§ EARL STANHOPE
said, he rose for the purpose of opposing the Motion, and of moving as an Amendment, that their Lordships go into Committee on the Bill that day six months. He had not the vanity to hope that any observations he could offer would materially affect their Lordships' judgment, particularly after the able and eloquent speeches which had been recently delivered upon this subject, and more especially after the admirable and unanswerable speech of his noble Friend (Lord Stanley)—a speech which, whether he looked at the eloquence that adorned it, or the valuable information it contained, appeared to him to be far superior to any speech he had ever heard delivered in that House. He was, however, unwilling to give a silent vote on this occasion; and he 232 considered that it would be, in some degree, a dereliction of the duty which he owed to his country, if he were silent. They had now arrived at a crisis which was far more important than that of the Reform Bill, and which must prove of the highest consequence, whether they considered the magnitude of the interests that were involved in the measure, or the social as well as the political consequences that would flow from it—a measure of such a character as had never before been recommended by any Government; and he was bound to add, that no proposition, from whatever quarter it might originate, had ever before been so feebly and miserably defended by its promoters. It was in the first place assumed that there was imminent danger of a famine in Ireland, because in some districts—not in all—there was a deficiency—not a failure—in the crop of potatoes. But it was at the time satisfactorily proved, beyond the possibility of doubt, that there was then an abundance of food in the country at large, and more especially of that sort of food which formed the principal article of sustenance to the poor—that the crop of potatoes had been more than usually abundant. He did not deny—on the contrary he deeply regretted—the distress which existed in Ireland; but this arose not from a scarcity of food, but because the lower classes were plunged in a state of destitution from the want of permanent employment. They were totally destitute of employment; and undoubtedly it was the duty of the Government to take effectual measures to remedy this evil, which, so long as it was allowed to continue, there could be no hope whatever of tranquillity or prosperity in that unhappy country. It was very possible that the Government might have been deluded in the first instance by exaggerated reports on this subject, and he was willing to make every allowance for that; but admitting, for the sake of argument, that scarcity of food was to be apprehended in Ireland, was it not to be expected that the deficiency of produce would be indicated by the increase of price of provisions? and then, by the operation of the sliding-scale, corn of all descriptions would have been admitted without the necessity of interference either by the Government or the Legislature—with out creating needless alarm, which was always injurious—without raising in foreign markets the price of the very article which we were desirous to purchase—without in- 233 ducing those who had stores of potatoes to hoard them instead of bringing them to market for sale—without, in short, any of those mischiefs which had arisen from the late groundless panic which the Prime Minister, for reasons best known to himself, had thought proper to raise. On this false assumption of a scarcity of provisions were founded all the subsequent measures. At first it was proposed to issue an Order in Council for the free importation of foreign grain; and the great autocrat of the Cabinet proposed this measure to his Colleagues in November last as being then of urgent necessity, though the country was now in the middle of June without feeling any inconvenience from the rejection of the measure. The Prime Minister had never condescended to notice the observations which had been made by a noble Duke, that a free importation of foreign corn would be of no advantage whatever to people who had not the means of purchasing it, and that the true remedy was to be found in providing them with employment, and giving gratuitous relief to those who were incapable of labour. But supposing that the Order in Council had been issued, it was clear that it ought to have been considered only as a temporary expedient to meet a temporary emergency, and that the Corn Laws should have been suspended only for a short period, and then allowed to come into operation again as before. The Prime Minister, however, declared with the strongest non sequitur which he had ever heard, that he would not consent to issue such an Order in Council, unless he was allowed, when Parliament met, to bring under their consideration, what he was pleased to term, an adjustment of the Corn Laws; and by that appropriate designation it appeared he intended to indicate a measure for their entire and final surrender—a complete concession of everything which had been so long clamorously and menacingly demanded. This, then, was the ostensible origin of the measure; and in this case the old fable was reversed, for it was the mouse which was pregnant, and which had been delivered of a mountain. But what were they to say of the conduct of the Minister who had been raised to his present eminence by the confidence which the friends of protection had reposed in him; by the hope and the expectation they entertained that he would be true to his trust, and not desert the principles which he had uniformly professed? On this, as on other occasions, 234 he should be unwilling to introduce mere personal attack; but he would quote to the House an observation of a noble Lord which was not unimportant, because they all knew how much the conduct of Members of both Houses of Parliament on both sides was influenced by the confidence that was reposed in their political leaders, and therefore he would refer to the observation of the noble Earl (Ripon). In the Amendment to the Address which was moved by the noble Earl in August, 1841, and adopted by a great majority of that House, it was stated in reference to the same subject which they were now considering, "it is essential to the satisfactory issue of our deliberations on these and other measures of public concern, that your Majesty's Government should possess the confidence of this House and of the country." Now, he would ask what man was there who any longer entertained confidence in Sir Robert Peel? They had heard from a noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Brougham) an eloquent panegyric on the present Prime Minister, representing his conduct not only as meritorious but as magnanimous; not only as not inconsistent, but as amply justified by the circumstances in which he was placed; and that his sincerity was shown by the consideration that he had sacrificed private friendship, public confidence, party interests, nay, even personal reputation, from the deep and conscientious conviction he entertained that those measures were essential for the welfare of the country. Now admitting, for the sake of argument, the hypothesis of his noble and learned Friend, who, like a skilful advocate, had assumed the very circumstances in debate, what did it amount to? Why, to this—that the Prime Minister, by his own confession, during the long course of his political career till a very few months ago, had been proceeding upon a wrong course, and had all his lifetime continued to defend principles and measures which he now condemned as impolitic and unjust. If such was the case, what confidence could henceforward be reposed in the judgment of Sir Robert Peel? Assuming that he had made this great, and to him most surprising discovery, that protection was indefensible in principle, and injurious in operation, he ought—if he had possessed only a small and slender portion of that self-knowledge which was represented by the philosophers of antiquity as the summit of human wisdom—he ought to have resigned a post for which, 235 by his own confession, he was entirely incompetent; he ought to have retired, feeling pain and sorrow for the part he had so long acted, and deep concern for the mischief of which he had been the innocent because the ignorant cause; and feeling that he could no longer rely upon his own judgment, he ought no longer to have attempted to influence the opinions and convictions of others. But while on one side an attempt was made to justify the inconsistency of Sir R. Peel, he had heard from another quarter that that right hon. Baronet was guilty of no inconsistency at all—that he had always been more or less in his own mind a free trader; that his language had been intelligible to every one on this subject ever since 1842; and an appeal had been made personally to himself (Earl Stanhope) whether such was not the case. Now, undoubtedly in that, and in the following year, he (Earl Stanhope) did express with that frankness which was inseparable from his character, the suspicions he entertained with regard to those previous measures which had been thoughtlessly and foolishly defended by some, on the ground that they would give greater security to that amount of protection that yet remained; whereas, he thought they were only intended as preparatory stops to the removal of protection altogether, and intended to facilitate the execution of that event. But, at that time, when he stated his suspicions, he was rebuked by the noble Lord the President of the Council; he was assured at the time that they were unfounded; that they were equally unjust and injurious: but he must say, that they were all confirmed now. If they were to adopt, then, this other hypothesis, and to hold that there was no change of opinion in Sir Robert Peel, though there had been the greatest inconsistency in his conduct, he would then ask, what confidence would they place in his political integrity? He would not, on this occasion, quote a line from Hansard. Noble Lords near him might be perfectly secure from having their speeches revived on this occasion; indeed, it would be quite useless for him to do so; because, in all likelihood, he would receive the same answer which had already been given in another place: "I have changed my opinion—with this I dispose of all my former speeches and declarations"—as if the force and urgency of an argument were to be invalidated by a change in the opinion of the man who had once used 236 it, and as if the same person, whether he blew hot on a question, or whether he blew cold, was always to be considered infallible. They had been told that this marvellous—he had almost called it this miraculous—conversion of Sir Robert Peel, was the result wholly of his experience of the last three years. He could not deny but his conduct might be very much influenced by what he had observed during the last three years of the exertions of the Anti-Corn-Law League, and by contrasting that with the inertness which, during a considerable portion of that period, was shown by their opponents; and by supposing, though most erroneously, that those who were the most noisy were also the most numerous and powerful body in the community. It had been said, that during the last three years the country had enjoyed great prosperity. He would not now inquire whether that prosperity was founded upon a solid and secure foundation, or whether it was likely to be permanent; or whether, on the other hand, it did not arise principally, if not altogether, from temporary causes, and which might be transitory in their duration. But, admitting that to be so, he would ask, what better reason could they have for not rashly changing a system which had yielded such results? The potato famine and the alarm which had been so studiously excited upon this subject, had now faded "like the baseless fabric of a vision." They were now in the same position that they were in before the question was discussed at all; and they were now called upon, on the mere ipse dixit of the most rash and presumptuous Minister that had ever yet governed this country, to renounce all the opinions which they had deliberately formed and frequently expressed in that House—to reverse the whole system on which this country had acted for centuries, and under which it had acquired its unparalleled prosperity. They were told, indeed, by him who was once considered a great authority, but who would now be considered as a great authority no longer—he meant, of course, the Prime Minister—that protective duties were, considered in themselves, liable to objection in principle, and that they were injurious in their operation. But if they were for a moment to admit this doctrine, he wanted to know why it was to be applied to corn alone, and not generally to all kinds of manufactures? If the principles of free trade were, is they were represented to be, the principles of common sense—if pro- 237 tection was, as they had been told, the bane both of agriculture and manufactures, then they had a right to be allowed to enjoy all the advantages of free trade without restriction and without delay; they had a right to demand an immediate and entire adoption, to the fullest extent, of the principles of free trade. Such, he believed, would have been the conduct and such the measures of the noble Lord in the other House of Parliament, and of a noble Earl (Earl Grey), the son of a former Prime Minister, had they been called upon to bring forward any provisions on this subject; and he would say that measures of that sort would have been far less objectionable than that which was now proposed. He would say, let us either give full and effective protection to British industry in all its various branches, or let us have no protection at all. Let those who had the hardihood to make that experiment, attempt it if they dared. He knew what the result would be. He knew that the effect would be, an immediate and sudden reaction, which would drive like chaff before the wind the advocates of free trade—which would render the very name odious to all classes in the country—and which would restore in all their force the prohibitory and protective system of their ancestors. If be had no other object than success, and were merely indifferent to the means by which it was to be attained—if he could bring himself to disregard the sacred dictates of conscience—and Heaven forbid that such should ever be the case!—if he could become insensible to the moral and religious obligation not to do evil that good might come—then he would earnestly entreat their Lordships to pass, this measure without any discussion whatever; for he knew that, whatever consequences in other respects might arise from it, the cause of protection to native industry would be triumphantly and permanently secured. On this occasion, however, he would confine himself to that subject only which was before the House—the question of a free importation of corn—without entering into the more extended question of free trade, with regard to which there would be many other opportunities of discussion, and on which, with permission of the House, he might afterwards be disposed to state his opinions. And here, without entering into the argument at all, it might be sufficient for him to ask their Lordships whether it was compatible with their public duties, that they should, without examining into 238 the possible or probable consequences of the measure that was now before them, proceed to pass a Bill which would bring ruin and desolation upon millions of their fellow countrymen, and more especially upon those whose hard lot it was to earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow, and who had no other resource than their own industry and skill. He would go farther, and ask whether their Lordships could suppose that they had any right to pass this measure when the most numerous, the most meritorious, the most valuable classes in the community, who would be principally and permanently affected by this measure, were not, as they ought to be, represented in the House of Commons. It was said, when the measure of 1842 was introduced, that prices would range from 54s. to 58s. per quarter—that the average, therefore, would be 56s., which was represented as a remunerating price. But it was stated in 1828, by a much greater authority than Sir Robert Peel could ever claim to be—by the late Mr. Canning—who was not considered in his time to be a very warm or zealous friend to agriculture, or an admirer of the aristocratic branch of the Constitution—it was represented by him as being admitted on all hands, without doubt or exception, that a remunerating price could not be secured at less than 60s. of the old Winchester measure, which was equivalent to 62s. of the present imperial measure. He would not stop to inquire which was the more correct opinion; but this he would say, that they had a right to expect full information, which was essential to the proper consideration of this measure—information upon the point, not what would be the fixed price, for this measure might effect fluctuation even under a system of free trade—but what would be the range of prices under the operation of this Bill. The Prime Minister had informed the Members of the other House of Parliament that he had formed no estimate of its effect. It was said by a noble Lord (Lord Brougham) that it was impossible to answer that question, and therefore unreasonable to ask it. Be it so: he was willing to admit that for the sake of the argument. But he would say in return that it was unreasonable to pass this Bill without such information. Were they not aware that there were two considerations essential to a proper decision of this question: first, the remunerating price of corn; and, next, the price of foreign corn, which was the article to be 239 imported? For if they were not to be informed of the probable range of prices—if they were not to have full, real, satisfactory, and decisive evidence on the point—it would be sufficient for them to refuse to proceed further, because, if they did proceed, they would be legislating in the dark, and might inflict incalculable injury on the most vital interests of the country. But so far were from knowing what the probable range of prices would be, that the very friends of the measure were not agreed as to the result in general—whether the prices would remain the same as they were at present, or whether they would fall; or even whether they would be raised; for strange, extravagant, and irrational as such a doctrine might appear, it was a fact that a great landed proprietor said, in the course of last winter, that as soon as this measure passed, he must inform his tenants that he would raise their rents ten per cent. If it should have the effect of raising the prices of food, it would have an effect the very reverse of that which its principal and oldest supporters anticipated. Such a result would be by them considered most mischievous; and, in point of fact, if increased price of food would follow the adoption of the Bill, he defied the most ingenious casuist to show its utility. Why, the whole cry of the opponents of the present Corn Laws was—cheap broad—a cheap loaf; they promised a large loaf with the repeal—they attracted numbers who did not stop to think, by this cry; but he thought their big loaf would, in the end, be found to resemble much more nearly a penny roll. These people who clamoured so much about cheapness, were ignorant, or what was worse, affected to be ignorant, that cheapness was altogether a relative term, and that, in fact, it was proportional to the means of the consumer. Great apprehension had been expressed by a noble Lord, that the price of corn would not, even with the repeal of the Corn Laws, fall much. That noble Lord was apprehensive the fall would not much exceed 5s. or 6s. a quarter. He seemed to regard a fall of 5s. or 6s. a quarter with great indifference—a mere trifle in fact: but had that noble Lord ever made a calculation of how much a fall of even 5s. or 6s. a quarter would affect the nation. Did he calculate that there was a home production of 18,000,000 of quarters, and that a loss of 6s. a quarter would amount in the aggregate to 5,400,000l.? His noble Friend near him (Lord Stanley) had, confining his cal- 240 culations to wheat alone, shown a clear loss of 4,000,000l. sterling. And who was to gain by this loss? There was not the least intimation from any quarter that the agricultural labourer would be benefited by this plunder of the owners and occupiers of the land. When their Lordships talked about cheapness, lot them recollect that the avowed object of those who originated the agitation was to lower wages. ["Hear, hear!"] The noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Radnor) shook his head; but if he were disposed to trouble them with long quotations, he could show from the speeches of several who thought with the noble Lord on this question, as well indeed as from the speeches of the noble Lord himself, that one of the staple arguments in favour of a repeal of the Corn Laws, was, that by cheapening food wages would be lowered, and by lowering wages the manufacturers of this country would be enabled to compete with the manufacturers of the Continent, who, it was said, were able to undersell our manufacturers at present, in consequence of the low wages they paid. But the thing was evident. If, as was said, foreign manufacturers were underselling the English ones in the markets of the world, how could the English manufacturers hope to cope with them except by lowering the wages of labour? Either the wages of the operative must be lowered as a consequence of this Bill, or the argument so obstinately and so triumphantly put forward must fall to the ground. He thought they had the greatest reason to complain of the manner in which the advocates of this measure both in and out of Parliament dealt with this question. They blew hot and cold upon this question of cheapness. First, they said a repeal of the Corn Laws would produce cheap food; and then when the agriculturists contended that to depreciate the value of their produce very much would be to bring ruin first on them and then on the community at large, these same men turned round and said, "Oh, the measure will not in any material degree lower the price of corn." In short, they used arguments totally irreconcilable to and inconsistent with each other. He thought no conduct could be more unfair or discreditable than this in any public man; but how much more so in the First Minister of the Crown. The Premier had actually set forth that cheapness was not a necessary result of the measure; and he introduced statements relative to the prices of wheat, to show that the measure might, in fact, 241 tend to elevate the cost of that commodity. The Prime Minister incurred the disgrace not only of adopting the arguments, but of copying the tergiversation of the Anti-Corn-Law-League. The League made a great cry about monopoly; and it was the cant word in the mouths of their agents and lecturers in the manufacturing districts: they magnanimously proclaimed that their object was to reduce the price of bread; and they shed their crocodile tears over the "fallen condition" of the agricultural labourer. Such were the claptraps of the League; and these claptraps had found their way even into their Lordships' House. But when their agents went into the agricultural districts, they represented that the repeal of the Corn Laws would not materially reduce the price of corn; they urged the advantage of a steadiness of price, and they quoted some instances of extreme lowness of price in the home market, the result of harvests of extraordinary abundance, and then they turned to one or two isolated instances where foreign corn had been imported at a greater cost than usual, endeavouring to show, that whilst the repeal would prevent fluctuations, it would not severely act upon the home grower. Arguments based on such imperfect or erroneous data had their due weight in Covent-garden Theatre, because there was no freedom of discussion allowed, and because if any one ventured to express a different opinion, he would be instantly turned out of the room; but with their Lordships he believed they would have but little weight. It was averaged that each individual in the country consumed a quarter of corn; and it was said, would it not make a great difference to the individual if the price of that quarter was reduced 10 per cent? Yes, that argument did very well per so; but suppose that by throwing land out of cultivation it injured the ability of the consumer to purchase, whence was the advantage to him? and that was just the argument for the validity of which he (Earl Stanhope) contended. A noble Lord who was connected with the county of Chester (Viscount Combermere) said, this was a landlord's question. But did not the noble Lord recollect that the great agricultural movement which commenced in 1843 originated with the tenant-farmers? The landlords did not bring them into the field, but they brought in the landlords. He would not attempt to weaken the forcible observation of the noble Duke on the cross benches 242 (the Duke of Richmond) who had well and wisely said, that the tenant had a greater interest in the matter than the landlord—for the landlord's share was but one quarter, whilst the tenant's was three; and again, that if the rent of the landlord was altogether swept away, the quartern loaf would not be diminished in price more than three farthings. These observations were founded upon truth, as any of their Lordships who were acquainted with the subject would at once perceive. Taking the average produce of our arable land at 28s. per acre, and taking the remunerating price to be as Mr. Canning had stated it, 62s. per quarter—a permanent reduction of 10s. per quarter would be most injurious, if not altogether fatal, to the interests of landlord and tenant; but in his (Earl Stanhope's) opinion, the reduction caused by the Bill before them would not be less than 20s. per quarter. A noble Lord, whose speech he had listened to with great attention, had stated that taxation and the wages of labour were the great elements of price, and that as both were higher in this country than on the Continent, the price of articles similar to theirs, must be higher here than there. But Sir Robert Peel went further, and said that a large debt and heavy taxation seemed, in his opinion, to justify and require cheapness of prices. Nothing could be more absurd. It was contradicted by the universal experience of all ages and of all countries. Nay, the very reverse was the case. He challenged any man to produce an instance of any country in which wages and prices were uniformerly low, in which even the most despotic monarchs had been able to raise a large amount of taxation. He did not deny that it was possible to reduce the price of corn; but that could only be done by reducing the amount of taxation to such a degree as to prevent the possibility of maintaining their obligations to the public creditor. They had been told a great deal about the beneficial effects flowing from the application of capital and skill, and were assured that by an improved system of cultivation, by increased habits of industry, and by the expenditure of more money, the English farmer would overcome all the dangers which surrounded him. The agriculturist had been told that he could and ought to grow five quarters of corn where but three were now raised; but he thought such a recommendation came with a very bad grace from those men who, when the agriculturists were in distress, 243 coldly assured them that misfortune arose from superabundance of protection. He denied altogether the false and scandalous imputation, that the English farmers were deficient in either skill, perseverance, or industry. In this country, the farmers, as compared with the growers elsewhere, had all the disadvantages of climate and soil to contend with, yet they produced a greater quantity of grain from the same area than any foreigner, even greater than the Hollander, whose industry and perseverance were objects of general admiration. But where was the inducement for the farmer to increase his exertions, to invest his money, or to exercise his skill? Surely it was not by taking from him all hope of obtaining a remunerating price for his corn—by exposing him to open competition with his continental neighbours, who had all the advantages of cheap labour and a low amount of taxation. But even suppose the farmer were to increase his produce, was it not perfectly clear he would be the loser, unless he increased it in proportion to the falling off in price which the measure would occasion? The advantage of the farmer did not merely consist in having abundant crops, but in having a good and a ready market, and a fair remunerating price. But there was one other consideration connected with this measure which he wished to impress in a particular manner on their Lordships, and which he thought ought to be regarded as a decisive objection to it. What would be the fate of the small occupiers of land both in Great Britain and in Ireland—he meant of those who cultivated small farms? It must be admitted, upon all hands, that this was a most valuable, a most important, a most meritorious class. They were eminently distinguished by their conduct and by their character, by social and public virtue. They occupied an intermediate position between the labourers and the large farmers. There could be no doubt, if this measure became a law, that these poor men must be replaced by others. Gracious Heaven! was that the system on which they meant to act? Was it really their Lordships' determination to drive from their homes—to consign to destitution and despair—millions of their deserving fellow countrymen in Great Britain and in Ireland? If such was their intention, let it be generally known, so that these poor people might be really apprised of their danger. And again, what would become of the retail dealers throughout the 244 country—what would become of the shopkeeper in the rural districts, whose best and almost only customer was the class which this Bill would destroy? And would not the destruction of these classes react with terrible effect on the manufacturer, who would not be able to sell his goods in the home market, because the scheme which he had originated and blindly urged on had destroyed his former customers? The noble Earl who brought forward the measure (the Earl of Ripon) asked what land would be thrown out of cultivation, whether any and what land would be so thrown out? A little reflection would have enabled the noble Lord himself to have resolved both questions. Much of the land was of poor soil, or land which was not so had in many cases poor tenants; now, the occupiers of these two species of land constituted a great bulk of the agricultural community; and would not the measure be hurtful to both? The one required, from the nature of the soil, an increased expenditure; the other, by reason of their poverty, could not subsist without adequate remuneration. He thought the misfortunes which had occurred in 1830 and in 1842 were nothing as compared to those which the present measure would entail. He was aware that many who voted for this measure both in this and in the other House of Parliament, alleged as a reason for so doing, that it was inevitable. These men were convinced that it would be prejudicial and destructive in the highest degree to the interest of this country; but yet, strange to say, they would vote for the measure on the ground of its necessity. That was like arguing that, because death was inevitable, they ought to commit suicide. He had no hesitation in saying, that such motives were base and servile, and unworthy of legislators. Every body must lament the wreck of public character and public confidence which had occurred on this question. A great political crime had been committed; and those who had committed it urged in justification of themselves, that it was impossible to prevent its consummation. It was said by the right hon. Gentleman by whose counsels this country had the great misfortune to be governed—a misfortune with which he had reason to believe and hope it would not be afflicted many days longer—that it was desirable to terminate the present conflict. So ignorant was that right hon. Gentleman of the signs of the times, or what he might have read in his- 245 tory, that he knew not that the effect of this unwise, unjust, and unnecessary concession would be to render the conflict fiercer and more formidable than ever. They would see drawn out in array all the productive classes of the country, whatever branch of industry they were engaged in, whether manufactures or agriculture, and they would form a formidable and, as the result would prove, an invincible phalanx. One noble Lord opposite seemed to exult greatly at the prospect of the ease and tranquillity he should enjoy at finding what he supposed to be the end of the agitation. In his (Earl Stanhope's) opinion, it was but the commencement. When the pressure began to be felt, then would the din of war be heard. Was the noble Lord so prejudiced as to suppose that the productive classes of this country would be plundered without a determined and resolute resistance—a resistance not violent, not by force of arms, but that passive resistance which ultimately no Government, hopever powerful, could overcome? Talk of this being an end to the question! Undoubtedly they could no longer have an Anti-Corn-Law League, but the same machinery would be employed. The same means, the same exertions would be directed to other and different objects, and with the same success. It had been avowed by that League that they had ulterior objects; and a principal member of that body, who also was in these enlightened times a Member of the House of Commons, had stated that his object was to level with the dust the aristocracy of England. He said then, if they made this base, this unworthy, and unwarrantable concession to clamour, the same agitation would be continued and increased for the attainment of those ulterior objects. At the time of the Reform Bill the noble Duke near him (the Duke of Wellington) asked "how the Government was to be carried on?" Now he (Earl Stanhope) thought the noble Duke might have received an answer from one of his own Colleagues. To answer that question, it was only necessary for him to watch attentively the conduct pursued by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. "How was the Government to be conducted?" How had it been conducted? Why, by basely, meanly, and pusillanimously crouching to the party who appeared to be the stronger, and by trampling upon those who appeared to be the weaker. If such had been the conduct pursued by that illustrious and immortal 246 Minister, Mr. Pitt, who was truly described as the "pilot who weathered the storm," this country would have had, could have had, no other fate than that of becoming either a republic, or a province of the French Empire—such was the premium offered to agitation; such the encouraged by the Minister of the day to that organized agitation which existed in Ireland as well as in this country. As far as Ireland was concerned, he believed that being essentially agricultural, and depending on the English market for the sale of its produce, the effect of the Bill under consideration must, at no distant period, be the Repeal of the Union. There was not an Irish farmer—nay, a common cottier, who held the smallest quantity of land, who could not feel that the Repeal of the Union, whatever else might be the evils attending upon it, though it involved the spoliation of the Protestant Church Establishment itself, and the accomplishment of the wildest projects of the great agitator, would still have this advantage, that an independent Irish Parliament would grant effectual protection to Irish industry. It was that that had induced the great agitator of Ireland to give his support to this measure; he was perfectly well aware that it would promote more effectually and speedily the object he had always had in view—the Repeal of the Union. With respect to Canada being favourable to this measure, he could refer their Lordships to the recent intelligence from that country, to the Address to Her Majesty from the Legislative Assembly, as well as to the excellent and instructive letters written by Mr. Buchanan, which could not be perused without feeling a deep conviction of their truth, in contradiction of that statement. But whatever were the objections to this Bill, according to the doctrine which had recently been maintained, that House was bound to pass it, because it had been proposed by the Ministers of the Crown, and approved by the House of Commons. Such an unconstitutional doctrine as that had never to his knowledge been proclaimed within the walls of either House of Parliament. Admit such a doctrine as that, and the independence of the House of Lords was at an end, its constitutional functions were destroyed! It would become and would be considered by the country as of no utility whatever. Nay, more, it would not only be regarded as useless, but as positively injurious to the best interests of 247 the country. There would then arise, throughout the length and breath of the land, a general cry for the abolition of the House; and when the aristocratical branch of the Legislature was once destroyed, they might depend upon it that the monarchical branch would soon follow! Before they decided on the passing of this Bill into a law, he conjured their Lordships to weigh well the opinion which the country would naturally and justly form of this House. It appeared that conversions to the Ministerial scheme were not limited to one side of the House; for the Noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Melbourne) gave a vote a few nights ago in favour of a measure which he himself, when he held the reins of power, represented as one of the wildest and maddest which the mind of man had ever conceived. In 1842, only five Members of their Lordships' House pronounced an opinion in favour of this measure; but now, in 1846, without any new facts and arguments being adduced, and without any change of circumstances, no less than 211 Peers had voted for the second reading of it. What opinion could be formed of such conduct, and what fate would their Lordships deserve and receive, when, having been weighed in the balance, they were found wanting? The step they had already taken, fortunately, was not the last, and it was yet within their power to save themselves from indelible disgrace, and their country from utter destruction. But if it persevered in the course it took on the second reading of the Bill, the vote it then gave would be the death-warrant of that House, and the time was not far distant when the country with a voice of thunder would demand the execution of that warrant. It had been said, that public opinion had changed upon this subject. But how had that been proved? Why in every instance in which the country had had an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon the question at elections that had recently taken place, it had been in opposition to this Bill. Let it not be supposed that the great principle of protection was not approved of by the majority of their Lordships. Those who thought so were entirely mistaken. He believed, that if they were to vote by ballot on that measure, the protection party would carry their opinions in both Houses by an immense majority. If it were possible to take the opinions of the House of Commons in that way, the great majority—voting by ballot 248 —would decide in favour of the principle of protection; and he was informed by those who were competent judges on the subject, that if their Lordships were tried by a similar test, that not twenty Peers would be found giving their vote in favour of the measure. The Prime Minister of the country had spent ten years in creating a party, on the principle of protection, which in ten days he had shivered into fragments, and scattered to the winds. Another party had now been created, whose existence would be enduring, as their principles were built upon a rock that could not be shaken by the waves. In the course of a few weeks, without any previous preparation or organization of purpose, 240 enlightened, intelligent, and patriotic Members of Parliament had united together upon the bond of public principle—and who had the advantage of having a noble Lord as their leader, whose public support and superior talents did honour to the party with which he was connected, and to whom, although he had not the pleasure of being personally known, he was anxious to tender his homage and respect. Let it always be recollected, he said, that if their Lordships wished to preserve their political existence—if they wished to preserve that which constituted political power, which, when once lost they could never regain—he meant the confidence of the people—unless they could contemplate without dismay the discredit that must necessarily arise from the measure as a whole, it was their duty to resist it unless they were willing to dismember the Empire, and bring down an irremediable destruction upon the country, and ultimately consent to the destruction of the monarchy itself. He would therefore move, as an Amendment, that their Lordships should go into Committee that day six months.
§ The EARL of ESSEX
said, that the noble Lord had argued as if the produce of this country was sufficient to meet the demand, and he would inquire if such was the case. How was it that they at presented imported so large a quantity of foreign grain into this country? It was perfectly clear, that the home supply was inadequate to meet the demand; and he contended that, if grain could be procured at a cheaper rate, the demand would be considerably increased. In reference to what had fallen from the noble Earl on the subject of those who had changed their opinions on the question, he repudiated the 249 imputation that they had been actuated by sordid or servile motives; and declared that, so far as he was concerned, if the opinions of their Lordships should be taken by means of the ballot—he declared, in the presence of his God, that, if there should be only twenty Peers found voting in favour of the measure, he would be one of that twenty.
The EARL of STANHOPE
explained, and denied having used the term "sordid." He did not attribute such motives to the noble Earl, as he could not know his thoughts; but when he found such a number of persons in both Houses of Parliament expressing their opinions against the principle of the Bill, and yet voting for it, he could not but think that their conduct was somewhat servile.
The EARL of RADNOR
said, that he hoped to produce such arguments as would induce the House to pass this Bill without alteration. As to the apprehensions of the noble Earl, he did not lay such stress upon them as he would have done if he had not heard the noble Earl in former years make similar prophecies, which had not been fulfilled. For himself he had nothing to explain, for he had uniformly supported similar measures; but he could find other motives than baseness and servility for those who had altered their opinions. Neither was it his duty to say anything in support of Sir Robert Peel, who had friends enough in that House to defend him; but the insinuations against the right hon. Baronet were unfounded, for what motive could he have had in proposing this measure, and making great sacrifices for it, except the most honourable? But when a charge was made against an hon. Friend of his (Mr. Bright) for what he might have said at Covent-garden, he thought that, with the provocation given, persons might have used expressions which could not in cooler moments be justified. As an example of the abuse used against his friends, he might refer to a report in The Times of a meeting in Dorsetshire, in which it was said that Mr. Cobden "was properly called the Devil, for he was the father of lies." And the expression of his hon. Friend as to putting an end to the domination of the hereditary peerage, and overwhelming it in the dust, alluded only to the domination with which the aristocracy was standing up for the Corn Law, which he (the Earl of Radnor) maintained was most unjust. But then it was said that agitation would con- 250 tinue: he must say this was not the first time agitation had prevailed; it had prevailed on other occasions; but no agitation would ever prevail unless the good sense of the people went along with the object. If the Government did not adopt measures which were called for by common sense, reason, and the general voice of the country, the people must either obtain them by agitation, or they must do without them. That was the case with respect to Catholic Emancipation, and that was the case with respect to this Bill; and, if the League should continue agitation for an improper purpose, it would no more prevail than agitation now prevailed for the Repeal of the Union. Next, it was said that the Bill was founded on theory, and in practice could not be successful; but theory was only tested by practice, and if practice did not prove it to be good, the theory was bad; theory was only the rationale of prictice. He said, then, that those who supported the protectionists were the wildest theorists. For thirty years they had in theory promised to benefit the farmers, and yet in practice they had never done so. The practice had proved that their theory was bad: they had been carried away by the word "protection," and nothing else. In fact, the sliding-scale men were the wildest theorists that had ever been seen in England; while the principles of free trade, wherever they had been tried, had been found perfectly successful in practice. The noble Duke (the Duke of Cleveland) had dwelt upon the effect of this measure on the small tenantry; and he had told the House that he had on one of his estates tenants of that class whose families had been on the land for 450 years, and he had asked why he should be obliged to turn them off the land; but it struck him (the Earl of Radnor) that these small tenants, whose ancestors were serfs to the ancestors of the noble Duke, had not thriven much under a system of protection, for they were probably at present little better off than the serfs their ancestors. Then he did not see why the noble Duke should turn them off the land in consequence of this measure. If the country generally was benefited by it, these persons would be sharers in the common good. At any rate the noble Duke had no right to wish to be charitable to them at the expense of the people of England. It was said that we could not contend, if this Bill passed, with the low wages and low food of the Poles; but if so, 251 how was it that we had competed successfully against the low wages and low living of Ireland? He had never heard that question answered, or any explanation how it was that we could not compete with a country thirteen days' sail from us, when we competed successfully with a country thirteen hours' sail from us, in precisely similar circumstances of fertility, cheapness of lahour, and lowness of food. Appeals had been made to the antiquity of the Corn Laws; and their Lordships had been warned to adhere to the wisdom of their ancestors with respect to them. Now it was true that this country had had Corn Laws since the reign of King John; but every one of these laws, with the exception of one, the 3rd Edward IV., cap. 2, which the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) referred to in the late debate, up to the period when the landed interest obtained greater power in Parliament, had been laws not for protection, but for providing food for the people. That Act, the 3rd Edward IV., cap. 2, prohibited the importation of corn up to a certain price; but if the noble Lord had looked a little further, he would have found that chapter 4, of the same year, also prohibited the importation of all articles of manufacture whatever from abroad. This country was to have no communication with foreign countries for the supply of its wants; it was to be self-dependent: was the noble Lord prepared to go that length? The noble Earl then quoted, from the Paston Letters some expressions in a letter (written about the same period) of Dame Margaret Paston to her son Sir John, stating that malt was very dear, and wheat was 8s. 8d. a quarter, and that the king had prohibited the exportation of wheat, and ending with the remark, "I fear we shall have a right strange world," for the purpose of showing that exportation was forbidden as well as importation; and then went through the titles of various statutes up to the reign of Charles II., to show that all the legislation up to that period on this subject had been, not for protection, but with a view of providing food for the people. When the landed interest got the upper hand in Parliament, a new system was introduced, and the idea of protection began to be acted on. An Act was passed in the 12th year of the reign of Charles II., imposing duties on the importation of corn, and another in the 15th year, by which those duties were increased. At that time it was confessed without scruple 252 that the object of these Acts was to keep up the rent of land. This was not so openly confessed at present; but there could be little doubt that protection was desired for that purpose. Then came the system of bounties upon exportation in the reign of William and Mary, by which the gross injustice was perpetrated, that not only was the price of food raised, but a tax was laid upon the people for the advantage of the owners of land. Under this system, exportation, of course, took place to a large extent. Between six and seven millions of money was paid in the shape of bounties, and upwards of 2,000,000 quarters of wheat exported. Owing, he presumed, to the increase in the population, in 1750 exportation began to decrease, and from that period it went on constantly diminishing until we became an importing country, and as such we had gone gradually increasing up to the present time. One would imagine, to hear the arguments on the other side of the House, that the natural state was a state of restriction, and that commercial freedom was a mere experiment, whereas it was just the very reverse of this. The Corn Laws were an experiment, and the natural state was a state of freedom. It was Paine, he believed, who, in one of his publications, speaking of the plan of a sinking fund for paying the national debt, said it was like a man with a wooden leg running after a hare—the faster he ran, the wider they were apart. And so it was with protection—the more they increased protection, the further were they from benefiting agriculture. It was said the present measure would benefit merely the manufacturing interest. He denied this, and thought it would benefit both the agricultural and manufacturing interest; but he maintained, that even if it were true that the manufacturing interest alone would be benefited by it, the landed interest ought to give it their best support. In the first place, he would remark that it was said on the other side that the landed interest was by far the largest and most important in the country. He denied that it was so, and appealed to the Population Returns in proof of his assertion.
The EARL of RANDOR
replied, that the Returns were prepared with great care, and that he had no doubt of their perfect accuracy.
§ The DUKE of RICHMOND
said, that 253 what he meant was, that in the last Population Returns every man was returned as a manufacturer who belonged to any trade or handicraft, though supported by the agriculturists; for instance, every tradesman in a country village was put down as a manufacturer.
The EARL of RADNOR
repeated his belief in the perfect accuracy of the Returns, and proceeded to say, that in 1811 it appeared that the agriculturists amounted to 35 per cent of the population; in 1821 they were only 33 per cent; in 1831 they were reduced to 28 per cent; and in 1841 they were still further diminished to 22 per cent. Had the agricultural population in 1841 borne the same proportion to the other classes of the population as they did in 1811, they would have consisted of 2,445,500 more persons than at present. The consequence would have been, that the agricultural interest would have had so many more persons to support; and, as these would generally have been of the poorer sort of persons, an additional poor rate of nearly 1,000,000l. would necessarily have been thrown upon the agriculturists. From this additional payment, however, they had been relieved by the diminution of the agricultural population. The noble Earl also entered into calculations to show, that from the same cause the agricultural interest had been relieved of 6,500,000l. of other taxes, which would have fallen upon them had they continued to bear the same proportion to the other classes of the population in 1841 as they did in 1811. He said, therefore, that even if there was no reason in the justice of the case why the Corn Laws ought to be taken off the landed interest, they ought to do any thing rather than injure the manufacturer. But he maintained, that on the ground of justice alone, the measure ought to be supported. When the Canada Corn Bill was before that House, he (the Earl of Radnor) opposed it, because it was a departure from the principles of free trade; and he felt, what had since come to pass, that it would create interests which at a future time would be used against the principle of free trade. Wherever free trade had been really carried out, it had been successful, more particularly in the case of the shipping interest, woollens, and silks. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) had argued that there had been a falling off in the Baltic timber trade, but that had been amply made up by the greater increase in the general 254 shipping trade. From 1842 to 1845 the increase had been from 563,000 tons to 1,114,000 tons. The same results had followed with regard to the articles of the Tariff, on which reductions had been made. The principles of free trade were no longer an experiment; they had been tried for nearly five years in this country, and with the greatest success. He was prepared to support the measure throughout.
The EARL of WICKLOW
was rather surprised that up to this time no one connected with Ireland had risen to address the House on the question under consideration. The sentiments which he entertained on this subject were different from those held by those with whom he was generally accustomed to vote, and therefore he thought it incumbent on him to make a few observations. He believed the head of the Government had brought forward this measure from no other motive than that of promoting the public good; but he (the Earl of Wicklow) was persuaded that no advantage that could arise from the passing of the measure could recompense the country for the loss of character which public men would sustain by it. He did not envy that man his constitution of mind who, having for thirty years consistently pursued one course of policy with regard to a measure of this kind, could afterwards turn round and declare that the very measure which during that period he had been opposing with all his vigour and ability, was now necessary for the public welfare. It was impossible the great Conservative party in this country could a second time pardon an act of this kind. On one occasion they had done so with much difficulty; but the guilt of turning round and deserting those who were his followers, appeared to him (the Earl of Wicklow) to be an act which it was impossible to forgive. It was with deep regret he said this, because on account of this circumstance he believed the administration of the existing Government was at an end altogether. The betrayal of confidence was not confined to the Minister; it extended to those who had deserted their principles without affording their constituents an opportunity of saying whether they approved or disapproved of their conduct. The hour of retribution, however, was not far distant; and many of those Gentlemen who had deserted their principles would soon have an opportunity of pondering in retirement on the course they had pursued as public men. There was another point growing out of this mat- 255 ter. If any Peers had left proxies with the Government, in the belief that they intended to act on the principle of protection, and if these parties had not had means of communicating their wishes on this measure—he did not know that there were any noble Lords in this situation, there might be—and if their proxies were given for it, those Peers would have been betrayed. He was not aware of any such proxies having been brought forward; but he knew that the name of the noble Lord the Governor of Canada had been removed from the proxy list, in consequence of the opinions which he had given in public. On the subject of protection, he (the Earl of Wicklow) differed from most of his noble Friends with whom he voted. He conceived that protection to British industry was not necessary, because our manufacturing industry had been brought to such a state of perfection that it could compete with all the world. And he also believed that there was no country in the world in which agriculture was carried to greater perfection than in England. He thought all the industrious classes of this country capable of competing with all the world; and therefore it was the duty of the Government of this country to support the principle of free trade. But he thought their Lordships and the Government of the country would find very great difficulty in persuading other nations to follow our example. There were two things which appeared to him to be absolutely necessary to enable this country to adopt the principles of free trade. One of these was within our own power and scope—he meant perfect justice and impartiality in the mode in which free-trade principles were carried out; and the other was reciprocity on the part of foreign countries. It was for the want of these qualities in this particular Bill that he objected to it. It was not because it did not contain the principle of free trade, but because it did not carry out that principle justly and fairly. If the farmers of this country were to have to compete with foreigners, what right had the Government to deprive them of those advantages with regard to the necessaries of life generally, which in the article of bread was conceded to all other consumers? Why should the farmers of this country pay a high price for their tea, coffee and sugar? This was an injustice that would act most oppressively upon them. As long as the Legislature continued to tax those articles which were so necessary for the consumption 256 of the people, they had no right to say to them "you shall compete with foreign nations with regard to your agriculture." On these grounds he thought some amendments ought to be made in this Bill. So long as the Government derived a revenue from their Customs, that revenue would act as a protection; and the same degree of protection should, by right and justice, he extended to the farming interests of this country. But there was another object to be attained, which it appeared to him was indispensable for carrying out the principles of free trade. He might be sneered at by the political economists for saying it; but he thought it absolutely necessary that there should be a reciprocity with other nations. We were told that that would follow as a matter of course; that if we adopted just principles, other nations would find it to be their interest to tread in our steps. He believed the direct contrary would be the case. If the object of this country was to get Europe and America to adopt free-trade principles, the proper course would be not to abandon protection until they agreed to adopt the principles of free trade; if this country did otherwise, the whole advantage arising from free trade would be pocketed by foreign countries. If the Customs duties were reduced, the increased consumption might be productive of an increased revenue; but if the duties were taken off altogether, something else should be substituted for them. Other countries, by keeping up their duties, or by putting on as much as we took off, would keep themselves in the same relative position in which they were previously, and the advantage of the reductions made by us would be exclusively enjoyed by them. It was quite clear that under such a system the people of England would have to pay a heavy income tax to support the revenue of foreign countries. Was that a state of things which the farmers of this country ought to tolerate? He was aware that there were various reasons which induced noble Lords to vote for this Bill; but it was the first time in his long Parliamentary experience that he had seen two parties voting for a measure of which they entirely disapproved. Men must be party men; but he defied any one to show him from the history of this country, any transaction like this. Last year, the whole of the Whigs and Conservatives were protectionists, and they only differed as to the mode of carrying out their views. The noble Marquess opposite (the 257 Marquess of Lansdowne) shook his head; but he was then a thorough protectionist, so far as a fixed duty was concerned.
The EARL of WICKLOW
The noble Marquess was for an 8s. duty. Was that for revenue, or for protection?
The EARL of WICKLOW
recollected the noble Marquess saying he was in favour of the 8s. duty as a protection to agriculture. But if this measure was so desirable, why was the country to be deprived of this great benefit for three years? No Member of Her Majesty's Government had attempted to answer that question; but he should offer some conjecture upon it himself. In November last a very odd transaction occurred. The Government went out of office, and returned again without giving any explanation to the country. When questions were put in the early part of the Session, promises of explanation when the proper time arrived were made; but the time arrived, and explanations were not forthcoming. The three years' probation appeared to him to be thrown in as a sort of sop, to tranquillize the minds of the timid persons whose support would be of advantage to it. The principal grounds for the Bill, as alleged by the Government, were, that it would serve as an effectual remedy for the apprehended potato famine in Ireland. But the statements put forth with respect to that calamity were very much exaggerated. The Government no doubt felt that there were abundant causes for alarm, for they sent people to Ireland to ascertain the extent of the evil; and those persons furnished reports which were the ridicule of the entire Irish peasantry, so absurd were their recommendations and suggestions; but notwithstanding the Government thought it the most opportune time to bring forward the measure. The measure might have remedied the evil, if it existed to the extent stated, by its coming into instant operation; but when three years' probation were proposed, the entire argument fell to the ground, because the evil that was sought to be remedied could not be cured by a measure that was not to come into operation for three years. With regard to the potato disease, he was happy to state that the Government had been completely and entirely met. He was sure that Government would now admit it; for the burden of their song had been, "Wait 258 till the end of May or the month of June, and you will find that Ireland will be in an alarming state of destitution in consequence of the failure in the potato crop." Those periods had arrived; and as their predictions had not been verified, he hoped they would for the future forego the argument that the alarming state of Ireland was a sufficient reason for the sudden abrogation of protection. He confessed that his alarm at the withdrawal of protection was not merely on account of this country, but also on account of the Colonies. He believed the arguments adduced by the noble Earl at the Table (Earl Stanhope) was quite conclusive on this subject, that there were only two ways in which the Colonies could be useful to the mother country. Mr. Burke, whose authority it was rather out of fashion to quote, had said there were but two ways by which the Colonies could be useful to the mother country—either by taxation, or by a monopoly of their commerce. By the monopoly of commerce it had been laid down that benefit could be derived from the Colonies; but how could the Colonies, Canada for instance, be of service to the mother country, if neither of the principles of taxation or monopoly were to be exercised? They might be expensive, and it was probable they might be the cause of involving the mother country in a war; but of what service could they be in return, if they were told that they should have no protection for their commerce, while they were expected to give the monopoly of their trade. He had been credibly informed that the United States were now able to compete successfully with Manchester. Now, if that were the case, how would it fare with Canada and the other Colonies? What would become of the shipping trade? What would become of their seamen? The noble Lord opposite (Earl Grey) had said that the Colonies, though labouring under the disadvantages entailed upon them by the withdrawal of protection, would be satisfied with the proud consciousness that they belonged to England, and that that boast would be held a sufficient equivalent for the loss they might sustain. He believed that no such feeling existed among the colonists; for however attached the weak ones might be, others better able to protect themselves would feel greater pride in being independent; and, thinking the mother country no longer of advantage, would perceive that their best course would be to make themselves altogether independent of her. He 259 might be an erroneous prophet, and he sincerely hoped that the sequel might prove it; but he could not help expressing his opinion that, should this measure pass into law, before the expiration of five years, Canada would no longer be a dependence of the British Empire. But the question had to be viewed in another of its bearings. Upon a previous occasion, when the Bill was passing through some of its stages in the other House, an hon. Member in opposition put a question to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, "What do you intend to do with the tithe-rent charge?" And the reply was, "I don't mean to make any alteration, because I don't expect any diminution of price." He would pass by the question of the absurdity of expecting that benefit could be derived, where there would be no diminution of price; for upon a fall in price the entire argument depended. But he would pass on to another observation made by the right hon. Baronet on the occasion of the second reading of the Bill, which had forcibly struck him. The right hon. Baronet said that he would admit the measure might press heavily upon those who might have their estates burdened, but that the great benefit to the country generally would be more than a counterbalance. Now, he would inquire how those landed proprietors who had their estates burdened could be injured, if there were not to be any diminution of prices? He mentioned those things to show the contradictory nature of the arguments adduced by the supporters of the Bill, and in proof of the ignorance that existed among statesmen who undertook to legislate in matters of this kind. He implored their Lordships to pause before they came to any hasty determination upon a matter of suchimmense importance. Let them remember that although the Bill had received a second reading, such sanction was not conclusive. The present question was not to be put in comparison with the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. It was true that noble Lords changed their opinions very suddenly then, but they were justified in so doing; for not only had they before their eyes—though that might not have influenced them then, as he regretted to say it seemed to do now—a sudden change of opinion in the Government of the day; but the more powerful argument that the House of Commons had in successive Parliaments sanctioned the measure. But how stood the case now? 260 Was there ever a measure of so important a character as the present carried the first time that it was proposed? It was an erroneous idea that the country approved of the measure and required its enactment. There was no such expectation in the country generally; and he hoped the House would not quietly surrender its judgment because a few clamorous agitators made a noise. The people of the country were tranquil, because they confided in the wisdom of their Lordships' decisions. Let them not be disappointed. They looked to their Lordships for protection, and appealed to them whether, because the League were clamorous, and many of them possessing great powers of debate, that they alone constituted the people of the country. They were no such thing; and he hoped the House would adopt such an amendment as would serve to defeat the measure, at least for the present Session. He was convinced that the Government which was to succeed the present—and he supposed in a short time—would raise itself in the estimation of the country, and obtain the attachment of the people by a compromise, which would be satisfactory to all parties. The Leaguers might be a little clamorous at first; but he would put it to the noble Lord himself (Lord Radnor), whether, six months ago, he would not have been delighted to have got a Bill with a small fixed duty? The noble Lord concluded by expressing his intention, when in Committee, to propose a fixed duty of 5s. as one likely to conciliate all parties.
§ LORD LYTTELTON
, with their Lordships' permission, was anxious to address some observations on the subject before the House, so far as regarded their colonial possessions. His noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade had adverted to this branch of the question, and he (Lord Lyttelton) owed an apology to the House for again referring to it; but representing, as he did, the Colonial Department in that House, he felt he could not avoid referring to it. On this subject generally he was certainly satisfied, as he thought probably many of their Lordships would be, that in a matter of this kind the Colonies must needs follow in the wake of the mother country, and partake in the system adopted by her. If the great interests of this country required that the trade in corn should be free, it would be manifestly impossible for the Colonies not to be participators of the same system. Except there was a system of bounties on 261 colonial produce, which would, he thought, find few supporters, he did not see how the Colonies should be exempt from the same law under which the mother country was placed. He should endeavour to lay before their Lordships some grounds for the Bill, and to show that those of their Colonies that were interested in this question need be under no apprehension about the result of this measure. The Colonies that were interested were only some of their Australian Colonies and Canada. He said "some" of their Australian Colonies; for, with reference to New South Wales, it was a country which imported wheat for its consumption; it was a country of very great and rapidly increasing prosperity, and the capital and interest of its inhabitants took the direction of pastoral occupation. On both these grounds New South Wales would be more and more an importing country of wheat; and on that ground its neighbours that had wheat to export would find New South Wales a better market for their wheat than this country. With reference to Van Diemen's Land and South Australia, they need be under no apprehension from the result of free trade. During the years 1843 and 1844 in one of those Colonies the average price was 26s. per quarter; in the other, something about 28s. The freight thence to this country would be about 20s. per quarter, which brought up the price at which they could sell their wheat here to about 47s. or 48s. This low amount would enable them to compete with the markets of other countries; and those Colonies had besides a natural protection, which he thought he put down at a very low rate when he put it down at 10s. a quarter, resulting from the incomparable quality of their produce. He had not practical knowledge on this subject; but he had lately seen some wheat coming from South Australia, and he was convinced that not one of their Lordships, with more ample knowledge on the subject, had ever seen wheat to compare with that South Australian wheat. Now, with reference to the most prominent interest involved in this question—namely, the Canadian question—in the first place, everything that had been alleged on the side of the opponents of this Bill with reference to the interests of Canada was no more than was alleged with reference to every single interest that ever was affected by an alteration in the customs duties. In the year 1842, when the Tariff was under discussion, the repre- 262 sentatives of every single interest supposed to be affected visited the Board of Trade, to lay before his right hon. Friend who was then Vice President a statement on paper of the certain and inevitable ruin which the proposed Tariff would bring on those interests; and some of their Lordships might have seen a pamphlet which was published by Mr. Gladstone, showing that all those anticipations had been falsified—that those trades remained as they had been, or had received a considerable increase. Had the Canada interest gone backward from that period? No, it had not. Those who were interested in the Canadian timber trade, asserted that the reduction of 20s. a load in the differential duties would bring destruction on their trade. That was in 1842; but the President of the Board of Trade laid a statement before them the other day respecting that trade, and it appeared that in the last year the price of Canadian timber, which for two or three years after that alteration had been lower, giving the consumer the whole benefit of the reduction, had, in consequence of the increase of the demand, concurrently with the increase in consumption, recovered its former amount. It was to be hoped that a similar result with respect to the Canadas would attend this measure. And to show that there were good grounds for that hope, he would lay before their Lordships some considerations drawn from the nature of the case itself. And first, he would refer to the feelings of the Canadians themselves, though he could not refuse to admit, that, in doing so, he was arguing the question under great disadvantages, in consequence of the Address which had been received from the Canadian Legislature, and which had been so often referred to in the course of the debate. In admitting that, however, he did not know if there were any occasion for him to make the same disclaimer which had been made by the noble President of the Board of Trade, as to any knowledge respecting the existence of that document. It was well known that the Canadian mail was not due till the 29th of each month—it was received late; and on the occasion in question, the contents of the mail were not known till ten o'clock on the following morning. He had admitted that he laboured under disadvantages from the fact of the existence of that Address from the Canadas; but he knew that the whole tone and purport of that Address were entirely inconsistent with the occurrences which 263 had taken place in the Canadian Legislature. He had been informed, and was enabled to state on the best authority, that the Address had been passed most unexpectedly. If any noble Lord would take the trouble to refer to the reports of the debate, or rather of the "no debate," on the occasion of the Address being carried, they would see that there was very little argument indeed. The Motion for the Address was carried just before the mail went out. It was moved by Mr. Holmes in a very few words, that a Committee should be appointed to consider the Address; and not one word was said in the reports in the newspapers beyond the fact of the appointment of that Committee. It might be said that this showed the unanimity of the Legislative Assembly on the question; but if any of their Lordships would take the trouble of reading the full and complete report of the debate which took place on the Premier's Resolutions, it appeared to him (Lord Lyttelton) that he would necessarily participate in the surprise which the adoption of the Address had, he was bound to say, caused to Her Majesty's Government. The Address was altogether unexpected; and the Members of Her Majesty's Government could not but think that the next mail would bring some document of a different character. The resolutions which were carried certainly had not gone the whole way in any affirmation or approval of the policy of Her Majesty's Government; but he would refer to it with the greatest confidence, as a proof that the Canadians were ready to accept that policy in a spirit of manliness and resolution. Above all, he had the highest authority for saying that the bare idea of the measures of Her Majesty's Ministry having caused, or being likely to cause, the slightest diminution in the spirit of loyalty among the Canadians, was as wild and absurd as any in the world. Whatever disapproval had been expressed by persons of eminence in Canada, it had not taken the line of disapproval of the present measure as it was, but showed that those who felt that apprehension were alarmed, unless this measure were accompanied by others in the same direction. Their Lordships would see there was a great difference between total disapproval, and such qualified opposition as that. The speech of Mr. Merritt, who brought forward certain resolutions conceived in this spirit, in an address of great ability and length, so far 264 from disapproving of this measure, entered with great talent on a consideration of the arguments and policy of the First Minister of the Crown, and concluded in these words:—With these resources at command, why should we not avail ourselves of the accidental and natural advantages we possess, and promptly follow this great movement; which, happily, has been introduced under the sanction of the most eminent statesmen, in the greatest nation of the present day?He would also refer, in support of that statement, to the proceedings of the great meeting held at Montreal, soon after the debate. To any noble Lord who had read the report of these proceedings, he would appear justified in relying on them as an additional proof of what he had said. A resolution had been proposed in favour of the measure, which, however, had not been carried—it had been defeated by a very small majority. But he would call the attention of the House to the words of the resolution which had been carried. It stated—That, whilst this meeting has in view the ultimate establishment of free trade in this Colony, it nevertheless, if hereafter found necessary, will use its influence to ensure the continuance of such protective duties on our produce going into the markets of Great Britain and Ireland as the Imperial Parliament, in its wisdom and justice, may now or hereafter see fit to enact for the welfare and prosperity of this country. In the meantime, however, this meeting is of opinion the dangers apprehended from the change of system may only be met by a wise and timely adjustment of depending interests to suit the altered circumstances of her relations with the mother country.It would be seen from these words that the meeting evidently looked forward to the ultimate adoption, and that at no very distant period, of some further measures in addition to the present. Much stress had been laid on the first despatch of the Governor General on this subject. But that despatch was not intended to convey the deliberate sentiments of the Governor General himself, but was merely a representation of the views and arguments which had been laid before him in his official capacity on the question. So far from that being the case, he was enabled to say that the Governor General did not hold these opinions in their full extent, though he certainly did anticipate some, though not very serious detriment to the Colony unless other measures of a similar character were carried. As far as their feelings were concerned, he would show that the Canadians needed not to be under any apprehension as to the effect of the 265 measure. Mr. Cayley, the Inspector General, who was the Finance Minister of Canada, made certain calculations on the price of corn from the time it was shipped at Ontario till its arrival in Great Britain, and came to the conclusion that it might be landed in England for 40s. He (Lord Lyttelton) believed that one or two items had been placed too low; but he had received calculations in detail from Mr. Gillespie, a leading Canadian merchant, who viewed this measure without apprehension, from which it would appear that corn could be landed in Liverpool at 46s. a quarter. As to the question of competition with the United States, which formed the chief ground of apprehension as to the effect of the Ministerial measure, he was utterly at a loss to conceive how it could be asserted that the Canadians would not be able to compete with the Americans with respect to the corn trade in the English market. Why could not the people of Upper Canada compete with the Americans of the Western States? Their soil was about the same, the wages of labour were about the same, and the quality of the best Canadian wheat was equal to the best grain in England. He believed that the difference of freight between New York and England, as contrasted with the freight between Quebec and England, was somewhat in favour of the Americans; but that advantage was counterbalanced by other considerations, and could, it might be safely said, be overcome by the enterprize and energy of the Canadians. There was very little shipbuilding in Canada, at present; but it was to be expected that they would hereafter apply their industry to that pursuit. Long before the present measure had been introduced, the whole question between the Canadas and America had been set forth in the Report of the Legislative Council of Canada, at a time when the great improvements had taken place in that country. That report, which was made in 1842, was strongly in favour of protection; but nevertheless it would appear from the details that the advantages of the St. Lawrence and the Hudson were very nearly balanced. It also stated that—After the enlargement of the Erie Canal shall have been completed, which is our most formidable rival, notwithstanding the reduction heretofore mentioned by the St. Lawrene, the cost of transportation through the two channels will be nearly equal.He had seen a calculation in figures, with which he would not now trouble their Lordships, in reference to the two routes, 266 one from Buffalo to New York by the Erie canal and Hudson river, and the other from the entrance of Welland Canal on Lake Erie to Montreal, in reference to transshipment, &c.; and in every one respect except the length of canal, the advantage was in favour of the Canadians. He would read to their Lordships the following extract from a despatch of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) to Lord Cathcart, dated the 3rd of March, 1846, in reference to the advantages possessed by Canada:—Among them," stated the despatch, "I reckon her light taxation; the assistance she has received from British credit and funds, in the construction and improvement of her internal communications; her more regular and steady course of trade with this country; her low tariff, so favourable to importation, and, on that account, powerfully tending to encourage her reciprocal commerce outwards; some advantage in the point of proximity, as compared with the most westerly States of the Union, which are also her most formidable rivals in cheapness of production; and lastly, the means of carriage without transshipments by the St. Lawrence, which cannot be had by the way of the Erie Canal. She will likewise have this in her favour, that her corn trade will have become a settled one of some standing, with all its arrangements made and in full operation, while any regular commerce in that article from the United States must be a new creation, and must go through the processes attending its self-adjustment to circumstances as yet untried; and if it be true that New York offers some advantages as compared with Montreal, particularly in regard to the rate of insurance, on the other hand I consider that the shipping of British North America has many advantages over that of the United States in the competition for freights, as it is constructed at a far less expense, and is, I must assume, navigated with equal vigour and equal economy.He was not aware in what particular any part of that statement could be controverted. And what argument in opposition was brought forward in this Canadian Address which, was now so much talked of? Only one, and that was, that the route by the St. Lawrence was frozen up six months in the year. But the same was nearly the case with the Erie Canal, which was the great route for American produce. He therefore thought that there was no doubt that with reasonable efforts on the part of the Canadians, they could compete successfully with the Americans, especially as great improvements had recently taken place in Canadian agriculture by the application of increased capital and in other respects. Having said this much, he was not now willing, if he were able, to follow noble Lords at any length into a general disquisition of what was called the colonial 267 system. He did not believe in the advantage or benefit of that system. He would not adopt any of the violent language of the Anti-Corn-Law League, and call it a system of mutual robbery; but it was a system of mutual privation and mutual impediment. These restrictions were either injurious or superfluous; injurious, if the protected produce could be more conveniently obtained from other places; superfluous if it could not. Then they were asked—What are the use of Colonies, unless this system is maintained? It had been stated with a degree of fearlessness, for which he had scarcely given the noble Lord (Stanley) credit, that a monopoly was the only chance for our Colonies. He was ready to admit that it would not be easy to say what was the value of the colonial system in a pecuniary point of view. He had always considered that the Colonies were not so much to be regarded as of use in that light, as in providing an outlet for our superfluous population, and continuing the laws, habits, and institutions of this country to the furthest ends of the earth. This he had always considered to be the use of Colonies; and the way to preserve their attachment was by imparting to them the same freedom as we enjoyed, and not by an adherence to a scanty remnant of a perishing system. This vaunted colonial system could hardly be said to exist but in name: it was against the interest of the mother country, and only nominally in favour of the Colonies. They had heard of the antiquity of this system; yet, however ancient it might be, it was not coeval with our early settlements. Our early charters with Virginia gave the inhabitants the power of free trade with all the world; and with respect to parts of this system—the system of timber duties, for instance — there was hardly one of their Lordships within whose lifetime that system had not begun. It commenced in 1808. Was there no actual example to prove the truth of what he was now stating? His right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) had in his last despatch referred to the Australian Colonies. With respect to those great communities, which, owing to the incredible rapidity of their advance, were calculated to add to the glory of the English name, the system was hardly anything but nominal; and in regard to their most important and most abundant produce, that of wool, within the last few years the trade had been entirely thrown open, and the opening of the trade 268 had been followed by an enormous increase in it, and had tended to the general prosperity of those Colonies.
The DUKE of BUCKINGHAM
was not one of those who wished to attribute unworthy motives, or to use harsh terms towards those who had changed their opinions; at the same time he must be allowed, in the course of his observations, to refer to one or two speeches made by his friends upon the Treasury bench during the time he had the honour of being among them. The question now before their Lordships appeared to him to be this — whether, in the present circumstances of the country, they could carry out free-trade measures? The theory of free trade might be all very well; but he denied that the system of free trade could be practically carried out in this country. They were now called upon to open their ports to foreigners, and no longer to afford any protection to the English agriculturists. If they could place the agriculturists of this country in a similar situation to that of foreigners, and if they relieved them from the burdens with which they were overwhelmed, there would be some reason for insisting on the adoption of free-trade measures; but it was not right or just to apply a system of free trade to this country, which was more heavily burdened with local and general taxation than any country in the world. If their Lordships thought that the farmers of this country, while they continued subject to these serious burdens, could successfully compete with foreigners, a few short years would suffice to convince them of their mistake. It was quite impossible for the English farmer, however practised he might be in agriculture, and however anxious to improve the cultivation of his land, to compete with the foreign farmer, who was not burdened with the same amount of local and general taxation. It had been stated that the farmers of this country were behindhand as compared with the farmers of other countries in their general system of cultivation; and it was said that a larger amount of capital ought to be expended on the improvement of the land. The English farmers were most anxious to apply their capital to the cultivation of the soil; but if their resources were crippled, as they must necessarily be by the present measure, they would be unable to carry out any improvements. Many tracts of wild and barren country had been brought into a high state of cultivation by the skill, and industry, 269 and expenditure of the English farmer; but he contended that if the present measure was adopted, those large and valuable tracts of country would at once be thrown out of cultivation. There was, however, another point in connexion with this question to which he wished to direct their Lordships' attention—the reduction in the rate of labourers' wages which would necessarily ensue under the operation of this measure. They could not suppose, with the reduction in the price of corn which must be occasioned by this Bill, that the farmer could continue to afford his labourers the same rate of wages which he could now pay, while he obtained a remunerating price. If they reduced the profits of the farmer, the farmer must reduce the wages of the labourers whom he employed; and he considered that no greater misfortune could befall this country than a reduction of the wages of the rural population, which were not excessive, or such as in his opinion they ought to be. He considered also that the tithe question was another point deserving serious consideration in connexion with this question. Not many years ago an Act of Parliament was passed for the commutation of tithes, previously to which many petitions had been presented to their Lordships, setting forth the great distress of the working clergy, and praying for an alteration of the tithe system. The tithe had been commuted, and those lands which were in the best cultivation paid the highest tithe; but what would be the effect of this free-trade measure? The working clergy of the country must make up their minds to a reduction in their incomes of not less than 25 per cent; and he would ask their Lordships if they would wish to see the clergy placed in such a position? He might observe, while alluding to this point, that he had been glad to see that a great number of right rev. Prelates had the other night recorded their votes against this measure. It must not be forgotten that the agricultural interest was subject to peculiar and heavy burdens; and if their Lordships determined that free trade should be the order of the day, they ought, without delay, to relieve the landed proprietors from some of those burthens. For his own part, he would never cease to agitate this question till justice was done to the agricultural interest. They must not suppose that by their votes on this measure next week, or the week after, they would set this question at rest. On this point they must not deceive themselves. He would 270 keep the question in agitation year after year; and he was satisfied that many noble Lords who agreed with him on this subject would not cease agitating till they gained some relief to the agriculturists. He believed that if he lived a few years longer, he would see the Minister of the day, to whichever party he might happen to belong, coming to that House and asking for a renewal of protection to the agricultural interest. The consequence of these free-trade measures must be to diminish the public revenue; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be under the absolute necessity of protecting the home market in order to make up for this reduction. In 1841 the noble Lord who was now President of the Board of Control (the Earl of Ripon), and with whom he (the Duke of Buckingham) then had the honour and gratification of voting, said, "He would show that the" then existing "Corn Law in its operation had not only not failed, but that it had produced the effects which it had been intended to produce." The noble Earl also said that "he could not divest himself of grave apprehensions if we were to depend on the importation from abroad for the main part of our supply, and neglect the cultivation of corn in our own country; that we might find the difficulty" of obtaining a supply "aggravated every year;" and he added that, "on the supposition that the projects of the Government were carried into effect, no man could entertain any reasonable doubt that a very large portion of the corn land in this country would be thrown out of cultivation—an evil which, if it once commenced, no one could say where it would stop, or what would be its disastrous consequences." These were his (the Duke of Buckingham's) opinions—opinions to which he still adhered; and he believed that one of the most fatal consequences of these free-trade measures would be that of throwing out of cultivation a large portion of our corn land. If this country would then happen to be placed in a position of danger, and foreign ports were closed against us, our own cultivation having been considerably diminished, those who supported the present measure might have reason to regret the course they now pursued. But he would quote the language used in 1841 by a noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington), whose opinions would always be entitled to their Lordships' attention. That noble Duke said, "But, my Lords, I earnestly recommend you, for the sake of the people of this country—for the 271 sake of the humblest orders of the people—not to lend yourselves to the destruction of our native cultivation." He agreed in this opinion; and he wished to God that now, in 1846, the noble Duke adhered to the opinions he had expressed in 1841. He (the Duke of Buckingham) regarded this measure with great alarm, for he believed it would be prejudicial to the interests of the population—manufacturing as well as agricultural; and that those who had established the Anti-Corn-Law League would be the first to suffer from its effects. He regretted that his noble Friends with whom he had acted for many years should so suddenly have changed their opinions on this question. Had they assigned any good reasons for that change, he might have admitted that it was justifiable; but, under the circumstances, he was bound as an honest man to say that he believed them to be wrong. He considered that they had not stated any reasonable grounds for having in the month of November last so suddenly changed their opinions, and abandoned all their former principles. He thought it would have been far better had they at once retired from office. He hoped and trusted, if Her Majesty's Ministers succeeded in carrying this measure—of which he was doubtful—that it would tend to benefit the country. But, holding the opinions he now did, which he had never altered, and which he saw no reason now to change, he entertained the strongest conviction that Her Majesty's Ministers would regret what they had done, and would live to see the destruction of the agricultural interest of the country. It was not too late even now to retrace their steps. He entertained the confident hope that their Lordships would still be able to stem the torrent, and prevent the Bill from passing into a law. He thought he might safely assert that no noble Lord was entirely satisfied with this Bill, and that no Bill ever came into their Lordships' House that was more generally disliked than the present. From party motives and party feelings it was to be carried, and it had originated in a desire to preserve political offices and honours. The Ministers had been put into their present places by them (the protectionists), but they did not act up to what they led them to believe were their opinions in 1841. He would now allude to a speech delivered by Sir R. Peel in 1842, who said then that it was desirable to secure the price of wheat at 54s. if possible. But 272 under the present Bill he doubted whether it would be 44s. or even 40s. In 1842 the right hon. Gentleman said, that he did not rest the claims of the land to protection on the ground of its peculiar burdens alone, but on other grounds, the most important of which was that this country ought not to be dependent upon foreign nations for a supply of corn. The right hon. Baronet then recognised the claims of the land to protection, not only on the ground of the burdens it had to bear, but because it had enjoyed it for 150 years, and large capitals had been invested in it. Nothing in his (the Duke of Buckingham's) opinion, could be more unwise than to risk the disturbance of the interests embarked in agriculture by the sudden withdrawal of protection, under which the existing relations of society had in a great degree been framed, and in reliance on which so much wealth had been directed towards the cultivation of the soil. He (the Duke of Buckingham) could not stronger express his opinions. Before he sat down he had only one remark more to make. It had been repeatedly urged, that the feelings of the country were against this measure. If their Lordships entertained any doubts upon it, he conjured them to present an humble Address to Her Majesty, praying Her to dissolve the present Parliament, and to allow the constituency of the country to be the best judges of whether they coincided with the measures of Her Majesty's Government or not.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
was anxious to make some observations on what had fallen in the course of these debates, from some noble Lords respecting the effects of free trade on our shipping and Colonies. He wished at the outset to guard himself against being thought an advocate of prohibition, or as being desirous of advancing the interest of any particular class of his fellow subjects to the injury of any other class. He believed the prosperity of our manufacturing interests to be essential to the welfare of the country, as well as that of the agriculturist, and that the one depended on the other; and it was because he considered that the principle of entire free trade—now asserted to be the only sound principle—to be injurious to both interests, that he felt obliged to oppose this Bill as one great advance in the new system. He was a friend to moderate protection, and as such, had supported the Corn Bill and Tariff of 1842; though now he doubted whether they had altogether 273 answered the purpose intended. With regard to British shipping, the relaxation of the commercial code in 1826 had no doubt produced a considerable increase in its numbers. In 1831, the number of vessels belonging to the United Kingdom and its possesions in Europe, amounted to—
To the Colonies:
1831 19,450 ships 2,224,356 tons. 1841 23,461 ships 2,935,399 tons.
Showing during those ten years an annual average increase for the United Kingdom of 71,104 tons, and for the Colonial shipping of 21,947 tons. From 1842 (the date of the last alteration) the increase stood thus:
1831 4,792 ships 357,608 tons. 1841 6,591 ships 577,081 tons.
Giving an annual average increase of only 8,690 tons; and of this diminished increase, 7,202 tons belonged to Colonial shipping, leaving for vessels of the United Kingdom only 1,486 tons, instead of 71,104 tons. The relaxation of duties had been particularly fatal to our whale fisheries.
1842—All vessels belonging to British Empire, 30,815 ships 3,619,850 tons. 1844 (the last year to which the official tables are brought down), 31,320 ships 3,637,231 tons.
In that branch of the whale fishery carried on in the South Seas—
In 1821 this trade employed 322 ships 12,788 men. 1841 85 ships 3,008 men. Being a decrease in 20 years of 237 ships 9,780 men.
Fifteen of these would have returned in that year; and it was expected that of those not more than five would be refitted. Mr. M'Gregor, from whose Commercial Tariff of the United States those facts were taken, states that this decline of the British whale fishery "is asserted to be attributable to the withdrawal of bounties from British fisheries, and the abatement of duties on vegetable oils, the produce of foreign States." And Mr. Enderby, a great owner of whale ships had lately told him (Lord Colchester) that unless our Government gave facilities for encouraging this trade, it would be entirely lost to this country; and the capital still employed in it would be transferred to other countries. The ships employed by the United States of North America in the whale fishery, had, under a protective system, increased from 274 431 in 1833, to 691 in 1845. With regard to the Colonies, the noble Lord the Under Secretary for the Colonies had that evening asked the question of what use were our Colonies to us; and in reply to his own question said, "To take off our surplus population." No doubt this was one use of Colonies; and our Colonies had between the years 1825 and 1844 taken off no less than 647,000 persons of that surplus. But there were other most important uses in our Colonies: to take our produce and manufactures, and to maintain our commercial navy. The declared value of British and Irish produce and manufactures exported from the United Kingdom to the Colonies in 1844, amounted to no less a sum than 16,045,761l.; exceeding by more than two millions sterling the exports to Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Prussia, Germany, Holland, and Belgium—the whole exports to those countries during the same year, amounting only to 13,937,037l. This was the trade which we were going to risk by the taking off the existing discriminating duties, and admitting into unfettered competition the rivals who at the present moment undersold us in neutral markets. That such would be the risk was clearly established by the evidence of two gentlemen of great ability and experience in manufacturing concerns lately given before the Committee of that House upon the burdens upon real property. These Gentlemen, Mr. H. Ashworth, and Mr. R. H. Greg, formerly Member for Manchester, both stated that the Americans undersold us in the markets of South America and of China; and Mr. Greg added, that in the coarser articles of the cotton manufacture, where the cost of the raw material bore a certain proportion to the whole expense of the manufactured article, the American States had advantages which would enable them to send such goods, not only into the markets of our Colonies, but to compete successfully with us in Manchester itself; and being asked whether he should be very much surprised if in the course of a few years the manufacturers of England should apply for protection, his reply was, "I should not be surprised at it;" but he added, "I should be very much surprised if they were attended to." But the case did not rest on the evidence of those gentlemen alone: he (Lord Colchester) could confirm it as to South America from his personal knowledge; and it was the state of British trade in those markets in 1831–32, which first 275 made him doubt the policy of stimulating by legislative enactments the ardour of our manufacturers, who had already glutted the markets with goods sent out on speculation, and found themselves undersold by America. With respect to China, the notes of Sir Henry Pottinger, attached to the Tariff negociated by him, showed that the Americans had already become formidable rivals to us in various branches of the cotton manufacture; that in some articles, the Chinese give a decided preference to French and Swiss goods; and that the broad cloths of Saxony and Belgium were sold there cheaper than the English. Free trade might, therefore, be found more beneficial to our commercial rivals than to ourselves, and enable them to compete with us in those markets, now exclusively under our own control. If it should be asked why then did the millowners and manufacturers press for freedom of trade; it might be answered in the words of Mr. Ashworth, they cannot withdraw the capital embarked in mills: "they must either go on to prosperity and wealth, or go to the Gazette." They cannot even allow the mill to be idle, though it returns no profit; for "it has been calculated by the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester, that the charges which must be paid, whether the mill is at work or not, amount, on a mill of 52,000 spindles to 6,334l.; therefore, unless the loss by working exceed that sum, it is better to go on." Goods were thus manufactured and exported, not because there was a demand for them, but in the hope of some chance of disposing them to avoid the greater evil of the mill remaining idle. This was an unhealthy state of trade, which should not be encouraged. This statement of the probable effects of entire free trade was taking it under the most favourable point of view, as proceeding uninterruptedly; but if war should arise and interfere with our foreign trade, and at the same time the measure under discussion with respect to corn should have so injured the agriculturist as to have considerably diminished his demand upon the home market, what would then be the situation of the manufacturer? He (Lord Colchester) had been desirous of entering upon other points connected with this great question; but at that late hour he would not trespass further upon their time, than to add, that he thought so vast and hazardous an experiment should not be tried upon a great country, admitted to be prosperous, and still improving, under its existing sys- 276 tem; and he must therefore vote for the Amendment of the noble Earl.
In 1821 there were at sea 123 ships. 1845 44 ships.
§ LORD HOWDEN
would scarcely have ventured to present himself to their Lordships' notice, but he wished to call their attention to a few circumstances which he believed were not foreign to the subject of discussion. He would relieve their Lordships from any fear, and himself from the well-merited reproach of extreme arrogance, if he were to enter at length into a subject upon which neither his intelligence nor experience qualified him to detain their Lordships long. If he were disposed to introduce arguments worn threadbare by daily and nightly discussion, he might offer to their Lordships the apology that the first vote he had given in that House, six or seven years ago, was on a subject connected with the Corn Laws. It was, indeed, a mild and milk-and-water Motion; but those who voted with it were left in a small minority. But, milk-and-water as was its character, it was strenuously opposed by the noble Viscount then at the head of Her Majesty's Government, and by every Member of the Cabinet of that day, except one whom he did not see in his place. This recollection, which might be fruitful in other hands, would not tempt him into any personalities. He said "tempt him;" for, from the experience of the last few weeks, or rather the last few months, one might suppose there was something very agreeable in saying very disagreeable things. The flashes of this sort of talent, with which they had of late been abundantly favoured, he should consider rather as showing him the ground on which he ought not to trench, than as holding out the light which was to guide him on his way. A considerable portion of his own early life had been spent in a country which would certainly have found more favour in the eyes of noble Lords on the cross benches, from its obstinate antipathy to any change in its commercial relations, and its undeviating concurrence in the wisdom of its ancestors. In 1819 or 1820, he forgot which, one of the southern provinces of Spain had, from local circumstances, completely lost its harvest, while in another it was rather more abundant than usual. If there had been enlightened regulations regarding commercial intercourse, the scantiness of one province would have been supplied by the over-plus of another; but the legislative Acts which were in force prevented the interchange of commodities. The same 277 circumstance had often subsequently been reproduced on a larger scale between different countries of Europe, as in 1810 between France and England. At that time the legislation of Spain not only established custom-houses between one country and another, but also customhouses regulating the intercourse between different provinces, which prevented them from communicating their productions; and, incredible as it might appear, wheat was one of the prohibited articles. One of those provinces was blessed with abundance, while the other was visited with scarcity, almost amounting to famine. Putting aside humane considerations, how did the anti-commercial legislation result? The southern province had silk in large quantities, and a considerable portion of woollen manufactures; and a considerable portion would have been exported if the trade had been free. What answer could be made to this? He could not conceive that England, not growing corn sufficient for her own consumption, when at any time, or under any circumstances, she could export an increased supply of manufactured goods for an increased supply of foreign corn, would be placed in disadvantageous circumstances. She would be placed precisely in the same position as the province of Spain from which he had borrowed the illustration. There could be no difference between two provinces, however small their mutual produce and consumption, and consequently their mutual interest, and any two countries forming an integral part of the great family of nations. He was tempted to state this, because he had heard the other night that the idea of a larger export of manufactures against an increased import of corn was a delusion, though he could not understand how it was possible to have an increased export without an increased import. They could not, with their increasing population, prevent a corresponding increase in their manufactures; and he maintained, therefore, that it was their duty, both in policy and justice, to feed their population as cheaply as they could. The exigency under which they were legislating was the force of circumstances; and it was because the Premier had seen and acknowledged that force that he had been covered with such a load of obloquy for yielding to what shortsighted persons chose to call expediency. It was his conviction that the Minister had not erred. There were two arguments against the measure which he would wish 278 briefly to allude to. They were told that all authority was in favour of legislating upon protective principles. This he denied. The truth of the doctrine of free trade appeared to have been felt by Lord Bacon, although two centuries were necessary for its development. He would be allowed, as he had cited Lord Bacon, to allude to another authority—another great man, who, like Shakspeare, appeared to know something of every thing—Cervantes. Don Quixote, in giving instructions to Sancho Panza previous to his assuming the government of his famous island, counselled him as follows:—"Remember to take care to provide abundance of eatables and drinkables for your new subjects, for there is nothing that will sooner alienate their minds from their prince than a deficiency in either." They were told of the authority of old statutes in favour of protection, but it did not follow that what might be good in the fourteenth was equally advantageous in the nineteenth century. As for commercial intercourse rendering a country dependent upon another, the fact was, that the dependence was mutual—that the producers depended as much on the consumers, as the consumers on the producers. He did not fear what foreign nations could do; but he feared that circumstances would arise in this country which would deprive the measure of much of its merit and all its grace. He would ask noble Lords about to oppose this measure what they expected would be the result of the present state of things? It might be that the Minister who had been courageous enough to sacrifice his place to principle, might cease to hold his office; but those noble Lords had no reasonable hopes of succeeding to his inheritance. They might render impossible the existence of a Government with which they had one feeling of dissent, and a thousand in common; but they were paving the way and macadamizing the road for a party with which they had not one sympathy, nor a single tie. He had no personal or hereditary reasons for attaching himself to either of the great parties; but not so with many of their Lordships, who had ancient descent, vast possessions, powerful influence; and these they were throwing in the scale to weigh down those who only were able to defend the principles they professed. He had heard something of treachery and ungracious words between the Minister and his adherents; but as a humble individual sincerely attached to the true Conservative policy, he only hoped 279 their Lordships would not find they had been traitors to themselves. As to what was called, in modern phraseology, the pressure from without, the idea, in its invidious sense—for he did not speak of the general feelings of the people legitimately expressed—ought to be scouted as operating upon their Lordships' judgment. But there were some things which were dangerous to speak of, some prophecies which tended to their own accomplishment. So long as their Lordships did their duty, he cared not what were the aspirations of the League. He rather feared the effect that might be produced by the apprehensions which had been indiscreetly expressed by some of their Lordships. He confided in the good sense of the country; but he asked those who were conjuring up distant visions of terror in theories not yet broached, and exigencies not yet developed, if they saw nothing to fear at an earlier period and more impending moment, in what might be the immediate disposition of expectant millions as to the upshot of a question no longer in speculation or in embryo, but which had expanded itself and passed triumphantly through one branch of the Legislature, and was now at their Lordships' threshold, awaiting whatever sentence they might be pleased to pronounce.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ House adjourned.