§ Lord Ashburton
presented sixty petitions from places in Somerset, Essex, Suffolk, 1305 and Cumberland, against any alteration of the Corn-laws. One of these petitions from the eastern division of the county of Cumberland, signed by 3,000 landowners, farmers, bankers, and traders, strongly deprecated the agitation of this question at the present moment.
§ Lord Cloncurry
would take that opportunity to state, in allusion to what had passed on the preceding evening relative to the wages of labourers in Ireland, that, from his own experience, he always found that when corn was high, wages fell, and that labourers were most happy and comfortable when corn was cheap.
said, that on referring to documents, he found that the statements which he made last night on this subject, and which had been contradicted, were perfectly correct.
The Marquess of Westmeath
begged leave to say that one of the noble Earl's statements was incorrect. The noble Earl said that labourers in Ireland obtained only fourpence a day for wages. Now, he (the Marquess of Westmeath) ventured to assert that the average wages of labourers was tenpence per day, besides which they enjoyed advantages as occupiers of land.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
said that the wages he paid his labourers in Ireland never exceeded tenpence per day. As to the occupation of land by labourers, he did not think that was a good system. The labourers, generally, had a running account with their landlords, who were, in most instances, their employers also.
The Marquess of Westmeath
was not prepared to contend that the system was beneficial to the country. On the contrary, he desired to see a class of pure labourers and a class of pure occupiers, as in England; but no one could deny, that, under the existing state of things, the labourer derived advantages from his occupancy of land, which ought to be taken into account when considering the question of wages.
§ The Earl of Hardwicke
deprecated these incidental discussions on so great a question. They were extremely inconvenient, and their result generally appeared to be advantageous to the noble Lords who commenced them, because they came down to the House ready primed and loaded with figures and quotations, which it was quite impossible to refer to without referring to documents which were not at hand. That was the course pur- 1306 sued last night by the noble Earl opposite (Earl Radnor), who read extracts from several documents in support of his assertions and arguments. One thing which the noble Earl stated was this, that the labourers did not think a high price of corn was advantageous to them. Their Lordships must admit, that the opinions of that class, if they could be obtained without the exercise of the influence of great landowners, would be of the greatest importance. Now it happened, very fortunately, that he was able to produce the opinions of the labourers on this point out of the mouth of the noble Earl. In 1836 the noble Earl was examined before a committee of the House of Commons, and was asked this question:ߞ" Do you think it is the general impresssion among farmers that a rise in price would not be beneficial?" To which the noble Earl replied, "I think the impression among farmers is the other wayߞthat a rise in price would be beneficial." The noble Earl was next asked, "Do the farmers think that if they could get 60s. a quarter for their grain they would be much better off?" and his answer was, "They do; and the labourers think so to." In answer to another question, the noble Earl said," I know that in my part of the country the labourers are crying out for a rise in the price of bread: it is very absurd, I think; but that is their opinion." The noble Earl stated last night that the condition of the labourers was improved in 1836, owing to the low price of corn in that year. Upon this point, again, he must quote the noble Earl against himself. Before the same committee, the noble Earl said, "A great change in the condition of the labourer has taken place under the operation of the new Poor-law. It has improved their condition very rapidly indeed. Before the new law came into operation there was a great scarcity of work, but wherever it has been brought into operation, within my observation, there has been rather an outcry for labour than a deficiency of employment." Now, it must be apparent to the House that the noble Earl had, at different times, attributed the improvement in the condition of the labourer in 1836 to different causes.
The Earl of Radnor
was glad that the noble Earl who had just sat down attached so much importance to his evidence. He did not deny, that, with respect to the condition of the labourer, much improvement 1307 had taken place under the Poor-law Amendment Bill; but he still was of opinion that the situation of the labourer would not be rendered worse if he paid a low price for his bread. Nothing that the noble Earl had quoted did away with the positions which he (the Earl of Radnor) had advanced on the preceding evening. In his evidence he had merely stated the opinions of the labourersߞbut he did not think they were correct. They certainly entertained an opinion that a high price of corn was advantageous to them; and he could state what the reason was. Before the Poor-law Amendment Bill was passed, relief was given to the labourer in money, and the amount allowed was apportioned according to the price of bread. Therefore, when bread was very high in price the labourer received a much larger sum as relief than when the price of bread was low. In consequence the labourer connected in his mind a certain advantage with a high price of bread.
presented a petition, which was respectably and numerously signed, and was agreed to at a meeting which had been held at Guildhall. This meeting had been called by public advertisement, and was held under the presiding care of the chief magistrate of this City. It was attended not only by persons of wealth and respectability in the commercial worldߞby those who held the highest rank in the estimation of their fellow citizens, but also by a most numerous body of the citizens of London generally. This petition was signed by upwards of 21,000 individuals in the course of four days only after the meeting had taken place, and he was informed that there would have been at least double that number if a longer time were allowed. The petitioners prayed for an alteration in the Corn-laws. The petition being a short one, he trusted he would be entitled to read it to the House. The noble Lord then read the petition, which prayed for the adoption of the propositions of her Majesty's Government with reference to a fixed duty upon corn. The noble Lord then said the petitioners only sought for the adoption of the fixed duty on the ground that it would be a stepping-stone to the repeal of all laws affecting the prices of the necessaries of life, which, they considered, were not proper objects for taxation, nor such as ought to suffer any duty for the sake of the revenue, and that a repeal of all those 1308 laws, under such circumstances, would make this great measure of justice and policy safe for all parties; that this would be the true line for all wise lawgivers to take, and that this country expected its lawgivers would take such a course at the earliest possible period. The noble Lord then presented a petition from Portsoken Ward, signed by 700 or 800 persons, the prayer of which was to the same effect. He said that the petition had about double the number of signatures to any one which had ever before been sent from this place.
§ Lord Ashburton
said, if he had understood the noble Lord right, he had stated, that the persons who had signed the first petition signified their disapproval of the measures of Government. Now, he had just read that petition, and he begged to say, that no such statement as that was contained therein. So far from this being the case, the petitioners distinctly state, that they highly approved of the measures of her Majesty's Government, and they prayed, that such measures might be, as rapidly as possible, carried into effect.
said, there was not the slightest possibility of his falling into a misstatement upon the subject, for he begged leave to remind the noble Lord, that he had read the petition at lengthߞ that he had read the whole of that petition, and then the prayer of it. The noble Lord had, it appeared, thought proper to read the petition a second time, but he did not object to his Lordship reading the petition a third time if he pleased. The petitioners had certainly stated what they prayed for, but he begged leave to inform their Lordships, that they expected a great deal more. With respect to the question itself, and in deference to the petitioners, he thought it his duty, after stating what they had simply asked in their petition, to add this, that they only asked for the adoption of that measure, but that it would prove a step, and an important step, to the further measure of total repeal. The gentlemen who had the management of this petition, had waited upon him, and in a conversation with them they unanimously concurred with him, that they would never be satisfied with a fixed duty, and that they only took this course with a view of laying the foundation for the total repeal of the Corn-laws. The petitioners, he was assured, looked for total repeal, but they wished to obtain what they considered would be more practicable. He 1309 supposed they would have prayed for the total repeal of the Corn-laws, but that they were afraid of the opposition of the noble Lords opposite, and the noble Lord himself, who was not, perhaps, an advocate for a measure of a very fixed nature, but one of a more shifting character.
§ Lord Ashburton
remarked, that his noble Friend had been pleased to allude to his (Lord Ashburton's) supposed change of opinion on the subject of the Corn-laws. He did not think, that charges of this nature were very fair at any time, and he was certainly astonished at their being made by his noble and learned Friend, as he recollected, that some years ago, when he strongly objected to further protection being extended to the agricultural interest, his noble and learned Friend was one of the most staunch and strenuous supporters in the House of Commons of protection, and he once advocated the further extension of it. He found his noble and learned Friend constantly opposed to him in his endeavours to prevent the further extension of protection.
said, that the noble Lord must be confounding him with some other individual, for he begged to inform the noble Lord, that he was not at that period he mentioned, a Member of the House of Commons. He was out of Parliament in the years 1813, 1814, and 1815; indeed, from the year 1812 to 1816, he had never taken a part in any one of these debates which then took place in Parliament, for this simple reason, because he could not, not being a member of the legislative body. There could not be the slightest doubt of this fact. And he would further inform the noble Lord, that he never was in Parliament when any bill was passed or any proposition made with reference to this subject, wherein he had expressed himself differently to what he had that night said.
§ Lord Ashburton
said, he could not be certain as to the particular year in which it took place; but he well recollected that upon some occasion, about the period he had mentioned, he (Lord Ashburton) had in debate taken the side of the question for the relaxation of the protective system, when his noble and learned Friend took the opposite side of the question, and made some severe remarks upon himself (Lord Ashburton) which, perhaps, was the reason of his so vividly recollecting the circumstance.
said, it was obvious his noble Friend was under some mistake. The question to which his noble Friend, doubtless, intended to refer, was one which had no direct connection with the subject of the Corn-laws, namely, the bill introduced by the late Lord Stanhope, respecting the currency, in the year 1811. On that occasion, he certainly had to differ with his noble Friend on many matters of commercial import, but not directly bearing, as he recollected, on the Corn-laws.
The Earl of Winchilsea
said, that the noble and learned Lord opposite having stated, on the authority of six gentlemen, that the parties who signed the petition were desirous of a total repeal of the Corn-laws, he (the Earl of Winchilsea) should like to know whether those gentlemen, being doubtless engaged in various commercial pursuits, would be satisfied at the same time to relinquish all the protective duties which related to their several branches of manufacture? He thought, that this would be but justice, as between the agricultural and the manufacturing interests. And yet, if this principle were to be adopted, and all the protective duties abolished, how, he asked, would the public creditor be paid, or the various necessary establishments of the country kept up? He really could not see how this great change could be effected without leading to the total annihilation of our national debt, and the destruction of every institution in the country.
begged to call the attention of the noble Lord who had just spoken, to a petition which he had presented to the House about two years ago, and to what had passed upon that occasion. He did this for the purpose of showing the noble Lord how entirely the petitioners as well as he (Lord Brougham) were with him upon the subject of a total repeal of all duties affecting every necessary of life. That petition which he had alluded to, stated, that if the manufacturers of the country required the protection of agriculture to be repealed, the agriculturists, on the other hand, required the protection upon manufactures to be repealed also. He had the honour of presenting that petition, which was signed by a large number of individuals who represented the manufacturing and commercial interests of the country. This was, he thought, in the month of February, 1839. The peti- 1311 tioners stated, that if the Legislature would assent to the proposition of the Corn-laws, being repealed, they would readily give up all the protecting duties affecting the manufacturers and other classes. But if any one should say, that this total repeal of the Corn-laws was to happen suddenly, and without due preparation, he begged to say, that such a proposition never came from those whose opinions he represented, nor from himself. He had always qualified his opinions upon the question, by noticing, that this repeal could only be satisfactorily effected by degrees and gradual stages. He had stated the real opinion of the petitioners, who signed the Guildhall petition, because he thought it would have reference to the motion of his noble Friend (Earl Fitzwilliam) as to the number of signatures which were attached to the petitions which had been presented for and against the question of repeal. He would now only state what the proportion of the petitioners was between those who supported the measure of a total repeal, and those who were in favour of a fixed duty. The total number of petitioners down to the last report which had been made to the House was as follows;ߞFor total repeal, 650,000; for the proposed measure of Government, and no more, 15,000; against these propositions the number was 77,000. This was a proof that the great body of the people were in favour of a repeal of those laws, or an alteration in them.
§ Lord Ashburton
thought the noble and learned Lord was not justified in saying that those engaged in the silk-trade would agree to have the protective duties in their favour abolished, if those in corn were also removed. He (Lord Ashburton) would remind his noble and learned Friend of a meeting for the repeal of the Corn-laws which took place a short time ago at Manchester, and at which Mr. Proctor, an extensive silk merchant, said, that he would forego his protective duty if the agriculturists would give up theirs; but upon being asked afterwards in the course of the same meeting whether he would adhere to that declaration, Mr. Proctor saidߞ" Oh, I beg leave to withdraw that." The abolition of the protective duties was all well until it came to Mr. Proctor himself, and then he would beg leave to be excused. And so, no doubt, it would be with many others engaged in the silk trade. The noble and learned Lord seemed 1312 also to attach too much importance to the numbers who had signed the petition he had just presented, or to the aggregate of petitioners he had stated; for in cities and in manufacturing towns it was but the work of a short time to collect a great number of signatures, and these should not be permitted to overwhelm the scattered population of the simple rural districts. Some important statistics connected with petitions seemed to have escaped his noble and learned Friend, while he had been sunning himself on the shores of the Mediterranean. Why, it was only the other night that a petition, signed by 1,300,000 persons, was presented in the other House, praying for the release of those who had become imprisoned for political offences. Yet, even then, it appeared that numbers did not avail.
complained that his noble Friend was too hard. He (Lord Brougham) had merely stated the facts connected with the petition, and with petitions generally on this subject, abstaining carefully from going into the merits of the question, except in so far as that a fixed duty succeeding a sliding scale might be regarded as a stepping-stone to a complete abolition. Nor had he spoken, as authorised to say, that the silk traders would give up their protection if the agriculturists would yield theirs; what he did say was, that if the agriculturists were deprived of their protective duties, the people in the silk trade must lay it to their account to be deprived of their protection also upon the same principle. Nor did he think that he was altogether wrong in attaching much importance to a multitude of signatures to a petition, for even that petition, presented in the other House the other night, to which his noble Friend alluded, had had such respect paid to it that the prayer of the petitioners was as nearly as possible obtained.
The Earl of Wicklow
thought that the noble and learned Lord opposite, had treated the Government rather unfairly on the present occasion. The petition which the noble and learned Lord this evening presented, was, he believed, the first which had been presented in their Lordships' House in favour of the Government views on the subject of the Corn-laws; and yet the noble and learned Lord made a statement which deprived the Government of the advantage of that petition.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
said, that the noble Earl opposite, in his anxiety to do justice to her Majesty's Government, had done them rather an injustice, in stating that only one petition had been presented in support of their views on the subject of the Corn-laws. Several such petitions had been presented to their Lordships, of which he had presented one this evening.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
moved for a return of the number of petitions for and against the existing system of Corn-laws, and of those for and against the measures proposed by her Majesty's Government, classifying the petitioners, with an enumeration, as nearly as possible, of the number of petitioners of each class.
The Marquess of Salisbury
moved, that there be added the number of signatures to which the residences of the subscribers were attached, and of the number of signatures written by the same persons.
§ Lord Duncannon
had no objection to the return called for; but there would not be time enough to go into that minute analysis which the noble Lords desired.
The Earl of Wicklow
thought, that without giving the number of signatures there might be a classification of the petitions. For his own part he should be glad to see that classification, and the country should know what was the proportion of petitions in favour of the Government proposition. The Government were about to go to the country on this particular point of the Corn-laws, and attempts would be made to show that these petitions were in favour of the Government measure. It was highly desirable that the country should be undeceived when a dissolution of Parliament was about to take place. If this were done a great benefit would be conferred on the country; and he, therefore, hoped that the noble Earl would persevere in his motion to that extent.
The Earl of Radnor
called the attention of their Lordships to the unfairness of merely enumerating the petitions. They all knew that masses of petitions were presented in favour of the existing Corn-law, containing only four, or five, or six signatures; yet these numbers of petitions would tell against the fewer number of petitions with a contrary prayer, which, nevertheless, might contain several hundreds or several thousands of signatures.
§ Earl Stanhope
believed, that the enumeration of signatures would be quite impracticable to be made by Monday or Tuesday next, or before the dissolution of Parliament. He thought the noble Earl was altogether premature, because the current of opinion still continued to run on both sides the question, and it would be better to postpone this motion until the commencement of the next Session. True it was, that on the subject of the Poor-law Amendment Act there had been made, in the other House of Parliament, an enumeration of the petitions for and against that measure, and that the numbers praying for the repeal of that odious law were a thousand-fold greater than those in favour of it.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
contended it would not be fair to give merely the enumeration of the petitions, for there could be no doubt that those were more numerous which were in favour of the present Corn-laws.
§ The Earl of Warwick
adverted to cases of petitions against the Corn-laws, in which boy's names, written all in one hand, were appended to them. If they proceeded on the give and take principle their Lordships would find it impossible to distinguish the bond fide from worthless signatures; and, therefore, great deductions must be made from the number of signatures.
§ Viscount Duncannon
said, that there would be no use in giving directions for a return which it was impossible to make.
§ Motion withdrawn.