the protecting duty; and he had already shown, that if the estimation of these was to be continually varying, there could be no stability in the concerns of the agricultural interest. He had mentioned education, and he should take that opportunity of saying, that he was a friend of education, because he believed it calculated to produce a benefit to the whole community; and, perhaps, one of the principal advantages of increasing the general mass of intellect was that of decreasing the quantity of prejudice. Now, he was of opinion, that the education diffused of late years among the people of this country had had that effect, and that if an inquiry should be granted, he should be able to prove what he had stated, and the spreading of that proof among the people could not fail to destroy the prejudice which now existed as to the Corn-laws. He wished it to be recollected, that the landed interest, so far from being protected from taxation, were, in fact, taxed beyond any other interest in the country. They could not have recourse to machinery to increase the quantity of their produce: and he had no doubt that the proof of the facts which he had already mentioned, and of some others to which this inquiry would naturally give rise, would do away any prejudice that might exist on the subject. He should now allude to Ireland—a country to which he looked as one of the great resources against that scarcity which the noble earl seemed to apprehend. They seemed not to be aware of the progress which had been made in that country among the agriculturists. He should take the liberty, on this subject, to quote some calculations from a book which was in the possession of most of their lordships— he meant Mr. Tooke's work—from which it appeared, that within the first three years of the importation of wheat from Ireland, dating from the year 1806, the quantity imported had amounted to 63,000 quarters of wheat. The difference between those years and the last three years, up to 1822, was most remarkable. In the three years, ending 1822, the quantity imported was 484,000 quarters—a quantity amounting to as much as the quantity of foreign corn that had been formerly imported. There were documents which gave an account of the quantity of corn and meal that had been imported into this country from Ireland. In the year 1815, 1060 the quantity (which he should prefer in his statement to the value, as that was always fluctuating), amounted to 1,600,000 barrels of wheat and flour. In the year 1825, only ten years afterwards, that quantity had increased to 3,700,000 barrels. That quantity was the more remarkable, as the trade to the colonies was almost done away with, since they had been permitted to receive American flour. He thought the proof of this in the Committee of Inquiry would have the effect of checking much of the spirit of disaffection now existing. His majesty's ministers had asked their lordships for their confidence, and had required them to consent to the measures now proposed, almost without examination. He was as ready as any one to place confidence in his majesty's ministers, and if there was any man in whom he should be more ready to place confidence than another, it was the noble earl at the head of his majesty's government. But when he differed from that noble earl in principle, when they came to a question on a measure which one considered as politic, and which the other deemed dangerous, it was no proof of want of confidence, if he refused that noble earl his vote on the measure. In consequence of that measure having been produced, a cloud had overhung the corn market, where every thing depended on the feeling between the buyer and the seller. If the corn buyer met the farmer with a confidence that what he bought he should be immediately able to sell, he would give a high price; but if the corn-factor saw he was likely to be met in the market by an importation of foreign corn, he would not give so high a price, and the farmer immediately became a sufferer, and would never be able to sell but at a minimum price. The same effect would be produced in the markets for other articles, if a similar course should be pursued. If the noble earl opposite had now on his hands 200,000 pairs of shoes imported from France, and proposed immediately to introduce them to the London market, he would have all the shoemakers in London in a state of insurrection. True it was, they might be told, as the landed proprietors were now told, that the quantity imported would form but an inconsiderable portion of the whole amount used in the course of the year; but such a statement would not satisfy them, for they would answer, that if the effect produced 1061 on them was bad, by lessening the demand for their labour, it made very little difference what was the comparative quantity introduced.—So much with respect to the measure itself. Now, with regard to the time at which it was introduced. He objected to its introduction before the 1st of June, previously to which time some more satisfactory information might be obtained, at least if his present motion should be granted; which would also give their lordships the opportunity of considering whether the measure now proposed could not be, in some degree, modelled, so as to avoid the disadvantages to which, in its present form, it was liable. He begged pardon of the House for having detained them so long, but he should now conclude by expressing his earnest hopes that they would accede to his motion—that they would not pass this measure, without further considering the interests of the landed proprietors, not as a class by themselves, but as a class with the interests of which every other class was connected. He required nothing but a fair and open consideration of the question, and he asked for this inquiry in the confident belief, that its result must be to make the landed interest triumphant. He had no other motive in making the present motion but the good of a class of the community which carried all others along with it, and with which they must all be prosperous or distressed. The noble earl concluded by moving a resolution to the following effect:—"That this House, though feeling the most anxious desire to contribute all in their power to the relief of the suffering classes of the community, is, nevertheless of opinion, that it is not expedient to consent to any measure for the alteration or suspension of the existing system of the Corn-laws with regard to the admission of foreign corn into the British markets for home consumption, without first instituting an inquiry into the relative effects of such proposed alteration or suspension, both on the grower and consumer of British corn."
§ Earl Bathurst
said, that it had been the opinion of his majesty's ministers, an opinion which they had expressed in that House, and in which they were justified by circumstances, and supported by the opinions of others, that the present was not the fit time to discuss the operation of the Corn-laws. The noble earl who had just resumed his scat seemed to dif- 1062 fer from that opinion, and offered now to state the question in so clear a manner, and to bring forward such evidence on the subject, as would silence all doubts upon it. Now, with respect to that evidence, he begged to observe, that the opinions of a few manufacturers or merchants, however highly respectable, would not be sufficient to create a unanimous opinion on this subject. The noble earl had moved a resolution, after having called on their lordships to make a declaration of their sentiments on this matter; and that, too, even before the evidence which he proposed to adduce could be heard. Now, his objection to the resolution proposed was, that it was not a declaration of their lordships' sentiments. He opposed it on account of its extreme ambiguity. It was a resolution on which no two individuals would be agreed as to its precise meaning. Those who thought that there should be an alteration of the Corn-laws, but that it should be preceded by inquiry; those who thought there should be an alteration without any inquiry; those who thought there should be no alteration, nor any inquiry, this year, but that both inquiry and alteration should be postponed to next year; and those who thought there should be no alteration at all— might, by putting their own construction on the resolution, agree in their vote with the noble earl, by which he might get a majority. The noble earl called on the House to pass a resolution not to consent to any measure for the alteration or suspension of the existing system of Corn-laws. Now, what was the existing system? In the year 1815, there was an absolute prohibition of the importation of foreign corn, until the price of corn in the English markets should amount to 80s., when corn was to be admitted free of duty. In 1822, great inconvenience having been felt from that system, it was altered; and it was then determined, that the market price at which corn should be admitted for home consumption should be fixed at 70s., but subject to a duty of 17s. for the first three months, and 12s. for any time afterwards, until the price should amount to 80s., when it was proposed the duty should be reduced, but still a graduated rate of duty be continued; but then, in addition to that, this law was not to operate until the market price amounted to 80s. The effect of this alteration was, to suspend the permanent law until the price rose as high as 80s. If, therefore, he was asked, what 1063 was now the system of the Corn-laws? he should answer, that foreign corn might be admitted at a duty when the price had risen to 70s. This, however, was not all the ambiguity belonging to the resolution now proposed; for it pledged their lordships not to consent to the admission of any foreign grain for the home consumption. Now that extended to all the corn in bond, which was strictly within the words of the noble earl's resolution. The noble earl, however, had no intention that it should so apply; for he was willing to allow the grain now in bond to be brought into the market, subject to the limitation which had been already proposed; and that grain he was ready to admit without any inquiry. Yet, by so doing, he would not consent to give the manufacturers the impression that the Corn-laws were the cause of the distress. But then, though he was ready to admit the existence of an exigency so far, he would refuse to admit, in terms, the necessity of any infraction of the Corn-laws, though, by allowing the bonded corn to be brought into the market, he did, in fact, agree to an infraction of the law. Yet, though he would do so much, the noble earl had not resolved to proceed a step further, and to admit foreign corn into the country, even under any possible exigency to which it might be reduced. He would ask, whether the noble earl and his supporters had considered what would be the state of the country in the event of a great rise in the price of corn? The noble earl had said, that thought the warehouses were not full, the farm-yards were. This might be the fact; but it was also true, that last year the harvest was early and the crops good, and the promise of the crops, too, in the early part of the year was fair, and not like the present time, when the crops were much behind [cries of No, no !]. He was glad to hear he was mistaken; but, supposing the promise of the crops now to be fair, even then it did not follow, that the harvest might be got in as well as last year; and if that was not the case, the price of corn might rise, within six weeks, to such an extent, that any one who thought of the state of the labouring classes must be convinced they could not exist. What was the remedy for such a contingency? Was parliament to be continued, or rather, would parliament determine to sit up to the 14th of August, to contrive a remedy when the evil had arisen? Or would they say, "Let the 1064 evil go on, and let the people suffer, without any assistance being afforded them?" He was sure they would not say any such thing. If, then, the measure now proposed by government was not carried, what was to be done? Was parliament to be adjourned, and then re-summoned, without any thing being done for the people in the interval? And if they were re-summoned, was there any one who would say, that such a moment was the most propitious that could be chosen for the discussion of the principle of the Corn-laws? He was convinced there was no one who entertained such a notion; and yet, if parliament should be summoned under such circumstances, they must go into the discussion. There was no one, however opposed to the landed interest, who could fix on a plan that could be more injurious to their interests, nor on a moment when such a discussion could come on so much to their disadvantage. Some persons were of opinion, that the power of the Crown should be exerted in cases of necessity; that corn should be allowed to be imported; and that ministers should then come down to parliament for indemnity. Now, his objection to that course was, that it was no gracious part of the prerogative of the Crown to dispense with the laws; and when it had been exercised, the consequences to ministers had not been such as to induce them to wish to renew the experiment. This prerogative had been exerted in the time of lord Chatham. There was then an appearance of scarcity, and the Crown had directed the ports to be closed against the exportation of corn, and ministers afterwards came to parliament for indemnity. What was the consequence? They were asked, why they had not foreseen the emergency, and obtained from parliament their opinion on the subject. What was the inference from this inquiry? Why, that if ministers had foreseen the emergency, they had acted culpably in allowing parliament to separate, without coming to a decision on the subject. If the present ministers should have the same question put to them when they asked for indemnity, they must answer, that they had foreseen the emergency, and must acknowledge their culpability. But the infraction of the law, by the exertion of the royal prerogative in this case, would be greater than in the former instance. The Crown had at that time only forbidden the exportation of corn, which was then allowed to be ex- 1065 ported; whereas, now, they would be allowing the importation of corn, which was, at present, except under certain circumstances, forbidden. But that was not all. The infraction was still greater; for, as they could not admit the corn duty free, they must lay a tax upon it—a tax imposed without the consent of parliament —a tax upon the first necessary of life— and a tax, too, at a time when it was most necessary the subject of the tax should be admitted at as low a price as possible. If ministers did all this, and then came down to parliament and asked for a bill of indemnity, in what manner would parliament receive them? He should not venture to answer the question. The difficulty would be avoided if they would agree to the measure which his noble friend had proposed. He asked for power to be intrusted to ministers—discretionary power. It was said that this power ought to be limited, as their lordships might think necessary. What those limits should be, it was for them to consider; but if they entered on the discussion of the limitation of the amount of duty, they would, in some measure, be giving the opinion of parliament, as to what ought to be the importing price. All these difficulties presented themselves, now that parliament was in actual existence; and yet it was said, that ministers might take on themselves the responsibility of determining all those matters which now caused such serious discussion in parliament, and might afterwards come down to the House and ask for indemnity, as if they were secure of obtaining it, on a subject which that parliament treated as one of the utmost difficulty and delicacy. It appeared, the noble lord had no objection to setting free the bonded corn, but objected to the discretionary power proposed to be vested in the ministers of the Crown, for the introduction, if that should appear necessary, of a certain quantity of foreign corn: but, the real object seemed to be, to get rid of the whole proposition made by his majesty's ministers for the relief of the country. The resolution was very ambiguous, and not calculated, if carried into effect, to produce any benefit to the country. He certainly felt strongly opposed to its adoption, and would, therefore, move, "That the House do now adjourn."
The Marquis of Salisbury
said, that he had listened with much attention to the arguments of the noble lord who had last 1066 addressed the House, and he had hoped that from those arguments some justification might have been derived for the course upon which his majesty's ministers had thought it expedient to enter, and it was with regret that he felt himself bound to say, that no sufficient case had been made out to justify the legislature in vesting in those ministers that discretionary power which it was their object to acquire. There was no man in the House, or out of doors, more willing than he was to place confidence in the present ministers of the Crown; but, he must openly declare, that even were he disposed to admit the principle of their measures, he could not, under the present circumstances, be induced to lend his vote to the support of bills, which were objectionable, both as to the time and the manner of their introduction. It was, he assured the House, with considerable reluctance that he would oppose those with whom he had hitherto acted, in favour of the motion of his noble friend. To one of the measures, that for bringing the bonded corn into the market, he might perhaps have given his support, were it not that such a vote might seem to imply an admission that the Corn-laws ought altogether to be modified, and that the present distresses were in any respect to be attributed to the system upon which those laws were founded. It was with the deepest regret that he saw the noble earl, in whom he had hitherto, and should still, place confidence, lending himself to the unfounded calumny that had been sent abroad, that the Corn-laws were an advantage to the landed interest, at the expense of the manufacturers. He would support the resolution of his noble friend, for he thought that its adoption would afford a fair opportunity for disabusing the public mind of that gross and mischievous error, by permitting the landed proprietors and the agriculturists, to defend themselves from that unfounded imputation. And, further, it would give an opportunity of showing, what he was sure could very easily be shown, that the existing distresses were much more owing to the new principles of free trade, on which it was deemed proper to proceed, than to any operation of the Corn-laws. He thought, likewise, that the House was entitled to some explanation from the noble lord at the head of his majesty's government, which should go to account for the sudden change that had taken place in his sentiments, in the short space 1067 of ten days. Previous to this change, it was the opinion of that noble lord, that the question of the Corn-laws was one which should, on no account, be meddled with: it was one which, during the present session, should remain completely untouched. Now, it had not appeared, that, when the views of government were stated as to the two bills at present under the consideration of the other branch of the legislature, the noble lord had in the slightest degree alluded to the reasons by which the mighty change in his opinion had been effected. He and his noble friend were willing generally, to repose confidence in his majesty's ministers, but he for himself must frankly declare, that, on the present occasion at least, they must be allowed the privilege of differing from them. It was his full and deliberate conviction, that the quantity of corn now in bond would be found fully sufficient to meet any temporary rise of prices. Whatever were the merits or the demerits of the Corn-laws, he must repeat the opinion heretofore expressed by his majesty's government, that this was not the proper time for agitating the question. It was a question, too, which had best be discussed in a committee: but this, at least, must be admitted with respect to the system, that it was one which afforded a remunerating price to the grower, without creating an unreasonable demand upon the consumer. The session, he thought, was not too far advanced for inquiry, and he trusted that the noble earl would pause before he plunged the country deeper into the mire of free trade; which, he contended, was the real source of that degradation of trade out of which the present distresses arose. It was a question which ought to be set at rest; and he was sure the only mode of accomplishing that, would be by instituting the inquiry which it was the object of his noble friend's resolution to set on foot.
The Earl of Limerick
said, he felt great difficulty in giving the vote which a sense of duty would compel him to deliver. He had hitherto been a zealous supporter of the administration. Through good report, and through bad report, he had adhered to them; but what he owed to this country, and to the country from which he came, bound him to resist a measure fraught with injury to both, and especially to the latter. It had been said, that there was not time for inquiry. He would ask whose fault was that? It was now but 1068 the beginning of May, and he hesitated not to say, that it was the imperious duty of their lordships to remain at their posts, and ascertain whether the cause stated was or was not that to which the present distresses could be attributed, or whether there was any chance of famine prices. The noble lord had been pleased to quarrel with the motion, on the ground of ambiguity. For his part, he protested that never in his life did he read any thing more direct and obvious. He did not object to the introduction of the bonded corn, but he was decidedly averse from vesting in the hands of ministers the great discretionary power which they demanded at the hands of the legislature. This measure, like most others of the same character, could only be justified on the plea of necessity; and he protested that he thought that the case of necessity had been by no means established. The price for the last four months was 58s. 6d. and had since been rapidly falling. Was it, then, to be said, that with the power of bringing into the market 300,000 quarters of wheat, there existed the slightest danger of corn rising to a famine price? No; the fact was, the warehouses of the manufacturers were full. They thought that the introduction of foreign corn would create a vent for those manufactures, and so relieve the existing distress; but he could assure them that, no sooner would those warehouses be emptied, than they would be filled again by fresh supplies; and then the legislature would be called upon once more to enact the same scene. He would call upon his majesty's ministers to look upon those by whom they were supported, and those by whom they were opposed. Their household troops, as he might call them, in which number he included himself, were voting against them, and his majesty's ministers were found leaguing themselves with his majesty's Opposition. His lordship then proceeded to notice the Report of Mr. Jacob, saying, that in framing it, he was governed by such instructions as indicated the sort of opinions he was expected to give. It was quite impossible, that a Report such as that professed to be, could be formed on so short a visit as six months; more especially as Mr. Jacob omitted some most important corn countries south of Russia and Sicily. The noble lord concluded by declaring, that he thought the projected measures would prove fearfully ruinous to Ireland.
§ The Earl of Harewood
said, he considered that the propositions of ministers, respecting the introduction of foreign corn, if carried into effect, would not be prejudicial to the interests of the agriculturists, and would be beneficial to the community. Having said this, he was not prepared to deny, that he had some apprehensions that the bringing forward the question of the Corn-laws at the close of the session would be attended with great inconvenience. He was perfectly satisfied that his majesty's ministers had taken that course which they believed best calculated to obtain the end they had in view; namely, the good of the community. He was sorry that the proposition had been submitted to the House, as any question connected with the Corn-laws, short of a full discussion—which ought not, in his opinion, as he had before said, to be now entered upon—was likely to produce more harm than good. The principle of the two measures proposed by government, he really considered to be the same, and could not conceive how any distinction could be drawn between them. There had gone forth an opinion abroad, which he wished to correct, that the sufferings of the people arose in consequence of a boon given to the agriculturists. Now, he begged to ask what boon they had received? And this boon, it was conceived, ought to be given up; but there was none existing. He did not enter into the subject invidiously. He would contend, that the interest of the agriculturist and the manufacturer was the same, and he should belie his sentiments were he not to state it. In considering this question, it was necessary to examine closely into the real circumstances and condition of the different classes of the community; and in doing so, whatever might be the apparent prosperity, he could not help feeling, that, although large quantities of manufactures were going out of the country, yet the rates at which those commodities were manufactured were quite inadequate to the maintenance of a great portion of those who looked to that source for the means of their subsistence. If any measure could be devised for the relief of the manufacturing community, which would not be at the same time productive of injury to the first and most important interest of the country; namely, the agricultural interests, it would be the duty of parliament to embrace it with 1070 eagerness. When he spoke of the landed interest as the first interest of the country, he had in his recollection the injury which had accrued to the other branches of industry at the time of the general depression of agricultural affairs in the years 1816 and 1817. Under all the circumstances, he thought he should consult the dictates of duty and of prudence rather by adopting a proposition which might be the means of doing a vast deal of good, and which if unsuccessful for the intended purposes, was not supposed even by its opponents to be likely to lead to any injurious results, than by rejecting the means of effecting a possible good. He would therefore vote in favour of the measures now proposed by the noble earl.
The Earl of Roseberry
said, that in the outset of the observations he intended to make, he was anxious to state that he was not, by any means, enamoured of the Corn-laws, but still adhered to the opinion he had expressed on presenting a petition in the last session; namely, that they ought to be revised, and that that revision could have been most advantageously made in the course of that year. He also agreed, that there were circumstances connected with the present session, which rendered it advisable not to enter into the discussion. He therefore had coincided, and still coincided, in the sentiments avowed by ministers in both Houses, although within a few days they had abandoned the very principle they were the first to establish. He did not wish to disparage the opinions of those who considered the existing Corn-laws a faultless system; but, that he might not be deemed a bigotted admirer of it, it was necessary for him to make a few remarks. Of the two propositions of government, he had listened to one, at least with feelings of astonishment and dismay; he alluded particularly to that which gave a discretionary power to admit foreign corn after the prorogation of parliament. He had felt astonishment, not only because the change recommended was not slight and trivial, but because it was in direct opposition to the declarations of the advisers of the Crown, that they would never propose an alteration of the Corn-laws to parliament without an antecedent inquiry. — [Lord Liverpool, across the table, intimated his dissent]. He begged to apologise, if he was mistaken; but he had certainly so understood the noble earl. 1071 The dismay he had felt arose from a persuasion that the measure could afford no substantial relief to the sufferings of the manufacturing classes, while it had a direct tendency to introduce doubt and alarm, if not embarrassment, among the agriculturists—now the only sound and prosperous class in the community. By this course, not only would the distresses of the artisans not be relieved, but increased by depriving them of the best consumers of their manufactures. If the project of ministers had been limited to letting into the home market the corn now in bond, he, for one, should have entirely approved of it, and when the bill for that purpose made its appearance, he should give it his support; not because he believed that it would, in fact, at all materially alleviate the distresses of the manufacturers, but because it would show a degree of sympathy for them, and put a stop to the growth of prejudice. Here he wished to reply to the remark of a noble lord, that the two measures were bottomed upon the same principle. To those who thought that the introduction of foreign grain would afford alleviation, it might seem that the principle of each was the same; but viewing, as he did, the first proposition as a mere indication of parliaentary sympathy, it seemed to him that they rested upon very different grounds. As to the discretionary power required by ministers to pour foreign grain into the country whenever they thought the public exigency demanded it, he must say that it was a measure pregnant with alarming mischief. After what had already passed, he feared that the mischief from asking the power would be almost as great as the mischief from granting it. He had paid much attention to the speech of the only member of government who had yet favoured the House; but nevertheless, he had yet to learn the peculiar reasons which called for these measures now, although not wanted on former occasions. If the prices of wheat were to be considered the test, ministers were more entitled to ask for this power in the last year than in the present; inasmuch as wheat was 7s. per quarter dearer than now. He believed that it was the first instance in which a government had asked (he hoped he should not have to say obtained) such a power, without the allegation of any thing like a ground. Instead of soothing, it would irritate and excite alarm that 1072 would otherwise never be felt. Was it not likely to produce the most serious terror, when the ministers were the first to raise the expectation of what the noble earl opposite had repeatedly called a famine price? It was, therefore, material for the House to reflect, whether it would act prudently in giving its sanction to such a fearful motion. It was called upon without inquiry, without a knowledge of the information ministers possessed, without a single document of importance upon the table, to invest ministers with what they themselves confessed to be a novel, extraordinary, and most delicate power. The noble earl at the head of the Treasury had stated, and repeated only a few days ago, that the present Corn-laws had nothing to do with the melancholy condition of the manufacturing districts. Taking prices as some indication whether the Corn-laws were connected with the distresses, and knowing that prices would not warrant this strange concession, the House, he thought, must arrive at the conviction, that ministers required it with a view, in some way or other, yet unexplained, to alleviate prevailing distresses. If so, they seemed to be in this dilemma; either their declarations, that the distresses were not occasioned by the Corn-laws, were false and groundless, or if they were occasioned by them, their measures would be fruitless and ineffectual. That the Corn-laws, had no influence of the kind was quite evident, because if, by the introduction of foreign grain, the price were lowered to an extent ruinous to the agricultural interests, the manufacturers could not be relieved by it. They were not suffering from the dearness of bread, but want of employment. If wheat were lowered to 38s. per quarter, did any man suppose that the suffering artisans would be benefitted? The sister kingdom had afforded a parallel instance, within the last two or three years. The lower orders in Ireland had been reduced to the last stage of distress, until relieved by the bountiful and simultaneous contributions of Great Britain; and had not the House been told, that the greatest aggravation of their misery was, that they were starving in the midst of plenty. The distresses of the manufacturing classes at this moment arose, in a great degree, if not entirely, from the same causes. They were starving, not because there was no food to be bought, but because they had no means of buying it. Of course he felt the utmost desire to relieve; and, if he were per- 1073 suaded that either scheme would be effectual for that purpose, he would support it. The noble earl at the head of the colonial department had not fairly described the motion of the noble earl. It had no ambiguity, but in plain and intelligible terms called upon parliament, if ministers were determined to force this measure upon them, to engage in a previous inquiry as to its necessity. He objected to this proceeding also on another ground; namely, that it tended to lower the landowners and landholders in the estimation of the people at large. For moral and political reasons, independent of their wealth, if not the most important, they formed one of the most important bodies in the community. He did not charge ministers with producing this effect intentionally; but certainly their measures tended to perpetuate the notion, that the proprietors of the soil were disposed to consult only their own advantage. He should be sorry to see such a notion encouraged by the assertion of any body; but much more upon the authority of ministers. He could not conclude without repeating, that he was no favourer of the Corn-laws. He was anxious that they should be revised—desirous that they should be altered. He was not, indeed, prepared to say what the alteration should be, because he had not yet duly inquired; but he would go a step further and avow, that he thought that alteration inevitable. He was anxious, therefore, that even those who thought the present Corn-laws the best that could be devised, should make up their minds to the change, and instead of endeavouring to avert it, to consider the means of placing the alteration, whatever it might be, upon the most safe, satisfactory, and permanent footing.
§ The Earl of Aberdeen
said, he was disposed, upon all occasions, to give real and effectual protection to the agricultural interests. He would almost view it with especial favour; for, notwithstanding the sneers and jests which were cast upon it, both in and out of parliament, he would assert that upon it was founded the constitutional government of this country. He had yet to learn why it was now to be viewed with less partiality; and why the valuable and industrious yeomanry and peasantry of England were to be disregarded? Hence he would not assist in the progress of any measure calculated to injure them, and agreed with his noble relative on the cross-bench, that no injury 1074 could fairly be apprehended from the measures under discussion. The agitation of the question in any shape was, perhaps, to be lamented; but when he heard his noble friend at the head of the government taunted with inconsistency, he must say, he did not think that the propositions before the House embraced any consideration of the footing on which the Corn-laws were ultimately and permanently to remain. It was singular that the noble lords who brought the charge of inconsistency should themselves recommend an inquiry into the whole system, as the alternative, before the House adopted the present, or any similar measure. The more so, because only in the last year a bill, with the like object in view, had been agreed to without opposition. The noble lord who talked of inconsistency were themselves ready to agree to the introduction of bonded grain; but resisted the concession of the discretionary power: they concurred in the absolute infraction of a positive law, but refused to grant a contingent power. For his part, he was ready to allow it not only to the present, but to any ministers: and he was not sure that it would not be a wise and salutary provision to invest every administration with such conditional authority. Passion and prejudice must prevail on questions of this kind; and where could the power be lodged more safely, than in the hands of those who, from their stations, were bound to view with equal eyes all classes of the state? Their ultimate interests, no doubt, were the same. A steady demand and a regular price were for the real benefit of both buyer and seller; but, in the first instance, this principle was always forgotten, and they were constantly at variance. He certainly did not anticipate any very substantial relief to the manufacturers from these propositions. The noble earl at the head of the government did not himself anticipate it; but it was scarcely less than absurd for the noble earl who spoke last to contend, that it was the same thing to the artisan whether wheat were at 60s. or 38s. per quarter. The cheapness of bread must at all times be important to the labouring classes. Besides, the noble earl seemed to forget the extended chain between the highest and the lowest members of the community, and that what benefitted the one must also, in its degree, be advantageous to the other. It was the duty of ministers to inform themselves, by certain preli- 1075 minary inquiries, before they brought forward a measure of this kind. If they felt it possible that the state of the country might require its exercise they would have been inexcusable if they had not come to parliament for the discretionary power they now sought. They did not declare absolutely that it would be necessary for them to resort to it; but if the quantity of bonded corn were insufficient, and if the harvest, by any accident, were deficient, it might be fit that, being so armed, they should make use of the means placed in their hands. They had seen enough of the spirit prevailing, not in parliament merely, but throughout the country, to render them extremely careful in the discharge of their duty; or at least, by a wanton employment of their power, not to risk national disapprobation. Another consideration was not unworthy of attention. Those who thought that measures of this kind would not affect, or at least not materially injure, the agricultural interest, were bound to make some sacrifices to the feelings and prejudices of those who undoubtedly looked forward with great anxiety. He believed that the House of Lords possessed, and justly possessed, as much of the love and confidence of the country as the more popular branch of the legislature. By the permanency of the seats their lordships held, they perhaps paid less attention to the passing clamours and wishes of the people; but, at the same time, it was the duty of the House to pay regard, in a case like this, to the strong feeling existing out of doors, and to shew sympathy for the sufferings of those who calculated upon a far greater degree of relief than the measure was likely to afford. He would be one of the last to yield to clamour, or to recommend the House to be intimidated into an improper concession; but, in this instance, little or nothing in fact was given, while their lordships would free themselves from the odium which many were desirous of throwing upon that House. If, after all, a real scarcity were to occur, ministers would act upon their responsibility, and might introduce a still further quantity beyond what was at present bonded in the warehouses. Regretting the necessity for these propositions; lamenting, too, the injurious consequences which even the present discussion might have; he thought that the House could, and ought, to keep this question distinct from the revision of the Corn-laws. He considered that he was 1076 by no means prejudging that great subject, and was convinced that, for the sake of the country at large, it was necessary to afford to the agricultural interest permanent and efficient protection. It was, however, both odious and unnecessary to resist measures that might be useful to a certain degree, could do little or no injury, and would be welcomed with gratitude by a large body who were at present suffering the severest deprivations.
The Earl of Roseberry
explained. He meant to state, that the distresses of the manufacturing districts arose out of a total deficiency of means to purchase food.
said, he thought the arguments of the noble earl who had just addressed their lordships somewhat singular. The noble earl called upon them to make a concession to prejudice; and he would be ready to yield him the concession he demanded, if the noble earl could only show him one instance in which concession had had the effect of weakening, or had not had the effect of strengthening, prejudice. But, what was the course by which the noble earl arrived at that recommendation? He, first of all, supposed a case of necessity which did not, in fact, exist. Then he demanded a concession to prejudice, which, he admitted, would carry no relief with it; and upon such grounds required, that their lordships should grant a dispensing power to government, which upon a subject connected with the price of food, ought to be intrusted to no man. When a motion was opposed, it was usual for the opposer to endeavour to shew that nobody could accede to it; but the course taken by the noble earl was widely different, for he struggled to prove, that it was impossible for any man to found an objection to the motion. Another complaint was, that the terms of the motion were ambiguous; but to him it seemed that the terms were most simple and intelligible. The meaning of it was merely this—that, four years ago, after patient inquiry, a law had been passed regarding the importation of grain; that the House was now required to alter that law without inquiry; and that it was fit that a previous investigation should be instituted. With whom, he would ask, did the existing Corn-law originate? With the noble earl opposite and his colleagues, and if the noble earl was, as he professed, unable to explain that law, who was com- 1077 petent to do it? The law of 1815 was the work of ministers, and the present chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed it. The law of 1822 was theirs also; and it was a little too much to listen quietly to the declamation of the noble earl against the very measure of which he was the author. The House and the country were told, that there was great apprehension of a famine. It was singular that any noble lord, much less a noble lord opposite, forming one of an administration accustomed to public affairs from their boyhood, should be the first to set up the cry of a famine price; which was scarcely less terrifying than the cry of fire in a crowded theatre. He could see no reason for these gloomy apprehensions: if the last harvest had been short —if the approaching harvest were deficient—or if the supplies from Ireland had not increased, there might be some ground for them; at present, however, the fatal anticipations of the noble earl seemed derived from no better authority than the "Vox Stellarum," or the infallible predictions of the renowned Moore. When ministers last year had proposed an alteration of the law relating to bonded corn, he had supported the measure; but he was surprised that any noble lord should think that a vote in favour of that bill, at all governed a vote upon the present question. For himself, he never would consent to place the granaries of our national food in the hands of those who were jealous of our national greatness. The very manner in which the present measures were brought forward, were of a nature to cause opposition to them. But, there were other and stronger grounds upon which he meant to oppose them. After the solemn pledge given by his majesty's ministers, that the Corn-laws were not to be meddled with this year, it was too much to introduce such measures as those which had been agitated in another place. He should ever object to a course of proceeding which might be considered in no other light than as a premium to insurrection. He considered those measures as a great injustice to the agricultural interest. The agriculturists had suffered long and severely, and were now but slowly recovering from the depression under which they laboured; and it was too bad that ministers should throw upon them the whole burthen of relief to be afforded to the distressed manufacturers. When he recollected the calum- 1078 nies which had been heaped upon the agriculturists—when he called to mind the unfair, the disgraceful manner, in which they had been spoken of, he could not help feeling that it was too bad to add injustice to injury. He had every confidence in the noble earl, and would freely trust to his management and direction any measure which had for its object the relief of the country; but looking to the measures which had been introduced in 1815 and 1822, he could not help thinking that those measures did not originate with that noble lord; nor should he be led to think otherwise, unless it was so declared to him by the noble lord himself. Besides, their lordships should consider, that, if they adopted those measures, they were not confiding them to the management of the noble earl, but to those who acted with him—and, not only to them, but to such other persons as might afterwards fill their situations; for it was clear that such a power, if granted now, could not be refused upon any similar occasion which might arise in future. He would never consent to give a previous indemnity for an intended alteration of the law. He called upon their lordships to consider the varying price of corn, and the difficulty, he should say the impossibility, of fixing a steady, undeviating price for that article: and then to reflect that they were called upon to give up the regulating price of that article to the varying opinions of varying individuals. If their lordships granted this power to the noble earl and his colleagues, they must be prepared to grant it to their successors, whoever they might happen to be. If they did grant it, then there was at once an end to all money contracts; and his majesty's ministers would have, in effect, the power of making what was called an equitable adjustment of all contracts entered into. He hoped the noble lord's motion for an inquiry would pass, as he was fearful of taking a single step in such a matter without previous inquiry. By such a course only would they be in a condition to legislate for the advantage of the country.
The Earl of Westmoreland
opposed the motion. He defended ministers from the charge of inconsistency brought against them upon this question. The indisposition to alter the Corn-laws, or in any way meddle with them, had attached solely to the circumstances of the country at the time in which that opinion had 1079 been broached. It did not follow from the propositions now made by his majesty's ministers, that they thought the Corn-laws bad in themselves, any more than it followed that those who sometimes voted for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act thought that law a bad one. This proposition was brought forward under peculiar circumstances, when distress prevailed in many parts of the country. In such a state of things, and at a time when the price of corn was advancing, ministers would not have done their duty if they had not come down to parliament, and asked, to be intrusted with these powers. He was much surprised at the arguments made use of by some noble lords on this occasion. They were told that there was no prospect of dearth; and that, even though there were that prospect, ministers should take the whole responsibility on themselves, without coming to parliament. The distress that prevailed, connected even with the present price of corn, was in itself sufficiently alarming. It should be recollected, that if, on the 15th of August next, the price was under 80s., not a grain of corn could be imported till the 15th of November following; so that, if ministers were not intrusted with this power, the ports might continue shut for four months, though the country was suffering under the greatest distress. Whatever might be the price in May, no conclusion could be drawn from that as to what the price would be in November. It had occurred more than once within the last twenty years, that, from a price of 60s. or 70s. in May, com was up at 100s. or 110s. in the December following. Would ministers have done their duty if they had not taken some step calculated to prevent such a state of things. When noble lords advised his majesty's government to act upon their own responsibility, they referred to what had taken place in the year 1766. It was true that the ministry of that year, acting upon their own responsibility, did lay an embargo upon the exportation of corn, under circumstances which certainly justified the act; but, he begged leave to ask noble lords, did parliament pass over such conduct without observation? No such thing. Ministers were then told that the king's prerogative of dispensing with the laws was a dangerous one; that the king, in fact, had no such prerogative, that it was an act of power which the salus 1080 populi justified; but then those ministers were told, that such distress as then existed could not come unawares upon a cautious ministry—that the indications of that distress had been plain enough, long before the dissolution of parliament, and that it was the duty of ministers, under such circumstances, to come down to parliament, and ask for powers to enable them to meet such a state of things. The step recommended by the parliament of that period was the very step taken by his majesty's ministers of the present day; and, in taking that step, his majesty's ministers believed that they were acting constitutionally, and upon principles which would meet the approbation of parliament. The power asked for by his majesty's government was a discretionary power; and for the exercise of their discretion, they would be as responsible to parliament as if they were to act upon their own responsibility. To suppose that his majesty's government would, for the purpose of carrying a particular object, exercise the power granted by parliament, would be to suppose that they would act in a way in which no men, composing the ministry of this country, would venture to act. If the power asked for by his majesty's government should be granted by parliament, they would be bound not to exercise it, except under such very pressing circumstances as would justify the exercise of such power; and he trusted, if it should be granted, that his majesty's government would exercise it in such a manner as to meet the approbation of their lordships.
in giving his vote for the motion of the noble earl, said, he thought it necessary to state, that although he had acquiesced in the measure for letting out the bonded corn, he did not think himself bound to acquiesce in the second measure, for allowing the importation of five-hundred thousand quarters of foreign grain. He begged to call the attention of their lordships, and particularly such of their lordships as were in the habit of supporting the measures of ministers, to the vacillation of government upon this and other questions. The measures proposed by his majesty's government were justified by the distress which existed in the country. Now, he asked their lordships were they not aware of the existence of that distress long before it manifested itself in acts amounting almost to insurrection? His 1081 majesty's ministers were bound to know of the existence of that distress; and he could not believe that they were not aware of it. When a noble marquis suggested the propriety of granting a sum of public money for the relief of the distress, the noble earl had then said, that the precedent would be a bad one. He agreed with him, that, under ordinary circumstances, such a precedent would be bad, but he must say that he thought the distress had at that time reached such a height, as would justify the application of public money in the way suggested. However, the noble earl was of a different opinion; and to his surprise in a few days afterwards, submitted a motion to their lordships for letting the foreign corn out of bond. He was ready to admit, that the measures submitted by his majesty's government did not formally affect the general question of the Corn-laws; but what he complained of was, that they affected the question in the minds of the country at large. He objected to the second measure, because he was satisfied there was not a landed proprietor in the country who did not believe, that whatever duty might be fixed upon by ministers, with respect to the admission of foreign corn this year, would be taken as a standard duty upon every future discussion. He objected to the measure, because the quantity proposed to be imported into this country was limited. If corn should rise to the price anticipated by ministers, nothing could be more unfortunate than the limitation; because, if distress, occasioned by an increased price of corn, should arise, nothing could relieve it but an unlimited importation. He did not at any time feel disposed to place confidence in his majesty's ministers; and that disposition was much lessened by their conduct on this and the currency question. Nothing could be more vacillating than their conduct, and he called upon those noble lords who had hitherto placed confidence in ministers, to withdraw that confidence. He admitted that the average price fixed by the present Corn-laws was too high, but it was not then necessary for him to discuss the subject. If the price of corn should rise to the height anticipated by ministers, then he would say that they would be justified in opening the ports upon their own responsibility. A noble earl opposite, in justifying the motion, had called the attention of their lordships to what 1082 had occurred in the year 1766. The opposition of lord Mansfield, upon that occasion, was founded, not upon the impropriety of the measures adopted by the government of that day, but upon their neglect in bringing in a bill of indemnity immediately after the meeting of parliament. Such opposition he could not anticipate during the next session, because he could not imagine that his majesty's ministers would act in so unconstitutional a manner, as to omit bringing in a bill of indemnity, in case circumstances should call upon them to act upon their own responsibility. He also objected to the period at which those measures had been introduced. He was satisfied if they had been submitted at an earlier period of the session, the country gentlemen in the House of Commons would have risen as one man, and said to ministers, "You must reduce your expenditure; you must reduce taxation; you must do as you ought to have done ten years ago— you must economize to the quick." When he saw how ministers had altered their opinions upon the Scotch and Irish currency, he saw no reason to apprehend that they would not alter their opinion upon the proposed measure, if they were to consent to the motion now before their lordships; a motion which might lead to good, but could not by possibility be productive of any bad effects.
said, he regretted that the motion had been made at the present moment, because he thought that, if acceded to, it would lead to further inquiry than was at present desirable. He felt himself bound to oppose it, because he thought it a much lesser evil to grant the power asked for by ministers, even if he anticipated that they would exercise it in a way different from that in which he believed it would be exercised, than to accede to the motion of the noble lord, and go into an inquiry, which must necessarily have the effect of increasing the existing ferment.
The Earl of Darnley
said, that if ministers had been actuated by that degree of foresight and forethought which was necessary to conduct the affairs of a great empire, they would not stand in their present predicament. If, two or three weeks ago, when they might have foreseen the existing state of things, and when the noble earl opposite told the House, that he had no intention to meddle directly or indirectly with the Corn-laws this session 1083 —nay, when he had gone so far as to declare, that he had no intention to let out the bonded corn,— if they had then brought forward their present measure it would have been proper, and it should have had his support. The noble marquis near him had proposed a grant of money for the relief of the distressed population; but the noble earl got up in his place, and said, "No, I will not consent to that, but I will alter the Corn-laws, which, two or three weeks ago, I declared I would not meddle with." The noble earl said, that the Corn-laws had nothing to do with the distress of the country; but in his opinion, and in the opinion of most persons, those laws had a great deal to do with them. It was stated, that the notion of the Corn-laws being the occasion of the distress of the country, might do mischief; but, in his opinion, the contrary notion would do more. He regretted the manner in which this subject had been brought forward; and, much as he regretted the principle of the measure, yet, with the possibility of corn reaching a famine price, and the chance of a starving population, he could not bring his mind to reject the proposition of ministers. With respect to the Corn-laws themselves, he had been a friend to their introduction, he had strenuously advocated them, and he thought they had operated much benefit. They had been of service to the agricultural interest, and the manufacturing interest had no reason to complain. But what might be good in 1815, was not therefore good in 1826; circumstances had totally changed. Whatever might be said of the opinion of parliament, the opinion of the country was to be regarded; and that opinion was decidedly against those laws. One principal reason which induced him not to agree to the proposition of his noble friend was, that it would open the whole question of the Corn-laws; and he would ask their lordships, whether it was practicable to arrive at a result during the session? He did not pledge himself to support the measures of ministers; but he thought the discretion they asked for would not be abused, and on that principle he was disposed to concede it to them. Not that he thought the conduct of ministers deserved confidence; on the contrary, he considered that they had acted in a manner which was highly to be censured.
with reference to the mis- 1084 chief which it had been said opinions expressed in that House were calculated to create, remarked, that the law was the source of mischief. The noble earl opposite might do his worst, and he himself might do his worst; but no mischief would be the consequence; it was the law itself, the existing Corn-laws, that produced the mischief. The present measure was a very convenient way of getting rid of those laws indirectly; it was a dexterous mode of catching the simple politicians on the opposition side of the House; though, he confessed, it argued some weakness to be so caught. In the face of the measure now introduced, the noble earl opposite still persisted, that there was to be no alteration of the Corn-laws. How this measure would be received on the ministerial side of the House, he could not tell, but he believed this Treasury measure had not been received so cordially on that side as was expected. He did not wish to detract from the merit of the noble lords opposite. He believed the members of his majesty's cabinet were possessed of great experience, and understood pretty well the nature and constitution of noble lords. Still, however, he thought that, as a skilful practitioner, who understood the constitution of his patient, when he altered his diet, would furnish something like a reason for it; so his majesty's ministers ought to satisfy their patients, as to the change they made in their treatment. The noble earl who opened the debate that evening wished for an inquiry; but an inquiry would last for a year. The House knew enough of inquiries from one which had taken place elsewhere. And who were the persons who stood up for inquiry?— the friends of the Corn-laws. He thought that, after the changes which had taken place during eleven years, after the alteration in the currency, and other material changes, it was mere drivelling to say that the Corn-laws required no change. Eleven years was about the average duration of a Chancery suit. He believed there had been a kind of amicable Chancery suit on this question between the Chancery and the Treasury; and the noble Secretary for the colonies—certainly not the most liberal part of the cabinet— had been put forward in defence of the present measure. The freedom of the corn trade was necessary to the prosperity of our manufactures. Every quarter of corn imported from abroad purchased 1085 British manufactures of equal value. Unless foreign corn was admitted into this country our own commodities could not be purchased by foreigners. The real question was, whether a check was to be imposed upon the introduction of raw produce into the country. At present, corn was one third dearer here than it was on the continent; but, if it were three times dearer, then the Corn-laws would appear monstrous. The question was, therefore, one only of degree. There was no period during which the country was in a state of greater prosperity, both commercial and agricultural, than one which was a time of unrestricted importation of corn, from 1782 to 1792. When he looked for the causes of the present distress, he would say they were the Corn-laws. All writers agreed that when raw produce was high, wages would be high, profits low, and the rate of interest low. If that were the case, he was right in attributing the present distress to the Corn-laws. As a friend, therefore, to the alteration of those laws, he would resist the noble earl's motion, because he could have the conclusion he wished for come to a year sooner. As to consistency, he was not concerned about others, but he did not wish for a famine price, even at the loss of that precious consistency. But it was asked, why was there now any danger of a famine price, since corn was lower this year than it was during the last? But, compare it with the relative prices of other articles in the last year, and it would be found, in fact, much higher. He thought there could be no chance of a steady system, without an alteration in the Corn-laws, and he would, therefore, oppose the original motion.
The Earl of Carnarvon
said, he considered the whole policy of ministers upon the present question to have been vacillating, ambiguous, and unintelligible. It was but a few days since they had declared distinctly, that they did not propose to go into the subject of the Corn-laws during the present session; and he must deny that any change had taken place in the agricultural prospects of the country, which justified a departure from that intention. As for the "possibility" of failing crops, to which they adverted, when was it that such possibility would not be capable of being made an argument? The true secret of the change in the opinions of ministers—and they might as well speak openly and say so— 1086 was the partial tumults which had taken place in the country; and, though no one could be disposed to feel more for the distresses of the unemployed manufacturers than he did, yet it would be just as reasonable to try to alleviate that distress by breaking the power-looms, as by making alterations in the Corn-laws. Ministers did not act openly, in refusing to connect that with their motion which was known to be connected with their motives; and, what was still more, they were taking a course which could afford the distressed parties no relief. It was said by some, that if this measure would not relieve the manufacturers, it would at least conciliate them,—that it would remove a load of public odium from the shoulders of the agriculturists. What was this but to say that it was a popular humbug? For himself, he desired to purchase no such popularity. If the measure now proposed was carried, the effect would be to throw the whole country into confusion. The value of all property, would be in the hands of ministers. No transfer could take place. What surveyor would venture to value—what farmer to take a lease —or what landlord could grant one under such a system? He could never give his assent to such a measure as that contemplated by the noble earl at the head of the government; because if a discretionary power of admitting, during the whole of the recess, a quantity of corn into the country, were given to ministers, there would be a constant fluctuation in the markets, and a total destruction of confidence. He would not therefore give his vote for disturbing the present system of the Corn-laws in any way, without a full and fair inquiry.
Lord Dudley and Ward
said, that if he were governed by the dislike which he felt to the Corn-laws, he should certainly oppose the measure brought forward by ministers; because he was quite sure that it was only by the aid of occasional alterations, that those laws could possibly continue to exist. It would be well for noble lords, however, to consider in what condition government would be left by a refusal of the power which it now demanded. It would be a very different state of things, the not having provided such a power, and the having asked for it and been refused it. Suppose the most serious scarcity, and consequent distress, to arise in the country. All that ministers could say would be, that parlia- 1087 ment had refused to interfere, and that they themselves could not presume to do it. Government would stand in this curious predicament,—it might call out the troops, proclaim martial law, and fire upon the populace, or leave them to die of starvation; but it must not take the very course which would at once put an end to the danger and to the difficulty, it must not let in corn to save a starving, and perhaps insurgent, people. In such circumstances, he trusted that the salus populi would always be superior to every other consideration. He hoped that, should such pressure arise, ministers would spurn all barriers, and do, at all hazards, that which seemed to them to be for the benefit of the country. But he would ask the House this—must not ministers be disposed to hold out longer than they would otherwise have done, to let the mischief go further before they ventured to apply the remedy to it—under the circumstances of having consulted parliament, and been met with a negative,— than they would have been, if no such application had been made? For the sake of the cause which the agriculturists themselves supported, he hoped that parliament would run no such dangerous risk. Ill as he thought of the Corn-laws, he did not wish to see them swept away on the sudden. He believed that, if such a course were pursued, the public mind would not be sufficiently tranquil to allow that to be done which was necessary to the safety of the agricultural interest. He would therefore give his vote against the motion of the noble earl.
The Earl of Mansfield
said, that the rejection of his noble friend's motion would propagate that delusion which good sense must disclaim. It had been said, that some persons objected to the first proposition of ministers, while others only objected to the second. For his part, he had no scruple in saying that he objected to both. There ought to be no alteration in the principle of the law, without a previous inquiry, and it should be proved that those measures were either not an innovation, or that they were justified by necessity; because the British grower was protected by the law until there was scarcity at home. With reference to the declaration made by ministers of their intention to alter the law, he would ask, did the price of corn cause the distress? Numerous other causes were assigned; amongst them were over-trading and excessive specula- 1088 tions, but corn was not. If so, there was no necessity for an alteration upon that score. If the admission of the bonded corn could give relief, he would be disposed to entertain that proposition; but it was admitted, that the quantity of corn now in bond would have little effect on the prices, and if so, what benefit could it afford the distressed districts, where great want of money prevailed? That, perhaps, might be a cause. Perhaps the farmers might not choose to send to a market where they could not be paid. He had read in a paper of the day, an anecdote relative to Stockport, where there was great want of potatoes, because the farmers did not send any there. Besides, the duty on bonded corn ought not to be taken as revenue; but was in fairness due to the agriculturists who were injured by its introduction. Again, as to the discretionary power to be intrusted to ministers, he would ask where was the necessity for it? Ministers might have had information, which caused the change in their measures; but that information should be given to their lordships. He had no wish for an interminable inquiry, but such a one as would satisfy reasonable persons. He was happy to hear the constitutional doctrine laid down, of the ministers not being willing to take any thing upon themselves without the sanction of parliament, but he thought the system should not be disturbed; seeing that he considered a fixed system, even though a defective one, to be preferable to constant change.
The Earl of Liverpool
said, that he felt naturally anxious to seize the opportunity of offering to the House his opinion on this question, and he could not take a better opportunity, nor one more agreeable to himself, than immediately after his noble friend who had last spoken. If his noble friend meant to say, that he (lord Liverpool) thought that the Corn-bill, passed in the year 1815, was not applicable to the present times, he acknowledged that his noble friend was perfectly right. If his noble friend said, that he thought that the Corn-bill of 1822 was not applicable to the present year, and that it ought to be altered, he was right in that also. That was the very nature of such a question as this. It must be always variable; and their lordships should adapt the system to the circumstances of the times. In the year 1815 their lordships adapted the Corn-laws to the circumstances of the times, by fixing the average price of wheat 1089 at 80s. per quarter, before importation of foreign wheat was to be permitted. If, however, it was true, as indeed it was, that a sum, amounting to twenty-seven millions of taxes had been taken off since 1815—if those taxes consisted of the tax on salt, on leather, on agricultural horses, &c. all which taxes bore directly on the agricultural classes, he would ask, if there was any noble lord in that House, who, after due consideration, would not admit that a price of 60s. per quarter now, was not equal to 80s. per quarter in 1815? Then, no noble lord would venture to say, that the circumstances of the country in 1815, could be compared with those of 1826, or that the Corn-laws of the former period were applicable to the latter. He had more than once before declared and he would then repeat it—that the measures under consideration at present in the other House of Parliament, had nothing at all to do with the general question of the Corn-laws. He was not without having formed his opinion of the present Corn-laws; but whatever that opinion was, it was not necessary then to state it. Whatever it was, it had no relation to the present question before the other House. He believed that those bills in the other House, so far from being an innovation on the present system of Corn-laws, would be, in reality, a security to the agricultural interests. Very early in this session, it would be remembered by noble lords, that he most sincerely, most frankly, and most honestly, he must be allowed to add, said, that the present session was not such a time as would be proper for making any change in the Corn-laws. He only then said what he would repeat now. Whether the measures under the consideration of the other House were right or wrong, he would ask their lordships, whether the present was a proper session, or this the proper period of the session, to enter into the consideration of the general question of the Corn-laws? He entreated their lordships to allow those measures, to which allusion was so often made, to stand or fall on their own merits, and not to prejudge them. Their lordships ought first to learn what the import of them was, and then enter into a dispassionate consideration of them. The noble lord who moved this question put their lordships on their guard, and stated that, when those measures came up from the other House, their lordships must take them as they came, and either approve or reject them; seeing that they could 1090 not make any alteration in them. But the noble lord was mistaken, in saying that their lordships could not make any alteration in those measures; for every part of them could be altered except the duty, whatever that would be fixed at by the other House. But, he would call their lordships' attention to the true grounds of those measures. He contended, that there was no change of opinion upon his part. His opinion on the Corn-laws generally was precisely the same as at the opening of the session. He however freely admitted, that circumstances had occurred, which did not exist nor were contemplated, when he made the statement alluded to. Those circumstances were such as to render special and temporary measures necessary; namely, the distresses of the manufacturers. He did not mean the partial insurrections, and the destruction of power-looms, which were as foolish as they were unwarrantable, but the sufferings endured in Lancashire, Warwickshire, Derbyshire, and other districts. The poor sufferers had, with few exceptions, conducted themselves in a most exemplary manner on this trying occasion, and had submitted peaceably to the laws of their country. The distress had certainly increased much beyond the expectations of government, and even beyond that of the manufacturers themselves; for when the deputations from the country applied for assistance from government in the beginning of the year, they gave it as their opinion, that if they could get over two or three months, every thing would go on well; that trade would revive, and the distress would be completely at an end. When a season of calamity unexpectedly came upon us, it was a question very often asked—"Why did you not do yesterday what you propose to do to-day?" Indeed, it was a matter of no little difficulty to know precisely how to act on such occasions.—But to revert to the present case. The distress arrived at such a height, and assumed such a serious appearance, that it became at last imperatively incumbent on the government to see if some specific remedy could not be devised for its alleviation; or at any rate if something could not be done to prevent its spreading wider. He particularly wished that he should not be misunderstood, or that it should be supposed that he thought the high price of corn was the origin of or had any thing to do with, the present distress. He had never said, or even imagined, that such 1091 was the case. He considered that the present calamities had arisen from overtrading, and an abuse of the prosperity which the country had lately enjoyed. This was, no doubt, the main source of the evil. At the same time it would be equally absurd to say, that the high price of provisions was no aggravation of the evil; but he wished their lordships to examine into the grounds which called for the adoption of the present measures. Every one who had at all examined into this matter must have ascertained, that this country grew scarcely sufficient corn for its own consumption. There certainly were shades of difference in the opinion of individuals on this point; but it was admitted by all, that England, Scotland, and Ireland, grew very little more corn than what they could consume themselves, even when there was a prosperous crop and a favourable harvest. If such, then, were the case, what would be likely to be the situation of the country, if there should happen to be an unfavourable harvest? He wished this question to be considered quite as much with a view to the agricultural interests as to the manufacturing, or to the interests of any other class of the community. There were two periods at which great injury might be sustained by the corn—one when the wheat was in the flower, another when it was nearly ripe. We were not without a sad experience on this subject. If the accounts of the various harvests for a period of thirty two years, commencing in the year 1790, and ending in that of 1822, were examined into, it would be found, that there had been eleven very defective harvests. There was no trusting to first appearances or fair prospects in this matter. A single week, nay, a single day might blast the fairest hopes, and turn an apparent abundance into a most terrible scarcity. As a proof of the accuracy of his statement, he would call to their lordships' recollection the situation of the country at the end of June, in the year 1816. At no period could the prospects of the harvest be brighter; and yet, before the end of June, those prospects had entirely failed: they were destroyed in the course of a single day. That day, he recollected well, and all the melancholy consequences which followed from it. The price of corn, then at 52s. the quarter, rose quickly to 100s. and 110s. Their lordships would readily conceive what a disastrous effect such a circumstance, and such a fluctuation in prices, 1092 must have caused in the country; but, if such a calamity were to occur now, in the existing state of the country, what terrible consequences might be apprehended! In the first place, the ports could not be opened until the 14th of August; and even then, if the averages should happen to be against us, we should have to wait three months longer, until the 14th of November. This was the case in 1816. There was no evil which would bear any comparison with this: it operated as a most enormous tax upon the community, and especially upon the lower orders of it. But perhaps it would be said, this evil might not happen; and why should not this power be required any other year as well as the present one? He would make no scruple in saying, that he did consider it a defect, and a very great one, in the present system, that it should require such a power to be lodged any where at any time, in order to correct the evils which might otherwise arise from it; but he conceived this power was peculiarly called for under the existing circumstances of the country. If this scarcity should come in times of prosperity, it might be tolerated; but when great distress prevailed amongst the manufacturing population, the case was widely different. Would, then, their lordships, with the present state of the country before their eyes, refuse this power to government? Whatever might be their opinion as to the propriety of granting it for another year, except as to the general defects of the system, he trusted they would see the necessity of conceding it at present. He felt persuaded that their lordships would not think it right that no provision should be made by parliament to enable government to interfere, if it should so happen that corn, as it had done at a former period, rose to 100s. or 110s. per quarter; and that, although, under other circumstances, their lordships might feel averse to conceding this power, they would not object to grant it, when they took into consideration the present condition of the country.—From what he had said, he thought he had sufficiently shown, that it was no argument at all against this measure, to say that this scarcity might happen any year. His noble friend had said, where is the proof of the necessity for this measure? He had already stated his case, and he thought he had sufficiently made out the necessity. He would leave it to their lordships whether they were 1093 willing to run the risk, and place the country in the situation in which it would be placed, if a bad harvest should occur, and ministers should not have the power to remedy the evils which would be occasioned thereby. It had been urged against this measure, that the poor manufacturers were in want of work, not in want of bread. He was ready to admit, and with sorrow he said it, that many of them were without work; but still many more who had work were obliged to work at the lowest possible wages. Several, who a short time ago could make from 18s. to 20s. per week, were now reduced to work at from 7s. to 6s. or even 5s. per week. Was it no consideration to persons in this unhappy situation, whether they paid a little more or a little less for the quartern loaf? He trusted he had, by showing what the situation of the country might be, and indeed what it actually was at present, convinced their lordships, that this measure was not uncalled for, or ministers desired to have any power intrusted to them which might not be absolutely necessary for the safety of the country. But it had been said, that this was calculated to injure the agricultural interests. If corn were to rise to 100s. or 110s., as it did in 1816, he was convinced that the noble marquis would be the last man in the country who would object to the importation of foreign corn to alleviate the distress, or rather the starvation, which would be occasioned by such a rise. Government did not propose at all events to exercise the power which they asked to have intrusted to them; they only desired to be prepared to use it, if adverse circumstances should render the exercise of it necessary to preserve the country from famine. He did not wish government to be intrusted with this power, on the ground of any peculiar confidence being placed in them. It was a power, which, in his opinion, under existing circumstances, ought to be intrusted to any ministry. It was the interest of government not to abuse this power; and he wished their lordships to rely upon that, more than upon any confidence they might place in them. It had been said, "let ministers act upon their own discretion, and then come to parliament for an indemnity;" but there was no discretionary power for which ministers were not responsible. A noble lord had said, that this was not his measure; but he would unhesitatingly answer, that if any one in- 1094 dividual was more culpable than another in advising this measure, he was that person. It was not the intention of ministers to exercise this power, except upon the utmost emergency, and for the purpose of saving their fellow subjects from famine. As he had before said, he would not enter into the general question of the Corn-laws, but he could not refrain from observing, that he thought some alteration in those laws necessary, and that the present could never be looked upon as a fixed system. Indeed this subject had been legislated upon several times, and various and contradictory plans had been adopted; and when it was last brought before the legislature in 1822, that bill was so far from being considered final, that further legislative measures were expressly provided for. Indeed it formed a great objection to that bill at the time that it was not intended to effect a final settlement of the question. It had been objected that government were willing to sacrifice the agricultural interests, in their negotiations with foreign countries, for the purpose of advancing their plan of a free trade. Now, in order that their lordships might judge as to how far this imputation was correct, he would state to their lordships what answer had been returned to the Prussian government, which had endeavoured to obtain favourable terms for the admission of its corn upon condition of taking our manufactures in return. That answer was in substance as follows: —That the British government could never entertain a proposition for any alteration in the Corn-laws of this country, which did not originate in the British dominions themselves. This answer was returned in the month of February last, and he thought it pretty clearly evinced the sentiments and feelings of ministers on this subject, who, in doing away with that system of prohibition, which they certainly did wish to get rid of as far as it was possible, had refused even to make this a matter of negotiation. This, he thought, sufficiently proved that ministers were no enemies to the agricultural interests. They wished to look at the question, taking the agricultural as well as all the other great interests of the country into consideration; and they wished that a just and equitable arrangement should be come to between all parties, which should be settled and final, as far as circumstances would admit of its being so. But he must again observe, that these measures 1095 had nothing to do with the Corn-laws. They were special provisions to meet special circumstances, and they would not be had recourse to, unless the safety of the country should require it.
The Marquis of Lansdown
said, he rose at that lute hour briefly to offer his opinion upon the motion now under their lordships' consideration. If ever inquiry into any question were called for, never did an occasion arise on which it was more incumbent on their lordships to institute one, in reference to all the interests now under their deliberation, than on the system of the Corn-laws; and he had no difficulty in stating it as the settled conviction of his mind, that at no distant period the whole system must be brought under a review of parliament; and it was because the alteration suggested by the noble earl opposite was a temporary alteration, not preceded by inquiry, that he now objected to it. He looked forward to a permanent alteration, preceded by inquiry, which alone could enable their lordships to judge of the expediency of the change, and the expediency of the system to be substituted for the one the defects of which they sought to remove. Let their lordships look at the effect that would be produced by the proposed temporary alteration, not sanctioned by inquiry, not only upon the agricultural, but on all the other interests. It was not founded upon any special emergency —not upon the probability of a famine, because if there were such a probability, the noble earl would not have failed to allege it. One of two things must therefore have been proposed, and the noble earl could not escape from the dilemma—either it was intended to make the alteration, which was nominally temporary, permanent, without affording the opportunity of seeing the grounds which rendered it necessary —or there existed apprehensions upon grounds not stated, and he therefore presumed there were none, of a scarcity— an evil which, if it did arise, would be more effectually met by government exercising a sound discretion on the expediency or otherwise of opening the ports, than as such a measure of legislation as this, legislation in the dark, which was always attended with mischievous effects, but most so when it affected the subsistence of the people. It seemed to him, that all the arguments which had been adduced by the noble earl in favour of having such a power lodged with government, would 1096 apply to any other time or season quite as well as to the present time; or, indeed, that they might be advanced as reasons why this should, instead of being a mere temporary measure, become a permanent law. Indeed the inconvenience in the latter case would be much less than in the former; for then every farmer would take his farm with a view to such law. From some artificial system respecting the Corn-laws, it was not possible for us to escape. As long as the country was burdened with taxation as it was at present, we could not altogether get rid of the inconveniences of this artificial taxation. A noble earl, whom he was proud to call his friend, had observed most justly, that there might be a bad system; but the worst of all bad systems was a changeable and fluctuating system, which caused every man who had embarked his capital under the faith of certain laws, to be driven out of his calculations by the fickle and vacillating conduct of parliament. With regard to the production of corn, the uncertainties of nature were quite sufficient; but the case of the agriculturists became truly deplorable when they had not merely to look to the winds of Heaven, but had also to depend on the breath of parliament as to the value of their crops. It was absolutely necessary for the welfare of the country, that some fixed and permanent system should be adopted. The noble earl had disclaimed all interference at present with the permanent system which he stated it to be his intention, at some future period, to suggest for their lordships' adoption. But the present alteration, although only temporary, was not the less an alteration, which would for the time affect all the permanent interests of the country as much as a permanent law; and with this evil, that it did not pretend to the advantage of settling the question for ever. The proposed measure would have all the inconvenience of an alteration, with the certainty that in another year there would be another alteration, the extent and tendency of which could not be calculated. On such questions the interests of the country could not, he thought, be more advantageously considered than by intrusting them to the care of responsible ministers. A noble lord had drawn a most affecting picture of the distress and desolation which might ensue, if this power should not be intrusted to ministers, and a season of scarcity should 1097 arise: but in answer to that, he would say, that the apprehended calamity could not occur, at least, as long as we had any government in the country. For no person would be fit to hold the situation of minister in this country, who, if such an emergency should arise, would hesitate one moment in taking upon himself the responsibility of averting the famine, by committing a glorious breach of the law; and there was no ground on which a minister might act more safely. But, indeed, we were not without a precedent in the history of the country; for what was the objection raised against lord Chatham and lord Camden in 1766? It was not that they ought not to have such an indemnity granted to them, but that they acted as if they had a dispensing power, and did not even condescend to ask for such indemnity, though it was, in fact, tendered to them; and it was also urged against them, that they ought to have broken the law, and called the parliament together without the forty days' notice which the law then required; but owing to the alteration of the law which had taken place in this respect, ministers might now convene parliament at once, if circumstances should occur to render such a step necessary. He thought it would be attended with far less mischievous effects if ministers were to be left to act on their own responsibility, than that they should proceed to legislate on contingencies which might possibly occur, and which must have the effect of sounding an alarm all through the country. For by the sudden adoption of this measure, which no one dreamt of three weeks ago, the people must argue, either that the noble earl intended indirectly to strike at the root of the Corn-laws, or that he had good reasons for apprehending that there would be a scarcity of corn. The former of these suppositions was calculated to cause a great artificial rise in corn, and the latter a great artificial fall. In his opinion, all extraordinary exigencies should be met by the determination of the moment, and when they arrived. He could only imagine one exigency which would call for this measure, and if that existed, it became government to reveal it to a committee, or at any rate a secret committee of the House. It was in vain to say that this measure was not intended to affect the question of the Corn-laws; people would not credit it: it unavoidably created a very extraordinary 1098 excitement. He felt convinced that, under the responsibility he had mentioned, the country might proceed safely until the next session of parliament. As the question had been generally disclaimed, he would not enter into any argument respecting the Corn-laws; but he felt persuaded that the opposition of interests, which was at present supposed to exist between the agriculturists and the manufacturers, would gradually disappear; and that each party would, at last, become convinced that it would be impossible to establish any permanent system which could be injurious to one, without at the same time being prejudicial to the other. If, by any unfortunate circumstance, the legislature were to be composed exclusively of landed or exclusively of commercial men, and were wickedly to confederate for the purpose of throwing all the burthens of the state on the other class, those burthens, by a law as certain as the law of gravitation, would gradually settle on the shoulders of all. If noble lords would refer to the report of Mr. Jacob, which had been alluded to in the course of the evening, they would find the wretched state in which the landed proprietors in the north of Germany were, in consequence of the absence of that commercial interest which would have enabled them to convert their produce into the means of enjoyment. It was the same with commerce. The commercial interest had been taught to consider cheap corn a desideratum; but if the cheapness of corn was such as to ruin the agriculturist, the ruin of the manufacturer must soon follow. Both interests had one common object, and it was only by a fair adjustment between them, that a sound and permanent Corn-law could eventually be established. Acting upon that principle, he trusted, that whenever parliament should be again called upon to consider the subject, they would close the account between legislation and corn for ever.
§ The House divided on lord Bathurst's amendment: — Contents 96. Proxies 70–,166. Not-contents 42. Proxies 18–67—Majority 99.