§ The DUKE of RICHMOND
presented a petition, signed, he said, by a large number of gentlemen, farmers, and labourers of West Harlsey, praying the House not to consent to any alteration in the Corn Laws, and complaining of the unconstitutional course of the Anti-Corn-Law League. The noble Duke, in continuation, said, he had had opportunities of seeing a very large number of the gentry and tenantry of the country since the opening of the "comprehensive scheme," as it was called, of the Ministers had been made known in another place, and he could only say that that "comprehensive scheme" had been repudiated by every one of these individuals who came from every part of England. They viewed the proposed measure with strong indignation, and, one and all, they were prepared to stand to the last to maintain protection, not only for themselves, but protection for the domestic industry of the country. They considered they had been grossly ill-treated and deceived: for the men who by their support were sent into the House of Commons upon the faith that they would maintain the protective system, were — at least many of them—now wavering and doubting; and they thought that the men who had made such pledges were bound to resign their seats in order to see whether they would again be returned. He entirely 338 concurred in these opinions. He thought the abandonment of the system of protection would have an injurious, indeed a ruinous, effect upon the great interests of the country; and the manner in which the subject had been agitated by the Anti-Corn-Law League ought to be one reason, even if there were no others, that the Ministerial measure should be thrown out. At all events, he called on their Lordships to pause before they gave the people of this country reason to suppose that no confidence could be placed in their public men. That feeling would be most injurious. He contended it was most inconsistent, seeing we had enjoyed great prosperity under the present Corn Law, to seek now to repeal it. The time for it was badly chosen; and the arguments and statements by which the repeal was supported, would prove upon examination most fallacious. He did not intend to go into details at the present moment, because he hoped the subject would be discussed upon the principle of protection or no protection; then would be the time to go into details. There should be no compromise at all. To talk of compromise was ridiculous. The compensation offered to the agriculturists for the loss of protection was absurd. The highways were to be put under surveillance, and the parishes were to be relieved of half of their apothecaries' bills, or some nonsense of that sort. But would Her Majesty's Ministers tell him what they believed would be the price of corn under the new law; for unless they could tell that, how on earth could they say whether they were not giving too much to the manufacturer, and too little to the agriculturist? They must make up their minds what would be the price; and he should like to know their expectations in this respect, because then he could tell whether it would remunerate the British farmer, or whether it would throw out of cultivation a large surface of land. He for one was decidedly opposed to this country being dependent upon foreign nations for supplies of food. He was for protection to native industry; and the same views were maintained by a very large body of the people, men not easily roused, but who were now roused because they felt they had been deceived and ill treated. It would be most dangerous for Parliament to carry the present measure against so marked an opinion against it on the part of a great body of most respectable, quiet, and unobtrusive men—men not open 339 to the bribes of the Anti-Corn-Law League, but who felt it their duty to protect themselves and their brother men, be they manufacturers or agriculturists. He hoped, then, that their Lordships would not scruple to give the country an opportunity of judging whether the protective system was right or wrong, by throwing out the measure when it came before them, and thus force the Minister to a dissolution. Let the question be made the subject of discussion at the hustings. If it were said that exactly the same question was discussed at the hustings in 1841, he denied the assertion. The questions were not identical. The men who supported the Government measure at that time voted against the proposition for a fixed duty of 8s., on the ground that the protection which it afforded was not sufficient; yet these very same men were now found ready to vote for a repeal of the Corn Laws which was to take place in three years. If protection was "the bane of agriculture," he should have preferred the more open, manly, and straightforward course of its abolition altogether, rather than the Ministerial scheme, for he was convinced it would be less mischievous.
said, the noble Duke had thought proper to attack the Anti-Corn-Law League, and to charge that body with the use of bribes. He (Lord Kinnaird) was a member of the League, and he was willing to stand by its conduct as a body, and he positively denied that it employed bribes, or did anything either illegal or unconstitutional. He would not go so far as to render himself responsible for the statements made or the language used by individual members of the League, because that could not be expected from any man; but he would ask the noble Duke whether he considered himself responsible for the language used at the meetings of the Protection Society?
§ The DUKE of RICHMOND
Yes; I am prepared to be personally responsible for any language I ever heard at any meeting of any protection society.
thought the noble Duke deserved credit for his chivalry, because language had been used at some of those meetings which no man and no Christian ought to have used. Was the comparison of an hon. Member of the Legislature to Satan, language for which the noble Duke would be responsible? Such language as that had frequently been used 340 in meetings of protection societies. The noble Duke, at no very late period, was not so willing to offer his responsibility, for he formally repudiated the responsibility of the language used at a protection meeting at which the Times newspaper had been burnt, in paltry spite; but now he rendered himself liable for all the foolish language of the farmers, and he wished the noble Duke joy of his now undertaking. He (Lord Kinnaird) should be sorry to render himself responsible for the expressions of any party; but at the same time he could undertake to deny positively that the Anti-Corn-Law League gave or offered bribes. Their object was a constitutional one, and they were carrying it out legally: it was merely to facilitate the creation of votes to act upon the Legislature; and the protectionists had openly avowed their determination to adopt the same course. It was somewhat extraordinary to hear the League charged with interference at elections, whilst he (Lord Kinnaird) would venture to say that there were not twenty Peers, Members of that House, who had not subscribed towards the expenses of elections. The country could not be ignorant that in so subscribing those noble Lords subscribed beyond the legal expenses of the election; and he ventured to say there was no Member of that House, either on one side or the other, who had not subscribed either to the Reform or the Carlton Club.
knew that most of the Members of that House had. They all knew how elections were carried. They all know that at the time of an election parties went to the committee sitting at one of those clubs, stating the price of their boroughs. That had been done over and over again, and he had known individual instances of it. Yet many of those same parties—he would not say individuals for whose language the noble Duke was now responsible—were the people who complained it was illegal and unconstitutional to facilitate the registration and the purchase of freeholds. Talk of interfering at elections! Why, they knew that the elections for counties in Scotland were carried by faggot votes which were systematically created for the purpose; and at the present moment they were qualifying their own servants to vote. The League, he repeated, merely facilitated a legal and constitutional right, and he denied 341 they were guilty of bribery. Those who lived in glass houses should not throw stones. He (Lord Kinnaird) did not know whether it was according to the rules of the House, but as the noble Duke had been permitted to allude to the "comprehensive scheme" submitted to the other House by Her Majesty's Government, he probably might be allowed to add a few observations. He was not going to enter into the details of that scheme. He was happy to say that, although he wished the repeal of the Corn Laws had been more immediate than was proposed, that scheme was fully satisfactory. The protectionist party called upon the Government to appeal to the country. It was, indeed, a strange doctrine, that the Government should not first try the House of Commons. If the Government were beat in the House of Commons, they would, of necessity, appeal to the country; but to appeal at once, without taking the sense of the existing Parliament, would be a practical adoption of the Chartist doctrine of annual Parliaments. As far as he had had opportunity for judging, he believed there would be a majority, both of the people and the Parliament, for the Government measure; but what would be the consequences of postponement? The noble Duke might approve of it; but how long would the question be allowed to exist? Did the noble Duke consider it was possible that the country would very long submit to delay? The consequence of delay, he (Lord Kinnaird) said, would be a sweeping reform in the Parliamentary constitution. The people, disappointed in their desires, would not submit to the continuance of protection after having had the abolition of it within their grasp; and if it were denied, they would not submit to the present constitution of the House of Commons, with regard to the number of nomination boroughs in the hands of the protectionists.
§ Petition to lie on the Table.