§ The DUKE of RICHMOND
I beg to ask the noble Duke whether he has received Her Majesty's permission to state to your Lordships' House those reasons which induced the Government to resign office, and afterwards to re-accept office?
§ The DUKE of WELLINGTON
My Lords, I have received Her Majesty's permission to state what may be necessary to this House upon the subject which has been referred to by my noble Friend. I wish to know whether my noble Friend intends to ask any further question?
§ The DUKE of RICHMOND
I consider that it would be most convenient to the House that I should not make a speech, but that I should merely ask a question of the noble Duke. I think we are all anxious to know the grounds which led to the resignation of Her Majesty's Government; 166 and in my opinion we ought also to know how a Cabinet which could not form a Government on one day, was enabled to form one on another.
§ The DUKE of WELLINGTON
I rise, my Lords, to give an answer to the question which has been put to me by my noble Friend. But, my Lords, in doing so, although I can answer only for myself and my own motives, yet I must, in order to explain myself to the House, speak generally of what passed in Her Majesty's Councils; and I do feel myself under the necessity of detaining your Lordships for a few minutes on this subject; and you may rely upon it, I will detain you for as short a time as possible. My Lords, when the accounts were received from Ireland, and from different parts of Great Britain, in the course of the last autumn, of the state of the potato crop, and of the inconveniences which were likely to result from it, my right hon. Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government felt it to be his duty to call his Colleagues together, in order to give them the opportunity of considering the Reports which were received. He accordingly did so; and he laid these Reports before his Colleagues. My right hon. Friend then stated to his Colleagues certain propositions for the adoption of measures which he felt it necessary for Her Majesty's Government to sanction, in order to avoid or to remedy the unlimited evils which, in his opinion, were likely to occur in consequence of this misfortune. One of the measures which was suggested by my right hon. Friend was, that Her Majesty's servants should recommend to Her Majesty, by an Order in Council, to suspend the operation of the existing Corn Law, so as to open the ports for the admission of foreign corn duty free. My Lords, it is not necessary that I should here discuss the motives stated, or the grounds on which this recommendation was founded. I, however, was one of those who considered that it was a measure which was not necessary to be adopted at that time. I considered that, although the misfortune to which I have referred, would undoubtedly have the effect of depriving millions, I may say, of our fellow creatures of a large part of the provision which they had made for their food for the year, yet, that misfortune did not exactly amount to a deficiency of food. There was no insufficiency of corn, according to all the accounts, in the country; and the opinion of others, as well as my own, was, that such arrangements should 167 be made as had been made heretofore to meet the evil, by finding the means of employment, and the means of procuring food as the reward of that labour. It appeared to me, besides, that under the provisions of the existing Corn Law, if it was desirable that the ports should be opened, Parliament had provided for such an emergency; and that if ever the price of the particular article of grain should reach such an amount as would manifest a deficiency or want, that the law had provided that foreign grain should be admitted at a nominal duty. Under these circumstances, my Lords, it appeared to me to be unnecessary to suspend that law; and on these grounds, I certainly was one of those who objected to the proposition of my right hon. Friend. At the same time, I was most anxious, and the Government unanimously concurred in the desire, to meet the difficulty, and accordingly, they proceeded to adopt all such measures as seemed to them calculated to meet the apprehended misfortune. They framed a Commission in Ireland, and took care to instruct it in respect to those measures which were to be adopted for giving employment to the people, and thereby procuring food for them as a reward and in payment of their labour, and for carrying out those measures which on former occasions have been found to be so beneficial, and to work so effectually. I believe that all those plans have been resorted to. They are not new to the public servants of this country. I believe, I say, that they have been effectually adopted; and that it may be hoped, therefore, that the great inconveniences and great misery which appeared likely to arise from this misfortune will be avoided. My Lords, in the course of the discussion upon these measures, it certainly was intimated that the suspension of the Corn Law might render the renewal of it at a future period very difficult; and it undoubtedly was intimated that it might be necessary to make an essential alteration in the law. Subsequently, my Lords, when the instructions were agreed upon, to be given to the Commissioners appointed to visit in Ireland (as I before stated), my right hon. Friend intimated his opinion of the absolute necessity of making an essential alteration in the Corn Laws. I believe that everybody admitted that some alteration was necessary—that an alteration, that is to say in some points, was called for. There is no doubt that that was admitted by all. But, my Lords, in the opinion of my right hon. 168 Friend, it was necessary to make an essential alteration in the existing Corn Law. Many members of Her Majesty's Cabinet objected to this suggested alteration, and there was a strong difference of opinion upon the subject. As for my part, I certainly was of opinion that it was desirable to avoid making any alteration which was essential in the present Corn Law. But, my Lords, I confess that in my individual position, I considered the consequences of a division of opinion in the Cabinet, as affecting the stability and safety of the Government itself; and I thought it essential that the differences of opinion should, if possible, be reconciled. Having served the Crown of England for above fifty years in high public situations, I consider it my duty on all occasions to endeavour to promote its service; and I did everything in my power to reconcile the differences of opinions among my Colleagues, and to preserve in union a Government which enjoyed the confidence of the Sovereign, of the public, of both Houses of Parliament. I considered it my duty to make every effort to maintain union in the Cabinet, and to reconcile differences of opinion, as the best services I could render to my Sovereign in the circumstances in which the Cabinet was placed upon the subject. I, nevertheless, my Lords, was unfortunate in those efforts—I did not succeed: and the result was, a declaration on the part of my right hon. Friend, that he would submit to Her Majesty his resignation of office, and that he would recommend to Her Majesty to endeavour to form another Government. My Lords, this course was adopted, after a discussion whether it was most advisable that my right hon. Friend should come down to Parliament and make a proposition for an alteration of the Corn Laws, having at the time, a divided Cabinet, of which the majority were against the proposition; or whether it was not best, and more to the interest and convenience of Her Majesty, that my right hon. Friend should proceed at once to Her Majesty and intimate to Her Majesty the position in which he stood, and express his desire that Her Majesty should permit him to resign his office, and that Her Majesty should form another Government. That course was discussed, and I certainly was one who thought that it was desirable my right hon. Friend should resign his office rather than go into Parliament with a divided Cabinet; and I certainly believe that all the Members of the Cabinet were of the same opinion. 169 Accordingly that was the course which my right hon. Friend took. He waited upon Her Majesty, and informed Her of the situation in which he found himself, and he recommended to Her Majesty to form another Administration. Her Majesty sent for another noble Lord, and that noble Lord, I understand—indeed I know—did make an endeavour to form an Administration. In that endeavour the noble Lord did not succeed; and Her Majesty, thereupon, thought proper to write to my right hon. Friend, and to desire him to resume his situation which he still held until another Administration should be formed. My right hon. Friend wrote to me, (I was in the country at the time,) and informed me that he had been sent for, and that Her Majesty had desired him to resume his situation, and that he had determined, happen what might, that he would, even if he stood alone, as Minister of the Crown, enable Her Majesty to meet Her Parliament. This being the resolution of my right hon. Friend, I highly applauded his decision, and I determined that I for one would stand by him. I felt it my duty. I was of opinion that the formation of a Government in which Her Majesty would have confidence, was of much greater importance than the opinions of any individual on the Corn Laws, or on any other law. My Lords, I received a letter from my right hon. Friend desiring me to attend a Cabinet Council that evening, which I did. I applauded the conduct of my right hon. Friend. I was delighted with it; it was exactly the course which I should have followed myself under similar circumstances; and I, therefore, determined, my Lords, to stand by him. My Lords, at the same time that I did this, I well knew the position in which my right hon. Friend stood in relation to the Corn Laws. I knew well that in consequence of my right hon. Friend having resigned office into Her Majesty's hands, because he could not prevail on his Cabinet to support him in a material alteration of the Corn Laws, those whom Her Majesty employed to form a new Government must have had a full knowledge of the particular circumstances under which my right hon. Friend resigned office. The noble Lord the Member for London knew that my right hon. Friend, under the particular circumstances of the case, could not go into the House of Commons and again defend the Corn Laws in the same way which he had done in the preceding July. My right hon. Friend could not go into the 170 House of Commons and defend the Corn Laws against those Gentlemen who were informed of the alteration in my right hon. Friend's opinion, and who, of course, in such an event, would have reproached him with the alteration in his opinion. I knew well, therefore, when I told my right hon. Friend that I would stand by him on his resumption of government, I knew well that in so doing I must be a party to a proposition for a material alteration in the Corn Laws. I knew it, and I admit I knew it. So far my Lords, I have accounted for my own conduct. I agreed to stand by my right hon. Friend, and to support his proposition; and I acted on that night, my Lords, in the full confidence with which I here state this evening, that although the proposition of my right hon. Friend may be found to involve a material alteration in the Corn Laws, yet that it will also be found satisfactory to the country, and satisfactory to the Friends of the right hon. Gentleman. The proposition, my Lords, with the alteration it contemplates, will, at the same time, give such advantages to the landed interest as the landed interest have a right to expect in the general arrangements of the country. Now, my Lords, I beg you to recollect my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council is a great landed proprietor: his interests are those of agriculture; he is connected in friendship and association with most of your Lordships; and, therefore, it cannot be supposed for a moment that he would betray the interests of a body of such importance as the agricultural interest. No, my Lords, I repeat, that when your Lordships see my right hon. Friend's proposition, which will be laid before yon in the course of the next few days, you will then find that my right hon. Friend has not betrayed his duty in the measure which he recommends to your adoption. At all events, whatever that measure may be, I must say this, that, situated as I am in this country—highly rewarded as I have been by the Sovereign and the people of England—I could not refuse that Sovereign to aid Her, when called upon, to form a Government, in order to enable Her Majesty to meet Her Parliament and to carry on the business of the country. Upon that ground, my Lords, I present myself to your Lordships; and I claim from you an acquiescence in the principle I have laid down, that I positively could not refuse to serve my Sovereign when thus called upon. I have no doubt, when the measure is laid 171 before your Lordships, it will meet satisfaction here, and general approbation throughout the country.
The DUKE of BUCKINGHAM
said, as the noble and gallant Duke had given their Lordships an account of the late movement in the Cabinet as far as he had been personally concerned, it was desirable that their Lordships should know from some noble Lord on the other side of the House, why those who had been called upon by Her Majesty to form a Government, on the occasion of the resignation of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, had not succeeded in doing so. After having listened to his noble Friend, the noble Duke who had just sat down, he must confess that the explanation given by his noble Friend did not appear satisfactory to him. It appeared that the Government, as now constituted, had become almost entirely a free-trade Government; and he would wish, therefore, to know why, when the Government had found noble Lords in that House ready to come forward and form a Government on those principles, they, professing an altered opinion on the subject of free trade, were not ready to support and assist those noble Lords in carrying out the principle which, for so many years, they had advocated with consistency and principle? That was a question which he thought the country had a right to have answered. How, again, was it that the noble Lord and those who were ready to join him, were unable to perfect the object of which they had so long been the champions? He could not but lament deeply to hear of the change of opinion which had taken place in the present Government, recollecting, as he did, the principles which they had formerly professed. He only wished that the proposition which the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government was to bring forward next evening would, as the noble Duke had promised, prove satisfactory; but, for his own part, he could not bring himself to believe that it would be found so in that House, or by the agricultural interests of the country generally. Should his apprehensions be well founded, he, for one, would be ready to assist his noble Friend at his right hand (the Duke of Richmond) in resisting any measure injurious to the agricultural interests, no matter by what Government it should be brought forward.
§ The DUKE of WELLINGTON
I don't know what the meaning of a free-trade 172 Government is. Will the noble Duke state what he means by a free-trade Government?
The DUKE of BUCKINGHAM
begged to claim the attention of the House for a moment longer. No doubt his noble and gallant Friend was as much staggered at the accusation made against him of being a Member of a free-trade Government, as he (the Duke of Buckingham) was to find his noble and gallant Friend in a Cabinet approving of such principles. He could understand noble Lords opposite belonging to such a Government, because they had always professed such principles. Those noble Lords had been prepared to form a Government on free-trade principles; but the noble Duke, and those with whom he acted, had turned out the Government of those noble Lords on account of the principles which they professed with regard to the Corn Laws. He could not help, therefore, feeling, when the Government of his noble Friend, with whom he had acted in 1831, had since then so completely changed their opinions on this subject, that they were now, if not a free-trade Government, at least as nearly approaching that title as possible.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, he had on a former day declared himself perfectly prepared to state, perhaps at some length, the circumstances under which he, in common with his noble Friend the noble Lord the Member for the city of London, and others, had been called upon to form a Government, which would unquestionably have been such a one as the noble Duke who had just sat down had described, namely, a Government formed on the principles of free trade. But all the circumstances connected with these occurrences had now been so fully stated, and were so generally before the public, that it must have reached their Lordships in common with every other person in the country, and he really did not, therefore, feel himself called upon to detain the House by entering into all the occurrences that had then taken place. If he did not find himself so circumstanced, he certainly should, of his own part, have availed himself of any opportunity that might have offered to state the particular grounds on which he had given his adhesion to the principles of the total abolition of the present Corn Law, in connexion with what he should deem an indispensable accompaniment of such a course, namely, the bringing forward of other measures of justice for the alleviation of the 173 burdens that peculiarly affected the agricultural interests, and the continuance of which he would regard as unfair towards those interests, the protection duty on corn being taken off. Having been formerly an advocate for a fixed duty on corn, he felt that he ought to have some good reason for abandoning that principle at the present moment, after his former public declarations in favour of it. But when he had the high authority of his right hon. Friend at the head of the present and of the former Government, that the substitution of a fixed duty for the existing Corn Law was one to which he never would con sent, and when he found that to this high authority was added that of his noble Friend the Member for the city of London, who now declared himself in favour of the abolition of all protective duties, retaining his opinion that a fixed duty would have been the most satisfactory arrangement that could be made of this question, and one which, if it had been adopted earlier, would have prevented the agitation that had taken place on this subject—he, nevertheless — having never maintained that a fixed duty ought to be adopted on the principle that a Corn Law should be an exception to the ordinary laws of commerce, but, on the contrary, having advocated it on the ground that he thought it ought not to be an exception to these laws, but that, while other protective duties were continued, a duty on the importation of foreign corn ought to be continued also—he did think, if it were not practicable to bring a fixed duty before the consideration of Parliament with a chance of its being adopted, that the entire abolition of the Corn Law was to be preferred, either to the sliding scale, which had been for some time the law of this country, but which, as he thought, had been mischievously the law of this country, or in comparison with any alteration of that sliding scale, or in comparison with what was called an evanescent duty, the tendency of which must be to perpetuate the feeling of insecurity which had for sometime operated so mischievously among both the agricultural and the commercial interests. With these feelings, the result of his deliberations with those who had been waited upon by his noble Friend to form a Government was, that the entire abolition of all interference with the corn trade, accompanied with the removal or alteration, as far as was consistent with the public duty, of every burden bearing on the landed interest, was the only practicable course open their adoption. Having been 174 called upon by the noble Duke, he thought himself bound to state thus fully the particular grounds which had led him to concur in the general opinion entertained by those with whom he had consulted on the occasion, and the grounds which had induced him to state that opinion to Her Majesty when he had been honoured with Her Majesty's commands to attend Her more than once on this subject. Not closing his eyes to the difficulty which the new Government would have to encounter in meeting Parliament as at present constituted, he felt that no circumstances, even the most favourable in other respects, ought to have induced his noble Friend the Member for the city of London, and others who had not the confidence of Parliament, not possessing a majority in either House, to undertake or contemplate the undertaking of any such duty, unless they had been assured that the right hon. Baronet then at the head of Her Majesty's Government should find himself incapable of carrying on the public business; and secondly, unless it could also be ascertained whether those who differed from the right hon. Baronet in the Cabinet, on the question of an alteration of the Corn Law, did or did not think themselves capable of carrying on that law. It was only on the information so obtained that the project of forming a Government was entertained. Their Lordships were aware that it had been stated elsewhere to what extent the question had been entertained, and how it had ultimately been abandoned. All he could add was, that it was his fervent hope and wish that this great question might be dealt with in Parliament in such a way as to ensure an improved commerce in corn, in a manner consistent with justice to the occupiers of land; and above all, in a manner calculated to procure and ensure that which had not hitherto existed, namely, something like a certainty in the pursuit of these transactions. He was anxious that the merchant-importer, the consumer, and the farmer, should have something like a certainty of the prices which the article was to bring. The question as to the manner in which the Act to be brought before their Lordships should be passed was, he thought, one of much greater magnitude at the present moment than the question in whose hands the government of the country should for the moment be placed. He should not, therefore, enter into any details on this latter subject, more especially as he thought it had been sufficiently explained elsewhere. The facts had already appeared before the public, and their Lordships must 175 therefore be perfectly cognizant of them. He trusted the consideration would press itself on their Lordships, what was the most just and the most satisfactory mode of dealing with this question, in whatever hands the Government should be placed. He for one had been throughout of opinion that the facility which the present Government possessed of inducing noble Lords to carry this question was greater than any that others could have, and that, as the matter could only be passed through the House by effecting conversions in some quarter or another—not on his (the Opposition) side of the House, but among noble Lords opposite—a much greater facility was possessed by Her Majesty's present Government for effecting that result than would be at the disposal of another Government. He was therefore sanguine enough to hope that, under the influence of noble Lords opposite, this great question may be brought to a final and satisfactory settlement.
§ The DUKE of WELLINGTON
I wish to add a few words to my explanation to your Lordships, relating to the question proposed to me whether I would undertake to form another Government on the principle of maintaining the present Corn Law. It is perfectly true, as stated by the noble Marquess, that in the course of the discussions which took place (after the resignation of my right hon. Friend, and before his resumption of office) between Her Majesty and the noble Lord in another place, and the noble Marquess—it is perfectly true that I, and I believe others, were called upon to state whether any one of us was disposed to form a Government on the principle of maintaining the existing Com Law. My Lords, what others answered, I cannot pretend to say. I answered immediately that I was not—that I could not undertake to form such a Government. I do not recollect that during the discussions previous to the resignation of my right hon. Friend, any one had talked of the formation of a Government on such principles; but as soon as I was appealed to, I made that answer. But, my Lords, when I made that answer, I did it not only out of diffidence in my own ability to undertake such a charge, but likewise, my Lords, because I felt that it would be absolutely impossible, according to my knowledge of the opinions of the House of Commons, to form a Government in which the public could have confidence, which should be formed on the principle of supporting that measure. Under those circumstances, my Lords, I certainly, when called upon to say whether I 176 would or no form a Government on that principle, declared that I could not and would not.
The EARL of RADNOR
said, amongst the variety of questions there was one which had not been put—a most important one, because it related to the people and to the general state of this country. The question he should like to ask would be, what precautions had been taken to counteract the misfortune and calamity which had fallen on the country? The noble Duke had told them in his first speech that many millions of the people of this country were deprived of their food. They knew that the alarm on this subject was so great that the First Lord of the Treasury, on the 31st of October, was prepared to propose to the Cabinet to proceed at once to issue an Order in Council to open the ports for the admission of foreign corn duty free. Divers Cabinet Councils were held, as the public knew, upon that subject; and, after meeting several times, Her Majesty's Government parted on the 6th of November without having come to any other resolution but that of appointing a Commission to inquire into the state of the potato crop in Ireland. Everything that was done on that 31st of October was calculated to excite alarm and apprehension in the country; but they separated on the 6th of November, and never came together again until the 25th. It appeared to him to be rather an extraordinary proceeding, that when the country was in a state of apprehension, and well-founded apprehension too, of famine, the Government, after meeting and consulting upon a variety of occasions upon that subject, should part without doing anything to relieve the anxiety of the country, or to obviate the evils that were apprehended. Then, on the 25th of November, they met again; and the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, still entertaining the same opinion, and wishing to introduce the same measure, found himself precluded from doing so, because his noble Friend the noble Lord the Member for London had published a letter in which he said, that the very thing ought to be done which the Premier proposed to do. That appeared to him to be an inconceivable thing, that because a man thought that a certain thing ought to be done, yet it was not to be done because another was of the same opinion. It seemed to him not to be the conduct of rational men, but rather very much like that of a spoiled child, who said, "I want to do this; but you tell me 177 I ought to do it, and therefore I won't do it." Yet that was precisely the conduct of the Government. Now, he wanted to know what had been done on behalf of the people. On the 31st of October those apprehensions were felt by the Cabinet, and they were felt up to the present moment; for no longer ago than Friday last, if he were rightly informed, they were talking in another place of mouldy potatoes; but the Prime Minister told them it was no subject for a joke, for in two months they would find it was a serious calamity. Had anything been done, then, to provide against that state of things? Could anything he more calculated to excite apprehension than the proceedings of the Government? They met, consulted, quarrelled, and separated without doing anything, and that too at a time when, as the noble Duke said, many millions of people were deprived of their accustomed food—for they knew how many people in Ireland lived on potatoes. He wanted, then, to know whether anything had been done? and, if not, whether anything was to be done? And when? for if they were to wait for the settlement of the Corn Law question, he feared that the distress would be much aggravated before that time. As for the proposed alteration in the Corn Laws, he feared very much, after what had fallen from the noble Duke, that it was not likely to be what he should very much approve of. Whilst he was on his legs he would say one word only with respect to what had fallen from the noble Marquess below him. Now he, for one, could not understand what were the exclusive burdens that were felt by the landed interest, and for which compensation was to be given to them. He hoped that that would not be given without inquiry into the subject, and, when that inquiry was taken, he very much doubted whether any such compensation would be given.
§ The DUKE of WELLINGTON
said, the noble Earl who had just spoken could not have attended to what he (the Duke of Wellington) had stated to their Lordships; for, if he recollected right, he stated to their Lordships, that a Commission had been issued, and Commissioners were sent over, and the Commission formed, and instructions given in every respect as to the mode of providing work for the people, and of finding them food as the reward of their labour. He thought the noble Earl was mistaken, if his recollection did not fail him; for he thought that the Cabinet met often between the 6th and the 25th of 178 November, and that Parliament was prorogued in that interval, and that must have been done under the advice of the Cabinet.
§ The DUKE of RICHMOND
then presented a petition from the landowners, tenant-farmers, labourers, and other persons interested in the prosperity of agriculture, at Wareham, against any alteration in the Corn Laws. With reference to what had fallen from the noble Earl (the Earl of Radnor) as to the peculiar burdens upon land, he joined him in the hope that before any change was made in the present law, there would be an inquiry into that subject; and, if there were, he (the Duke of Richmond) pledged himself to prove that a farmer paying 300l. a year rent paid treble the taxes that Mr. Cobden paid, although he made 30,000l. a year. The members of the League, both in that House and out of it, were always making assertions, but were never proving them.
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
said, that if the noble Duke was so desirous of having an inquiry into the peculiar burdens on land, the fault of his not yet having procured it rested not with the public, but with the Friends of the noble Duke himself: because, year after year, his hon. Friend Mr. Cobden—as their Lordships might know by the Votes of the other House—had moved for a Committee to inquire into the peculiar burdens upon land; and however unable the Friends of the noble Duke had been to meet the arguments of his hon. Friend on this subject, either in the House or out of it, he having converted almost all persons out of the House, and he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) trusted a very large majority, as well as their leader, within; yet they had always defeated that inquiry. The reason for suggesting that inquiry now, might possibly be delay; but, if that reason could possibly be set aside, he should be most happy to go into it; because he was in precisely the same position as the noble Earl (the Earl of Radnor) near him; because, although he had always heard, on both sides of the House, that there were peculiar burdens upon land, yet he had been unable to understand what they were. He certainly had heard tithes mentioned; but they were not peculiar burdens upon land, any more than were the quit-rents or head-rents of an English copyhold estate. Anything else he had never heard of; but, he did say, that if that inquiry could be gone into without delay, he, for one, should be most happy to consent to it, really and 179 truly, for the purpose of acquiring information upon the subject.
§ The DUKE of RICHMOND
said, that an attack had been made upon his Friends the agriculturists in the House of Commons; he, therefore, got up in their defence. Why was it that they had not agreed to the Motion for a Committee to inquire into burdens upon lands? Because Mr. Cobden prefaced his Motion for that inquiry by avowing that it was with the intention of getting rid of the Corn Laws altogether; and every one who was used to the proceedings of Parliament knew that it was usual to resist a Motion brought forward with any other than the avowed object. His Friends were always ready for a fair inquiry. He supposed that the highway rates and the poor rates were not burdens upon land. He should like to know whether one of his tenants did not pay more poor rates than the whole League put together? He was quite ready to go into the inquiry. His noble Friend said, he should oppose it, if it were for the purpose of delay; but he was sorry to hear his noble Friend say, that this measure was to be pushed through Parliament without inquiry. His noble Friend said, that Mr. Cobden had made converts of the whole of the Cabinet of Sir R. Peel, and the rest of the Ministers; and then he said that he had made converts of almost every body out of doors. If that were the case, then let the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government go to the people of England upon this question. He (the Duke of Richmond) would say to the farmers throughout the country, "Protection, not to corn alone, but to British industry." Let them go to the country, and ask the manufacturers of England—ay, the manufacturers of this town—the English tailors and shoemakers, whether they would consent to foreign articles coming in free of duty? He defied them to go to the country; but let them go and appeal to those constituencies that placed the present Government in power; and he said that those constituencies would say, "We were against free trade then, and we are against free trade now."
§ LORD BEAUMONT
wished to say but one word upon this subject, and that was in answer to his noble Friend, the noble Marquess behind them. His noble Friend said, that the friends of the agriculturists had refused inquiry into the burdens upon land hitherto, but now, at this moment, they loudly called for such inquiry. Such would have been his conduct if a Motion 180 had been made to that effect in that House—viz., formerly to have refused such inquiry, and now to call for it. He would explain that apparent inconsistency. It was not till that moment that there was any prospect of a total repeal of the Corn Laws; and as long as those laws were in existence he thought it was the bounden duty of the agriculturists to submit to the peculiar burdens that bore upon them: any inquiry would have been useless, unless it had been with the intention of removing those burdens, and as he thought that they ought not to be removed, he considered that such an inquiry would have been useless; it would have wasted time, and would have raised hopes and expectations in many persons engaged in the cultivation of land that would not have been realized. That was his reason for formerly opposing an inquiry into the peculiar burdens upon land. But now a change had taken place in the country, which had so disorganized parties, which was going far to threaten all the institutions of the country, and which menaced such frightful revolutions in our commercial relations and agricultural interests that he thought the House could no longer delay to revise the whole of the local and general taxation of the country, with a view to a more equal distribution of the burdens; and he was therefore one of those who called for an inquiry into the burdens upon land — the Poor Laws — the commutation of tithes, not that he considered tithes one of the peculiar burdens upon land; they were real property, in the possession of the tithe-owners, and were no burden upon land; and if an inquiry were asked for into the law of the commutation of tithes, it would be for the purpose of doing justice to those persons who held them; and he would take this opportunity to say that many of those persons had in this contest behaved in a manner highly to their credit—he meant the clergy of the Church of England, who had not meddled on the one side or the other, though at that moment their property was likely to be affected, as well as that of other classes of the community. But he said, he wished for an inquiry into that subject, not as a burden upon land; but if his noble Friend wished to know what were the peculiar burdens upon land he recommended him to consult the two volumes now lying on the Table—the admirable production of the Poor Law Commissioners, and the Report on Local Taxation. He would ask his noble Friend to read through the passage 181 which said, that nearly 12,000,000l. of local taxation were paid by real property alone, and that stock in trade, profit in trade, and funded property, were totally exempt from that taxation. If, then, those 12,000,000l. were annually paid by real property, they were a burden upon land; and he thought that if they did go into the inquiry they would see that, independent of the enormous amount raised, there were in the distribution of these burdens, and in the manner of their assessment, grievances of which the land had a right to complain. There were certain restrictions in the employment of capital in the cultivation of land, as well as excise laws against the free use of the produce of the land, of which the landowners had a right to complain. Whilst he was on his legs, he might be excused if he mentioned an observation that struck him during the explanations that had recently taken place. He must say candidly that the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) had explained the part that he had taken in the great scene of conversion with his usual distinctness; but he thought that curiosity might well be excited to know what were the grounds, what were the motives, what were the reasons that made converts of the rest of the majority of the Cabinet who opposed the opinions and plans proposed by the Prime Minister. He thought they had a right to know—he would not say a right, but curiosity might well be excited to know what made a convert of the late First Lord of the Admiralty; and again, what made a convert of the noble Lord the President of the Board of Control. He could not imagine that it was any light reasons that had influenced his conduct; for he (Lord Beaumont) remembered listening in that House to a Speech the most convincing that could be addressed to their Lordships in favour of protection. Again, he trusted that the motives that might have converted the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, were not that he might have an additional argument in arranging affairs on the other side of the Atlantic; for, if the noble Earl imagined that merely the prospect of profit would prevail, or if he considered that such measures would enter into the scale, he (Lord Beaumont) held that the noble Earl offered an insult directly to the North Americans, to imagine, that they would arrange a great national question on the ground and for the reason of profit, instead of relying upon those great principles of justice and right, and interpretation of treaties, which 182 ought alone to govern a nation; and which were now so clearly pointed out by those who had taken the trouble to read the numerous documents upon that subject. With regard to the question which had been raised by the noble Earl, he owned he perfectly agreed with him in thinking that it was something extraordinary that the publication of a letter from Edinburgh should have cured the potato disease. The moment that letter came out, it appeared that a total change took place—the immediate measures were immediately abandoned, and that for no reason, motive, or ground which was distinctly put forth, except the extraordinary one of a letter having been published in the public journals. He had but one word more, and that was with regard to the question of Ireland. If they now removed the sole advantage, perhaps, that Ireland enjoyed, viz., that of obtaining a greater profit on the sale of Irish produce in the English markets, in consequence of the duties on the introduction of foreign produce, he said that they removed and weakened one of those ties of love and gratitude which she might otherwise feel for this country. And he thought it would be strange if that argument were not afterwards put forward by those who might hope to obtain another kind of repeal. Seeing the rapidity with which an agitating club had effected the conversion, conscientiously, no doubt, of the Cabinet upon this question, he thought that another club of repeal might hope to attain the same success, especially when furnished, as they then would be, with the strong argument that the great advantage Ireland hitherto derived from her connection with England was about to be taken from her. He might go further and say, what was the use of the Canada Corn Bill? In giving that Bill to Canada, they placed that Colony in a situation in which she was indebted to the mother country for certain advantages. They now would remove these; and, from what was going on in America, how could they expect that Canada would long remain dependent upon this country, when they gave her no advantage in her trade? They had heard of the annexation of Texas, and another annexation might follow. He would not have mentioned this; but, at a time like the present, when we were on the point of a great commercial revolution, it was the bounden duty of every man to cast his eyes as far as he could, and endeavour to see what might be the result of the measures that were proposed.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
said: Believing that my situation in some respects differs from that of my Colleagues, I think it necessary to explain to the noble Lord the circumstances of the question he has put to me. It is unnecessary for me to trouble your Lordships with the reasons which brought me to the opinions which I hold; but I wish to state to the noble Lord that when my right hon. Friend, at the commencement of November, made the proposal to the Government which has been alluded to, I gave to that proposal my cordial and unhesitating assent. It would not be proper at this time to enter into the reasons that induced me to come to that opinion; but such was the opinion I then entertained, and such is the opinion I entertain now.
§ House adjourned.