said: My Lords, the motion which I am about to submit to your Lordships originated, as you are aware, in a petition which I presented some ten days ago. That petition was signed by the deputies, or at least by the chairman of the meeting of deputies, from the manufacturing districts of the north of England. In the prayer of that petition, the men of the midland districts have since most heartily joined. My Lords, those parties came to me from a recollection of my old connexion with one and the other of those districts—with the midland districts ever since the year 1808, and still more intimately since the distress which prevailed in the year 1812, and with the northern districts, from having had the honour to represent them during a short time in Parliament. I yielded to their request with, I must own, great reluctance, and I now come to perform the promise which I made to them, with an unwillingness which I believe one ought not to feel in the discharge of an important public duty; for, my Lords, it is embarrassing to feel that I must disappoint the hopes of relief which the petitioners expect—if not at my hands, at least, through my means—and nothing, let me add, can be more painful than having to state a case so lamentable as theirs. My Lords, these petitioners are, for the greater part, extensively connected with the trade of the country, and deeply interested in all the branches of its manufactures. Some of them are ministers of religion, who feel for the flocks committed to their care, as do the others for those who have worked under them, and of whom they thus feel it their duty to be the guardians. Feeling that it must be as painful to your Lordships to hear the statements which the petitioners expect me to make as it is to me to make them, it is my intention to lead you as swiftly over those parts of the subject as I can, and indeed, I may the more easily dispense with entering at any length into those afflicting details, for, unhappily, it is now no longer a matter of controversy whether such distresses exist or not. All who know anything of the state of the country—and none I believe, know more than some of my noble Friends opposite—are prepared, I doubt not, to admit at 1242 once that the present distress of the country is without a parallel. My Lords I well remember, and so do the petitioners—at least the elder amongst them—the distresses in 1808 and 1812, and more lately, in 1816 and 1817; but I protest, that when I cast my eyes back and compare the sufferings of those periods with the present, when I refresh my recollection by referring to the results of inquiries at that time made, and compare them with what it has been my painful duty to learn within the last three or four weeks as to the present state of things, I may say almost without exaggeration that the former periods present comparatively an aspect of prosperity. Now, my Lords, not to break the promise I made of going over the ground as quickly as possible, I shall begin at once with the general features of this question. In the west of England, for years past, I may say for the last ten or twelve, there has been a gradual decline of business—gradual at first, as always happens in such cases, but afterwards proceeding with an accelerated pace until the branch of manufactures in which it commenced was annihilated. What is the result? Looms are idle, houses untenanted, rents falling to one-half, one-third, and sometimes even lower. Cottages to the number of three out of four are deserted—thus giving to the whole scene every appearance of an entire transfer of the former flourishing manufactures of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire to some other parts of the country. One might be disposed to hope at first, that the change was but a transfer of business from one part of the country to the other, and that what was lost by Gloucestershire and Wiltshire was gained by some counties in the north; but, my Lords, this unfortunately is not the case, for you will find that coeval with the decline of the manufactures in the west was the commencement of that distress which is now afflicting the north. Then, when we turn to the midland counties, to Leicester, to Shropshire, and Staffordshire, and Warwickshire, and from there carry our eye over to Yorkshire and Lancashire, we shall find the distress presenting the same features as in those counties from which the woollen manufacture has removed—wages reduced, houses untenanted, rents fallen to one-half and less, able-bodied and healthy men, at least men who were once in health, men well skilled in their respective branches of trade—men able and willing and but too anxious to work, thrown out of employment 1243 by thousands, while those to whom some work remains are reduced to a pittance with which life may be said to be endured rather than sustained. Cottages are left without tenants, wages are reduced in some instances to 6d. per week—rather less than even 1d. for each, and every day. Can it surprise your Lordships, that in this state of things whole families should be for whole days without food of any kind? The poor-rates are increased in some districts fourfold, and in others they are raised to double that amount, while the defalcation of the property on which those rates used to be assessed has gone on from to 20 to 30, to 40, and sometimes to 50 per cent, compared with what it was two years ago.—My Lords, I now come to some, only to some of the details, over which I shall run as rapidly as possible, for I really am averse to deal with matters so frightful. As I have said, there are found every day such occurrences as seven, or eight, or ten persons in one cottage, who are for days—my Lords, I cannot say "a day," but for "days,"—without a morsel of food of any kind. In some cases the destitute have remained on their bed of straw for two successive days, because they are under the impression that in a recumbent posture the pangs of hunger will be less severely felt than in an erect position. Those who are able to crawl about live on matters which ought not to be eaten—at least, not as the food of man—and they may be now said to envy those who fed on husks that are the food of swine. My Lords, I have been informed by some ministers of religion, that it is not an uncommon thing, but one of frequent occurrence, that men of their congregations are taken from their chapels fainting from illness and weakness brought on by want of proper sustenance. I shudder at the recollection and almost dread to tell your Lordships of some of the cases that have come to my knowledge—cases in which, however, and be this told to the honour of humanity, I have heard of the greatest benevolence and the kindest disposition being evinced by those having the smallest means, and who, I must say, are ever found endeavouring to alleviate the distresses of people but little poorer than themselves out of the proceeds of their own scanty pittance. I nave known one instance of a mother, with an infant at her breast, found dying in the street for want of food, who was removed by its compassionate inmates to a cellar—I cannot call it habitation—in which the infant died three days after it had been taken 1244 there by the kindness of the poor inhabitants. I have been told also by a charitable person who goes about to alleviate the distress that exists not in one street, but all over the district in which he resides, that he found in one miserable room a man with his wife and children, who had been without work for fifteen days, and who, having at last obtained it, worked ten or twelve hours without tasting food, then came home, and flung himself on a bench—the only place he had whereon to rest his limbs—where he was found by the humane person I have mentioned, who gave him out of his own poor substance a small mite wherewith to purchase bread. The same informant afterwards said, that it was one of the most affecting sights he had ever witnessed to see the children ravenously devouring the bread his pittance had procured for them, and then fall on their knees and pray the Lord that their benefactor might never know hunger such as theirs. These are details, my Lords, which quite unman one, but which, however painful to relate, I have thought it my bounden duty to lay before you as I proceed to bring forward my motion. I will not detain you a moment in refuting the arguments sometimes urged to show that the distress is exaggerrated. A word will dispose of each. The revenue, particularly the excise, has not, it seems, fallen off. But then eleven days' collection has been brought forward into the quarter just returned, and this will more than account for the amount keeping up. The funds have maintained their price and money is cheap. But this is owing to the state of trade and the difficulty of finding a vent for capital. A considerable exportation of goods has taken place; but their extremely low price from the depression of the home market at once accounts for this. In fact the warehouses of foreign countries with which we trade are filled with our goods; and this reacts fatally upon our markets. In many places hands have not been discharged and manufacturers go on making; but they fill their warehouses and lock up their capital. In other quarters new concerns have been opened. But this has arisen from the failure of old ones, and their property being brought into the market at prices so very low as to tempt even a desperate speculation. Be assured there is no exaggerration whatever in the accounts that have reached you of the prevailing misery, and that it is quite as severe as the petitioners have described, and as I have had the sorrow 1245 now to represent. My Lords, it is no little consolation to me, no little merit in those for whom I plead, and no slight argument in support of my proposition, that the working men, whose distress we are now considering, have borne their privations with an unexampled degree of fortitude; but still more to the merit of the suffering classes is it, that they have submitted with quietude, with perfect tranquillity of demeanour, with a fixed determination not to break the laws of their country, and that all the attempts made by ill-meaning persons—or by thoughtless and no-meaning persons, for so I may better describe them—whether made on their loyalty or on their public virtue, have been utterly powerless to shake their fixed determination to persist in doing their duty by their country, by their families, and by themselves. And here let me stop to remind your Lordships who those persons are who have set so honourable an example to their fellow-subjects. They are neither more nor less than the working people of this country. It is the cause of the working class; and I draw, my Lords, no invidious distinction between those engaged in the labours of agriculture and the labours of manufacture; it is the cause of the working class at large which these petitioners anxiously submit to the consideration of your Lordships. It is that class to whom this country owes everything: whose industry, whose perseverance, whose matchless skill in every branch of art, has carried this country up to the pitch she. has reached, and has reared her commercial greatness to an unparalelled and a stupendous height. And here be it, recollected, and this is no small aggravation of the people's misery, and no small additional reason for your Lordships lending an attentive ear to their complaints—here he it recollected, that if this commercial greatness falls, it falls assuredly to crush those who raised the fabric; or that if without falling, it but crumbles down in part, not a stone will be displaced, not a beam or rafter will fall, that does not injure those first, by whose skill and virtue it was erected; far it is the hard lot of the working people of this and every other country, that as by their hands the building was raised—they themselves of necessity having enjoyed but a moderate portion of the prosperity—if it fall, whether through the mismanagement of public affairs, or through causes beyond our control or causes unexplained—if it fall, no matter how, no matter when, then, unhap- 1246 pily, the working classes are those who first and most grievously feel the change. And now, my Lords, having told you of the distress and of the merit, the patience, and the tranquillity of those who have endured it, I would call your attention to another consideration, which it is hard for me to mention, desiring, as I do, to avoid political discussion, to keep clear of everything bordering on controversial ground—for this is no matter of party, but a subject which all sides of the House must have at heart—nevertheless, I think there is a consideration which ought at the present time to work with you, inducing you to give a favourable ear to the prayer urged by these petitioners. The working classes, my Lords, and I would earnestly beseech you to remember this, have no hand in making the laws by which they are governed. They have no representatives; they do not contribute one single vote to the choice of the men by whom the laws of this country are made, and the men by whom its affairs are administered. Somewhere less than 1,000,000 of our fellow-subjects enjoy that franchise—allowing for double registration, not 750,000 enjoy it—but considerably above 5,000,000 are entirely excluded from any share in the representation. Virtually, no doubt, they are represented in the House of Commons, and virtually, they are just as much represented in your Lordships' House; for, allow me to. say it, and with this one word, I will dismiss the topic, your Lordships are just as much the representatives of the people as the Commons—or if you will not so much as the Members of the other House, consider yourselves their virtual representatives, at least, let me entreat you own to clothe yourselves with the office of their actual protectors. But, I repeat, that these petitioners cannot expect from me. to-night anything more than that I shall tender my best assistance and advice to your Lordships as to the course we should take in remedying the evils of which they complain, and therefore, I shall say nothing to-night, which can wear the appearance of an observation connected with political discussion. I say, again, that I consider this no party question. If look upon it as presenting itself alike to the consideration of both parties, and I should feel difficulty in deciding, were I called upon to apportion the greater share of sympathy to either side of the House. Avoiding such discussion, neither shall I say one word in disparagement of any 1247 one class of people. They are very thoughtless men, I will not say very ill-meaning men, who would set up the farmer against the manufacturer, or the manufacturer against the farmer. It is our bounden duty alike to respect, and alike to protect and to cherish both, and I shall no more say that the farmer's head is as dense as the clay he tills, than I shall say that the wits of the manufacturer are like the wool he spins, or his heart like the iron he hammers. The farmer—the peasant—in his industry and prosperity we have as great a stake as in that of the congregated mass in the large manufacturing town; and that mass has the same interest in his well-being as in its own; of those farmers and their occupation, I may say, in the words of the old Roman—Pius quæstus et minime invidiosus et minime male cogitantes qui in eo versantur.And now, my Lords, suffer me to entreat your attention to the consideration of some of the alleged causes of the existing distress. It has been said, that the extent of our machinery is one of them. But whenever a new invention is introduced, it is gradually brought into use; new machinery can only be established slowly, and by degrees the change takes place; therefore, there is plenty of time for those who are thrown out of employment to find another market for their labour; and thus, in point of fact, our artisans do not, and have not suffered from this cause. It is an error, and a common error, to suppose that machinery reduces the demand for the labour of men's hands. Either machinery does or it does not tend to produce profit; if it does not, it will not be used; if it does, it increases capital, and the increase of capital naturally and inevitably tends to increase the demand for labour, because in employing labour it must needs be used. Now, let us consider how the fact stands with respect to the districts where the distress is most severe, and let us see whether it is connected at all with machinery. I will take only a few cases. It is admitted that the woollen trade is much less than the cotton trade dependent upon machinery; the cotton trade is that which has most to do with machinery, the woollen trade in a much less degree. Nevertheless, a town well known to my noble Friend opposite (Lord Wharncliffe)—the town of Leeds—is, I am afraid, this moment much worse off than the great seats of our cotton manufactures. I 1248 find that the number of uninhabited houses in Leeds has increased 55 per cent.; that the rates have doubled; that about one-fourth of the population, that is, 40,000 out of 150,000, are either receiving parochial relief or are relieved by committees; that 20,000 of the 40,000 are earning only 6d. a-week. Now, Bolton is one of the great seats of our cotton manufacture, and there, although the people are suffering, although employment is reduced one-third, and wages are reduced from 9s. to 6s., yet the distress is not so great as at Leeds; and the rates there have increased, from 1840 to 1842, one-third, that is, from 12,000l. to 16,000l., whereas at Leeds they have doubled during the same time. Now let us look at the hosiery trade. At Hinckley the rates have increased in the proportion of three to five, and one-half of the frames are idle; and in Loughborough 70 per cent.; one-third of the houses are uninhabited, and one-fifth of the population are unemployed. Now, the question of machinery hardly enters at all into a consideration of the hosiery trade, at least there has been no important change or improvement in the machinery employed in making hosiery for many years. Again, at Nottingham, the amount of the rates has takes risen in the proportion of three to five, between 1841 and 1842; the number of the population receiving relief has nearly their doubled, being 8,000 instead of 4,400. In the potteries, again, there are only three days in the week in which anything is pone. The iron trade employs more machinery than the hosiery and the pottery trade; yet it is small compared with that which is employed in the cotton trade, and that small quantity of machinery does not come into competition with labour, so as by possibility to displace it, being a kind of machinery without which no labour could attain the object in view. At Wolverhampton I find that, of twelve articles, taken at random, the prices have fallen one-half, compared with what they were a year ago, and the rates have doubled and trebled. In Sheffield, which is the worst case of all that has come under my observation, the rates have been increased, between the years 1839 and 1842, in the frightful proportion of eight to one; in 1839 they were 541, and last year they had risen to 4,200. By these references the House may easily see that there is no connection between the employment of machinery and the distress which prevails to such an extent; for in many of the trades 1249 in which little or no machinery is used, the destitution is greater than in those where the most extensive and complicated machinery is in constant use. But for the use of machinery a great many of those trades would have had no existence, and but for the extensive use of machinery in others, they would have been entirely destroyed by foreign competition. Finding, then, that this state of misery and distress is not owing to the use of machinery, nor to the seasons, nor to any bad dispositions in the people, from whence does it proceed? I hold it perfectly wild to impute it, as some have done, to the state of the currency. It is out of all reason to say that the currency has in any way produced this result, inasmuch as the change in the currency took place so far back as twenty-three years ago; and trade, and manufactures, and agriculture have been, during the greater part of that time, in as flourishing a condition as during any years previous to 1819. In such circumstances it is preposterous to impute the present distress to the change in the currency which then took place. It is as impossible that such a result can be properly ascribed to the currency, as any, even the most remote event, the most imaginary assumption that could be taken. The whole effect of the change in 1819 was accomplished within three years after the measure passed. I will only mention, further on the subject, that during five of the last ten years, the country, both as regarded its agriculture and manufactures, was in the most flourishing condition. [Lord Brougham then stated that it was not owing to the seasons, and also that a better harvest than the last could not relieve it, and could only prevent an aggravation from dearth.] If, then, we cannot account by these means for the present distress, I am inclined to recommend that those who are prepared to give their attention to this subject, should look to the state of our foreign trade, and its connexion with the present state of things. I am not one of those who look with any alarm at foreign competition. We are deceived if we think that this competition is recent; during many years such rivalry has been going on in many manufactures. In cotton goods, for instance, whilst our trade has been increasing, in France also there has been a very great increase of the very game manufacture. The revolution tended, of course, to suspend the manufacturing industry of that country; but between 1787 and 1815 it had increased seven or 1250 eight fold, and the number of hands employed in France in the cotton trade bears a very considerable proportion even to the number employed in our own—about one-third; that is, there being 1,500,000 persons who depend upon the cotton trade in this country, there are 600,000 who depend upon the cotton trade in France; and the increase of the exports from France since the peace (there were, of course, none before the peace), from 1815 down to two or three years ago—the latest period to which I have been able to obtain authentic accounts—was so great as to have augmented the trade sevenfold:—that is, France exported seven times as much manufactured cottons as she did formerly. But did our trade suffer at this time? Did that competition diminish our trade? I apprehend not; during the period of which I am speaking, from the year 1815, our cotton trade more than doubled; it increased from 22,000,000l. to 52,000,000l. during the same period in which the French exports increased, though, no doubt, in a greater proportion, from the war having so differently affected the two countries. Therefore I think there is no fear, considering the extent of our machinery and our manufacturing skill, considering the great capital which has been amassed in this country,—I mean to say that I have no apprehension of the effect of any foreign competition, provided our machinery and skill, and industry and wealth, are suffered to have reasonable fair play. But when I look at our legislation with reference to foreign countries, and the consequences necessarily produced by that course of legislation, 1 do feel alarm; for I can perceive sufficient reason why our industry is cramped, and I confess that my most serious ground of alarm is for the future, because my impression is, that things cannot rest as they now are, and that if we do not retrace our steps, they will grow worse. The petitioners only want to produce evidence before you to establish the causes of the distress, and to show your Lordships the remedies they propose. If your Lordships will not give them the opportunity, I tell you now as I told you three years ago, when I brought forward the question of the Corn-law, that your refusal must be grounded upon one of three reasons; either that you admit the facts they are prepared to prove, and have therefore no occasion for evidence; or that you deny the facts to be capable of proof, as being so absurd and so incredible in them- 1251 selves that no amount of evidence could induce you to believe them; or, lastly, that the facts are wholly immaterial, and that it signifies nothing whether the statements are true or false; that they do not touch the question, and therefore it is unnecessary to receive evidence at all. Now, my Lords, the petitioners will show, in the first place, in what way the present restrictions on our foreign trade, arising from the prohibition of the importation of corn, bear on our trade, both commerce and manufactures. They are then prepared to show that at this moment purchases are making in various quarters, at reduced rates, of our most valuable machinery for exportation; that agents from France and Belgium are making such purchases; that the prices are fearfully reduced, and that engines of the utmost value, in respect to their completeness, and exactness, and entire finish, and now perfectly new, are exposed to sale at so great a reduction of price, that in one district it is only one-third of the prime cost, in another district even less than that proportion, and in some districts where the foreign agents do not come, engines remain unsold, because they are un saleable, the only demand being amongst foreign purchasers. The petitioners then are prepared to show, that in other countries which have heretofore been purchasers of our engines, manufactories of engines have been established, which are given rise to a variety of other establishments. In the next place, they are prepared to show, what I confess is a very melancholy fact, a resolution on the part of some of our most skilful manufacturers, a resolution partly accomplished, to emigrate to foreign countries; not only ordinary workmen, but there is this lamentable circumstance, which is new and peculiar to the present time, that some of our very best hands—a considerable number of our most skilful and approved workmen, men of experience, whose skill, as it it most valuable to those countries to which it shall be given, cannot be supplied in the country from which it is taken—are on the list of intended emigrants; and the consequence must be, that their skill will be, withdrawn from this country, and given to those foreigners, our competitors, who will shelter and employ them. Heretofore, emigration was confined to the workmen and the inferior workmen; but it now includes not only workmen of the first class, but capitalists themselves. Amongst the facts which the petitioners 1252 are desirous of proving is this:—that a considerable number of men with capital are now ready to leave this country, and some are actually preparing to leave it, and it is only by this question being considered in Parliament, and by their seeing the question so considered as to give them, a reasonable hope of some legislative change in respect to the importation of corn, that you can expect to prevent them from fulfilling their intentions. I know, my Lords, instances of men who have employed 1,000 workmen who have such a measure in contemplation. I abstain, for obvious reasons, from stating who they are, or even the parts of the country where they live, because it would be known to whom I allude; and whilst it is possible that they may change their resolution, it is for obvious reasons better that it should not be disclosed; but I do know individuals whom nothing short of the change I have mentioned will detain in this country, since they cannot continue here so as to make their capital yield a profit; nay, some of them feel that if they do continue here ruin must inevitably ensue. Imagine now a man, and there are many in such a situation at present, having 200,000l. capital locked up in goods in his warehouse for which he cannot find a market, and which, consequently, is not paying a farthing of profit or of interest. A man under such circumstances cannot suddenly change one branch of industry for another, and find out fresh investments for his capital; for perhaps if he could, persons in this position might give up the chance of selling their goods on hand and take to some other branch of industry, and this after making such large sacrifices. But a person in such a situation cannot change his occupation, and yet he cannot obtain a sale for his goods, for if by chance he should be enabled to sell them, he must do so at a most ruinous sacrifice; and after this falling-off in his resources he would still find himself unable to invest at home his floating capital in any other line of business. Therefore he must, if the present state of things be allowed to continue, gather as well as he can his fluctuating capital, sell his goods at almost any price that he can get, and dispose of his machinery or the plant of his manufactory in any way that he can, and certainly at an enormous loss, and go elsewhere to prevent the whole of his fortune being lust by continuing to produce un saleable commodities. I question whether these are extreme cases; I am 1253 informed that a very considerable number of cases can be adduced by persons, who offer to be examined by the committee which I ask your Lordships to grant. I am convinced from all that I have seen and heard that a very considerable emigration is about to take place of this description of persons if no change be made in the system of our Corn-laws. It may be asked, supposing a change had taken place, what reason is there to believe that the present state of distress of such large bodies of people will be relieved? It is stated by these petitioners that their agents and connexions abroad, who are engaged in the sale of manufactures in foreign markets, have assured them that if a change in the system of legislation, as regarded the Corn-laws, can be carried, there will be an accession of orders for goods given to this country which are now given to other countries. I have been informed of numerous instances where orders which had formerly been executed in this country have been sent elsewhere. I have been informed of one most important American house, which formerly exported most largely manufactured goods from this country, haying given this season only one-half of its orders in England, and sent the other half to France. Now all this the petitioners can show, from correspondents upon whom they rely, and they are ready to prove by evidence, that if a change took place in our system many foreign houses which formerly exported largely from this country, and have of late ceased to do so, would again purchase manufactures from us. On these points many mercantile men are prepared to depose, and to explain the topics which the petitioners have adverted to. They will show that many persons in foreign countries would give orders who now withhold them from our manufacturers, and that without delay a most important and thriving trade might be created, which is now prevented by the operation of the Corn-laws At present many of the manufacturers have been obliged to dismiss half their workmen; but in the majority of instances they kept them at work for a diminished number of days in the week. It has been stated, at a large public meeting, by a most respectable and excellent magistrate, that he that knew instances of workmen having the choice given to them either to have five or six days work a-week as heretofore; but that in this case the number employed must be reduced, or that the whole number 1254 should be employed for a shorter period of time, having at once preferred the latter alternative, as it enabled the master to keep all the hands, although with greatly reduced wages, instead of dismissing them half and retaining the rest. Nothing could be more creditable to the humanity of men suffering so severely, for they had to submit to the reduction of their wages from 2s. to 1s. a-day, or from 12s. to 6s. or 7s a-week. The manufacturers who now intend to reduce the number of their workmen if they see any reasonable prospect of a change in the system which oppresses them, will at once resume their occupations, and take additional hands into their employ, and they will go on working as before. I wish to remind the House, which I will do as briefly as possible, of the course which things have taken in other countries. The American trade is admitted on all hands to be chiefly that to which we should direct our attention. If you set the example of doing away with prohibitory duties, what are called protecting duties, it will become impossible for the Americans to continue them. 1 should say, that if you do away with protecting duties, it will become next to impossible for any other country to continue them; but for a country with a popular government like America—I might say France in the same way, and for the same reason—but for America it would be hopelessly impossible. The case stands thus:—The middle, the northern, and the eastern states are for protecting duties; the western states are somewhat equally divided between southern and western, but rather inclined against protection. The southern states are decidedly against it. We have, then, the western states leaning rather more towards the southern; but when they find that the northern and the eastern, the states which are for protecting duties, are supported by our example, and not only that, but enabled by our laws to carry these unsound, though somewhat popular principles, into execution the inevitable consequence will be, that the western states will join those which are for the protecting duties, and give a majority against the southern states which are opposed to them. Why do I say that in their unwise and illiberal legislation they are not only encouraged by your example, but supported and empowered by your laws? Because of the immense frontier which the country presents, across which, however strong may be the govern- 1255 ment, they cannot prevent smuggling. I don't mean to say that I am an advocate for illicit trade, but I say, that if you prohibit a free-trade in the article of corn, you bring to the assistance their imperfect staff of officers your own effective force to prevent the smuggling of British manufactures, which, without your assistance, they would not have the power to do. There is a great difference between the articles of the two countries. What you have to send there is much more easily smuggled than what you have to receive. All your manufactures are more easily smuggled than the bulky article of corn. I say, therefore, that smuggling your small articles of value through their numerous creeks, and across their enormous frontier is a thing which they cannot prevent. What are you to do? In the first place, it is not likely, unless you set the example, that their legislature would resort to protecting duties; and in the next, if, notwithstanding that you withheld your example, they did resort to them, they could not execute their own laws of protection without your assistance, and that assistance you would lend them at your own expense and to your own injury. That would be precisely the same error which this country fell into during the time of Napoleon, when the Orders in Council were issued to enforce the Berlin and Milan decrees, which would have been a dead letter but for your orders, which gave to those decrees a most triumphant and most mischievous effect, making those decrees, for the first time, effectual, and by your aid enabling them very nearly to annihilate your commerce, and, at all events, to inflict upon you a blow from which for years of peace yon were not able to recover. You are now doing, for the second time, and after all the warnings of that experience, the self same thing respecting the American trade. But there is not the least doubt, if you were to repeal the law which excludes foreign grain from this country, that the western states of America would join the southern states against the protecting states of the north; and such an evil as I have pointed at would be impossible to continue even to a comparatively small extent. Now is the mischief confined to our commerce with America. The letter written by the Prussian minister, in 1824 to the then Secretary of State for the Foreign Department, affirmed in express terms, that if an arrangement were made for the importation of corn, and timber, and other Prussian articles, their tariff 1256 would be arranged in the same amicable spirit. I understand that Mr. Addington, our Minister in the United States, wrote to the Government of this country some time after the former communication had been received, offering a similar concession. Unfortunately neither of these communications has ever been acted on. I have heard of one remedy proposed for the existing distress, which I think I ought to advert to for the purpose of entering my solemn protestation against it. If your Lordships grant the committee, as I think, with great submission, it is your bounden duty to do, I shall, of course, have no objection to hear every matter discussed in evidence, all remedies adduced, whether I may agree with those noble Lords who suggest them or not—with my noble Friend at the Table, for instance, and whether their propositions have regard to the currency or to machinery, or to—[Earl Stanhope: Protection of labour]—or to what my noble Friend calls protection of labour, even though he should carry his principle beyond the destruction of powers looms and cotton mills, and furnaces, which are a species of engine, as steam-engines cannot be set working in the mills without them, and are used to the exclusion of horse power. [Earl Stanhope: I spoke of the protection of the wages of labourers.] Wages of course are protected by the demand for labour, and that demand being contracted, and wages being diminished, the protection fails, in proportion as machinery is employed, or, as my noble Friend would argue, in proportion as horses are substituted for men. But by the substitution of horses for men the capitalist to whom the mine belonged is enabled to work with other machinery which it required hands to make; and not only that, but the capitalist is enabled to work mines at a profit which} otherwise he could only work at a loss, and which consequently he would not work at all, and to continue employing men as well as horses, whereas, according to the theory of my noble Friend, he would employ neither man nor horse. Instead, then, of substituting horses for men, men were employed who would otherwise have been thrown on the parish. However, even should my noble Friend go beyond this—should he, not content with suggesting doubts as to the propriety of steam machinery and horse-labour, of wheels, of axles, of cranks, of pullies, go some steps further—advance to the utmost pitch of consistency with his 1257 own opinions as regarding protection of labour—and seek to prohibit tools, as well he might, seeing that, no doubt, tools abridge manual labour, and, therefore, according to the noble Earl, lessen the amount of man's earnings—even were the noble Earl to go to this extreme, I should not have the least objection to have even such matters as these inquired into. I should have no objection, even, to have the sugar question examined, though, for my part, I am one of those who think, that it was rather a question whether crime should be encouraged than whether trade should be protected—that to consider, for one moment whether Cuba or Brazil should have a bounty given them by us for the purpose of directly fostering and instantly extending the African slave-trade, is to discuss whether we shall commit felony, not whether we shall encourage waste; but even though I have this feeling on the subject—even though I view every pound of sugar that comes from a slave-trading country as defiled with cruelty and robbery—nay, as steeped in African blood—yet, and I can give no stronger proof of my desire to have full inquiry into the whole subject, even into this question of the importation of foreign sugar, that is, the increase of the slave-trade, I will consent to inquire. But there is one thing against which I loudly protest; a proposition which I consider among the most outrageous I have ever heard of; I have heard of it only out of doors—no one had ventured to broach it in Parliament—a proposition in every respect the most reprehensible, and fraught with incalculable mischiefs, with unspeakable increase of the miseries which the country now labours under. I refer to the attempt, which has been suggested, in some quarters, by means of what is called non-consumption, or an agreement among the people not to consume certain commodities, to embarrass the Government and a refusal to pay direct taxes, thus involving the executive Government in inextricable difficulties. I consider all attempts of this sort as tending immediately, directly, inevitably to exasperate existing mischiefs, to exacerbate the miseries which now overwhelm the country. In all that has latterly taken place, in the gloom that now hangs over us, there is one point towards which we can direct our eyes with satisfaction—the public credit has been preserved. I can hardly conceive a greater evil—I cannot imagine any increase of distress which would have been 1258 more tremendous, than if there had been anything like an obstruction to the public credit, by a defalcation of the revenue, rendering it incapable of meeting the expenditure. The destruction of all private credit would be the instantaneous result. If any attempt were made, with whatever motive, on whatever principle, to curtail the revenue, to prevent its collection, to prevent its taking the usual course in that peaceful and steady way on which public credit mainly depends, those who made the attempt, pure and honest as their motives might no doubt be, would be the very first to repent it, the first to feel its ruinous consequences. Before I sit down, I wish seriously to ask your Lordships on what grounds you can resist this inquiry? It is admitted that great distress prevails; it is alleged, that nothing can be done by Parliament towards relieving that distress. At least, let the inquiry sought for, be given, that the people may have the melancholy satisfaction of seeing it proved that Parliament can really do no more to remedy the distress than it has already done. When the people are crying out for assistance, and are told that Parliament cannot help them, it becomes all the more desirable, and the more necessary, that, at the least, Parliament should not shut its doors against hearing the statements which the sufferers have to make, even though it were absolutely resolved to do nothing. It seems a preposterous thing to suggest that you have all your minds made up, inquiry not having yet been made, but I will assume for argument's sake, that you have all formed a determination, and that even were the committee granted, I should come out of it just as 1 went in; yet still I would contend that it is the bounden duty of your Lordships to let the people tell their own story, state their own case, and suggest their own plans for remedying the miseries which afflict them. Then, at least, your Lordships, even if nothing be done, will have shown the people that you have not been willing to lose any possibility, to throw away the slightest chance of devising a remedy. It is alike incumbent upon all parties not merely to grant, but to seek such an inquiry. Take the Corn-law question, for instance. The new Corn measure has now been passed some eight weeks. With respect to that measure there are four kinds of opinion. One class of persons, myself among the number, regard it as an improvement, though 1259 not sufficient, upon the former system; another set of men regard it as no improvement; a third view it as by no means so good; while the Government, and those who think with them, view it as all that could be desired. It is therefore, desirable, for the satisfaction of all parties, that it should be known what the real effect, what the actual operation of the change has been. It is no satisfactory answer to the demand for inquiry to say, that the Session is far advanced, that we are about to prorogue, that we must wait till next year. Such an answer will not do at any time, but far less in times like these. If, last year, Parliament could manage to assemble late in the summer, because a change had taken place in the Government; if they could sit till the end of September, because there had been a political change in the preceding month, surely this year, when the question is not merely a balance of parties, a change of political power, but the interest of the whole people; and not only the interest of the people, but the well-being of the people; and not only the well-being of the people, but the very subsistence of the people; and not only their very subsistence, but their actually continuing to exist at all, and whether they shall any more be a people or not—and when, moreover, winter, which is approaching to shadow us over, will throw his dark wing over the criminal as well as the workman, affording in the long, cold night that follows upon the cheerless and foodless days, shelter and opportunity for acts of desperation to which hitherto the long suffering and patient people, amidst all their fearful distress, have firmly resisted, all temptation and excitement, both from within and without—when such is the question, it would be an insult to your Lordships' heads and hearts to suggest for one moment that the slightest hesitation can be felt in consenting to sit for three or four weeks longer. I humbly take upon myself to suggest to you, as your duty to the country and to yourselves, that you should not refuse to enter into this inquiry—that you should hear the evidence which I have opened to you, and which, on the part of the petitioners, I am ready upon their oaths to substantiate. My Lords, I have undertaken to bring this subject before you. As I began with stating, I have done so most reluctantly, from the little hope I have that any result will follow; but I have done it with the view that, if no good 1260 should arise from it, I, at least, may have the comfort of thinking that it has been no fault of mine if the prayers of these petitioners ascend to this House in vain. I have undertaken the task with the fear that I may fail in obtaining your assent to my proposition—I have done so with the risk that, even if you should grant the inquiry, it may prove fruitless; but I have acted upon this persuasion—that before the winter comes, the distress will in all probability be unbearably great; that during that hard season it will be more than ever for the poor destitute people; that happen what may, I, at least shall have discharged my duty, and freed myself from responsibility; and that though I may deplore the failure of this attempt to obtain your concurrence in my proposal, yet happen what may, I am not answerable. I hope to God your Lordships may take the like means of relieving yourselves from the same responsibility. The noble and learned Lord concluded by moving for "a select committee to consider the distressed state of the country."
§ The Earl of Ripon
could well Understand why his noble and learned Friend had hesitated, as he had told them he had, before bringing this subject before their Lordships, for his noble and learned Friend had had so extensive a knowledge of the various matters which he had brought before the House, and so long an experience in parliamentary proceedings, that his diffidence must have been founded upon some very grave doubt in his own mind whether, even if he succeeded in inducing a concurrence in his proposition, he could succeed in bringing about any satisfactory result. He knew too well the complicated nature of the question which he had brought Forward, not to know that of all unsatisfactory inquiries that could be entered into, none could be more unsatisfactory than that which seemed to be the only practical point which his noble Friend had had in view throughout his speech—the question of the repeal of the Corn-laws; for that was the sum and substance of the proposition of his noble and learned Friend—that was his panacea for all the evils under which the country most undoubtedly laboured. Now, he felt no small difficulty in again entering upon that subject. It had already been most fully entered upon, and nothing that had passed in those debates had tended to convince his mind that the 1261 Corn-laws could be fairly represented as the cause of the existing distress. If they were not the cause of the distress, then the repeal of those laws would be no means of removing it. His noble and learned Friend argued that if they were unable to provide a remedy for the distress, it would at least be a satisfaction to the sufferers to know that their case had been taken into consideration. That might be so, but if it turned out that they had get their hearts on one remedy, which remedy should turn out to be really no remedy at all, and, should, therefore, be refused, then the effect on their minds would be far worse, because their hopes would have been excited by the granting of an inquiry, and they would have some appearance of a right to say, that they had been deluded and disappointed. Therefore, unless he saw the way open, unless he saw some distinct, clear, and safe means of adequate relief, he thought it would be much fairer and much kinder to abstain from inquiry than to enter into it. He would not undertake to follow his noble Friend through the whole of the details of his speech, but there were one or two points to which he would advert, as having a bearing on the question. His noble Friend said, that the cause of the existing distress was the embarrassment caused by us to foreign countries, arising out of the restrictions which our Corn-laws imposed upon their trade. That led to a consideration of what those embarrassments were. It certainly could not be that we did not take their surplus corn, because during the last ten years this country had imported and consumed the whole of the surplus produce of the corn-exporting countries of Europe, with the exception of that which had been demanded by the other importing countries. He did not mean to say that this had been done by a regular process of so much per month or per annum, but still, in point of fact, we had consumed the total surplus of the exportable corn of those countries. During the four years commencing with 1833, the growth of corn in this country had been so abundant, that even if there had been no Corn-law at all, he doubted whether any foreign corn could have found here a market that would have repaid the importer. That was the case with those four years, but excepting those, the case had been as he said. At the present time we had swept the granaries of foreign 1262 countries of their exportable corn. Now, surely if this corn was imported here, it must be paid for in something, therefore the distress could not be said to be owing exclusively to an absence of demand for our manufactures. But then, his noble Friend argued that we had stimulated the manufactures of foreign countries by means of our Corn-laws. But he had added with great truth that it was a mistake to suppose that before our Corn-laws were introduced those countries had no manufactures at all. France, before the revolution had commenced those manufactures which the war prevented her from carrying to perfection, while we, during the same period, were able, from other causes, to carry on ours. But he could not understand how it was argued that it was because we placed a duty on the importation of corn, therefore foreign countries imposed a duty on our manufactures. Was it our Corn-laws that induced France to place those prohibitory duties on the manufactures of other countries, while they had themselves a Corn-law to protect their own agriculture? The same might be said with regard to Belgium. Again, take the vast empire of Russia. Why, if there was any country in the world where prohibition amounted to a persevering system, Russia was that country. Did any one suppose, if we were to offer to Russia to repeal our Corn-laws if she would repeal her prohibitory duties, that the Russian government would adopt that line of policy? It was absolutely impossible, considering the system which Russia pursued, and the immense sums they had spent in establishing it. But there were other articles which we took from Russia to a large extent on which we imposed no prohibitory duty. What was the case with regard to those articles? Why, that we already imported of them six or seven times the quantity which they took of our manufactures in return. Russia herself had a Corn-law for home protection, and was exceedingly watchful of the importation of all corn. ft was also notorious that the harvests of Russia were exceedingly uncertain, and scarcities happened there more frequently than in almost any country in the world. During the last ten years there had been no less than five of absolute famine, so severe that the emperor had been obliged to repeal for a time the duty on foreign corn. AH these facts afforded an addi- 1263 tional reason why they should not, merely under the pressure of distress, and not upon any well-considered plan of policy, repeal the Corn-laws. Then take the case of Prussia and the German League. No doubt Prussia produced a great deal of exportable corn; but for the last five years we had been constantly importing corn from that country, and the Prussian government already looked to the recent change made by us in our Corn-laws for a more steady and beneficial trade. But there were portions of the Germanic union which did not look on the change in so favourable a light as it was regarded in by Prussia. From the increased facilities which they considered it would give to the importation of corn into this country, they were apprehensive that the effect would be to increase the price of corn to their own consumers; so that it was not at all clear that the repeal of the Corn-laws would produce any of the effects attributed to it by his noble and learned Friend. His noble and learned Friend had attributed part of the present distress to the withdrawal of our trade with the United States. That was a true statement in some degree; but his noble and learned Friend forgot when he assigned the existence of our Corn-law, as the reason for that state of trade, that under the old Corn-law there was no impediment in the way of our trade; on the contrary, the United States took l2,000,000l. sterling of our manufactures. The impediment to our trade could not therefore be the Corn-law; but the fact was, the impediment had sprung out of the existing confusion in the monetary system of the republic, which had affected every branch of trade in it. But with respect to the question of protective duties, his noble and learned Friend had admitted that the northern and eastern states were for protection; that the southern states were of a different opinion; that the western were not exactly one or the other, but would be drawn to join with the southern, if we were prepared to offer a constantly open market for their corn; and his noble and learned Friend had proceeded to contend that the consequence of that would be such a pressure, first on the east, and second on the general Government, as would put a stop to their system of protecting duties. Now, whether that would come about, he did not know, but this he would say, that there never was a period in the history of the United States 1264 when the manufacturing classes urged on the Government and on Congress with more earnestness the necessity of more protection for the home manufacturer. Petitions on this subject had been laid before Congress from almost every branch of trade. The general grounds he would not go into, but the specific ground they stated was, the impossibility of their competing with the cheaper labour of the old European countries. Therefore, without any reference to the Corn-laws of this country, or of any other country in the world, the American manufacturers were pressing on their Government the necessity for more protection. Statements had been made that the Government would be strong enough to resist, and that the Compromise-law (he thought it was called) would come into force, the effect of which would be to reduce the import duties until none of them were above 20 per cent. Now, was not that an answer to show that it was not because the feelings of that country were against our Corn-law that our trade with that country had fallen off, but because of other and different causes? If their monetary system should correct itself—usually a tardy proceeding—and they should adhere to the existing law as to protection, there would be then no more impediment to our trade than there was during the last five or six years, which offered such a stimulus to our manufacturing industry. His noble and learned Friend had hinted, that the Government would object to this inquiry for fear of keeping Parliament sitting for three or four weeks longer; but all he could say to that was, that he did not know what sort of an inquiry was intended, nor was he aware how any inquiry of this kind could be finished in so short a time; for his noble and learned Friend probably would admit that one side only should not be heard. If his noble and learned Friend had evidence to bring forward, surely he would not refuse the other party an opportunity of bringing forward their witnesses. In that case, he feared that the only effect of the inquiry would be to set more in opposition to one another the two great interests of the country; and he did think that it would be most unfortunate for the object which his noble and learned Friend had in view—the relief, namely, of those who were suffering so severely from distress—if they brought those great interests into collision just at this period. He came then to the 1265 conclusion, that it would be very inexpedient to concur in the motion of his noble and learned Friend. He had a very high opinion of the good sense of the people of this country—he had a very high opinion of their fairness—he had a very high opinion of their increasing knowledge—and he believed that, however strongly they might feel under the pressure of their distress, they would not ascribe to their Lordships, if they objected to go into this inquiry, any other motive except a conviction that it would not lead to the advantages which they anticipated, and that the consequence of acquiescence in the motion would be more disadvantageous than to refuse it, from the disappointment it would create.
§ Earl Stanhope
said, the distress imperiously demanded relief, and unless the distress was relieved, anarchy was at hand. Unless the distress was relieved it would be utterly impossible to preserve peace. Great expectations had been entertained by others—not by him certainly—of the recent change of Administration; but now, after the distress had been acknowledged from the Throne, and not denied, so far as he could find, in the speeches of Members of the Government, in either House of Parliament, what was the remedy proposed? Why, for one thing, a very considerable reduction in the protection to the growers of corn, the natural and necessary effect of which was to reduce the number of labourers in employ, or the wages of labour of those employed. Then, another remedy was to be given in the new tariff, which was objectionable on all grounds, but most objectionable for its bearing on the manufacturing and handicraft classes of this country, depriving, as it would, numbers of employment, and thereby greatly accelerating the catastrophe which was inevitable. His noble and learned Friend, who had such a command of choice words, and of whom it might with justice be said in the bad Latin which appeared on Dr. Johnson's tomb in Westminster Abbey, that he was magister verborum gravissimus, had brought forward this subject with his accustomed power, and in much that the noble and learned Lord said he concurred, but he could not agree in what he had said about the effect of machinery; his noble and learned Friend had opened a totally new and original view of this question; and he said, that since the introduction of machinery, there were a greater number of hands em- 1266 ployed than before. He had presented numerous petitions on this subject; one of them was from a class which was not at all affected by the state of foreign trade; he meant the sawyers of Manchester. By the introduction of machinery into their occupation these persons had been reduced to a state of extreme, of lamentable, and, he might say to the Government, disgraceful destitution. It was undoubtedly true, that generally, the wages of labour had been grievously diminished; they had been beaten down by the master manufacturers to almost starvation price. The gains of the manufacturer had diminished also, and he was obliged to make a great deal more goods for a much less profit. Now, he maintained, that when by the employment of machinery people deprived the persons who did the work before of their employment, they ought to be obliged either to find those persons other employment, or to support them themselves. That was the law of England, as he was sure his noble and learned Friend knew better than he did. It was the law of England that there was no wrong without a remedy; therefore this grievous wrong ought to be remedied. Even for the trifling injury which canals and railways did to private property by passing through it, the companies were obliged to make compensation; and was not labour property? When his noble and learned Friend said that he did not know what the protection of labour meant, his noble and learned Friend showed that he had not lived so much with the labouring classes as he bad done. Not long ago he had received a visit from a woollen manufacturer of the West Riding of Yorkshire, not one of those who wished to pull down the Constitution, but one of those old-fashonied Tories now nearly extinct; and he told him that unless Parliament should resolve to protect the wages of labour, and to prevent the rapacity of the manufacturers from starving the operatives any longer, by renewing those ancient statutes which to the year 1813 continued in existence and prevented the depression of the wages of labourers below a certain point, this might perhaps be the last Session of Parliament. It was not to be expected that the labouring classes would continue year by year, without complaint, or remonstrance, or resistance, to submit to this oppression, or to allow themselves to be trampled under the feet of the manufacturers, and have their wages reduced 1267 almost below starving point. In the couse of three years and a half mechanical power had been increased 53½ per cent., as he was prepared to show from Parliamentary returns. Was it likely that that could be the case, and that markets could be found for the productions of such a vast quantity of machinery. Alexander the Great had offered a reward to have new countries pointed out to him to conquer; the manufacturers in a short time would clothe the whole human race, and would have no other country to send their manufactures to. The noble Lord opposite had proposed many remedies for the existing distress, but "the sum total of his observations," ended in the repeal of the Corn-laws. The chief causes of the distress were the great increase in mechanical power, and the immigration of labourers into the manufacturing districts, in consequence of another measure which he should never cease to condemn or to oppose—he meant the New Poor-law. Certain men said they wished to equalise the wages of labour (it would be more correct to say they wished to beat down the wages of labour), and they urged on the Poor-law commissioners to send down a number of labourers to the manufacturing districts. These agricultural labourers on the first shock to trade were thrown out of employment, having overstocked the district, and hence the distress. The only remedy for this distress prayed for in the petitions presented by the noble Lord would aggravate a thousand fold the evils complained of, and would produce immediately that which he feared was too rapidly approaching—a revolution in this country. With every intention to vote for the motion, the speech of the noble Lord, and the arguments he had used, had proved to him that no benefit whatever, but delay and delusion, would result from the motion. Talk of two or three weeks? Why, the inquiry would not end in two or three years—they would not last to the end of the inquiry. The inquiry would be into subjects which had nothing whatever to do with the causes of the present distress. If the rent of the landlords and the profits of the farmers were altogether annihilated, it would not benefit those who were distressed and who were as dear to him as to any noble Lord opposite. Apologising to their Lordships for having detained them, he should sit down, expressing his determination to oppose the motion.
regretted to hear the determination of her Majesty's Ministers to oppose the committee justly demanded on the part of the people, although after his own motion had been opposed on similar grounds he could not be Surprised. He denied, that it was the object of the petitioners to make this a Corn-law question. They only asked for inquiry, and it was refused by the Government because in addition to other reasons, they were afraid that the inquiry would convince themselves and others of the propriety of, and would lead to, a repeal of the Corn-laws. Her Majesty's Government had, indeed, admitted, that the distress was great and severe, and that the people had borne it with great patience; yet it was not words and sympathy alone, that they required. The spring time had passed, when trade usually revived; the fearful prospects of the coming winter had been ably exposed by the noble and learned Lord near him; and if they Separated, and did nothing, he would almost be inclined to think the question would be as serious as it was deemed probable by the noble Earl opposite. The distress was not confined to the manufacturing districts; towns which were not manufacturing were also affected; but most of all, the town of Liverpool. He had heard, that the right hon. Baronet, at the head of the Government, had, at a private meeting, questioned the delegates about Liverpool, supposing that Liverpool was not as much equally distressed, as it was represented with other towns. He had received letters stating the existence of that distress, describing it as very great, declaring that the ship-builders and carpenters were out of employ, that the ships were in docks with brooms at their heads, and that it would not be less till they had gone further through the mill. One manufacturer said:—The existing distress is fearful, though we are said to be suffering comparatively little, looking at the manufacturing districts. As to ship-building here, there is positively nothing doing, and the carpenters are in such a state of distress, from want of employment, that some fears of insubordination are entertained, for they are a class little accustomed to privations, and less disposed to suffer patiently. The shipping interest, you must be aware, is suffering dreadfully; the docks filled with broom-headed vessels, which may be purchased for an old song. Some of the new North American built vessels sent here for 1269 sale, are absolutely rotting, and if they remain long in dock. will have to be broken up. Those who do not find employment for their ships, are every voyage sinking money, and if things do not mend soon, there must be some smashing among the owners, who are staving off the evil day. The porters are badly off, as I know from experience among our own men, who can only occasionally get a job, when there happens to be a pretty good arrival of ships, and most of them have their extra clothes and furniture under pledge, and in many instances I have been induced to lend money to them, to be deducted from their wages, when we have some employment for them, and such as I could place confidence in, and knowing them to be of steady habits.Another added:We shall not mend until we have gone further through the mill. I am quite prepared to hear of failures, to some extent, among the merchants in the American and East-India trade, particularly, and as to the shipping interest, it was never before in such a deplorable state. Every voyage sinks them deeper and deeper, and when a vessel is put on the berth, she may remain for six months, or proceed half empty. As I said before, the docks are full of vessels, with brooms at their mast-heads, many new vessels lying until they are nearly rotten; and ere long, if things do not mend, the docks trust will become the greatest ship-owners, as they will have to take the ships for dock dues owing. There never were so many carpenters out of work, and an old and respectable sail-maker, tells me, that he has not known so many sail-makers out of work for the last thirty-five years. The sail lofts are crowded with sails, which the idle vessels have deposited there and have no occasion for. A respectable merchant informs me that he has a cargo of teak wood, extensively used in ship buildings, which he cannot sell; when imported about six months ago, it was worth 4s. 6d., but no one will now give him 3s. a-foot for it,This state of things in a great trading town showed that the trade with foreign countries was particularly affected. The principal distress, however, was in the cotton districts, and it must be admitted that a good deal of their distress was owing to the great competition we met with in foreign markets. From year to year, since 1836, we had received lower prices for our goods. Grey sheeting, thirty-seven yards long the piece, sold, in 1833, for 13s. 9d.; in 1834, it sold for 14s.; in 1835, it sold for 16s.; and, in 1836, for 16s. 6d. From that period the price had gradually declined till now it was only 8s. It was the same with other descriptions of goods—the price was low- 1270 ered one-half. We had shut ourselves out from foreign countries and had established manufactures to oppose us. In former years Prussia had made representations to us, declaring that all she required to take our goods was, that Great Britain should admit the produce of Prussia, yet what was the result? Mr. Canning stated, in answer, that independent of the insuperable difficulties to such an arrangement, he would at once declare that England never could entertain the proposed alteration in the Corn-laws. In a communication from Baron Maltzahn, the Prussian minister, to Mr. Canning, dated 25th December, 1825, he found it said that—The modifications in respect to commerce which the English legislation has experienced in the last Session of Parliament, and the declarations which his Britannic Majesty's Ministers have made on that subject to Parliament, seem to warrant the expectation that the British Government is disposed to favour the commerce of foreign countries in proportion to the favours granted by those countries to the commerce of Great Britain. Assuming that such is the maxim which the British Government has adopted, it is requisite, in order to apply it to the commercial relations between the two states, to examine what are the principles followed by Prussia, in respect to its commerce with foreign countries, to what extent they are in accordance with the commercial system of Great Britain, and how far Prussia on her side has performed that which the British Government requires of other states? The duties levied on the productions of foreign make or manufacture, are generally only 10 per cent. ad valorem; some amount to 15 per cent.; there are some which are more moderate. Prussia has long since fulfilled the conditions which the British Government annexed to the advantages which it is disposed to grant to foreign commerce. That all that is required to enable a reciprocal freedom of commerce to be established between the two states is, that Great Britain, on her part, should permit the free importation of the produce of Prussia. Prussia has been the first among the great powers to declare in favour of liberty of commerce; and she has constantly persevered in that system, notwithstanding the many inducements which might have led her to deviate from it. It would appear to result from all these considerations, that it would in every respect be for the interest of Great Britain to come to an understanding with Prussia upon a commercial system, founded on liberal principles and on a strict reciprocity; and to grant to Prussia from the present moment, the advantages which Great Britain appears disposed eventually to grant to all the other states which shall 1271 adopt the same system. The British Government would thereby give an evident proof of the sincerity of its disposition to favour foreign commerce; and it would at the same time, be the most effectual, not to say the only means of inducing other powers to abandon their system of prohibition which obstructs all commercial relations. Assuming then, that it will be agreeable to the British Government to learn that Prussia is disposed to conclude a treaty of reciprocity, the court of Berlin has directed the undersigned to propose to his Excellency Mr. Canning, to enter into negotiations for that purpose. It would be ready to engage to make no change in its existing system for a certain number of years, and specifically not to increase the duties of import on English merchandise. But on the other hand, it expects that the British Government will allow the importation of Prussian corn subject to such duties as shall not exclude the possibility of carrying on that trade with a reasonable profit, and that it will grant greater facilities than it does at present to the importation of timber coming from the ports of Prussia. As the produce of English industry finds a very extensive market in the Prussian monarchy, whilst, on the other hand, Prussia can only import into England the produce of its soil, and principally corn and wood, it is evident that it is only by granting facilities to the importation of these two articles, that it is possible to establish the relations between the two countries on a footing of reciprocity.To which there was a reply made at the Council-chamber, Whitehall, Jan. 17, 1826, by the right hon. the Lords of the Committee of Council appointed for the consideration of all matters relating to trade and foreign plantations:—Their Lordships having given their most serious and attentive consideration to the various points adverted to in the above-mentioned note, are pleased to direct that a copy of the following minute be transmitted for the information of Mr. Secretary Canning. The object of this note being to propose to enter into a negotiation with his Majesty's Government, for affording, if possible, a greater scope and facility to the commercial relations between the two countries, the Lords of this committee cannot proceed to offer the observations which have occurred to them upon the contents of the Prussian note, without first doing justice to the generally enlarged principles which are professed by the Prussian government in matters of commerce, and without acknowledging the satisfaction which their Lordships feel at the assurance that it is the wish of that government to encourage, as much as possible, the practical application of those principles in the Prussian dominions, and in their relations with other states. The present overture is founded, as Baron Maltzahn states, upon an inference derived by the Prussian 1272 government from the proceedings in the last Session of Parliament, that 'his Majesty's Government is disposed to favour the commerce of foreign states, in proportion to the favours granted by those states to the commerce of Great Britain. And he added, independently, however, of this insuperable difficulty, it becomes his Majesty's Government, in the judgment of this committee, when a proposal for altering our Corn-laws is made to us by a foreign government, as a condition of something to be done or omitted by that Government, at once to declare that we never can entertain such a proposal. It is the decided opinion of this committee, that upon that subject, involving, as it does, such immense interest, so closely connected with the well-being and comfort of all classes of the community, and surrounded, as it is, with so many peculiar difficulties, our legislation must, at all times, be governed entirely by considerations originating and centering among ourselves, and that it is only to be looked at incidentally, as affecting our relations with other states. In respect to the duties on timber, they have been imposed, and are continued, for the purpose of revenue; they are a tax upon consumption, to which all the observations of the paragraph, No. 7, in the Prussian note, in vindication of the like taxes in existing Prussia strictly apply.We thus put an end at once to the valuable commerce which might have taken place between this country and Prussia; and we had raised up a formidable competition in these markets. We had begun with Prussia, and we had been doing the same thing with regard to America. He found that in a despatch from Mr. Addington to Mr. Canning, dated Washington, May 30, 1824, Mr. Addington writes,—I have only to add, that had no restrictions on the importation of foreign grain existed in Europe generally, and especially in Great Britain, I have little doubt that the tariff would never have passed through either houses of Congress, since the great agricultural states, and Pennsylvania especially, the main mover of the question, would have been indifferent, if not opposed to its enactment.That tariff passed the Senate by a majority of four voices; in the Congress, the third reading by a majority of three only; and finally, passed by a majority of five; every member, sick or well, being present. That was the consequence of not meeting foreign countries fairly. They had passed measures to encourage manufactures, and they were forced to supply themselves because we would not take what they had to give us, in exchange for our manufactures. In answer to the argument that there was a want of power to consume, he 1273 had only to say that in the two years before Mr. Clay's tariff the Americans did consume a great deal more than they did afterwards. In 1831, the value of exports to America was 9,053,583l.; but in 1832, Mr. Clay's bill, the new tariff, came into operation, and at once curtailed our trade to one-half, the annual value of exports being only 5,468,272l., and at that time the English minister at Washington declared that the tariff would not have been carried if any alteration had been made in the trade in Corn in this country. In 1833 the trade rather recovered, the exports amounted to 7,579,699l.; in 1834 the value was 6,844,989l.; then came two years of increased prosperity. The value of exports in 1835 was 10,568,453l.; and in 1836 it was 12,425,605l.;he next year, 1837, the value of the exports fell to 4,695,225l.;in the two years of 1835 and 1836 the trade had greatly increased, but how had the goods been paid for? The people of the country took shares in the banks and in railroads. The goods were paid for in something they had to give, or which they promised to give. The securities might be considered worthless now. But these facts showed that they had the power to consume a greater quantity of goods if they had only the means of paying for them. In 1838 the trade rallied, and the value of the exports reached 7,585,760l.; in 1839 they came to 8,839,204l.; in 1840 they had fallen again to 5,283,020l., although in the last year he believed the amount had been larger. This showed that the American people would consume much more if they could pay for it. At New Orleans parties were ready at once to take consignments from this country if they could send us consignments of flour. One of these parties had gone to France, to offer to take consignments of their woollen and cotton goods on the same terms, and he was met by the persons stating there that the home trade was so good, they must decline his offer. Another circumstance arising out of this state of things was worth mentioning. In America goods were lying unsold; and this answered the observation of the right hon. Baronet, that the exports had increased during the six months of this year over the six months of the former year. The home consumption of goods had fallen off, and the manufacturers had exported their goods, hoping to get something by 1274 them, thinking that selling them at a loss was better than letting them lie in the warehouses here. Mexico having adopted what he considered the wise course of commercial policy, a Mexican merchant came over to England, intending to give large orders for English goods, but he found that there were English goods in the American ports which he could buy cheaper than the people could afford to manufacture them for here. We only took from America her cotton and her tobacco, and the latter was only taken at a very high duty. We were raising in America manufactures to compete with us. At present the estimated annual produce of the cotton manufacture of the United Kingdom was 34,000,000l., which is three times more than the whole amount of capital invested in the cotton manufactures of the United States, which, as appeared by returns made to Congress by the law of 1840, was 10,220,472l. The number of persons now employed in the cotton manufacture of the United States was only 72,119, whilst in Great Britain the number was 1,500,000. We were now encouraging that country, by every means in our power, to manufacture for themselves—a country in which they had every advantage over us, except capital, and with their cotton close at hand—which had raised the consumption of cotton from 100,000 bales in 1826 to what we consumed in 1822, that is, 400,000 bales. All he said was, that if they refused inquiry they would refuse what he maintained was not wholly directed against the Corn-laws, they would refuse an inquiry to see how they could enable persons to get relief. They could obtain relief to-morrow if they would take American corn at a fixed duty of 6s. The only objection he could conceive was the treaties with other countries. He did not think that the agricultural interest could object, for as the price of carriage would have to be added to the 6s. duty and the price at New York, they never could have corn at a lower price than 55s. or 56s., and yet this change would at once enable the manufacturers here to consign their manufactured articles to America, and we should thus set our looms going. He would not detain their Lordships at greater length, but would cordially support the motion of his noble and learned Friend.
The Marquess of Clanricarde
said, that when his noble and learned Friend near him had concluded his very able and most 1275 eloquent speech, not being, like the noble Lord who bad just sat down, quite destitute of hope, be had been anxious to hear how such a motion and such a speech would be replied to; and he owned that he was surprised at the weakness of the speech by which his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Ripon) sought to induce their Lordships to reject the motion which had been honestly and powerfully advocated by his noble and learned Friend, because, except with reference to a single argument which his noble and learned Friend dismissed with two or three sentences, the noble Earl had hardly applied himself to the speech of his noble and learned Friend, or to the facts of the motion before the House. What the noble Earl did argue, throughout four-fifths of his speech, was the corn question, because, having pre-determined in his own mind that his noble and learned Friend would argue the corn question, the noble Earl would not attend to any other of his cogent arguments. He did not think tins was the proper time for arguing the corn question. After arguing the corn question, however, in England, the noble Earl had gone to America, and then showing that they were prosperous when they took twelve millions of our goods, he added that they were afraid of competing with us because our wages were so low. Here the noble Lord had touched the strongest argument on the Corn-laws, because if they did take our manufactures, we were obliged to be paid in worthless scrip. And upon the other question, as to wages, they evidently did not depend upon the high price of food. If we imported our food from America, and yet if wages were high in America, there was an end of the argument that high prices were necessary to produce high wages. It was not, perhaps, the argument of his noble Friend (the Earl of Ripon), but it was the argument of those who supported his noble Friend with their votes, and who assisted him perhaps more by their votes than by their speeches. The chief argument, however, by which this motion was met was, that if it were granted it would cause disappointment to the people, and would therefore aggravate the evil. He said that this was a mockery. Could they tell a man who was reduced to the lowest point of despair, that if they granted a committee to institute an inquiry, which might raise some little hope, they would only aggravate the evil? they would not enter into an inquiry merely because 1276 examination might make matters worse, they would by that very statement reduce the condition of the people to a worse state than it could be after any inquiry. The noble Earl who usually sat at the Table (Earl Stanhope) did point out many other things into which they must inquire; and be had argued much more wisely than the noble Earl opposite, when he said that on account of the vastness of the inquiry he could not consent to the motion. Let them look carefully at the state of the country now that Ministers proposed to prorogue Parliament without the slightest intimation, happen what may, that Parliament will meet again at an earlier period than usual. They had heard nothing of that kind stated. Let them look at the state of things which the delegates had represented, and which Sir Robert Peel declared to be incontrovertible. Distress was shown to exist in all the commercial, manufacturing, and mining districts of the country. He had been informed also that it began to be felt in the southern and northern agricultural districts. He did not vouch for the fact, but he believed it; and he defied any man who knew the interests of the country to deny that it must come to that. The agriculturists must be sufferers by the distress which all others felt in such a great degree. With all this before them what did Ministers propose to do before Parliament rose? Their Lordships had seen all the measures except one that they proposed. They had passed the tariff and the Income-tax. It was monstrous to suppose that the new tariff would revive trade during the next sis months. What was the other bill to be brought before them? The Poor-law Bill, That measure might be good in itself. There were rumours about town of meetings to be held, and of declarations to be made, that by this bill the Ministers would stand or fall. The Government had given no answer to the rumours, and they were, perhaps, to be believed. With regard to the Poor-law, he believed it to be the best measure that could be proposed; but how could the Poor-law Kill remedy the state of things existing at present? The poor-rates were everywhere rising, and even if they confiscated the whole of the property in the most distressed districts, he doubted whether they could maintain the poor. The question of poor-rates pressed upon every part of the community, and upon every one charged with the payment of the increased poor-rates they had placed 1277 the grievous burden of the Income-tax. He thought that enough had cot been said that night as to the state of distress among the manufacturers, and among the trading interests in detail. In the very town in which they were sitting, though the influx of company had been quite as great as usual, although the town had been very full, he believed that the shopkeepers would tell them, almost without an exception, that they had hardly ever had so bad a season. The distress was great throughout every part of the country. It was incumbent upon Parliament to look into this state of things, and see if they could not propose some alleviation during the coming winter. His noble and learned Friend had only done justice to the suffering inhabitants of the country when he spoke of their patience. It was perhaps unwise to hint at the possibility of a change in this respect; but human nature could only carry forbearance to a certain extent. It was impossible to state to what extreme famine might drive the people; and it had been said elsewhere that Government would feel it its duty to maintain the public peace. They might, indeed, send down a sufficient number of troops or constables to enforce the supremacy of the law, but that was not establishing tranquillity; it was only taking precautions that in case of civil war they would be victors But supposing thousands, and hundreds of thousands, to be reduced to a state of famine, was it to be said that Ministers might retire from their duties and do nothing? However great might be their influence, he did not believe that it would have power enough to induce Parliament to relinquish its duty, even were they disposed to abandon theirs. It might be inconvenient to some to enter into this wide and deep inquiry, but the state of the country was such, that some inconvenience must be submitted to—if not, worse might follow. Was it fit, as his noble and learned Friend had asked, to tell the people that they must endure their sufferings, because Ministers could not consent to the inconvenience of Parliament sitting a week or two longer? Before he sat down, he wished to say that he did not concur in an observation made by his noble and learned Friend, on what was supposed to have fallen from Ford John Russell in another place. Nothing could be more mistaken than the notion upon this subject prevailing out of doors. What Lord John Russell had stated, was that those who represented him and others who 1278 acted with him as hostile to the agricultural interest, must have heads as dense as the clay they cultivated. His Lordship had not spoken, nor had intended to speak, disrespectfully of any class of persons, but merely to allude to those who mistook or misrepresented his views and opinions. He should undoubtedly vote for the motion of his noble and learned Friend, unless he heard from some Member of the Government that they intended to adopt some remedy, whether temporary or permanent, or if they could not find one to call Parliament together to consider what course ought to be adopted. No man with a safe conscience could say that matters ought to remain as they were. The distress was not denied and could hardly be exaggerated, and was it fit that it should be left to haphazard, or rather with the certainty that the condition of such vast masses of the people would daily become worse? Not only might numbers of our fellow-creatures perish, but property might become insecure, and something like that state of things, which a noble Earl (Earl Stanhope) had called anarchy, might be the result.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, that it was not his intention to enter into the multifarious topics and arguments introduced into the discussion. His noble and learned Friend had introduced his proposition by a speech upon which no praise could be bestowed that was not deserved. He was always able, always eloquent; but he had never heard him deliver an address more temperate, or more free from exaggeration. It was impossible to deny the melancholy, the awful state of some parts of the country—it. was useless to attempt to disguise the fact; and making allowance for that degree of heightening which was natural to those who wished to promote a favourite object, it must be admitted on all hands that the amount of distress was both afflicting and alarming. Suffering and failures among the manufacturing part of the population had occurred before, but what peculiarly impressed him at the present moment was, that there appeared to be no spring or elasticity in the country to enable it to recover from its condition. That consideration must fill all thinking minds with apprehension; but at the same time, it was not to be disputed that there were difficulties and dangers to be looked forward to as not only possible, but even probable. A country subsisting to a great extent by manufacturing industry, with vast masses of population dependent upon 1279 the demand of foreign countries and our own for manufactured goods, always stood upon the brink of a precipice, or at all events, was exposed to the risk of a mighty danger when those vast masses were thrown out of employment. The destitution of such persons was a calamity which must, by a wise statesman, be contemplated. The strength of the public mind, patriotism and high feeling might be able to furnish an alleviation, if not a remedy; and admitting the extent of the evil, it was unquestionably fit, in the present case, to consider whether any remedy, temporary or otherwise, could be afforded. After listening to the speech of his noble and learned Friend, and, indeed, to the whole course of the debate, he must say that it did not appear to him that any good purpose could be answered, or that it would be wise or prudent, if the House appointed the select committee. His noble and learned Friend's speech might be said to have been solely directed to an alteration of the Corn-laws; true it was that his noble and learned Friend had added, that he did not exclude other topics, such as the questions relating to machinery or the currency, but he was not aware that any good could be done by the inquiry. He perfectly agreed in what had been stated by several noble Lords, that if there were any chance of discovering the means of alleviating distress, the period of the Session at which the investigation was to be commenced was an objection that ought not to be entertained for a moment. What the House had to consider was, whether the course proposed was likely to be attended with a beneficial effect. His noble and learned Friend had said that he did not exclude other questions; but his whole speech had related to the Corn-law: and when the House was called upon to appoint a select committee, it ought to recollect the cases in which it was usual to take that course. If the Government were distrusted, and it was thought that it was unwilling to adopt necessary measures—if its integrity were doubted, or it was supposed that it did not see a question in the right point of view, in those cases a select committee might be usefully appointed. Government might ask for a select committee in order to strengthen its own hands and support its own views. If the subject were one of novelty and difficulty, then the previous consideration of it might properly be delegated to a select committee. Such was not the case here. If there 1280 were a question which more than any other had been inquired into and discussed, it was that of the Corn-laws. He did not mean to assert no further advantage could be gained by a fresh investigation; but surely the House was ripe enough to determine the matter without new information. Their Lordships would also be pleased to recollect that a bill had already been passed upon the subject in the course of the present Session; he did not say that that bill was a wise one—on the contrary, he did not think it founded upon sound principles; but it had been adopted by Parliament, and it was impossible to deny that great danger and evil arose from perpetual changes in legislation. The effect of appointing the proposed committee would be to produce a general opinion that the question of the Corn-laws was still afloat and unsettled. He believed that the apprehension of change would do more harm than any new inquiry could possibly do good. It would do more harm, in his opinion, than even the maintenance of the existing law, even if it were fraught with all the evils and objections that had been laid to its charge. He was not of opinion that the whole of the evils of the country had been occasioned by the Corn-laws; consequently he did not think that an immediate remedy would be found in their repeal. Being convinced that the appointment of a committee would be productive of no advantage, but the cause of much evil; and that if an alteration of the Corn-laws were expedient, the House might proceed to make it without previous inquiry, he could not vote for the motion of his noble and learned Friend.
The Earl of Radnor
certainly intended to vote for the committee, and could scarcely believe, until he saw it, that the noble Viscount who had just sat down would vote against it. The state of the country was admitted to be most calamitous, although some of those who asserted that the distresses could not be exaggerated, did so with a sort of reserve or drawing back, as if they did not quite believe what they were not prepared to deny. Had those noble Lords read the report of the commissioners sent down to inquire into the condition of Stockport? If they had, they must be aware of the true state of the case in that afflicted town six months ago, and every day since matters had been gradually growing worse. Was it fit, then, to make some attempt to lessen the amount of distress? The noble Viscount contended 1281 that inquiry might do great harm and could do no good; but was there any good J coming from any other quarter? Had the new Corn-law, the Income-tax, or the tariff, done anything to relieve distress? It was promised that the new Corn-law would do great good: had it done it? It J was said that the duty had been reduced by it from 23s. to 9s.; but what advantage was this reduction when the 9s. was just as prohibitory as the 23s.? He had moved for a comparative return of the quantity of wheat admitted up to this time last i year and in the present year; and it appeared that only 49,000 quarters more had been admitted this year than last; of that 49,000 quarters, 40,000 were colonial wheat, upon which a duty of only 1s. was paid. The price also was higher this year than last. Thus it was evident that the Corn-bill had done no good. Then, would anybody say that the Income-tax had done any good? What good had arisen from the tariff? On the contrary, injury would be inflicted by it; and these three measures formed the whole of the Ministerial budget. This was the end of it, and all that Ministers intended to do. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government was reported to have said, "These are my measures." He had called himself a doctor, and had produced his remedies. "Try them," said he, "and see if they will do you no good." Not only had they done no good, but matters had become worse and worse. If Government could do nothing, was that a reason why Parliament should do nothing? Surely a committee might make inquiry—inquiry could do no harm. The noble Earl (the Earl of Ripon) had objected because the proceeding would not be con- ducted impartially. How did that appear? His noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) had told the House what enlightened merchants and manufacturers were prepared to prove. Were their facts and opinions worth nothing? Were they foolish people who had imposed upon the weakness of his noble and learned Friend? Those who voted against the motion must either conclude that his noble and learned Friend did not himself believe what he had stated he could prove, or that what he could prove from the mouths of experienced and intelligent men was not worthy of consideration. When the last Ministers were in office, they produced their measures—measures which would have done good; but they were rejected. 1282 Then the present Ministers came into office and produced their measures, promising that those measures would do everything, but in fact, they had done nothing. Was the country to be left for many months, during the whole autumn and winter, without any attempt to alleviate the existing state of suffering? Did Ministers admit their own incompetence, and yet refuse to allow the House to endeavour to find out a remedy? Distress was not only increasing, but it was reaching a class of persons who did not like to go into the side-door of a pawnbroker's, but were admitted at the front door, and pawned their plate, instead of what were technically called soft goods. The business of pawnbrokers was thus changing, and distress was ascending higher and higher. Was it intended to be said that in this state of things nothing ought to be done? The foolish clients of his noble and learned, but weak-minded Friend, insisted that the Corn-laws had a great deal to do with distress; and supposing, by some chance, Parliament became convinced that they were in the right, was not the New Corn-law to be repealed merely because it was enacted two months ago? If so, what was the meaning of the little clause near the end respecting the repeal of it? He believed, that the immediate effect of a repeal of it would be to revive trade and relieve distress. Such had been the case in 1826, in consequence of the mere proposal to give Ministers the power of introducing 500,000 quarters of wheat by order in council. When it was urged in the debate that such a measure would have no immediate effect, Mr. Canning answered it, by producing letters from practical manufacturers asserting that instant and considerable benefit had been produced. The very hint of an intention to do something to relieve the distress, at that time attributed to the Corn-laws, had been followed by relief. If Ministers would now only undertake to inquire, the same result would follow. On these grounds, he should vote for the motion, without saying one word respecting the lateness of the Session, an argument which he did not believe any noble Lord would venture to urge.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
remarked that in 1826 no corn was to be admitted under the price of 80s., while the duty was to be 12s. [The Earl of Radnor: It was not to be higher than 12s.] True, the noble Earl was correct. In common with other noble 1283 Lords, he felt great admiration for the speech of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham), but it could not be disputed that his main argument was, that the Corn-laws occasioned the prevailing distress. When, however, noble Lords talked of repealing the Corn-laws, it ought to be recollected that other interests were to be consulted besides those of the manufacturers; and if Parliament evinced any disposition to repeal the present law, he was satisfied that the fears thereby introduced among agriculturists would greatly aggravate the prevailing difficulties. If they thought that any good could come of an inquiry, they would be most blameable if they refused an investigation; but he could not help thinking that the repeal of a law which had been only passed eight weeks ago would tend to aggravate the distress which unfortunately prevailed. He would not trouble the House at any length at that hour of the night, but would merely conclude by remarking that those noble Lords could scarcely be serious who expected the Government to pledge themselves to call the Legislature together whilst yet events were in the womb of fate. He would make no such promise on the part of the Government, but would content himself with saying that they would take every measure they thought necessary and expedient whenever they found that exigency arose.
replied, that he did not accuse the noble Lord in the other House of Parliament of having applied the expression, "the farmers' wits are dense as the clay they till," in any offensive sense. On the contrary, he was well aware that that noble Lord had never intended to use the expression in the sense which it was attributed to him; and to show that he could not have had his noble Friend's expression in his eye, he had made use of other phrases as to the manufactures, which had never been applied to them by any person in any way. With respect to the motion before the House, he had heard nothing to shake his conviction of the high expediency, of the absolute necessity of such an inquiry. What had been the objections urged to it? It had been said, that it was to be an inquiry only directed to one point—that of the Corn-laws. He denied that such was the case. It might have been the inference from his arguments that the distress which all admitted to exist, which all allowed to be most grievous, was not owing to the 1284 influence of the seasons—was not owing to machinery—was not owing to over-production—was not owing to faulty legislation at home or abroad. If these four causes should be excluded as causes of distress—if all should think that he had demonstrated that the distress was not owing to them—if all agreed in that, then, indeed, might noble Lords say that only one cause remained behind, and that was faulty legislation with respect to corn, and not only with respect to corn, but with respect to trade generally. No one could approve more than he did of the changes introduced by the New Customs Bill. He approved of the relaxation of prohibitory duties just as much as his noble Friend near him (Lord Stanhope) disapproved of them. He only lamented that the change had not gone far enough; that it was limited in its extent; and that it left many important articles untouched. But for the very same reasons as he would wish to see prohibitory duties removed from corn, he would wish to remove them from many other articles; and three years ago he had presented an unanimous resolution of the Corn-law repeal delegates against all protecting duties generally, therefore he denied that this was a debate upon the Corn-laws. It was said, however, that an investigation would cause alarm among the agriculturists, and would produce general commercial distress. But he believed that in many respects the result would be to tranquillise those whom it was stated it would alarm. Did their Lordships think that no benefit would result from a full discussion, from a searching inquiry as to what the real cause or causes of distress might be? They would remember that they were agreed only as to the fact of distress existing. As to the cause they all differed. Upon that point there were almost as many opinions as there were speakers in the debate. Even those who agreed that restrictive laws formed one cause of the distress, differed as to the lengths to which they were inclined to go in removing them. He, for one, did not by any means ascribe these distresses solely to the Corn-laws. He believed that the Corn-laws occasioned a great part of the distress. But let them recollect that when men were plunged into misfortune, they were apt to throw the entire blame upon what appeared to them to be the most conspicuous and apparent cause. Let them remember that, and let them remember that if it were only to show how 1285 exaggerated such a view of matters as attributing the distress solely to the Corn-laws was—if it were only to show that those who entertained this opinion had adopted false estimates—only to satisfy them of their mistake by a full and fair inquiry—if they should come to the conclusion that wholly or in part the Corn-laws had been unjustly charged as having occasioned the distress, and that their repeal was in whole or in part falsely looked to for a remedy—if nothing more should result from the inquiry than this, then he should turn round on those who were in favour of the Corn-laws, and ask them whether there was anything that could more help their cause, that could more forward their views, than such an inquiry? But they would say that there was no prospect of their coming to any such conclusion. Did they say that—those who held the Corn-laws to be perfect? They surely could not maintain such a doctrine. If they believed that the Corn-law was a good law—if they conscientiously believed that, they could have no fear of the result of an inquiry—they should be the last men to oppose an investigation. Was it not possible that the result of the inquiry might be to show that he was wrong in his statements with reference to the seasons? It had been said that while good seasons continued there co-existed general prosperity, but that, as in the last four years, there had been bad harvests, there had been also distress. He certainly admitted that such had been the fact, and that the fact gave plausibility to the doctrine. Now if it could be shown that the fluctuations of the seasons produced distress, surely such a proof would be a boon to the friends of the Corn-law and in their creed to the country at large. Their Lordships would permit him to say that, if it should so result, that it appeared that not man was to blame, but that it was the seasons which produced the distress, anything more tending to pacify, to tranquillize the country, to maintain the peace and good order of society, and give stability to the Government, it was out of the power of his mind to conceive. These were among the results which an inquiry might lead to, for he would be a bold man who should say that no inquiry could throw light upon a subject on which so many conflicting opinions were entertained. Would any man try to convince him of this, that if they were to go into inquiry, that 1286 all the manufacturers, that all the merchants, who would be examined before them, would fail in giving them facts which could possibly throw light upon the subject? For they must be prepared to affirm that proposition, to negative the possibility of new information being attainable, before, in the present state of the country, and after what Parliament had done and had left undone, they could agree to reject the inquiry. But it had also been urged that, if granted, it would be carried on with partiality, with prejudice. If he had not said enough to show that he himself entertained no prejudice or partiality upon the subject—that he should be ready to enter upon the inquiry as calmly, as judicially, as if he were on the Bench administering justice, then he should in vain hope that any asseverations of his own impartiality, a freedom from all excited feeling would alter the opinions of their Lordships, or change their expectations. But let him rather proceed to another answer which had been made to him, and remind their Lordships that the course which he wished them to take had been on another occasion adopted. Manufacturing distress! Had there never been any distress of another kind? Had they never lived through times of agricultural distress? And what had happened at such periods? In such times had there been no inquiry—no investigation—nothing but legislation or non-legislation? No such thing. What if the question had been entertained—what, if an inquiry had been then gone into—what if such motion as the present had been carried—what if the Government had brought them forward—what, if the words of the motion before the House were the very words in which a committee was moved for and obtained by the Government upon the agricultural distress in 1822? It was said that such motions as the present were only brought forward with the intention of embarrassing the Government; but what if a similar motion was made by a Government itself; and what if that motion had obtained the concurrence of Parliament—a motion exactly like the present one, with the exception of the change of the word agricultural into manufacturing? Then why not treat manufacturing distress as you had done agricultural? But great stress had been laid upon fears of alarming and exciting the country. Now, he believed that the inquiry would tend more than anything else to tranquillize the 1287 agriculturists. He would give an instance to show the probability of this—an instance which was too recent to be denied, and too striking to be forgotten. He would recall their Lordships' attention to the alarm which existed among the agriculturists on the commencement of the tariff. Those who were concerned with the grazing counties in the north and west of England knew, and would bear him out, when he stated, that there never was a moment of greater alarm—of greater inconvenience—experienced in agriculture, than was felt at the time he alluded to. The panic occasioned by the false idea of the vast number of foreign cattle which would be imported, was almost greater than he thought rational beings could have felt. It was advertised in more places than one, that directly the tariff came into operation, meat would be sold for 4d. per lb., and in some places even, as it was stated, for 3d.; and the result was great alarm, great inconvenience, for some weeks a desertion of the markets. But all this panic had already vanished. In no one county of England could they find a vestige of the late panic. The people had come to their senses, they found that it was a delusion under which they had laboured. Now, here was an instance of the effects of reflexion and inquiry. And sure he was, that if those who were so much alarmed at the prospect of the introduction of foreign corn were to enter into a calm but searching investigation of the matter, their fears would be very much lessened if not entirely put an end to. But the noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne) who had been so well answered by the noble Earl (Earl of Radnor) that he ought to apologise for adding a word on the subject, had maintained that these distresses are necessary parts of our commercial system, and that there is no use in training the cause of what are necessary and remediless evils. He denied their being necessary, and he denied their being remediless, as long as you refuse to inquire into the remedies propounded. He had none of the gloomy apprehensions which seemed to fill his noble Friend's mind, when contemplating the artificial state from mercantile affairs. He had unbounded confidence in those resources, which providence had permitted us to amass beyond all other nations, and felt no alarm at their failing to uphold our prosperity; if the hand of man, the foolish measures of our own bad policy were only 1288 withheld, and full scope given to our commercial powers. If indeed, we are fated to undergo so sad a recourse as his noble Friend seemed to have made up his mind to witness; if the course of wealth like that of empire be irrevocably appointed to take its way westward; if the Mirades wrought by gregarious industry, concentrated skill, and accumulated capital, must no more be displayed among us, but removed to the banks of the Hudson and the Ohio; we must resign ourselves in humble submission to the decree; but it is our bounden duty first of all to be sure that this sentence has gone forth, that we are not ourselves doing the work of our own destruction, and that we have not within ourselves the means of arresting the catastrophe. The noble and learned Lord concluded by saying, that the paramount importance of the subject had induced him to trespass so long upon their Lordships' attention.
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents 14; Not-Contents 61: Majority 47.1289
|List of the CONTENTS.|
|List of the NOT-CONTENTS|
|Duke of Beaufort||Lord Stafford|
|Marquess of Ely||Duke of Hamilton|
|Earl of Jersey||Lord De Freyne|
|Earl of Aberdeen||Duke of Sutherland|
|Bishop of Rochester||Lord Leigh|
|Ld.Stuart de Rothesay||Lord Wenlock|
|Lord Wynford||Earl of Carlisle|
§ Their Lordships adjourned at a quarter-past eleven.