§ Lord Wynford
said, that in rising to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, he felt that this was no ordinary occasion upon which he was about to address their Lordships, and he was afraid, in order to do justice to his subject, that he must trespass on their patience for a longer period than was his general custom. He trusted, however, that he should be able to present to their Lordships such a case, that it would be impossible for them, consistently with the duty which they owed to the country, to refuse the application which he should have the honour to make. He did not at all distrust the merits of the very strong case which he thought he should make out, and he was only afraid, lest, in attempting to do a great deal of good, he should do some evil, by adding to the excitement which unhappily prevailed, to a great extent, throughout the country. He felt a confident hope, however, that nothing which should fall from him would be at all calculated to continue that excitement; on the contrary, he had every expectation, that when the people of this country should come to know, as he hoped the decision of that night would convince them, that their Lordships were determined to do their duty—that they were determined to sift to the bottom the causes of the distress which prevailed in the country, and to exercise 829 their best endeavours to apply a remedy to that distress,—he was satisfied that when the people of this country came to see that, they would, with their well-known good sense, rely as they ought, upon the wisdom and justice of Parliament; and he was equally satisfied that such a decision on the part of their Lordships would have a material effect in preventing those disturbances which now disgraced the country. He must be allowed to state, though he felt persuaded that a great deal of the disorder which prevailed in the country was the consequence of that distress, which, if it could not be called universal, was at all events as nearly so as possible, affecting as it did almost all classes and descriptions of persons, and grinding to the dust those persons particularly who were now the objects of their Lordships' attention,—though such was his persuasion, he must be allowed to state that he did not think the fires which had occurred in different parts of the country were to be attributed to that cause. When the English people were distressed, they were apt, it was true, to commit disorders against the law, but Englishmen in distress never wickedly malignantly and absurdly destroyed their neighbour's property, as had been lately done in various parts of this country. He was thoroughly persuaded that such disgraceful transactions were of an exotic origin, and, though some Englishmen might be employed as agents by those persons who were desirous to promote disturbance, confusion, and perhaps rebellion in the country, they were led on by persons who were inimical, instead of being friendly, to the promotion of their real and best interests. Could any man doubt, he would ask, that distress prevailed in the country, and that to a very great extent? He would only entreat any one who entertained such a doubt, to take a journey for fifty miles on any side of London, and he would see the people out of employment, and the troops engaged in the expensive and laborious occupation of repressing disturbances. If the countenances of the people should hot satisfy such a person as to the existence and extent of that distress which he was about to shew their Lordships was mainly attributable to the imperfect state of the English law, let him but go into the parish vestry, and there he would see the difficulty encountered in providing support for the poor, and he would behold the 830 sudden transformation which, in innumerable cases, had lately taken place, of ratepayers into rate-receivers. If that circumstance was not sufficient to satisfy such a person as to the existence of the distress, let him only consider the immense increase of crime which had taken place, and which was the necessary consequence of that distress. The Judges of the land were often called upon to punish offences, the commission of which the wisdom of Parliament should have prevented. No man could look at the Gaol-calendar and not see that a frightful increase of crime had taken place within the last few years, which could be attributed to no other cause than the increased distress of the inhabitants of this country. He would refer their Lordships to a document which would put that matter beyond dispute, and which ought to satisfy every one of them, that unless they afforded relief, they could not arrest the progress of crime amongst the whole of the labouring population of this country. The document to which he alluded was "An Account of the Persons who had been sent out to New South Wales;" and from it their Lordships would perceive that the number had lately increased very much. In the year 1825 there were 233 persons transported to Botany Bay from Great Britain and Ireland; in the year 1826 their Lordships would be surprised to find that number increased to 1,815; in the year 1827 it was still further increased, to the enormous amount of 2,587 persons; and in 1828 there was a trifling reduction in the number, leaving it, however, at 2,449. It appeared to him impossible to present to their Lordships a stronger proof that crimes were numerous, and that distress from which alone they could arise, existed to the extent he had stated amongst the lower orders of the people of this country. If he stopped here, he might be told by the noble Earl opposite, for whom he had a great respect, and to whose judgment he should defer, if he had not thought much himself on this subject, that all this might be inquired into by the Committee which their Lordships had already appointed to examine into the state of the Poor-laws, and that before such a Committee they might also enter into an inquiry as to the state and condition of the poor. That certainly was not his opinion, and he thought if their Lordships should limit their inquiries to 831 that committee, that they would do little or nothing. His object was, not to inquire into the best mode of managing the poor, but to provide for the general relief of the people of this country. It was to inquire into the best mode of managing the funds for the poor that the Committee alluded to had been appointed, and to that object was its inquiry limited. But where would be the use of making inquiries about the funds for the poor, if there were none? He wished to shew what had been the occasion of the diminution of those funds, which were now as their Lordships would see, completely inadequate to provide a maintenance for the poor. What was wanted was funds for the support of the poor: if they were not provided, the poor could not be relieved, and he did not understand that the committee already appointed was empowered to extend its inquiries so far. He could not refer to a higher authority, to shew that something more was requisite than an inquiry into the Poor-laws, than the sentiments delivered by Sir Robert Peel, in another place, and which were echoed by the late Mr. Huskisson on the same occasion. Sir Robert Peel said last Session, and Mr. Huskisson expressed himself to the same effect, confirming the language which had been previously held by the noble Duke (Wellington), that there was no want of capital in this country, but that it was in an unhealthy state; that it was collected into the hands of a few; was shut up in strong boxes, and did not find its way into the possession of the productive classes. Though the currency of the country now exceeded, as the noble Duke had stated, and as he believed, the limits of the currency in any former period of our history, yet another hon. Gentleman, Mr. Alderman Thompson, on the occasion to which he had alluded, stated, that it was not sufficient for the wants of the country; and he derived his proof from the fact, that tradesmen were obliged now in many instances to pay their labourers in goods instead of money. He would take that declaration, and the opinions expressed by the two distinguished individuals to whom he had referred, as sufficient grounds for his proposition that inquiry was necessary into other branches of our social economy, than the operation of the Poor-laws. Whether this state of things was owing to 832 the changes which had been made in our currency, or to a want of confidence, arising from any other cause, he did not then give any opinion; but admitting that there was no deficiency of capital, if it was not properly employed, and if those who possessed it were unwilling to lend it out for the promotion of the productive industry and manufactures of the country, in what state must the country be? If the country had been so unfortunate in all its speculations, agricultural and commercial, that the capitalists were induced to stop the life-blood of the country by locking up their wealth instead of sending it forth to support the industry of the country, was it not time to inquire into the causes of such a lamentable state of things? If such were the fact, and if distress existed to an immense extent throughout the country, was it not the bounden duty of their Lordships to institute an inquiry with a view to ascertain the causes of that distress, so that they might be enabled to apply a remedy? In bringing forward this Motion, he did not wish to express a want of confidence in his Majesty's Ministers. It was out of the power of the present Ministry, as it was out of the power of the Ministry that preceded them, to remedy that deficient state of the law which had been so productive of the distress. It was not irregular for him, perhaps, to advert to what had occurred the other day in the Committee up-stairs, where it had been stated that the funds of the farmer were nearly exhausted, and that he had no means of paying his labourers; that if he had the means to pay them, he had abundant work for them; but that he had actually not the capital to enable him to do so. Such was the state of the country, as he would undertake to prove at their Lordships' bar—a mode of investigation he should much prefer, though he should be content with any mode of inquiry they should grant. He would much rather, however, that there should be a public inquiry at their bar, so that the public should be enlightened as to the conduct of two great and respectable classes of individuals who had been so scandalously calumniated in this country, —he meant the landlords and farmers. He wished for such a public opportunity to vindicate them against the foul charges which had been preferred against them. He should be content, however, with any 833 inquiry which it would please their Lordships to grant, so as it enabled them to get at the causes of the distress. A great variety of causes had been assigned for the prevailing distress. It was not necessary for him to give a decided opinion as to the causes, as his only object was, to prove the existence of distress, and point out the necessity which there was for inquiry. It had been lately said, that there were dawnings of improvement in the manufacturing districts of this country. God grant that it was so! but he, for one, did not anticipate that such an improvement, if it existed, was likely to be a lasting one. He thought that it might, perhaps, be attributed to the late troubles on the Continent, and perhaps it would cease the moment the Continent returned to its old habits of industry. Perhaps, too, the increased activity was caused by speculation, anticipating a large demand in consequence of the interruption to industry in some parts of the Continent; but if the case should turn out so, the temporary prosperity would be soon followed by a greater degree of adversity. A noble Lord, now no more, (Lord Liverpool) had attributed the distress which existed in his time, but which now prevailed to a much greater extent, to excessive production. That could not now be the case, for no one could doubt that the produce of the land had diminished to a frightful extent, and it was to be apprehended that it would diminish still further. If it went on diminishing, the time would come when England would be dependent upon foreign countries for her supply of corn; and therefore, in bad seasons, when the crops on the Continent might be short, as well as the crops in this country, all the evils of scarcity would be immeasurably increased. With regard to manufactures, there was an excessive glut of manufactures, which might be accounted for by the use of machinery. He begged to say, that he was no enemy to machinery, if the employment of it were properly regulated; but when it produced a glut in the market, it injured the manufacturer, and it injured the poor man, by depriving him of the means of obtaining employment for his labour. He was of opinion that the poor man had as good a right to have his labour protected, as the manufacturer had to have his manufactures protected, so as to enable him to carry on his trade. He would suggest that that was a fit subject for in- 834 quiry, in order to regulate the employment of machinery. He was not so absurd as to propose to put a stop to the use of machinery altogether, but its use should be properly regulated, so as not to interfere with the labour of the poor man. He wished that justice should be dealt out to all, without distinction; and if any distinction were made, it should be made in favour of the poor man. Another cause of the distress was said to be the diminution of the precious metals. Whether or not that was the case, he could not say; but if it were, great as the horror which he, in common with every one acquainted with the history of the country, must feel at an alteration of the currency, he was of opinion, if a great deficiency in the precious metals were proved to exist, that there should be an alteration of the currency. If there was a great diminution in the currency in this and other countries, that might partly account for the distress, but that was a point which was doubted; by many the fact was denied, and, therefore, it was a proper subject for inquiry. Probably the evil might be removed, if it existed, by altering the regulations of our coinage. Their Lordships should recollect that there was a seignorage charged of, he believed, eight per cent in other countries; and it might be a part of the inquiry whether a seignorage should not be charged on our gold coin. Their Lordships had lately made an alteration in the currency, which certainly did not form the standard, but which formed a great portion of the currency of the country. A pound of silver, which was formerly cut into sixty- two shillings, was now cut into sixty-six, which made a difference of almost five per cent, and was a seignorage on the silver to | that amount. He was not prepared to say that a seignorage to that amount should be charged on our gold coin, but many enlightened men entertained that opinion, affirming, that such an alteration would relieve distress, and he did not know why such a principle should not be soberly and solemnly investigated. The next opinion to which he would refer was, that the distress of the country was owing to the restriction upon the issuing of small notes. He trusted that, from what he had heard said by the noble Earl opposite on that point last Session, he should have his support. He would contend, that the issuing of the 1l. and 2l., notes would not be such an alteration of 835 the currency as would have the effect of altering contracts. If they were issued to the greatest extent, the currency would remain the same as to contracts, for they would still be fulfilled by the same standard. The only effect of the issuing of the small notes would be, to give the country-bankers and the Bank of England the means of accommodating those who wanted accommodation. The noble Duke (Wellington) had asked last Session— "Would you give the country-bankers the unlimited power of coining?" Certainly not—he would not allow them to issue notes, unless they deposited Exchequer-bills to the extent of their issues. If the 1l. notes were not issued, the country-bankers could not lend to the farmer, and the capital of the country would remain, as Sir Robert Peel had stated, locked up in the strong box of the usurer, without being productive of any benefit to the industry of the country. But such a measure, it was said, would be a departure from the ancient policy of the country: it would be no such thing. It was not until the 5th of Geo. 3rd, that the people were restricted from issuing small notes; and previous to that, promissory notes, of no greater value than a shilling were issued. Such notes, however, were productive of frauds. It was on the principle of preventing fraud, then, and not on the principle that it was dangerous to the circulating medium, or a trespass on the King's prerogative, that a bill was brought in by Sir George Saville,—the 15th of Geo. 3rd,—to put a stop to that circulation. The 17th of Geo. 3rd proceeded precisely on the same principle as the 15th, putting an end to the circulation of! the 5l. notes—not on the principle of pre- venting an excessive issue of notes, but to prevent fraud, and to protect the poor from being plundered. The most favourite doctrine of political economy was, that every man should be left to take care of himself; but here they would not trust a man to manage his own affairs and business, and they would not allow one person to issue, and another to take, a small note. That was quite inconsistent with the doctrine of the political economists, and would not be right unless the whole science was founded in error. The next cause assigned for the distress was excessive taxation. He should be the last man to wish to interfere with the just rights of the public creditor; at the same time he 836 must state, that distress in this country was greatly aggravated, if not caused, by excessive taxation. It was admitted by Mr. Pitt, that the taxes, direct and indirect, took two-fifths of his earnings out of the pockets of the poor man. They heard a great deal about high rents, but would any man say, that they took two-fifths, or even one-fifth, from the wages of the labourer? They certainly did not take one-tenth out of his pockets when his bread came to be eaten. He mentioned this, not to put down the taxes, but to remove an unjust odium which was attempted to be cast on the lauded interest. They were told, that if they reduced their rents to what they were in 1793, every thing would be right, and that the country would go on well, and that all our affairs would be in a most flourishing state. He would undertake, however, to prove that, with regard to rent, except in cities and towns, where circumstances might have occasioned a great rise in some rents,— he would undertake, he repeated, to prove, that in the country parts the landed proprietors only received a fair interest for the improvements they had made; and that, making that allowance, the rents had been reduced to the standard of 1793, and in many instances even below it. He had taken pains to inquire into this subject, and he pledged himself to the fact. He would go further, and offer to prove, that even those rents could not be recovered unless some alteration was made in the existing law; and still further, that in the case of lands of the second and third class no rent whatever could be obtained. It might be said, that the land which had fallen out of cultivation was not worth reclaiming, and that it would be better to employ capital in some other way. Unfortunately, that doctrine was supported by a great and most powerful instrument in this country—the public press; and were it generally credited and acted upon, would be ruinous to the country. If the poor land was to be thrown out of cultivation, millions would be deprived of subsistence. To any one who attended to the state of the country, it was plain that it was not the rate of wages which was complained of, for they were as high as ever, but it was the want of employment, and that employment the farmers had not the means to give. It was not those who were employed that complained, but those who were suffering from the want of that 837 employment which the farmers were unable to give them. The throwing up the poor land, which required more labour than rich land, was one cause of the want of employment, and of the distress; and the object of their Lordships ought to be, if possible, so to relieve the farmer, that he might advantageously cultivate the poor land. He would beg of their Lordships also to recollect what had taken place since 1793. Since that time settlements had been made, and money had been borrowed upon estates, in a very different standard from what then prevailed. How were these incumbrances to be discharged, if a return was made to the standard of 1793? Besides, if such a deduction were to take place, would the landed proprietor be in the same state as the rest of the community? Certainly not; for, with the rents of 1793, he could not afford to give those prices which articles fetched in 1830. The necessaries and the luxuries of life had been, some of them, doubled, some of them trebled, in price, since 1793. Unless, therefore, every thing else were reduced in the same proportion with rents, the consequence of returning to rents of 1793 would be, that the landed gentlemen would be degraded from their station. Nor would this be the only consequence— the landed gentlemen would not be the only persons who would suffer by such a reduction; all who were dependent on them,—servants, labourers, and small shopkeepers, all these would suffer in the same proportion with those by whom they were supported. He should presently show also, that if this principle were acted upon, the manufacturing and commercial interests of the country must, and would, fall with the agricultural interests. Their Lordships would recollect, that in dealing with this subject, allusion had very frequently been made to bad seasons. These were stated to have been great causes of distress; and there could be no doubt that such calamities must have had their effect. They were told last year that the badness of the season was the great cause of the evil then complained of; but now they had had a good season, and yet the evil not only remained, but it had increased. This circumstance shewed, he thought, that the causes of our distress were not yet accurately known, and were worthy of the consideration of their Lordships. The next circumstance put forward to account for the evil was, the state of the Corn-laws. 838 It had been constantly asserted, that the Corn-laws were, in fact, the great, and almost the only cause of the evil. If this were so, let the Corn-laws be repealed. He had no objection himself to the repeal of the Corn-laws; his interest in them was but small; and though he was certainly the friend of the landed interest, yet he was no further the friend of it than because he was convinced that every thing which affected the landed interest must affect at the same time all the other interests of the country. He saw no objection to the Corn-laws being repealed, if, at the same time, their Lordships took away those burthens which weighed peculiarly on the landed interest. He was quite sure that the Corn-laws of 1826 were of no use to the agricultural interest. They might be, and he believed they were, useful to the speculator: they might, and he believed they did, encourage a spirit of gambling, which had originated on the Stock Exchange, but which now affected all our markets, which deranged the whole economy of our domestic life, and which caused uncertainty in every species of property throughout the country. The part of the Corn-laws to which he more particularly alluded was that which regulated importation; but, among the objections to the Corn-laws,—rand those objections were as serious as they were numerous,—none appeared to him to be so strong as the objection to the mode of striking the averages. These averages were regulated by the price of British corn, and, while Irish corn was to be considered as British com, he must say, that he thought it very hard that the price of Irish corn was not included in the averages. While he was upon this subject, allow him to observe, that he thought our neighbours— he meant the French—were, in some things, wiser than we were. In France there was a distinction made between corn carried in French vessels, and corn carried in vessels of any other country. We made no such distinction; and he was very much afraid that foreigners went back with their ballast and their money for their corn, and took none of our manufactures in return. And this led him to speak of those burthens which were exclusively borne by the agricultural interest. Of these burthens it would not be too much to say, that they amounted to 25 per cent at the very least; and yet the agricultural interest had no equivalent protection 839 given them in return—that was to say, no protection which gave them any remuneration. Thus, for instance, the Poor-laws attached almost exclusively to the land. At the period of the enactment of the Poor-laws- the time of Elizabeth— very little commercial wealth could be touched by these laws,—very little was in existence; but all the land was reached by them. They reached also the inhabitants of towns, it was true; but only their visible, not their actual, means were affected by the Statute of that queen. The same was the case now, and at the present time the landed interest paid more than three-fourths of the poor-rates: the landed interest paid this, and paid it, too, for the support, not of its own poor only, but of the manufacturing poor also. He should show their Lordships that this was the fact. A man might have a factory in a certain parish, and carry on business with an additional capital of 100,000l., and such a man would be rated, not according to all his property, including his capital, but merely according to the value of the building. Now, this was obviously an unfair assessment. Besides, such a man, though he would have his factory in one place, might have his workmen in all the parishes around; who, when turned off, must be supported by the parishes to which they belonged. If this were examined into, he was convinced it would appear, that a very large proportion of the poor-rates were thus paid by the landed interest. He next came to the land-tax. That tax was originally intended to apply to all property; but, as it had turned out, all property, with the exception of certain pensions, escaped, and the land paid the whole of the tax. When this tax was first laid on, a bounty was given on the exportation of corn, to landed proprietors, in order to induce them to consent to the tax; but that bounty had been taken away, and the tax remained. These were some of the burthens which weighed heavily and unfairly upon the landed interest. He could mention others, if he were not afraid of detaining their Lordships too long, and he had no doubt that in these burthens their Lordships would, upon inquiry, find the cause of the flourishing condition of the large towns, while the landed interest decayed. Their Lordships would find, that no foreign manufactured produce was admitted into this country without paying very high duties, while foreign raw produce, 840 that came into competition with the growth of our own soil was admitted, at almost a nominal duty. But why, he would ask, should it be thought necessary to neglect one interest while they protected another? The profession which he had followed, and the high station which he had had the honour to fill, taught him the principle of perfectly equal justice, and that principle demanded that those burthens which it was necessary to impose upon the community should be equally borne by all its various parts. He was sorry to have detained their Lordships so long; but there was yet one topic upon which he felt it necessary to touch. He need not tell their Lordships how loud the complaints of distress were, nor was it necessary for him to inquire into the truth of the assertion, that the distress complained of was generally felt. He believed, however, that that assertion was true. Let their Lordships agree to his motion, and inquire into the fact, if they had any doubts upon the subject; but he was convinced that the manufacturing and commercial interests sympathized with the landed interest. Indeed, this was the necessary consequence of the distress which was universally admitted to prevail in the landed interest. It was quite as impossible that the landed interest could suffer, and the other interests of the country flourish, as that a man who was struck with the palsy in three parts of his body could be healthy in the other part. If their Lordships would look into Mr. Colquhoun's book, they would see this ably demonstrated. There was, however, one criterion even safer than that of Mr. Colquhoun's authority— he meant the proof afforded by the income-tax; from a view of the returns under that tax, their Lordships might judge of the different importance of the agricultural and the manufacturing interests. In the year 1815, the last in which that tax was levied, it would be found that the income-tax, levied on a rate of ten per cent, produced for the land 8,200,000l.; and, deducting two millions for houses, that left six millions as the contribution of the land alone. If they looked, then, at the returns of the same tax upon commerce and manufactures, what would be the result? Commerce, manufactures, professions, and trades, together with property abroad, which paid a tax in this country, produced but three millions. Take from that sum one million for property abroad, that 841 paid a tax here, and that left two millions as the whole of the income-tax upon commerce, manufactures, trades, and professions; while the land alone paid six millions. Could it be denied, after that fact, that the landed interest was the most important in the country? And if so, was it not likely, as he had asserted, that the depression of that interest in the home market must depress all the rest, and must produce all those evils of which so many complaints were now heard? He might add, with regard to the calculation he had just made, that he believed it would be found that three-fourths of the money paid on behalf of the towns was produced from the owner of the land and his tenants, and from those who were concerned in the home trade of the country. He did not undervalue the foreign trade, but he did not think that, in order to preserve it, we should sacrifice our internal means of prosperity. If we fostered and encouraged our home trade, and, above all, our agriculture, we should be happy and independent. If the foreign trade left us, as there was good reason to believe it would, still we should find ample means for the development of our industry in the home market, and in our commerce with our colonies. Our merchants, who fetched for our use the produce of the earth from the most distant of its extremities, and whose skill and perseverance had enabled them to convert what at first appeared a barrier into a more easy means of universal communication, would still be able to keep us, in any case of necessity, above the possibility of a deficient supply, so that it was impossible a country like this could ever feel itself dependent on any other for a supply of corn. He repeated, therefore, that, to preserve our foreign trade, we ought not to sacrifice our agriculture and our home trade, on the success of which depended much of the moral courage and energy of the people of this country. We saw already symptoms of the decline of our foreign commerce, and we ought to provide ourselves with a substitute in the additional encouragement given to our agriculture. Our commerce was declining, because other countries had become, like us, manufacturers. France had her manufactures; America had hers, and to that extent, too, that they had occasioned a great falling off in our exports. The Russians and Germans, also, had their manufactures. Those peo- 842 ple were so stupid as not to attend to the wise opinions of our political economists, who told them to take our manufactures, —they refused to do so—they manufactured their own goods. The Danes did the same. He had seen a very clever Essay —no doubt very clever—in which the Danes were told not to manufacture their own cloth, because they could get it so much cheaper here; but they said, "If I buy from you I must pay money for it, but if I buy it at home I may appear to pay a little dearer for it, but I can make that payment in paper." In his opinion, we ought to follow the same course, and give the same answer to the advice of those political economists who recommend us to buy the agricultural produce of other countries, and to continue to pay in gold; for, whilst we paid in money, we diminished our means of competition, and threw out of employ the workmen by whose labour we were supported. He would just call the attention of the House to the history of the years 1815, 1816,1817, 1818, and 1820, in confirmation of what he had just stated. If they read the history of those years, they would see that our manufacturing interests were, as they always must be, affected by the prosperity or decline of our agriculture. When the latter flourished, the former were prosperous; when the latter declined, the former felt the consequences of the pressure. In 1815, corn, from the monopoly of agriculture existing during the war, in consequence of which our lands were well cultivated, was very cheap; and though he admitted that manufactures were then suddenly depressed, he knew that that depression was occasioned by other circumstances. In 1816 the quantity of corn in the country was exhausted, and the agricultural in terests were distressed. In the same manner the manufactures were affected. In 1817 the corn got up in price; no supply was obtained from abroad, and corn was at 105s. per quarter; yet, in spite of that, and because the agricultural interest was flourishing, manufactures were in a prosperous condition, and the Prince Regent, in the opening Speech of the Session, congratulated Parliament on the flourishing state of the country. In 1818 both the agricultural and the commercial interests were prosperous, but in 1820 corn fell lower than it had ever before been known, and manufactures at the same time suffered an exactly similar depression. At that 843 time his Majesty, in his Speech from the Throne, expressed his sorrow at the unfortunate state of the country. He now begged to remind the noble Earl, at present at the head of his Majesty's Government, that when the Address in answer to the Speech was moved, that noble Earl desired that some expressions of a stronger nature than those inserted in the Address should be employed, for he asserted that those expressions, strong as they were, were not strong enough to express the feelings of that House on the subject of the distress of the country. He was satisfied that it was quite impossible to find a stronger instance than that he. had just alluded to of the fact, that when the agricultural interest was depressed, the manufactures inevitably suffered along with it. He wished now to mention another circumstance, not less important than the flourishing or decayed state of the trade of the country—he meant that of the danger of famine if the agriculture of our country should be suffered to go without its full support. That danger had existed when agriculture was in a better state than now. In 1817, if we had had Cornlaws such as those now in force, that evil would have happened, for, instead of corn being 105s. a quarter, he believed that a great part of the people would have perished from famine. The same causes which produced a scarcity in England would produce it abroad. We ought not, therefore, to trust to the foreign market, but to encourage our own agriculture generally, so that the deficiencies of one year might be supplied by the abundance of another. He was sure, that unless care was taken to accomplish this object, some dreadful famine would fall on the country, and the fault would be on their Lordships' heads if that occurrence was not fully provided against. In the course of his professional life he had become a little acquainted with the matter of Exchanges, and, from what he had learnt, he was of opinion, and he believed others agreed with him, that the exchanges of the country ought to be kept as uniform as possible; at least, that they ought not to be allowed to go against us. That which he regarded as an evil—the exchanges being against us—was a matter always determined by the importation or non-importation of corn. During two of the years which he had before referred to, when corn had been imported, the exchanges were 844 against us, in one instance, to as great an amount as 6 per cent; when the importation ceased, the exchanges rose, and in a very short time were actually in our favour. In his opinion, protection ought equally to be given to every species of labour; and he was quite sure, that in any measure that would have that tendency the people would find as great a blessing as the Legislature could bestow. The same cause which depressed the agricultural interest deprived a part of the industry of the country of that protection which it deserved. The agricultural produce of this country was, in consequence, not equal now to what it had been in some former years. In what he had already stated he had not mentioned all the causes of the present distress, but all those things which were usually described as the causes of it. He asked their Lordships to examine all these, to see whether they were all, or whether there were others, that contributed to produce the distress, and whether that distress was what it was described to be. He should rejoice if it turned out that the distress which was stated to exist did not really exist, for such a circumstance would be the best answer to those people who availed themselves of the distresses of the country to commit the excesses of which they had lately heard so much. He would not diminish the security of the fund-holder; he would not deny that person's just demands upon the State; but he was persuaded that if things went on as they did, though the fund-holder might now have his full dividend, the security of his property would be worth nothing. He would not appeal to their Lordships on the score of interest—that would be the last motive which would influence their conduct; their only motive was, to exert themselves in the best manner possible for the good of the country for the protection of others, not of themselves. Their Lordships held their high situation to protect the interests of the poor, who could not protect themselves; for their sakes he implored the House to adopt some course of inquiry, in order to discover some means of remedy for present evils. If a course better than that he now pointed out could be shown, he was not so bigotted to his own opinions, nor so prejudiced against those of other people, as to refuse to yield his own to a better plan. All he wanted was some effort to relieve the country from its. present distresses. For that he appealed 845 to their Lordships—for that he appealed [to his Majesty's Ministers; and he could not make that appeal in language so eloquent, nor in any so likely to affect them, as that which had been used by one of themselves. Sir James Graham, in a most excellent pamphlet lately published, had used these striking expressions, addressed to another Government, indeed, but equally as applicable to the present Government as to any other. The noble Lord then read the following extract:—Let me entreat them to depart from their usual course of awaiting the event: a great and an immediate effort is necessary to burst the cord now drawn so tight around them;—if they hesitate, they will be entangled in such complicated difficulties, that | resistance and escape will soon be alike impossible.His Lordship would not further weary the patience of their Lordships, which he had already tried at so great length, but returning them his thanks for the attention they had vouchsafed to shew him, would at once submit the Motion of which he had given notice— "That a Committee should be appointed instantly to inquire into the causes of the present state of the Distress in the Country, and, as far as might be, into the nature of the remedies to be adopted."
The Earl of Rosebery,
having been a warm supporter of a Motion made by a noble Duke (Richmond) on a subject somewhat analogous to this, although between the two there was certainly a broad line of distinction, and although the noble Baron opposite had not stated whether he moved for a Select Committee, or for a Committee of the whole House, [Lord Wynford signified that he left that to their Lordships]; but putting that difference out of the question, having been in the course of the last Session a warm supporter of a Motion of this sort, he felt bound now to state why he dissented from the present Motion; and, in doing so, he should declare that he was not conscious of any inconsistency in conduct or opinion, for he asserted then, as he believed now, that the strictest inquiry should be made into the causes of these periodical returns of national distress. The first reason on which he objected to the present Motion was, that a few days ago a Committee on the Poor-laws had been appointed; and thinking, as he did, that the mal-administration of those laws was a principal 846 grievance of the people, and therefore one of the causes of the present distress, by bringing a redundancy of population into the market, to compete for employment, and by causing a constant interference with labour, breaking the spirit of the labourer and destroying all his feelings of independence, inducing him no longer to trust to himself and his own industry— thinking this, he could not but feel satisfied, that if that Committee did its duty, and the Government did their duty (of which he had no doubt), by co-operating with the Committee, the evils now in existence would progressively, and he trusted not with a slow pace, be removed. It must be a subject of great grief to their Lordships that the state of the labouring classes was, in this as in many other countries, deteriorated within the last few years; and what was of more importance, the depression of these classes was co-existent with the elevation of their minds by the diffusion of knowledge, and by the vast strides which education and the power of reading had made within the same time. He therefore thought, that the time was come when every man who had a heart to feel, or an understanding to comprehend this state of things, must be filled with the deepest anxiety to discover the cause of the present evils, and to apply a proper remedy. The first objection he made to the present Motion was, that the necessity of it was in a manner superseded by the committee having been appointed to which he had already alluded. The second objection which he had to this Motion arose from the recent change made in the Government, and from the circumstances which had led to that change, and from the pledges which his Majesty's Ministers had made to the Parliament and to the country. The noble Earl now at the head of the Government had, immediately upon his taking Office, —on the very first night of his appearing there in his present station, not only agreed to a Motion made by the noble Marquis for a Committee on the state of the Poor-laws, but he made a most solemn declaration, that he and his colleagues would take the whole state of the country into their most serious, unceasing, and deliberate consideration; that they would use their utmost efforts to relieve the country, as far as retrenchment could effect its relief, and, as far as their power went, would do their ut- 847 most to restore present confidence, and to lay the best foundation for the future prosperity of the country by Reform in Parliament, and in every other department of the State. Under these circumstances, he asked whether it was fair and courteous to persons who had so recently been called to fill their situations to interfere in this manner, not only with the duties they were called on to discharge, but with those which they had expressed themselves willing and ready to enter upon? Such an interference consumed time and disturbed their labours by compelling them to attend a Committee, when they had as good, if not better, means of examination in their hands, and when they might, in a few weeks, state their own plans to the House. It appeared to him that such a course, so far from accelerating that relief, which every man desired to see given, would be destroying much of the good that might be derived from the Committee already appointed. The noble Lord had stated, that not merely the state of the law with reference to the poor ought to be considered, but that the distress was so general and prevalent as to demand immediate attention, and required immediate relief. He agreed with the noble Baron, that the present administration of the Poor-laws was an evil of itself, and the cause of many other—that the present distress was very extensive and dreadful, and that these matters ought to be the subject of a parliamentary inquiry. He should be sorry, either by what he said, or by the vote he should give, to stifle a parliamentary inquiry; but he thought it would be better for them to wait, since he believed it was in the power of Ministers to submit a more effectual measure than could now be submitted by any noble Lord in particular. He only wished that the inquiry should be postponed, not altogether rejected. It was not his intention to trespass longer on the attention of their Lordships, if the noble Lord would withdraw his Motion; but as he found that was not likely, he should take the liberty of saying a few words on some topics introduced by that noble Lord. The noble Lord seemed to imagine, that the right hon. Gentleman now no more, had asserted that the capital of this country was locked up in strong boxes, or lent out to usury. Although he did not mean to enter into the circumstances of the distress of the country, he had no hesitation in 848 repeating what he had stated last Session, that one of the causes that contributed to the distress had been the unnatural or improper, and inconvenient distribution of the capital of the country; but it would require more than the imagination of the right hon. individual alluded to, to suppose that any part of the capital of the country was hoarded in strong boxes. It was an idea impossible to be believed, and certainly one which that right hon. Gentleman had never entertained. The noble Lord had gone at length into the subject of rents, and had stated that rents throughout the kingdom had materially lowered since the Peace; and he had been understood to say, that if rents were more lowered, the distress that might ensue to the landlords, especially those on whom the encumbrances of an antecedent period were still charged, would be such as they could not bear. His belief was, that rents had been considerably lowered, but he would not go the length of saying, that they had been universally lowered to that level which the price of produce and the expense of farming made necessary, and he did not agree in the inference that the distress of the landlords was such as they could not bear, for if the farmer was unable to pay the present rents, they must be reduced to the price of produce. At the same time he must be allowed to say, that in his judgment the distress among the agricultural population did not arise from the high state of the rents. He believed there might be some particular instances in which distress arose from that cause, but he believed also, that distress was greatest where low wages existed from the competition of the labourers, arising from the excess in the number of labourers above the demand for them—an excess which was mainly attributable to the maladministration of the Poor-laws. In reference to the general internal state of the country, and, perhaps, more particularly with respect to the observations of the noble Lord with regard to the increase of crime, he could not close the few observations he had to make without adverting to the state of the Game-laws. He was convinced that the Game-laws of England demoralised the people, while no good was obtained from their continuance. They had had and they now had a great tendency to produce ill will and enmity where formerly there existed respect; and 849 they led, moreover, to habits of violence, to a roving and predatory character, and caused a disposition to tumult, to which some of the scenes recently acted in different parts of the country might be attributed. He was sorry to say, that their Lordships were responsible for this state of the law, for more than once a bill had been brought from the other House with a view to place the Game-laws on an uniform, rational, and sound principle; but these bills had always been thrown out or injuriously modified, by their Lordships. As he saw by the votes of the other House that a bill on this subject had lately been introduced with enactments similar to those which had formerly passed that House, he trusted, that this Session would not pass away without a total alteration of those laws—an alteration from which he anticipated the most beneficial results to the peace, the happiness, and the tranquillity of the people. He should transgress the rule he had laid down if he did more than state, that he opposed this Motion because a committee on the most important part of it was now sitting. He felt the greatest confidence in the rectitude of the feelings of the noble Lord now at the head of the Government. He believed that the Ministers would co-operate with the Parliament, and do not only as much as Parliament required, but more; and would lend their utmost ability, and all their faculties, to ascertain the causes of the distress—a matter more easy than to discover a remedy. He believed that they would do their utmost to discover and apply a remedy to existing evils; and if the noble Lord would withdraw his Motion its object might be better accomplished by the Committee already granted.
§ The Earl of Eldon
said, that their Lordships would perhaps be surprised to hear that, timid as he generally was in coming to a decision, he was now fully and deeply impressed with a sense of the necessity that existed for a parliamentary inquiry into the causes of the distress which pervaded the country. Whether he was right or wrong in the conviction which he entertained, he would not pretend to say; but having such a conviction as he had, he felt compelled to give his consent to the Motion of his noble and learned friend for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the causes of the present lamentable condition of the country. Some two or three years ago several dif- 850 ferent causes were assigned for the nature of the distress which then prevailed. The first was stated, in no less important a document than a King's Speech, to be the nature of the season, over which it was alleged that the Government had no control—a truth as obvious as any that was ever uttered either in that House or any where else. Their Lordships were also informed, in the same document that other causes were in existence; but they were neither told what those causes were, nor permitted to inquire into their extent and magnitude. His noble and learned friend had stated in his speech various causes for the present distress. He was sorry to say, that he differed from his noble and learned friend as to the capability of many of those causes to produce the results which he attributed to them; but in any assembly less dignified than that of their Lordships, the difference of opinion between himself and his noble and learned friend, would be considered as a reason, not for prohibiting, but for promoting inquiry. With respect to what had been said on the subject of machinery, he would only observe that he could not agree either with those who called upon the Government to alter the state of the law regarding machinery, or with those who recommended them to put an end to the employment of it. Let their Lordships consider for moment what would be the consequence of following such impolitic advice. Till machinery was invented, arms and hands were the implements with which men worked. Arms and hands were found, however, unable to compete with machinery, and machinery was in consequence employed, not only in our own country, but also in foreign nations. Now, if we were to put an end to the employment of it, and to return to the labour of arms and hands alone, the consequence would be, that the arms and hands of foreign nations, supported also by foreign machinery, would supply our markets with goods, and reduce our labourers to a worse condition even than that in which they were involved at present. He hoped that it would not be supposed that in supporting the present Motion, he was either casting a censure upon the late, or expressing distrust of the present, Administration. He was doing neither: he was only expressing his conviction that the state of the country demanded parliamentary inquiry, and under that conviction he should 851 support the present Motion, which he conceived was rather calculated to assist than embarrass the consultations of the new Administration.
spoke as follows:—The noble and learned Lord,—for learned I must call him, and learned I have no doubt he is in his own profession, but learned he is not in the information which is wanted here, or at least he has thrown no light on the opaque atmosphere which a learned Gentleman below the bar told us pervaded this House,—the noble and learned Lord has moved for a committee to inquire into the causes of the distress which now pervades the country, to devise remedies for it, and to report its opinion thereupon to the House. Taking the view of this question that the noble and learned Lord has taken, I am surprised that he does not see that the committee for which he moves would, if granted to him, be nothing more than a mere ignis fatuus,—-that it would only involve him and your Lordships in greater obscurity and deeper gloom,—that it would only plunge him further into the mire than he has got already,—and that it could not by any accident be of the slightest advantage, either to himself or to the country. The noble and learned Lord has throughout his speech done all he could to deride political economists and the public Press; but his derision throughout was nothing better than a lamentable joke. The noble and learned Lord says, that we are reduced to our present wretched and calamitous condition, by the doctrines of the political economists, and by the mischievous influence of the public Press. Now, I venture to tell the noble and learned Lord that it is because the doctrines of the political economists have been neglected, and not because they have been too much attended to, that we are in our present state of suffering. The noble and learned Lord, like all the deriders of theorists and political economists, is a little bit of a theorist himself; and as his theory is not a little extraordinary, let us see what it is, and how he defends it. The notion of the noble and learned Lord regarding capital is certainly of a novel description. He says that there is capital in the country, but that it is unfortunately locked up in the strong box. Does the noble and learned Lord know what capital is? Why, houses are capital, land is capital, food is capital raiment is capital. All these, I admit, are 852 locked up in a strong box; but then that strong box is as large as the Island of Great Britain, and in that strong box I hope they will long remain. The noble Lord quoted, I think, part of a speech made by Sir Robert Peel in another place, to justify his opinion upon that point; but he has not acted quite fairly by that speech, for he has given us part of a line out of it, and has omitted the remainder of it. He says, "Sir Robert Peel told the country that its capital was locked up in a strong box," and then he recommends a one-pound note circulation to conjure it from its fastenings. Now, if I recollect that speech of Sir Robert Peel's correctly, he followed up the declaration which the noble and learned Lord just quoted, by putting down that very circulation which the noble and learned Lord recommended. Another part of the noble and learned Lord's political economy is embodied in a complaint, that the Russians, the Danes, and the Americans are all running us hard in the production of manufactures. Does the noble and learned Lord know why they are running us hard? If he does not, I will tell him. The reason is, because we will not take their raw produce in return for our manufactures. The noble and learned Lord says, that the reason of their producing manufactures is, because they pay for their things in paper; but the reason is, that we compel them to use their raw produce themselves, instead of taking it into our warehouses, and returning them manufactured goods in exchange. Does the noble and learned Lord suppose that any thing is given for nothing? Does he suppose that they will give us their raw produce without receiving any thing in return? Their raw produce must be paid for in manufactured goods; we are not permitted to take their raw produce, and therefore they will not take our manufactured produce. That is the mistake into which all the deriders of theory, who are generally the least of practical men and the most of theorists that can be found, are always falling; they never will understand that these countries have nothing but raw produce to exchange for our manufactured produce, and that when we refuse to take their raw produce, we compel them to convert it into a manufactured state themselves. One more sample of the noble and learned Lord's political economy, and I have done with it for a time. The noble and learned Lord talked 853 very largely of the importance of maintaining the exchanges. He says, "If you import corn, down at once go your exchanges, and there is no knowing where they will stop." I admit that when corn is admitted on an emergency arising suddenly, and contrary to general expectation, the exchanges will probably fall; but then I ask the noble and learned Lord to tell me whether, when there is no corn in the country, he would not rather let the exchanges go down than see the country continue without corn? As the noble and learned Lord has given your Lordships a taste of the quality of his political economy, allow me in return to give you some notion of mine. I think that the great distress which now prevails in various parts of the country arises from this:—That the tendency of your legislation for many years back has been, to encourage an over-supply of the population, and an under-supply of food. The over-supply of the population has been supported—indeed I may say has been mainly supported—by that mal-administration of the Poor-laws of which the noble and learned Lord so justly complained. The system of under-paying single men for their labour had an inevitable tendency to make them marry, and was a direct encouragement to make them improvident of the future. I have been told by a clergyman, who has the care of an extensive parish in an agricultural district, that he has often been surprised at the youth of the couple who have come before him to be married. On one occasion, a young lad of nineteen came with a young girl of his own age. My friend the clergyman said to them "You are very young, what has induced you to marry so soon?" The man answered — and my friend tells me that he has frequently received the same answer— "I am not married, and therefore I cannot get, and you will not give me, work—I come here to be married, and then give me work you must." Such a state of things inevitably led to a great increase of population. Then, with this increased population, you have an under-supply of food, owing to the operation of the Corn-laws. Since the year 1815, when those laws were enacted, the supply of corn grown in the country has sensibly diminished. I can prove this point, if necessary, very clearly; but I believe that it is admitted by all who have taken an extensive view of the face of the country, that agricul- 854 ture is not now in the same flourishing condition in which it was before the Corn-laws were passed;—that the land is now driven hard;—that much of it has gone out of cultivation; and that, therefore, the produce here now is not equal to what it was. Then if you look abroad, you will see the same circumstances occurring there. We know, that in many of the continental States, large tracts of land, formerly cultivated as corn lands, have been turned into grass; and in the committee which sat upon the Wool-trade, we were even told that the continental farmers, instead of growing corn, had now turned their attention to growing wool. Hence the supply of food being contracted, not only in this country, but also on the Continent, must have been greatly diminished since the first passing of the Corn-laws; hence the labouring classes have not had a belly-full since the year 1815, nor will they have until the Corn-laws are repealed. The diminution in the supply of food would have created great distress and inconvenience, even had the population continued the same; but in the fifteen years which have elapsed since the Corn-laws received their monstrous birth, the increase of the population has been at least 2,000,000. Thus, if the quantity of corn grown both here and abroad be less than the quantity grown fifteen years ago, and if the population who have to subsist on that corn contain 2,000,000 of human beings more than it did then, it is quite evident that there must be a less quantity for each individual to consume. Now, food is capital, and therefore if there be a diminution in the supply of food used by the country, there is a corresponding dimunition in the amount of its capital. Hence it follows, that the proportion which ought to exist between the capital and the population of a country is deranged, and that the condition of the population is deteriorated: for it is on the amount of capital compared with the population, that the happiness of the population always depends. Besides, your Lordships ought never to lose sight of this important truth,—that when food becomes dear, it supplies a great encouragement to increase the employment of machinery, for as the increased price of food leads to an increased rate of wages, the capitalist seeks to supply by the use of machinery the labour which costs him so dear. Your Lordships are therefore inflicting a great injury upon the labouring 855 population when you direct your legislation to produce a high price of corn; for you not only destroy their labour, by pre-venting them from deriving a supply of cheap corn from those countries which would be glad to exchange corn for the produce of their labour, but you also destroy it by calling into existence a large power of machinery which supersedes it. With respect to the insurrection—for insurrection I am sorry to say it is—which has taken place among the agricultural labourers in the southern counties of England, I think that it will be allowed that it proceeds from severe distress. That distress has been taken advantage of by mischievous agents; but that there is distress, and severe distress, no man can doubt. How are you endeavouring to meet that distress? By an advance in the rate of wages. If that advanced rate of wages should continue to be paid,—and I am afraid that it cannot,—it will create a greater demand on the food of the country, and, by doing so, will produce a greater consumption of that capital in which you are most deficient. The question, therefore, comes to this,—will the capital of the country, diminished as it will be by a greater consumption of food, be replaced by any increase in the profits usually derived from it? Certainly not; and if that be so, then the advance in the rate of wages will have a tendency to lower the general rate of profits, and will thus affect the future prospects of the country. I repeat, that I do not believe that this advance in the rate of wages can be long maintained. It is not natural,—it has been brought about by] the necessity of the times; it cannot afford the farmer a remuneration, and therefore it is vain to expect that it will be continued. Instead of directing our attention to the temporary change in the condition of part of the labouring classes, we should look for a change which will benefit all the working classes of the country,—for a change which will not be partial and transitory, but which will permanently relieve all classes, and improve the general prosperity of the country. The labourers, I am sorry to say it, have, during the last two or three years, been reduced to a state of privation almost beyond human endurance and human forbearance. Some relief must be afforded them; but how? If it be by the diminution of the capital of the farmer, that will fall upon the rents;—yes, if the capital of 856 the farmer be reduced, as it necessarily must be, by the augmentation of wages which he has to pay, it will fall upon the rents. It is clear, therefore, that an alteration of rents must take place. The question, therefore, for your consideration is, will you allow it to be made?—for made it certainly will be, in a manner which will not reduce the amount of distress, but which will keep up all the bad workings of a bad system; or will you come—as in honour and in principle you ought to come—to an alteration of the Corn-laws, which will add to the capital of the country, and to the employment of your artisans in the manufacturing towns, and which, by giving that class of your population increased means of subsistence, will spread comfort through every other class of the community connected with them? You have already tried the fatal experiment of the Corn-laws long enough. The injury which you intended to others has recoiled on your own heads. You are the greatest sufferers by it now; and a worse fate than your present, will befall you, if you are infatuated enough to persist in your present course. The prosperity of the country has decayed before it; that decay is still going on, and the question therefore is—will you consent to let the country enjoy that prosperity which I am certain it still" can enjoy, if you take off that dead weight,—the Corn-laws,—which now oppresses it? or will you continue to stand by the experiment of the Corn-laws, which even the noble and learned Lord declares to be inefficient for the purposes for which it is designed, for he admits that the agriculture of the country has declined under it? The sooner you come to an alteration of the Corn-laws, and come to it at last you must, the better will it be for yourselves and the country. I shall certainly vote against the Motion of the noble and learned Lord.
The Earl of Winchilsea
said, that after the support which he had given in the last Session of Parliament to the Motion of his noble friend (Earl Stanhope) for a committee to inquire into the condition of the agricultural interest, he should deem himself guilty of a great inconsistency were he not to support the Motion now proposed by the noble and learned Lord. He did not think that the vote which he intended to give that evening was inconsistent with the professions of confidence which he had made towards the noble 857 Earl now at the head of the Administration. It was far from his wish to throw any impediment in the way of a Government which had been called upon to take the helm of State in most perilous times, and which had a right to ask, and which he believed would receive, from every well-wisher to his country, all the assistance which it might require. He thought, however, that an inquiry of the character now proposed would be better conducted by a committee of their Lordships than by being left in the hands of the Government. Indeed, the Government had at this time too much upon its hands to give to this question the assiduous and unremitting attention which it required. He agreed with the noble and learned Lord who opened the debate, that the situation of the agricultural interest demanded immediate inquiry. He knew that there was an erroneous impression abroad, that the agricultural interest had stated its position falsely to the country, and that it had not acted with justice to the people in making those fair reductions in rent which it ought. If inquiry were granted, he had no doubt but that it would be proved, that rents were in general reduced to the standard of 1797; indeed, in many parts of England he knew that land was of no value, and that when the legal burthens upon it were paid off, no rent was left to the owner. He admitted that the committee which was appointed the other night might be productive of great advantage. Its inquiries, however, were confined to the mal-administration of the Poor-laws, which affected, and affected severely, one branch of the agricultural interest. That committee could not inquire into the condition of the land-owners and tenantry of the country, and therefore it was, that he said, that the committee which the noble and learned Lord now proposed would be of great advantage. He agreed with that noble and learned Lord in thinking that the unequal pressure of the burthens imposed on the agricultural interest had thrown it to the ground, and had rendered it incapable of struggling any longer with the difficulties which surrounded it. He agreed also with that noble and learned Lord, that it was not just that one interest should bear all the burthens of the country, and that interest should not contribute to them. Why should the support of the poor be thrown entirely upon the produce of the land? Why should, the 858 maintenance of the poor be provided for by the land alone? Why, too, should the keeping of the highways in order be defrayed from the same source? Was not the manufacturer as much interested in the maintenance of the public peace, and in the good order of the highways, as the landholder, and ought he not to contribute equally to the support of those burthens? He was convinced that the farmers whose petitions he had presented that evening were correct in stating, that though they had met with a liberal reduction, both of tithes and rent, they were no longer in a situation to do justice to themselves, and to the peasantry whose labour they employed. He believed that their condition was such as they described it to be, and therefore he thought that their Lordships ought to inquire into the causes which had rendered it so wretched. He begged to inform their Lordships that the country was looking at present with interest to the deliberations of Parliament; that it was expecting with confidence that the inquiry which had been denied during the last, would be granted in the present Session, and that it was anxious to have an opportunity of showing that its grievances were real, and were entitled to legislative relief and remedy. He also agreed with the noble and learned Lord in thinking that the recent alterations of the currency had added much to our distress. How could it be otherwise, when we were called upon to pay in a metallic currency the burthens which the country had contracted in a paper currency? He believed that a paper currency under proper restrictions would be productive of great advantage to the community. Entertaining such opinions, he should give his cordial and warm support to the Motion of the noble and learned Lord.
§ Earl Stanhope
wished their Lordships to recollect, that he was induced, in the course of the last Session of Parliament, to submit to their consideration a motion in almost every respect similar to the present. That motion was not acceded to by their Lordships, but consistency of conduct, joined to his unaltered opinions, induced him to support the present motion. It had been objected by the noble Earl who spoke first on the other side of the House, that this Motion seemed to imply a want of confidence in the newly-constituted Administration. Upon that point he differed from the noble Earl; considering 859 the Motion of his noble and learned friend, which he should cordially and zealously support, in no respect liable to that objection. So far from being hostile in its nature, or injurious in its effects to the new Administration, it would tend to facilitate and promote those measures which must be adopted to secure peace and prosperity to this unhappy and hitherto ill-conducted Slate. That, however, was a doctrine which he need not insist upon, since he believed it was acknowledged by all their Lordships, and especially by the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government, that inquiry was the best, and, indeed, the only mode of restoring to prosperity those classes whose interests are inseparably connected with those of the State; and if that prosperity were not restored, the established order of things could not long continue to exist in this country. That inquiry is the best and only mode of arresting the progress of those disturbances which have unfortunately prevailed in so many districts, and which have plunged them into a state of the most fearful anarchy—that it is the best and only mode of affording protection to property, which, owing to bad legislative measures, has long ceased to have any security—that investigation and inquiry are the best and only modes of effecting these objects, no man who reflected upon the subject for one moment could entertain a doubt. Distress and discontent, tumult and disorder, could never be effectually suppressed without inquiry into their causes; or, according to the language of him who had been represented as the wisest of mankind—Lord Bacon— "the way to crush sedition was to expel the matter of it." As to the conduct of the noble Earl and his Administration he was not disposed to speak at any length, for, like other Governments, the present ought to be judged by its measures. But, at the same time, he was not aware that the House was already reduced to that degraded and disgraceful situation that it must repose a blind confidence in the executive government, and must sink, at this awful period, into nothing more than a mere court for the registering of the royal edicts. It might be proper, perhaps, that he should shortly advert—but in doing so he trusted that his observations might not tend to increase that which every good man must wish most anxiously to diminish—to the unfortunate irritation 860 now existing in many parts of the country—it might be proper, perhaps, that he should advert briefly, and in justification of the part taken by so humble an individual as himself, to transactions of no very distant date. As often as opportunities presented themselves in the course of the last Session of Parliament, he had earnestly, but most ineffectually, represented to their Lordships and to the then Administration, that all the productive classes of the community—all those interests which are the most valuable and important, and which it is the bounden duty of the Legislature to protect at almost any sacrifice— that all these classes were suffering under the pressure of severe and unexampled distress—distress equally awful and appalling in its nature and extent, and fearful and alarming in its probable consequences. But in vain did he represent to their Lordships that the continuance of that grievous distress, bearing with severe and intolerable pressure upon all the labouring classes of the community, must inevitably tend to produce great and general discontent. And, in fact, it was impossible discontent should not exist when the owner of the land found, notwithstanding all his reductions of rent— having brought them back in some cases to the standard of the period preceding the late war (and in one case he knew that a party had so reduced his rents, that he did not attempt to collect more, and, in fact, did not receive more than the interest of the money, which he had laid out in the agricultural buildings he had raised upon his land; he said, that it was impossible discontent should not exist when the occupier of the land found—notwithstanding all his skill, his industry, his frugality, prudence and perseverance—his capital daily wasting away expecting it would soon vanish altogether, and seeing no other means of support left to him than to throw himself upon those very rates to which he had previously contributed. He asked, also, whether great and just discontent must not exist when all the industrious and commercial classes,—the shipowners, the manufacturers, the merchants, and the shop-keepers—found that they were carrying on their trade not only without profit, but in some cases with actual loss? And last, but not least, could it be wondered at, that discontent should exist, when the labourers and artizans, were either on the one hand deprived 861 of employment, and were driven, for the means of subsistence, to the poor-rates, —or, on the other were compelled to accept a miserable and insufficient pittance as a reward of their labour. Their Lordships would perhaps recollect, that in addressing them formerly upon this subject, he raised his feeble voice to warn them of the consequences which must arise if some legislative measures of relief were not adopted. Their Lordships would, perhaps, also, do him the honour to recollect that he had represented in a forcible manner, that the then existing distress must inevitably produce danger. That danger is now arrived—a danger greater in magnitude, more formidable in all its circumstances, more tremendous in every respect, than any which has been witnessed since the period of the first French Revolution. He did not wish to assume the sole credit of having descried this danger, it was foreseen and forcibly dwelt upon by the noble Earl who spoke last, and by the noble Duke (Richmond) who, he was happy to find, had become a Member and an ornament of the new Administration. Those noble Peers also submitted motions in the course of the last Session, upon the subject of the distress, but their Lordships, persevering in the same course which they had adopted with respect to his motion, rejected theirs. Notwithstanding all the exertions of those who had the interests of the country really at heart, their Lordships refused to afford relief, and even to grant inquiry. Could they wonder, then, that they had lost the attachment and confidence of the people? He had stated on former occasions, what he then repeated, that if they were inattentive to the interests of the people—regardless of their welfare,—deaf to their complaints—if they refused to inquire into the causes of the general suffering— the greatest of all mischiefs must inevitably occur. That mischief which he and others foresaw and predicted long before it occurred had arrived. They had stated, that if some remedy were not afforded, the suffering and oppressed people, instead of approaching the House with humble petitions—with earnest expostulations — with respectful entreaties—would ere long express their discontent in another and a more dangerous manner. We had now arrived at that period. Proper measures adopted some few months since might, have prevented all the mischief which 862 had taken place; but being now at the eleventh hour, beyond which it was impossible to refuse inquiry with any safety to the country, he entreated their Lordships, without going into all the statements and various arguments which had been urged on former occasions, if they valued the confidence and good opinion of their fellow citizens—which he, for one, was more proud to enjoy than any hereditary honour, or any that Government could bestow -he conjured and entreated them, if they were anxious to preserve to that House its constitutional power,—if they were anxious to rescue the country from a state of disorder, not only without example in its history, but, as far as he knew, unexampled in any country which did not immediately afterwards become the victim of convulsion—he conjured their Lordships, at this awful period, to cast aside all other considerations, and to stand forth boldly, with the determination of performing their duty to their country. With respect to the degree of confidence to be placed in the present Administration, he wished to state his opinion frankly and openly. It was not satisfactory to him to see so large a proportion of the present Cabinet composed of persons whose opinions upon many important subjects were entirely different from his own. He did not consider consistency in error a virtue in statesmen, and therefore he hoped, that the experience and evidence of facts would induce them to consider those particular subjects in a different point of view from that which they had hitherto seized upon. He trusted that this effect would be produced on the noble Duke, for whom he entertained a sincere respect, and whose opinions with respect to the protection due to agriculture were exactly his own, and upon the right hon. Baronet who presided over the naval department, for which he was not, perhaps, particularly qualified, but the duties of which he would, no doubt, endeavour conscientiously to discharge. He could assure the noble Earl at the head of the Government that on two questions he should receive his cordial and zealous support—a support humble and insignificant in itself, and perhaps indifferent to him, but which, at least, had the merit of being conscientious. The first of these questions was that principle of non-interference which he had adopted as the basis of his foreign policy,—a principle which he earnestly 863 trusted would preserve peace without dishonour. The other subject was of still greater importance,—upon which he felt most strongly, and upon which the noble Earl, so far as his statements had hitherto gone, was entitled to the gratitude of the country—he meant Parliamentary Reform. If he were a new convert to that doctrine, he should feel no hesitation in avowing it; but it was many years since he stated his conviction that a reform in the Commons' House of Parliament had become indispensably necessary. That conviction had acquired additional strength from the circumstances and events which had since occurred; and, therefore, he thought the noble Earl at the head of the Government entitled to the gratitude of his country for having undertaken to accomplish such a reform. He certainly meant reform conducted on proper principles, and with cautious prudence,—which would preserve, not destroy—strengthen not impair—the existing institutions of the country; but which would, at the same time, be a real, substantial, and effectual reform of the Commons' House of Parliament. The noble Lord on the Woolsack, had devoted his attention, and employed his powerful abilities, in considering that subject, and he hoped that, when that noble Lord had matured his plan, it would be found well qualified to satisfy the just expectations of the people on the one hand, and to secure the Constitution from the danger of violent innovations on the other. With respect to retrenchment and economy, however desirable they might be in principle, or for the sake of example, as the means of affording any extensive relief to the people in their present distressed state, they must be totally ineffective,—and he thought their Lordships held out a delusive hope when they promised relief by retrenchment or by reduction of taxation. He was convinced that the burthens of the country could not be so much reduced as to afford any sensible relief to the people. On the currency, which had been adverted to, by his noble and learned friend, he should say but a very few words. Their Lordships were, indeed, already aware of his opinions upon that subject, and therefore he should not repeat them. Their Lordships, however, ought not to disguise from themselves the situation in which they were placed with respect to this question. They had but two alternatives, 864 both of which were full of difficulty, but from which they could not escape. The one alternative was, by a return to a paper currency, to raise prices, or, if they rejected that, and persevered in supporting the present metallic currency, then the only other alternative was to reduce all payments to the same scale. If they maintained the metallic currency, they must regulate all the payments for the Debt, and all the establishments of the country by the standard of 1792, and such a change could not be effected without convulsion. These, however, were the only alternatives left to Government, and one or other it must adopt—there was no third course —no royal road more than to geometry to national prosperity. On the Corn-laws his opinions remained unchanged; but as this subject was adverted to by the noble and learned Lord who brought forward the Motion, and as his observations had been answered at considerable length by the noble Baron (Lord King) he might, perhaps, be pardoned for saying a few words upon it. If, to protect the productive classes, the present, or any other Government, should consider that there ought to be a perfectly free trade in corn —that it should be admitted at all times and in all quantities, without the payment of any duty, to that he should make no opposition, if it were accompanied by the conditions he should presently state. He was ready to vote instantly for an entire abolition of the Corn-laws, provided at the same time, their Lordships would take measures to enable the corn-grower of this country to compete with the foreign grower on equal terms. Let justice be done to all parties. If corn, as a necessary of life, is to be imported without duty, let articles of every kind that can by possibility be introduced into the country, be also imported duty free—let no tax be made to bear exclusively on the agriculturist—let the poor-rates be borne equally by the manufacturers, who now contributed no share towards them—let funded property bear an equal part of the national burthens— above all, let every tax which immediately affects the agriculturist be removed. Abolish the malt-duty, the hop-duty, the tax on British spirits, and all other taxes whatever, which press exclusively on the industry of the agriculturists—do this, and then abolish, if their Lordships pleased, the whole system of Corn-laws. If they meant to undertake such an abolition, let 865 them look to the consequences; let them look at the conditions to which they must necessarily submit. No argument taken from the writings of the most eminent political writers, illustrated by the speeches of the noble Baron, would be sufficient to convince the owners, occupiers, and cultivators of land that the Corn-laws ought to be abolished, and that this country ought to depend for its support entirely on a foreign supply. Before their Lordships could carry the abolition of the Corn-laws, they must, therefore, abolish all the taxes to which he had alluded, and even then they must expect to encounter the opposition and even the hostility of all persons connected with the land. Here he could not refrain from noticing an observation which had been made by a noble Earl (Rosebery) on the opposite side of the House, who seemed to take so imperfect and narrow a view of the state of the country, as to suppose that all the distress originated from a mal-administration of the Poor-laws. That was a most mistaken notion. What was the cause that so many of the labouring poor were out of employment? Why were their Lordships now occupied in an examination of the situation of the distressed poor, and of the pressure of those laws which were passed for their relief? The cause was this—and it would not be denied by any man at all acquainted with the real situation of the country— the landed proprietors had no longer the means of giving the same employment as formerly. While, on the one hand, labourers had an undoubted right to expect a fair and proper remuneration for their labour (for Holy Writ said, that "the labourer was worthy of his hire;") on the other hand, it was impossible, with the present prices of produce, that the cultivators of the soil could afford an adequate remuneration for the services of their workmen. In short, the measures adopted with respect to the currency in the years 1819 and 1826, had not only been edicts of confiscation, but also commissions of bankruptcy—issued against all the owners and occupiers of land in the country. Was there ever a time, he would ask, in the memory of the oldest Peer, or in the oldest times, in which the active interference of a Government was so much required to alleviate the distress of a people? He felt great sorrow and surprise that, as soon as the motion was made, the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's 866 Government did not immediately rise in his place and express his cordial concurrence in it; for whatever might be the industry of his Majesty's Ministers (and he entertained no doubt upon that point) whatever might be the talent of the individual members of the Cabinet, (which he did not dispute)—it was utterly impossible, occupied as they were by the arduous and important duties which belonged to their office, that they could devote sufficient attention to the investigation of such a subject as that of the distress of the country. Much assistance, therefore, would be afforded them by the inquiries of such a committee as that his noble and learned friend had moved for. It was very easy, when a motion of this kind was submitted to the House, to find out some argument or another to meet it; and thus the noble Earl who opposed it had also opposed, though not exactly upon the same ground, but with equal pertinacity, a motion which he (Earl Stanhope) made in February last, but who in the following month, lent his support to a motion for a somewhat more limited inquiry. If any inquiry were necessary then, what reason could be assigned why a general inquiry was not necessary now? Were their Lordships to confine their investigation to one part, when there were many others which required their attention and consideration; and when inquiry could no longer be delayed without danger. He saw on the other side of the House a noble Earl (Darnley) connected, like himself, with the county of Kent, who was pleased, during the former Session, to contradict, repeatedly, all the allegations respecting the severe and unprecedented distress which existed in that county, as well as in some others. The noble Earl did not venture to state that there was no distress at all; but he confined it to as narrow a space as possible, and contended, that the statements of distress were exaggerated— not to say absurd. The noble Earl even went so far as to caution the House against such statements, but would the noble Earl, or any other noble Lord connected with Kent, or any of the disturbed districts, still continue to maintain that those statements were exaggerated? Would they still maintain with the country in a state of conflagration from midnight incendiaries, that there was no ground for inquiry? There was no necessity for him to point out to their Lordships the melancholy results of 867 the apathy of the late Ministry; or to inflict upon them, the pain of beholding the lamentable situation in which the country is placed,—a situation which inflicted indelible disgrace upon the immediate predecessors of the present Ministers. He regretted as much as any man those turbulent proceedings which for so long a period were happily averted; but which were spreading throughout the country. He had no doubt but that the earnest attention of the present Government would be directed to suppress these violent and tumultuous proceedings; but the best mode of opposing them was not by sending those circulars which appeared to be so much in fashion with the noble Viscount at the head of the Home Department. The only mode of effectually putting an end to these tumults was, to investigate the cause from which they originated. This, if not done by the Ministry, it was the duty of their Lordships to undertake; a sacred duty imposed on them by their station, and they could not neglect to investigate the causes of the evils which afflict and alarm the whole country, endeavouring by the best means in their power to afford speedy and effectual relief, without giving up all their functions, and placing in jeopardy their own property, and the best institutions of the State. He had already detained their Lordships longer, than he intended; but there was still one observation which he wished to make, in reference to what had fallen from his noble friend upon the cross-bench, with respect to machinery. If his noble and learned friend had considered the objections which had been urged against machinery, he would have found that they were confined almost exclusively to machinery of recent introduction, which materially supersedes the employment of manual labour. To these objections he was disposed to assent; but was it therefore to be supposed, because some machinery was objectionable, that all should be abolished? Certainly not. Justice and regard for the rights of the labouring poor ought to impose some restriction on those who possessed any of the recently-invented agricultural machinery, and they should discontinue its use. Many arguments might be adduced in favour of machinery; but in these times, the opinion of every person who possessed any knowledge upon the subject was, that it is the duty of those who have hitherto employed domestic 868 machinery to discontinue its use. Of all the descriptions of machinery, none was more injurious than that which deprived the agricultural labourer of the opportunity to exert his manual skill—it deprived him of that which was his capital—and reduced him to a state of pauperism. Reverting, then, to the motion before the House, he must say, that he hoped that those noble Lords who had assumed the reins of Government, would give a pledge of their sincerity, by affording the means of immediate inquiry into the distress of the country, with a view to afford relief. He was sure, and he stated it with sorrow, that the dangers of this country might have been prevented by a timely application of prudent and wise measures. Neglected, however, as the people had been, outrage and violence might increase to such an extent as to overwhelm us with ruin, if redress were longer delayed. And if,—notwithstanding what the noble Earl asserted,—if on this, as on almost every other occasion of a like kind, a change of Ministry was not to produce a change of measures—if the same system was to be pursued—if the same evils were to be continued—if inquiry was to be refused—or if it were to be postponed till an uncertain and indefinite time, perhaps to a distant period—if no relief from those intolerable grievances which threatened destruction to the country were instantly given;—if all these things occurred, it would become a matter of serious consideration with him and those who thought with him, whether it would be proper for them any longer to continue the semblance of discussion in that House, or whether they should not retire altogether, leaving to those who might choose to remain, the undisturbed and undivided responsibility of their measures, and of all the calamities and convulsions which might be the results.
The Earl of Rosebery
explained, that the noble Earl had very much misrepresented, undoubtedly because he misunderstood, what fell from him. He was far from thinking that the committee to consider of the Poor-laws was sufficient to ascertain all the causes of the distress of the labouring classes. What he meant was, that after an inquiry had been instituted by the House into one of those causes, and after the Ministers had stated that they would investigate the subject, he considered it inexpedient to enter into a more extended inquiry.
§ The Earl of Eldon
also explained, that the noble Earl did not quite understand the observations which he made upon the subject of machinery. Upon the motion before the House he could only repeat, that after the best consideration he had been able to give to the state of the country, he deemed inquiry necessary; and should support the Motion.
The Earl of Radnor
wished to state, very shortly, the reasons which induced him to vote against the Motion. He was the more especially anxious to claim this indulgence, after the speeches of the two noble Earls who last addressed the House, because from their arguments it would appear, that he should act most inconsistently with his former conduct in voting against this Motion. The circumstances of the present case were, however, totally different from those under which he voted last Session, and this alone he deemed a sufficient apology, if apology were necessary, for the vote he meant to give. But before he entered more fully into a description of this change of circumstances, he felt it incumbent upon him to allude a little to the spirit in which this Motion had been introduced. The noble and learned Lord, in moving for a committee to inquire into all the causes of distress, had stated in a very able and animated manner what he conceived those causes to be. They were sufficiently numerous; and to meet his wishes, the committee, which he called upon their Lordships to appoint, would, among other things, have to inquire into the nature and operation of the Poor-laws, the Cornlaws, Free-trade, the Currency system, and the question of encouraging or discouraging machinery. He should like to ask how any body of men, whether in a committee or out of it, could bring their minds properly and fully to investigate all these subjects? Differences of opinion would necessarily arise among the members of any committee, which would effectually preclude them from arriving at any practicable results. The noble Earl who spoke last expressed an opinion in favour of regulating the use of machinery—but only to a certain extent—that which has been recently introduced. Upon that point alone how many points of dissension might arise! Some noble Lords, perhaps, would think that, under this appellation of recently introduced machinery, were included thrashing machines—others that 870 it included ploughs and the ordinary implements used to further the progress of cultivation. How would it be possible for any committee to decide by any fixed principle a point of this kind? Similar difficulties would arise upon the great questions of the Currency and the Cornlaws. In short, it was vain—not to say absurd—to suppose, that subjects so weighty and multifarious could, of possibility, be properly considered by one committee. And he must say that, generally speaking, although he supported a motion of this kind in the last Session of Parliament,— and although he had frequently supported motions for inquiry—still he was of opinion that, in modern times, no good could result from them, because they took too much out of the hands of Ministers—relieved them of the responsibility imposed on them, and if they did well, deprived them of much of the merit which was their due. Generally speaking, therefore, he was opposed to all committees for general inquiry. On the present occasion, he could not agree with his noble and learned friend, that the country had arrived at such a state as to render it imperative upon their Lordships to enter into the inquiry he proposed. The present Motion was submitted to their Lordships under extraordinary circumstances, of which none struck him more than the tone and manner in which the noble Earl who had just addressed the House, had advocated the necessity of a reform in Parliament. Were he a Member, indeed, of the other House of Parliament, where he had spent so many years of his political life, when the necessity of reform was admitted on all hands—and was actually to become a Government measure—he might perhaps move for a committee, though not such a one as that proposed by the noble and learned Lord. "If," said the noble Earl, "I had a seat this Session in the other House of Parliament, I should most probably vote for—not a committee with respect to reform—for that would be unnecessary—but for the impeachment of the members of the late Government, who went out of Office leaving the country in the most perilous condition—in a state verging on the actual dissolution of society —and that, too, without being visited by the vengeance of an insulted and—"
The Earl of Radnor
— "I do not intend my observations in a personal sense. I had no personal allusion. I could not have any personal feelings against the late Government individually; and spoke of them only in their aggregate ministerial capacity. I will, besides, not stand by the word ' vengeance.' It was not, perhaps, the very exact phrase I meant. Your Lordships must perceive that my expressions come to me but slowly, and I am oftentimes therefore obliged to put up with the first that comes, not having the choice of a selection. While I state this with respect to the word 'vengeance,' I beg leave to add that, I do not at all retract the sentiment which it was intended to express." The noble Earl proceeded to say, that he thought the Motion for inquiry uncalled for in itself, as well as unjust to the new Government. It should be recollected that the noble Earl (Grey) and his colleagues opposite had been but three weeks in Office, and yet they had at the earliest hour stated their determination to apply their best energies to the investigation and remedy of the distressed condition of the country. It was, apart from the impolicy of relieving Ministers from the responsibility of the exercise of their executive functions, but justice and common fairness to await the result of their pledges. He was no blind adherent to any set of men, but placed great confidence in the present Administration, knowing that it possessed more ability, knowledge, and fewer prejudices, than any within his recollection. It was but fair, then, to give them a trial. If after the recess they should fail to redeem their pledges, the noble and learned Lord might come forward with his Motion under circumstances much more favourable to its success than possibly could exist at present. Besides, the House was then about to adjourn for some six or seven weeks,—so that, if even the noble Lord's Committee were appointed, it could not have more than one or two sittings till the month of February,—before which time, it was but fair to presume, Ministers would be prepared with some measure of domestic policy, which would supersede inquiry by the objectionable form of committee. Did the noble Lord mean that Parliament should continue to sit through 872 the Christmas holidays? If he did, he might be assured that noble Lords, as well as the Members of the other House, would be much more advantageously employed in respect to the public interest by spending the ensuing weeks in the country, at their respective residences, and by precept and example enforcing obedience to the laws—inquiring into and extending relief to the distressed labouring classes—than by profitless and tedious discussion in committee, from which no beneficial result could follow. Their Lordships could not too anxiously investigate with their own eyes the present state of the country, with a view to a remedy, and to prevent its recurrence. It was impossible to exaggerate the sad picture which so many parts of the country presented. The social arrangements of society were every day falling asunder, the links which held it together were every hour loosening, and the body corporate, from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head—so to speak —was one foul mass—diseased, and full of putrid sores. For the last fifty years the Governments of this country had been pursuing the one fatal course of adding to the burthens of the poor, by unequal taxes and most oppressive laws, while they guarded with the most jealous eye every so-called privilege of the wealthier, but less industrious, classes; and the country was now only beginning to experience the inevitable fruits of such mischievous conduct in the discontent which rankled in the bosoms of the labouring classes, and in the feelings of vindictive hostility with which they regarded the class above them, which feelings it was to be feared would be adopted by the several ranks of society to those above them, till all were swallowed in some great convulsion. The people had long waited in patience for a redress of their grievances, but had waited in vain. They were told to petition; they had petitioned, for the great remedy of their ills—a reform in Parliament; in one year upwards of 1,000,000 petitioners had approached Parliament for this purpose; but the petitions were rejected with scorn, and were not even read. But he trusted that a better state of things would arise from the beneficial change which had recently taken place in the national councils. The Ministers had come into Office under most arduous circumstances; he heartily wished them success in their honest endeavours, and he would on no 873 account be a party to any measures like the present inquiry, which should tend to hamper their course.
§ The Duke of Wellington
had, last Session, opposed a motion similar to that then before their Lordships, and would, for the same reasons, now oppose the present Motion. He was as alive as any man who heard him to the distressed state of the country, and had never attempted to extenuate it. But it was absurd to attribute it to any measure of the Administration of which he had been a member, as had been asserted by the noble Earl who had just addressed the House. With respect to the broad censure on the late Government, cast by that noble Earl, he on the part of himself and his colleagues, challenged the noble Earl to come forward and prove, that the distress and disturbance which disfigured many districts of the country were at all owing to any of their measures or their general policy. Let the noble Earl, if he thought so, come forward with a distinct proposition of inquiry, and he promised to meet him. He had last Session opposed a motion, as he had stated, like the present, because he agreed with that noble Earl that it would be prejudicial to the general interests of the country instead of being a benefit; and because it embraced several most important subjects, each of which would require a long and undivided consideration. The noble and learned Lord who proposed the inquiry had pointed out, as topics for investigation our financial and monetary system, our commercial policy, the Poor-laws, the Corn-laws, and the use of machinery, It was impossible for any committee to thoroughly sift all these important questions, or come to any practical decision on them; so that the disappointment of the expectations which its appointment must excite in the public mind, would be ten times more mischievous in its results than the grievance for which it was intended as a remedy. It was not just, besides, to the Ministers who had so recently come into Office, to thus involve them in difficulties from which they could have no time to extricate themselves. He had last Session objected to such a motion, because it would then have involved Ministers in difficulties, and for that reason, in addition to the other reasons on which he had then resisted it, he would, he repeated, vote against the present Motion. Their Lordships had already a committee inquiring into the 874 abuses of the Poor-laws, with a view to a remedy, and that committee might very easily extend its investigations to the question mooted by the noble Earl (Stanhope) on the cross-bench,—viz. the expediency of a better distribution of poor-rates among the manufacturers and funded interests, and to other analogous topics connected with the distress of the country, without exceeding the bounds prescribed for its inquiries, and without the necessity of appointing another committee. He had not, as he had before stated, attempted to extenuate the dangerous condition of the country, but would most emphatically deny that it had any connexion with any measure of the late Government, or that it could in any way be said to originate from any portion of the policy pursued by him and his late colleagues. "No," said the noble Duke, "the dangers and disturbances with which some districts of the country have been some time infested, have sprung from very different causes, among which, the example—I will unhesitatingly say, the bad example—afforded by the neighbouring States, has been the most influential, as it has been the most pernicious. This has been encouraged and heightened by the misrepresentations and false ideas which have been too generally circulated throughout the country, of the causes and the character of the unfortunate events which occurred last summer in an adjoining kingdom; and above all, by a want of knowledge on the part of the people of the real nature of those events, and of the mischiefs sure to follow from imitating them. These were the causes of the present disturbed condition of the country, and not any measure of the late Government; and if the noble Earl thinks otherwise, let him point out what measure or what course of policy of ours led to this state; and, as I before said, I shall be prepared to meet him." The fact was, the causes of the distressed condition of certain districts, which they all lamented, were beyond the reach or the control of any Government. How, for example, Could any Ministers provide a prompt remedy for the distress of the labouring classes as it arose from an abuse of the Poor-laws; or could they act otherwise with respect to the disturbances than as the noble Viscount at the head of the Home Department had acted, so far as precept was concerned—and by example, each according to his abilities and station? 875 He and his colleagues had gone as far as they could go constitutionally with a view to remedy the distresses of the country, and it was too much to insinuate, as had been done, that they had neglected their duty. He had even heard it whispered, that the late Ministers had been neglectful of the progress of the disturbances which disfigured some districts of the country. This was not the fact. From the very first moment they had devised and adopted every means in their power for aiding with their advice—and, if unfortunately necessary, with force —the local magistrates in their endeavours to preserve the public peace. It was plain that Ministers could not do more, and that the details of the administration of justice, and of enforcing the laws so as to suppress disturbance, must be left to the discretion and vigilance of the Magistrates on the spot. From the very first moment that his noble friend, the Lord-lieutenant for the county of Kent, had communicated to him — and he believed he was the first member of the late Government who had heard of the disturbance—respecting the discontent and commotions in that county, he and his colleagues had unceasingly applied themselves to get the better of them. "The noble Earl," continued the noble Duke, "who has imputed this discontent to our policy, has, however, shifted his ground, and after calling for vengeance on us of the late Administration, ascribes the present disturbed state of the public mind to the unwise impolicy of the Governments of the last fifty years,—implicating of course, my noble and learned friend (Eldon) on the Cross-bench. On this point I must say, that my noble and learned friend had as much hand in the present disturbances of the country as I had; for I repeat, it was not till the misfortunes, for such I consider them, of July and August last, had happened in a neighbouring State; and had been misrepresented in their character and origin, that the people here were induced to follow the bad example held out to them; and since that not, having been enlightened as to the mischievous consequences of following that example, the condition of the labouring classes assumed its present aspect. During our Administration, my Lords, we did all we could to relieve the people. In last Session 3,900,000l. worth of taxation was taken off; and since then the commercial and manufacturing interests of the country generally have 876 been in a state of prosperity and tranquillity, except in those districts where there are gross and disgraceful disturbances. These, however, I trust, are but local and temporary. Indeed, I am emboldened to think that they are so; for with the exception of these gross and disgracefully disturbed districts, an improving revenue, and increased consumption and demand for our manufactures and commodities, show that the country at large is in a state of tranquillity and prosperity. The noble Duke concluded by saying, my Lords, I have, in consequence of the attack of the noble Earl, trespassed longer on your attention than I otherwise should have done, or than I trust I shall again find necessary.
§ The Earl of Eldon
with reference to the insinuation of the noble Earl (Radnor) begged to say, that it was amongst the greatest of his consolations, on a retrospect of his political life, that he had always advocated political principles the very opposite to those maintained by the noble Earl.
§ Earl Grey
said, that what he had to state might be put in a very small compass. He did not feel himself called upon to state his opinions and views respecting the various subjects which had been introduced by the noble and learned Lord. He was not prepared for it. He had no reason to expect that the discussion would have taken such a course. He did not feel called upon to touch on subjects, each of which would require long and anxious consideration. He did not feel qualified at the moment to enter on the Corn-laws, or the novel proposition respecting machinery, which had been broached by a noble Earl. He did not think he could do so with honour to himself, or advantage to the country. He asked the noble Earl what he meant by ancient machinery— was it a spade—was it a plough—or did he mean to retain the rude implements of agriculture, and reject all improvements? He objected to the committee upon the grounds set forth by the noble Earl, who spoke before the noble Duke, and he thought the course pursued that night fully demonstrated the inutility of a committee such as was moved for by the noble and learned Lord. To the Committee on the Poor-laws he had given his cheerful assent, feeling that inquiry might be useful, as it was likely to lead to the correction of that which was known to be a great evil, 877 namely, the mal-administration of these laws; and also of those defects which had, to a certain extent perverted them from the benevolent purposes to which they had been originally directed. For the distress of" the country he felt most acutely, as every man with a heart must feel, although he believed it was much exaggerated in the glowing description of the noble Lord, and he thought that some practical result respecting it might be arrived at by the committee on the Poor-laws. Therefore had he consented to that committee, concluding that the public distress would immediately come under its consideration, and its attention be thus directed to the consideration of the labouring portion of the community. To that the attention of his Majesty's Ministers ought in the first instance to be applied, and if they can ascertain, that by any alteration of the laws, or by any modification of our institutions, or by any new enactment, the relief of the present distress of that portion of the people, and the permanent amelioration of their condition can be effected, it would be their duty to submit such measures to the consideration of Parliament without delay. But he greatly doubted that any beneficial consequences would result from the committee proposed by the noble and learned Lord. It was true that he had often supported applications for committees: but in doing so he should always wish to observe the distinction laid down by a noble Lord opposite, to whom he should return his sincere thanks for the kind disposition which he had expressed towards the members of the present Administration. In acquiescing in, or in opposing, a proposal for a committee, he should, of course, be greatly influenced by the object of the inquiry, by the time, and by the mode in which it was applied for. He was almost ashamed to repeat what had been already more than once objected, that it was impossible to see any way through the mass of subjects which the noble Lord had introduced. First, there was the question of rents and the division of farms. Now, he (Earl Grey) did not know whether the noble and learned Lord contemplated interfering with the rights of property; but whether such was his intention or not, all matters respecting the amount of rents, and the extent of farms, would be much better regulated by the individuals who were immediately interested than by any committee 878 of their Lordships. In those, as in most cases, the interference of the Legislature, in prescribing to individuals the mode in which they are to regulate their own property, was most likely to produce a contrary effect to that which had been anticipated. He certainly did think that the mode in which some taxes in this country were imposed; perhaps, in some measure, the policy by which the imposition of them had been directed, and, in many instances, the nature of the taxes themselves, deserved deep consideration. It might be expedient to inquire whether by the alteration of some, and by the removal, or by the diminution of others, the country might not derive great benefit. But he could not enter into the multitudinous topics of the noble and learned Lord's speech. Something had been said about consulting the ease of the Administration by the appointment of the committee. God knows! there was no situation of life more generally full of difficulty and trouble than that of the Ministers of the Crown, and at the present moment the ordinary difficulties and trouble were enhanced tenfold. For them it was no time to think of ease or take refuge in a committee from any of the heavy responsibility they had taken upon themselves. He should not have much objection to the noble and learned Lord taking with him to a room above stairs a few of the noble Lords near him, who were desirous of having the committee. Let it not be supposed that he would shrink from the performance of his duty. He would, as readily as any Minister that had preceded him, come down there and call on Parliament for inquiry, when the interests of the nation might render it necessary. Should an emergency require it, he would not hesitate to enter upon any investigation, or to meet by special legislation an important occasion, for which existing laws did not provide but he could not consent to a proceeding from which he had no hope that any good could result. With respect to the question of the currency, one of the topics referred to by the noble and learned Lord, that had already been discussed in two or three committees. That subject alone would furnish the noble Lord quite work enough, without touching upon any one of those numerous matters which he proposed to investigate at the same time. Now, he had no hesitation in saying, that there had been many unfortunate mistakes 879 in the interference of the Legislature with the currency of the kingdom. A noble Lord had referred to something which he (Earl Grey) had said last year when presenting a petition. It was quite true, that he did, on that occasion, or on some occasion, say that it was a strange anomaly to have the currency in Ireland and in Scotland regulated on one principle, whilst that of England was regulated upon another directly contrary. He would by no means say, that he had since altered his opinion in that respect; but, however much he believed the late Government to have erred in the measures which they had adopted affecting the currency, still he should pause before he consented to entertain any proposition for another change. He believed that great evil must be occasioned by creating any doubt as to the stability of the present regulations. There was great danger in exciting agitation respecting it, and that danger he would not willingly consent to risk. As to the question of the Corn-laws, which the noble and learned Lord had also introduced, he did not know that he had much to reply. All the interest which he possessed in the world was in land; and, though he would not pretend to be exempt from the common frailties of human nature, yet he hoped he had considered that question fully, and, he believed, disinterestedly and dispassionately. He was entirely convinced, as the result of his investigations, that the ultimate interest of the people themselves required that the agriculture of the country should be protected; because, without such a protection, the people could not be assured, in all seasons, of a sufficient, a certain, and he would add, a cheap, supply. He believed that principle was generally acquiesced in, though a few persons yet objected to it. He knew, indeed, that there were some persons who had the courage to recommend the entire abolition of the laws which regulated the trade in corn; but, for his part, he had not nerves to undertake so hazardous an experiment, for he knew well that if it should fail, the evils which it would occasion could not be remedied. They would lead to the destruction of the country. Although such were his opinions, yet he was not so wedded to the Corn-laws as to say, that if the subject were introduced at a proper season, he would oppose the consideration of it; but he must say, that no question of such a nature ought to be 880 introduced in a season of great popular excitement. It was the opinion of many persons well acquainted with the subject, that the country had greatly benefitted by those laws—that they had greatly promoted the improvement of its agriculture, and led to an increased supply of corn. But he had a second opinion respecting them, which was, that there could hardly be a greater evil than that the state of the law affecting the agricultural interests should be fluctuating, and subject to continual changes. Repeated alterations produced evils which could not be compensated for by the benefits expected from the improvement. He would repeat, that at a proper season he should not resist an inquiry into the subject; but at present, when the agitation of it could not fail to be mischievous, he was unwilling to go into the inquiry on that ground alone, independently of his conviction that the Corn-laws had produced to the country, not evil but great good. But there, again, such a field of discussion was opened by the introduction of that topic, that if the proposed committee should apply itself to the investigation of that alone, they would find ample employment for the whole Session. Now he would ask the noble and learned Earl opposite (Eldon), who was so great an enemy to delay upon the present occasion, however friendly to it on others, did he expect to proceed promptly and vigorously by the means which he had proposed? Could he expect to gain with promptitude and speed, by a Commission of Inquiry, the object which he professed to have in view? Could he bring before a committee the numerous questions of which he had that evening spoken, in such a shape as to afford hope of a speedy determination? With respect to the complaint made by the noble and learned Lord who introduced the Motion that capital could not find employment—that it consequently lay unproductive in the money-chest of the capitalist, he would ask, was the assertion consistent with other statements of the noble and learned Lord himself? He was sure the noble and learned Lord opposite, who had made the complaint, was himself the last man in the world who would, like the grasping and discontented usurer, hoard up his gold under locks and bolts, until the prospect of excessive gain should tempt him to release it. That the employment of capital was not now so productive as it had been at some other periods was 881 quite true; but he hoped that, before long, the renovated activity in other departments of the national commerce would enable capital also to find employment. However, the fact that the rate of interest was then lower than it had been at any former period, far from showing that capital was locked up, completely proved the contrary. The lower rate of interest was occasioned by the greater liberality with which capital was employed. When there were such great differences of opinion on every one of the complicated and intricate subjects mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, was it to be supposed that a committee would come to a speedy decision upon subjects that were not only complicated and intricate, but so numerous, and, in some respects, so contradictory, as those comprehended in the speech of the noble and learned Lord whose Motion was before the House? Although he would not (as he had said) object to inquiry when it could be entered upon with a prospect of advantage, he must oppose the present Motion, because he believed that it had been shown, not only by himself, but by other noble Lords who preceded him, that the proposed inquiry offered no such prospect. The mode in which those various subjects had been introduced, gave rise to great doubts and difficulties, and he was unable to follow the noble Lord in so complicated a discussion. He (Earl Grey) knew, and he deeply regretted the evils which then afflicted the country. He allowed, as had been observed by the noble Duke opposite, that occurrences which had taken place in other countries had had some effect in aggravating those evils, and had been taken advantage of by evil-disposed persons, to operate on the minds of the unthinking, or of the unhappy and discontented. Of that he had no doubt. Vet he could not see how the proposed committee could lead to the discovery of a remedy. At all events, every purpose which the Motion of the noble and learned Lord contemplated, would be much more readily attained by the committee already appointed to investigate the most important objects of the present Motion. For the decision of that committee he was disposed to wait; but if, in the mean time, good grounds should be produced for inquiry, which could afford a reasonable hope of success, he would be willing to enter upon it. But he would ask noble Lords, whether, considering the character 882 and objects of the inquiry, the season at which it was proposed did not furnish in itself an insuperable objection to the committee? With respect to what had been said concerning the approaching adjournment, he would say, that noble Lords would not suspend the business of the House for the sake of the usual relaxation of the season if, by continuing to attend in their places, they could promote the welfare of the State. But he believed, that so far from advancing the public good by sitting there in discussions, of which the termination could not be foreseen, he believed that their protracted absence from their respective districts would be injurious. In the present state of the country, nothing was more desirable than that persons of property and influence should as soon as possible have an opportunity of promoting tranquillity in those parts of the country where they respectively resided, using, in the first instance, their power to repress disorder; and in the next, their influence to cultivate amongst the different classes, a better spirit than now, unhappily, seemed to prevail. It should be borne in mind, that the peace and tranquillity of the country required from the magistracy such vigorous measures as would effectually put an end to the outrageous proceedings by which some districts were disgraced. He had heard with concern the remarks which had been made respecting circulars recently issued by the noble Lord near him, as Secretary of State (Lord Melbourne.) The purpose of that letter was, to encourage those Magistrates, who had been active in the discharge of their duty, and to make known to those Magistrates who had allowed themselves to be intimidated into compliance with the exactions of the turbulent, that they increased the mischief by their weakness. Some had not only themselves acquiesced in the violent demands made upon them, but had published advertisements recommending the discontinuance of machinery. Such conduct, far from allaying the discontent, was calculated most grievously to aggravate it. In that, those gentlemen had acted quite inconsistently, not only with the duty of Magistrates deriving authority from recognised laws, but with the wisdom of legislators. If the turbulent were told that clamour, violence, and tumult would prevail over the laws, there would be for ever an end to peaceful society and. to regular govern- 883 ment. He hoped that it would not be necessary to use the sword of the law (of which a noble Lord had spoken) further than for the punishment of those who instigated to outrage the simple and undesigning. He hoped that they would be brought to justice, and, at the same time, he trusted that every thing would be done to remove that distress, which had brought men into such a temper that mischievous men could obtain an influence over their minds. In the multitude of subjects which that discussion had embraced, some had doubtless escaped his attention. He had said enough to inform the House of his objections to the Motion; but in the situation in which he then stood, and in which he had been so recently placed, he would not oppose the general wish, should it be against his own opinion. It was sincerely his conviction, that if the Committee were granted it would produce no good. A noble Lord had said, that their Lordships ought not to place a blind confidence in the Administration. Ministers did not desire such confidence. It was acknowledged on all hands that the present was a season of great difficulty. How that difficulty had been produced it was not for him to say. He was much more inclined to consider how evils could be remedied than to inquire how they had arisen. Although he concurred in great part of the policy of the late Administration—although he was indebted to it for carrying that long delayed measure of justice and humanity, which he believed would conduce to the security and prosperity of Ireland, and although it was not his wish to make invidious reflections of any kind; yet it would be affectation not to state his belief, that the difficulties of the present Ministry had resulted from the impolicy of former Governments, through a long series of years, from the beginning of the American war downwards, but especially from the French Revolution, and the war unjustly and unnecessarily entered into, as he would ever maintain, in consequence of that event. He had opposed all those measures in succession, as well as the policy in which they had originated. To them he attributed, not only the immense taxation under which the country laboured, but along train of evils besides. It was now unavailing to look back. Ministers must assiduously apply themselves to devise and to put into practice an efficient remedy; and for that purpose it 884 was necessary that their Lordships should allow them to prosecute the subject with no more interruption than the regular business of Parliament rendered unavoidable. Beyond that, they would require no indulgence, nor claim any confidence. He had stated to the House the principles on which the Government was to be carried on, and Ministers did not expect to derive from the nation the necessary support for their proceedings, without proving by practical measures, that they deserved its confidence.
was convinced, that some inquiry was necessary, and he should support the Motion, with an amendment, which he would take the liberty to move, viz. that the subject of the Poor-laws be omitted from the inquiry of the committee.
The Duke of Newcastle
meant to oppose the Motion of the noble and learned Lord. The responsibility of Government should be perfect, and when Ministers took upon themselves to do what was their duty, he for one did not think the interference of the House was necessary. It was the duty of that House to see that Ministers did what was right, and the country could not show too much gratitude to them, if, under existing circumstances, they performed their functions with reference to the interests of the community. He hoped, that his Majesty's Ministers would pursue the part of a parental Government, and administer to the wants and necessities of the country.
The Earl of Fife
thought, that it was not right to hold out fallacious hopes, and in the present state of the country, he thought the Motion ought to be resisted. The present agitation arose from a want of consideration for each other by several parties. The manufacturers blamed the masters, and the tenants blamed the landlords; but all parties should be disposed to unite in a disposition to relieve the poor, and in the principle of "live and let live." Many persons talked of Parliamentary Reform as a measure that would suffice to relieve the country; but without attributing to it that magic power which would remove all our difficulties, he thought that the time was now arrived when it could not be longer withheld. At the same time he would say, that in a reform their Lordships should proceed with caution, in order to guard against confusion and anarchy. But reform 885 should not be confined to one point. We should have a reform in the law, civil and criminal; and without that, any retrenchment, however extensive, would not be sufficient. To one part of our law he was anxious to call the attention of Government, — that of arrest for debt, which he considered a stain upon the national character. It rendered many persons desperate in their circumstances, and if duly examined, it would no doubt be found that it was as little adapted to benefit the creditor as the debtor. In one part of our law a measure had been introduced by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in which he cordially concurred. It was a plan by which litigation would be made cheaper, and justice would be brought near to every man's door. From the effect of such a mode of administering the law he anticipated much good to the country. It would be well if, in any modification of the criminal code, their Lordships would look to the state of the criminal law in Scotland, where it was much more mild than in this country, but where, nevertheless, it was found more efficient for the repression and punishment of crime. The attention of their Lordships would, he hoped, be directed not only to those points to which he had adverted, but also to the Poor-laws, the Corn-laws; and even the question of tithes required their serious attention, as also the laws of landlord and tenant, and many others by which the interests of the poorer classes were effected. If conciliatory measures, founded upon a consideration of these laws, with a view to their improvement, were adopted, he had no doubt it would restore peace and confidence to the country. The people were looking with confidence to the sincere disposition known to exist in our excellent Monarch and his amiable Consort to encourage every measure which would tend to relieve their distresses. As to the new Ministry, he would only say, that if they pursued a moderate course, and made it their study to uphold the interest, the welfare, and the honour of the country, they would meet with deserved support. The country was possessed of great resources, which well-timed and temperate measures would call forth so as to enable her to meet and overcome all her difficulties. If any thing could for a moment make him despair of the condition of the country, it would be the knowledge of that malignant feeling which ex- 886 isted in some quarters, amongst those only he hoped, who did not reflect—against a noble Duke lately at the head of his Majesty's Government. He thought the noble Duke deserved the thanks, instead of the hostility, of every portion of the country. His conduct, while in command on the Continent, was such as to entitle him to the lasting praise of his country, and he had no doubt that justice would be done him at last. Even from those who differed from the noble Duke, he should have expected that they would at least have done justice to his good intentions. For himself he did not doubt that the noble Duke felt a self-satisfaction, which more than made up for the dissatisfaction expressed by others; so that he might take to himself the words of the poet:—One self-approving hour whole years outweighs,Of stupid starers and of loud huzzas;And more true joy Marcellus exil'd feelsThan Cæsar with a Senate at his heels.
§ The Duke of Richmond
said, that at that late hour he would not occupy the time of their Lordships at any length. He rose chiefly to correct what had been said by his noble friend (Earl Stanhope), which no doubt his noble friend himself would regret when he considered the matter. The noble Earl had said, that the committee up-stairs were not inquiring into the condition of the labouring classes, or the cause of their distress. It did not certainly on the first day—the only day, by the way, on which the noble and learned Lord whose Motion was now before the House was present. No doubt that noble and learned Lord had other important avocations which prevented him, and certainly the same avocations would prevent him, from giving any efficient attendance at the two committees, if the one for which he now moved were appointed. On the first day, a noble Lord on the committee objected to entering into any inquiry into the effect of the change of the currency, as going out of the line of inquiry proposed to the committee, which would have quite enough to do without going into that question; but those noble Lords who did attend the committee would bear him out in the statement, and their Lordships would find, on reference to the evidence, that one of the first questions put to every witness was, "Are the labourers in the same condition that they were ten years ago?" The answer, "They are not;" and then came the 887 question, "What, in your opinion, is the cause of the change in their condition?" This, surely, was inquiring into the condition of the labouring poor, and into the cause of the change which had been made in it. He was anxious to set their Lordships and the country right upon this point, to prevent any mistake going abroad that it was not the intention of Government to go into this inquiry. The whole of the case as to the condition of the poor would be gone into, and the committee would come at as much information on the subject as could be obtained by granting the committee for which the noble and learned Lord had moved. He had not risen for the purpose of justifying his own consistency, for he did not think it necessary; but he must say, that he had voted for the committee moved for last session, because at that time he had no confidence in the then Government, which had refused all inquiry, and even denied the existence of the distress to the extent which he knew it to prevail. He did then vote for a full inquiry into the state of the poor, but at that time he stated, that he would not go into the. inquiry as to the Corn-laws or the Currency; but the noble Lord would enter fully into both those points. In the present thin state of the House, and at that late hour, he would not enter into a defence of his consistency, or into a defence of the motives which had induced him to join the present Administration; but he challenged any noble Lord to give him the opportunity of justifying himself before their Lordships and the country on this ground.
§ Earl Stanhope
in explanation, said, that he had not charged the committee up stairs with not being; competent to go through the inquiry into the state of the poor. All he had said was, that their inquiry would not embrace the causes of the distress. What he had said of machinery was, that while he objected to acting from any intimidation, he still considered that the employment of machinery which he considered unnecessary to the country, and injurious to the poor, ought to be got rid of.
The Earl of Carnarvon
conceived, that by going into the inquiry proposed by the noble and learned Lord, their Lordships would only embarrass themselves, and not obtain the end they had in view in the committee on which some of them were already engaged. One thing he had heard 888 with pleasure from his noble friend (Earl Grey) which was, that on any matter connected with the state of the labouring poor, or the causes of or mode of relief of their distress, his mind was open to conviction. After that statement he would not press the subject on the noble Earl; but he hoped that between this and the meeting after the recess, the Government would consider how far the removal of the credit formerly given by the country banker to the farmer, was a cause of the almost ruin and decay to which so many of the latter class had since fallen. This, he admitted, had nothing to do with the question of general distress, but it was worthy of serious consideration, and would be particularly so when the question of the renewal of the Bank of England charter came to be considered. It was extremely desirable to consider, on that occasion, to what extent it was possible and desirable to introduce the system of chartered banks into this country, the same as in Scotland. By that he thought they would confer the greatest been that had ever been conferred on the country. He would not press the matter now, but he thought the consideration of it would be of much greater benefit than that of the question of non-interference, of the Game-laws, or any other subject that could be brought forward. He meant to give the motion for the committee his decided negative, because he thought it would tend to defeat its own object. He would wait for well-digested measures—which he hoped from the present Government; but if a long period should intervene without such healing measures as would relieve the agricultural pressure, he should feel it his duty to move, if no other noble Lord did, for a committee, not such as that now moved for, but one which would go into the whole cause of the agricultural distress, because he felt that such inquiry was absolutely necessary. He thought the ills of many years of mismanagement might be easily removed, if they could come at the real cause of those ills.
The Earl of Darnley
said, he would not have obtruded himself on their Lordships at that hour, if an attack had not been made upon him. He must say, he never had denied the existence of distress. He had only said, that the distress was greatly exaggerated, and that that exaggeration had tended greatly to produce much of the present excitement in the 889 country. He could adduce many instances of this in his own county, where, by the prompt aid of his tenants, the attempts to produce some of those rural insurrections had been speedily checked. After stating that the Magistrates in his part of the country had been extremely active and diligent, he concluded by expressing his great satisfaction at the circular issued by Government to the Magistrates of the country.
said, had I risen earlier in the debate, I should have entered more fully into the subject before your Lordships. But there is one fact, which I must advert to. It was said, that the condition of the manufacturers had only improved since the late troubles in France. I can state, for the satisfaction of the House, that the improvement in our manufactures commenced in the early part of the Spring, and has rather suffered, in consequence of those troubles; which, for a time, has given some check to commercial credit and confidence. I think that the depression of the agricultural interest is not of to-day, or of yesterday; but, that it is hardly possible to put one's finger upon a time, since the last war, when it was prosperous, unless in a period of general excitement such as 1824, when the extraordinary amount of capital expended produced everywhere a feverish and short-lived prosperity. With respect to machinery, I must say, that so far from its being injurious to the country, I think that it is principally owing to machinery being more applicable to manufactures, than to agriculture, that the manufacturers are better able to employ their men, and to meet foreign competition, notwithstanding the heavy incumbrances of the country,—incumbrances which I could undertake to prove, from several distinct and powerful causes, are at this moment heavier, notwithstanding every reduction in taxation, than during the last years of the war. Nor is it very practicable to draw a line, and to say what is new machinery, and what is not: for example, the wheel-barrow, that seems of such easy contrivance as might make it appear of very old date, may be called machinery of the middle ages; having been the invention, as I have been assured, of Pascal, during the reign of Lewis 14th. I have risen also to suggest to Ministers the necessity, if we continue to support a golden currency, of paying the utmost 890 possible attention to the well-being of those Mexican, and other American mines, in the working of which, during the bubble year, so many millions of British capital were expended: and which, amidst all the mad speculations of that gambling period, may have been an exception, as having been expended for the ultimate benefit of the country. For, as the real value of gold and silver, like the value of any other marketable commodity, depends upon the common laws of demand and supply, our real Bank Restriction Act of 1826, which requires such masses of gold to carry it into effect, tends, both here and everywhere else, to increase the real value of gold and silver in the market. Just as the Bank Restriction Act of 1797— which was in reality a Bank-protection Act—tended to lower the real value of gold; for deception was the great character of the Restriction Act of 1797, which, in effect, protected the Bank against demands for gold. I offer this suggestion, because it is most important, now that the demand for gold has so much increased, not only here, but in other countries, that the supply from the mines should be abundant. My motive last year, for refusing my acquiescence in the committee demanded by the noble Duke, who, I am glad to see tendering the aid of his powerful and vigorous mind to the Administration of the country in this critical and trying period, was this: that I thought it was intended to imply some reproach to the noble Duke at the head of his Majesty's Government—whom I considered then (and the. events of these times, have only strengthened that conviction) as the "bis Salvator Patriœ" by his Relief Bill of 1829. I thought, too, that the reproach was most unseasonable at the moment, when he had just taken off 4,000,000l. of taxes, bearing almost exclusively on the labouring classes. For, if the noble Duke had abandoned influence, and surrendered patronage, it was to give his relief bill, for so I understood the Beer bill, to those classes, thereby to afford them a cheaper and more wholesome beverage; and to wipe off at the same time a blot from our Fiscal Statute Book, for so I have always considered the Beer-tax, being a partial and therefore unjust tax, affecting the labouring, more than any other class of society. I also disliked a committee, from its dilatory process, as well as from other considerations: and I 891 was more particularly influenced in refusing my assent to it, by the knowledge that the Premier had just assented to a committee in the Lower House, to inquire into the state of the poor in Ireland, which I regarded as likely to offer the most effectual means of probing the real evil to the bottom,—an evil which will be found mainly to consist, as stated on a former night, in the surplus labour produced by the unemployed poor, and cheap labour of Ireland. Upon some similar grounds, and as embracing a still wider field of inquiry. I dissent from the present Motion.
§ Lord Wynford
replied. He had been represented by the noble Lord (King) as having spoken against the Press, but he had done no such thing; what he said was, that he regretted that so powerful an instrument as the public Press, which he admitted was now very ably conducted, should occasionally give currency to opinions which he considered as very injurious. But when he expressed that opinion, he made no attack on the Press, any more than he made an attack on any of their Lordships when he combatted their opinions. He should be very sorry that any such statement should go uncontradicted. He wished also to reply to the statement of the noble Duke, for whom he had a very high respect (Richmond), who had inquired why he had not been present at his motion for a committee last year, that he was then attending the administration of justice in the House, and had not strength to attend twice a day. It was asserted by the noble Duke, that the inquiry now proposed was so extensive as to reach far beyond the bounds within which it would be possible to bring it to a conclusion. He begged leave to say, if that were the case, it was in the power of noble Lords to narrow it; and it might be limited, as had been suggested, to an inquiry into the causes of the distress of agriculture, to which he verily believed all other distress might be attributed. Unless noble Lords said all inquiries were unnecessary, and it was generally admitted that some inquiry was demanded, they ought either to consent to his Motion, limiting it to suit their views, or they ought to shew that no inquiry whatever was necessary. He had felt it his duty to make the Motion, in order to bring the subject under the public view. The noble Earl (Grey) said, that he had brought forward a novel scheme, and proposed to inquire into the abuse of ma- 892 chinery. But if that were a novel scheme of inquiry, the merit of originating it did not belong to him. In the last Session of Parliament, the noble Duke then at the head of the Government stated, that the effects of machinery were fit and proper subjects for inquiry. In the Speech from the Throne an inquiry was recommended, and it was stated, that an inquiry into the effect of the use of steam-engines and of machinery, in throwing the labourer out of employment, was then contemplated by the late Ministers. For his part he had said nothing against the use of machinery, but only against its abuse, and all things, even the most useful, were liable to abuse. He had no wish to restrain invention, no wish to put fetters on the human intellect; but he thought it was a proper subject for inquiry, to ascertain what effect the continual extension of the use of machinery had over the interest of that class whom, above all others, it was their Lordships' duty to protect. He considered that the interest of the labourers should be sacred in their Lordships' eyes. Such an inquiry might show the people their error, and prevent them from pursuing that course which had led to the present disturbances. The noble Earl (Grey) had also accused him of wishing to do a more absurd thing —to regulate anew all family settlements. But with all possible respect to the noble Earl, he had never meant to do anything so absurd. What he said had been borne out by the statement of the noble Earl above him, which was, that they ought not to compel family settlements, made in money of a different value from the present, and when rents were very different from their amount now, to be paid in the present money, when rents were so much reduced; those settlements, he must say, gave opulence to the junior branches of families, while they ruined the elder branches, who had to support all the honours, and perform all the duties of their station. He did not wish to alter those settlements, but he did wish to try if agriculture could not be brought back to something near the style it was when these settlements were made. He was anxious that it should not go abroad that he had proposed anything so absurd as that attributed to him by the noble Earl. In making his Motion, he was not influenced by any wish to place the Ministers in a situation of difficulty. When the Ministers found the country in a state of 893 difficulty, he should be most wicked if, from any factious views, or any opposition, he added to their difficulty. He was ready to give the Government all the support in his power, and whoever should now oppose it from factious motives, would be guilty of a crime of no small magnitude. God forbid that he should do that! He had no such wish when he made his Motion. In justice to himself, he must state the circumstances which gave occasion to it. The noble Earl at the head of the Government stated some time back, that Ministers intended to apply themselves to the consideration of the distress. On hearing this, he determined, that before the Ministers were installed into their office, as the noble Earl expressed it, he would not bring forward his Motion, which he had long contemplated. He had waited then till he had an opportunity of asking the noble Earl, whether he intended to do anything, for what the noble Earl had said would produce a temporary good effect, but that would soon wear off if nothing further were done; and understanding that the noble Earl intended to do nothing, he then gave notice of his Motion for a distant day, saying, that he hoped the Government, or some more influential Peer, would feel it his duty to bring the subject forward, and save him the trouble. The noble Earl wished him to withdraw his Motion before giving any reason for it. To that he could not consent; and if nothing more had been said, he would have divided the House on the question, though he should have gone below the bar himself. He was convinced, indeed, that if the Ministers did not undertake the inquiry, inquiry would be forced on them at some future, and no distant day. It would be necessary, he believed, to go into an inquiry, in order to secure the peace of the country. He was persuaded, indeed, that the strong arm of the law, firmly wielded, as he was sure it would be by the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and assisted as he would be by the magistracy of the country, would be sufficient to put an end to the tumults which at present disgraced and troubled us; but if the cause of those tumults was not removed — though God forbid that he should say anything to palsy the arm of the law— but if the cause was not removed, vain, very vain would it be to cut off a few offenders, whose offences, he granted, were 894 great, but vain would it be to cut off those offenders, if no measures were taken to remedy the distress. The noble Earl had, in the course of the debate, stated, that it was the intention of his Majesty's Government to consider the subject, and he knew that it could not be in better hands. He confided in them. As the noble Earl had stated that, he should, with the permission of their Lordships, withdraw his Motion.
§ Earl Grey
stated, that the noble Lord must surely remember that he had stated, as soon as he had been appointed to Office, that his Majesty's Government would apply themselves to consider the state of the country. The first opportunity he had had, he had stated that his Majesty's Ministers would do so, and that he considered it not less their interest than their duty. Did the noble Lord think that they were so negligent or so ignorant of their duty, as not to know that their first attention ought to be directed to the most serious evils that ever a Ministry had to encounter?
The Earl of Rosslyn
wished, in the absence of the noble Duke lately at the head of the Administration, to correct a misrepresentation of the noble Lord with regard to what had fallen from that noble Duke in a former Session of Parliament. He did not wish it to go forth to the public that the noble Duke, then at the head of his Majesty's Government, had said, that he was satisfied that machinery was productive of mischief, and tended to impoverish the people. He was sure that the noble Duke never said any such thing, or anything like it. He was sure that his Majesty's Ministers were not of opinion that machinery was the cause of distress, or produced any want of employment.
§ Lord Wynford
wished it to be understood, that he had not intentionally misrepresented any man, but certainly he had understood the noble Duke to say, that the influence of machinery, in depriving the manual labourer of employment, was a subject worthy of being inquired into, and was a subject beyond the control of the Legislature.
§ The Duke of Richmond
wished to correct another misstatement of the noble Lord. He had said, that a noble Earl, not then in his place (Roseberry) had attributed all the disturbance to the educa- 895 tion of the people. Nobody said so— nobody would dare to say so. What the noble Earl said, was, he believed—that it was more imperative on their Lordships than ever, to show some sympathy for the distresses of the people, for their better education made them more alive than formerly to sympathy or to neglect.
§ The Motion negatived without a division.