HL Deb 24 February 1842 vol 60 cc973-5
Lord Kinnaird

had to present several petitions for the repeal of the Corn-laws, which had been transmitted to him from various parts of Scotland. Amongst these were thirty-four petitions from the workmen of several factories in Dundee. Some of the petitions were signed by those engaged in the linen trade in the east of Scotland, and they prayed that, along with the tax on the import of corn, might also be removed any protecting duties on their own particular trade. They wished to have trade wholly free. Some of those petitions had been agreed to before the Government plan of a change in the Corn-laws had been agreed to, but from several of the parties he had received letters, which showed the general feeling in those parts of Scotland to which they belonged to be decidedly hostile to the Government plan. One letter, from which he would read an extract, expressed the deep regret of the writer at the plan proposed by Government, and stated that a similar feeling was prevalent throughout that part of the country. The writer ex- pressed his fears that the tale of woe describing the distresses of the people would be met by insult; and this was evident from what he had read of what occurred in another place. ["Order."] He was not reading a petition, but an extract of a letter which had been forwarded to him, and of which he could produce hundreds, all to the same effect.

The Duke of Richmond

said, that he could produce thousands of letters all the other way.

Lord Kinnaird

went on to read the extract, which said, that unless some means were adopted to relieve the distresses of the people, they would be driven to proceedings which would not be so easily quieted, and that if they did not oppose such measures as the Corn-laws by every means in their power, they would be untrue to themselves and to their country. To show the effect of the Corn-laws on the industry of a large class of the poor fishermen in Scotland, he would read an extract from another letter which he had received from a gentleman who had taken pains to encourage the fisheries in the Shetland Isles. The noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade had, upon the occasion of the dinner after the laying of the first stone of the Royal Exchange, taken occasion to make use of these words:— I must say, that it is a circumstance of pride and gratification to me to feel that we are assembled here in celebration of such an event, in the face of this distinguished company—the concentrated representative of the wealth, the honour, the honesty, and therefore the power of the commercial interests of this great empire. O weel may the boatie row, And better may she speed; O weel may the boatie row That gains the bairns' bread.' In the face of that expression of feeling, the noble Earl was a member of a Government at that time about to bring forward a measure, the effect of which would be to prevent the "boatie" from earning one half bread enough for the "bairns." But he would refer to the instance to which he had alluded. His correspondent had written to inform him that he had some time ago determined to establish a fishery in one of the small islands of the Shetland district, that he had done so, and with the best result, the fishery being carried on with the highest degree of success. An offer had then been made by a Spanish merchant to take fish, to the amount of 15,000l., in exchange for which floor was to have been given, but owing to the heavy amount of duty payable on the importation of foreign corn into this country, it was found impossible to accept the offer. The fishermen were thus, the writer added, robbed of one-half of their daily bread. He did hope that some of his noble Friends near him would move for an inquiry into the distress which revailed, with the view to see how far it might be remedied.

The Earl of Ripon

said, that the noble Lord was perfectly welcome to take any advantage that he could of a supposed inconsistency in quoting the verse of the song on the occasion alluded to. And he begged to say that he had no idea when he quoted it that it had any reference whatever to the Corn-laws, otherwise he certainly should not have made use of it. As regarded another point of the noble Lord's remarks, namely, that which related to the exchange of salt fish for Spanish flour, he wished the noble Lord would inform him whether the Spanish Government had a Corn-law or not? and what duty the Spanish Government imposed upon our salt fish imported there? There was no article, he begged to say, so heavily taxed in Spain as salt fish imported there. It was quite clear, therefore, that if the Spanish Government would not accept of our salt fish but with a high duty, almost indeed amounting to a prohibition, there was not much chance of the correspondent of the noble Lord receiving Spanish flour in exchange, particularly as there was a Corn-law in Spain.

Lord Kinnaird

thought there was a connexion between the Corn-laws, at all events, and those lines of the song which said, O weel the boatie rows, Which gives the bairns bread. Surely between bread and the Corn-laws there must be an affinity.

Petitions laid upon the Table.