HL Deb 14 June 1841 vol 58 cc1484-5
Lord Wharncliffe

wished to know whether the noble Earl opposite intended to bring forward his motion on the subject of the Corn-laws to-morrow?

Earl Fitzwilliam

said, that he would not bring on the motion to-morrow. The only other day on which he could introduce it was Friday, but as he understood, that the noble Duke who usually sat at the head of the benches opposite would not be in the House on that day, he was afraid, that he would not be able to bring the question forward in a substantive form during the present Session. The noble Earl presented a petition from Liverpool, complaining of the general depression of trade, and approving of the financial measures, with reference to corn, sugar, and timber, proposed by her Majesty's Ministers. The noble Earl also presented several petitions from places in Yorkshire, for a repeal of the Corn-laws.

Earl Stanhope

inquired whether the Liverpool petitioners attributed the distressed state of trade to the operation of the Corn-laws, or to the alteration of the currency?

Earl Fitzwilliam

said, if his noble Friend would read the petition he would see, that the petitioners approved of the proposition of Ministers to remove the sliding scale, and to have recourse to a fixed duty, because the existing system, by restricting our commerce with foreign countries, tended, together with other restrictive measures, to produce the evils of which they complained. Three-fourths of the persons engaged in the iron trade had signed the petition. The iron trade was unquestionably in a state of great depression. A remarkable circumstance had lately occurred (of which such of their Lordships as were interested in the subject must be aware), which proved this to be the fact. So much was the iron trade depressed, that in the counties of Stafford and Salop not less than fifty furnaces had been put out of blast. If some steps were not taken to remedy this state of things, a permanent injury to the amount of several millions annually would be inflicted on the manufactures of this country.

Lord Ashburton

doubted not, that severe distress prevailed in the iron trade at the present time. He took it for granted that it was so. This exemplified the manner in which distress occasionally came upon manufactured articles, but that distress was wholly foreign to the Corn-laws. As regarded the iron trade he had to observe, that if any one branch of industry had been carried to greater lengths than another, it was the iron trade. It had, however, been in a most prosperous condition, for he had heard of cases in which persons had realised fortunes of 50,000l, 60,000l., and 80,000l. a year out of that trade. There might be, and doubtless were, checks in the trade, but that was no justification for attacking other branches of industry. It would not, however, be pretended, that the iron trade was depressed by foreign competition, for it did so happen, that no part of the world could compete with this country in the manufacture of iron. If the noble Earl stated, that the iron trade was labouring under depression on account of the Corn-laws, he must tell the noble Earl, that he was labouring under a delusion.

Earl Fitzwilliam

had never stated, that the iron trade was particularly affected by the Corn-laws, nor had the petitioners themselves asserted any such thing. What they said was, that the distressed state of general trade (of which the iron trade formed a part) might be traced in a considerable degree to the operation of the Corn-laws. They, as a part and portion of the great commercial interests of the country, complained that those interests at large were injured by our restrictive commercial policy, and they referred to their own case as a proof that their proposition was well founded.

Lord Hatherton

presented a petition from West Bromwich, signed by 5,017 persons, for the repeal of the Corn-laws. He did not mean to enter into a discussion of those laws, but would read the concluding paragraphs of the petition. The petitioners deplored the frightful depreciation in the value of manufactures, without any corresponding reduction in the price of provisions. They complained, that though employment was scarce, the provision market was as high as when labour was abundant; and further, that while food was rendered excessively high in price, the existing system, by closing foreign markets against our manufactures, made labour extremely cheap.

Petition laid on the Table.

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