The Marques of Westminster
, in presenting a petition from a place in Lancashire, praying for a repeal of the Corn-laws, supported the prayer of the petition. At the same time he must observe, that he thought the change which the petitioners desired to see effected, would not tend so far to lower the price of bread as to afford them any material advantage, and if that were true, as he fully believed it was, the landlords and the farmers would not have so much reason to dread the proposed repeal. He was surprised at the inconsistency of a noble Lord opposite, (Ashburton), who was now opposed to the alteration of the Corn-laws, but who some years since in the House of Commons had strenuously opposed a motion which had for its object to increase the protection to agriculture.
§ Lord Ashburton
said, that just five-and-twenty years ago, he had, being then a Member of the House of Commons, resisted further protection to the agricultural interest. The proposition at that time had been the establishment of such provisions as would keep the price of wheat up to 60s. per quarter; but there were in those days, men who contended that the price ought to be kept up to 80s., and even some who went so far as to say that the protection ought to go so high as 120s. He had re- 163 sisted that increased protection to the agricultural interest, and now, after the lapse of a quarter of a century, he should do the same. He hoped it would be borne in mind, that there was a wide difference between supporting an existing arrangement and establishing a new system.
§ The Duke of Richmond
was surprised at the statement of the noble Marquess, that the repeal of the Corn-laws would not have the effect of injuring the agricultural interest, because it would not reduce the price of corn. Then why all this agitation for their repeal? It was no such thing. The agitators knew that if they could persuade Parliament to repeal the protection of the agriculturists their interests would be destroyed. The farmers would not be able to employ half the men, nor to pay them half the wages they now did and what would be its effect in Scotland and Ireland? He complained of this, and the landed interest had a right to complain, that year after year this question was agitated, and thereby no landed proprietor could sell his land, nor any tenant think it safe to take a lease, while certain paid parties went about the country teaching the labourer not to look with confidence to his employer, and preaching that the interest of the landlord and the tenant was not one and the same. Neither was this a question on which all the manufacturers Were agreed, for many looked forward to these discussions year after year with great alarm. He hoped no bill on the subject would pass the House of Commons. He believed it would not, because he believed the House of Commons represented the people; but if such a bill should unfortunately pass that House, he hoped that their Lordships would, on the second reading, reject it by a large and triumphant majority.
§ Petition laid on the table.