Clause 1 being proposed, enacting—
That, in lieu of the present Duties on Corn imported into the United Kingdom, and entered for home consumption, there be levied until the 1st of February, 1849, the Duties set forth in the Schedule, and after February 1, 1849, 'upon all wheat, barley, bear or bigg, oats, rye, peas, and beans, 1s. for every quarter"—
The EARL of WICKLOW
moved, that the words following the word "wheat" be left out, and these words inserted in lieu thereof, "not being the produce of the Colonies of the United Kingdom, 5s. for every quarter." The noble Earl said, that if their Lordships should give their sanction to his proposition in regard to wheat, he should afterwards move Amendments, in like proportions, in the duties proposed 545 in respect of the other sorts of grain named in the Bill. He could assure their Lordships, that it was not with any satisfaction to himself that he had undertaken this duty; and if it was objected to him that he had not given any formal notice of his intention to move this Amendment, he could only say that one of his chief reasons for not having done so was this—that he had hoped, until the last moment, that some one of the noble Lords opposite, to whom, he must observe, an Amendment of this nature more consistently belonged, would have brought this proposition forward. Feeling that the Amendment would improve the Bill, he had taken upon himself the not very agreeable task of originating it himself. The question had been so thoroughly discussed on its general principles, that he would confine himself, as far as possible, to the particular subject of his Amendment. His noble Friend at the Table had put some very pertinent questions to the Government in regard to the effect of this measure, which might have been answered, and he thought ought to have been answered. Almost every noble Lord who had spoken had ventured an opinion upon that matter. Some noble Lords had stated that their opinion decidedly was, that the price of corn would fall; and they had urged that as a strong reason for supporting the Bill. Others had thought that its effect would be not to lower the price of corn, but to produce steadiness, and prevent fluctuation; and the noble Earl opposite (Earl of Clarendon) might be considered the representative of the first class. That noble Earl thought that the price would fall, and he had illustrated the consequences of that, by saying that if it fell from 50s. to 40s., it would cause a saving of 12,000,000l. to the wheat consumers of this country; but the noble Earl did not seem to consider to what extent that argument might be pushed. He seemed to forget that that 12,000,000l., though gained to the consumer, would be lost to the country. If that amount were to be transferred from the consumers of wheat to the producers in this country—the country would sustain no loss; but if, under reduced prices to be caused by this Bill, there should be a transfer from the consumers of wheat to the producers of foreign countries, then that which was saved to the consumers of wheat would be lost to the country.
§ The EARL of CLARENDON
said, he had not stated it as his opinion that the 546 price of corn would fall, but that if it did fall, such and such consequences would follow.
The EARL of WICKLOW
was bound to accept the explanation of the noble Earl; but no doubt many of their Lordships had advocated this Bill on that ground; and it was a very rational ground for so doing—indeed the whole argument of "cheap bread" depended upon it. But he wished now rather to take the argument of those who said that this measure would remove the fluctuations of the sliding-scale; and as to that, his opinion was, that the effect of a sliding-scale would be to equalize prices, if it were formed on a right foundation, and that the present sliding-scale had failed, as it certainly had, from a defect in the machinery by which it was carried into operation. Upon the whole, however, considering the circumstances of this country, he thought that a fixed duty was the best. He had stated that opinion several years ago; but then both parties were united in thinking that protection to the farmer was the main object, and he yielded to the general impression. If, then, the great object were to prevent fluctuations, he need not produce any arguments to show that his Amendment could not have the effect of making the price variable, for the fluctuations must be precisely the same without this duty as with it; and that he put forward as a strong and invincible argument in favour of it, because, whilst the public lost nothing, and the consumer lost nothing, the public revenue would be the gainer; and he could see no conceivable reason in the subject itself, why the Government should needlessly throw away so large an amount of revenue. But even supposing that his proposition should have the effect of raising the average price of wheat to the extent of the additional duty, if the greater object of preventing fluctuation were attained, could any evil consequences result? None. As regarded the working classes, the farmers, and the revenue of the State, and as regarded also the landed proprietors of the country, that small addition of price would be advantageous rather than prejudicial. The fixity of price being attained, surely the working classes could not suffer from this alteration. There had been much discussion on what regulated the rate of wages; and he admitted that the fluctuating price of corn did not regulate the rate of wages; but that many other things entered into the consideration; but, cæteris paribus, in the 547 long run the fixed price of corn must affect the rate of wages; and, therefore, to the labourer it would not matter if the price were slightly raised, because, in the long run, his wages must rise in proportion. Then, as to the farmer; with his fixed charges on the land, the poor and other rates, he must be benefited by the change. As to the revenue derivable from this source in the run of years, it would amount to not less than 1,000,000l. sterling; and when noble Lords opposite came into office, as soon they must, and proposed and carried those alterations in the sugar duties, in which he thought they were right, and from which they expected a large accession of revenue, with these means they might reduce at least one-half of the income tax. He could not help remarking how studiously noble Lords had avoided all reference to the landed interest in this debate; the reason was clear—they were anxious to avoid all possibility even of suspicion of interested motives; but, in taking that course, they had done, he thought, an injustice to a most useful and necessary class of the community. They might talk of the great advantage of pushing their commerce to the ends of the world, and of the blessings of free trade; but the best, the surest, and the greatest market for the manufacturing industry of the country was that called the home market, which the landed interest afforded. There had, however, been some allusion to the landed interest, and it came from a quarter from which he should least have expected it. The right rev. Prelate who had introduced that matter, had shown, at all events, that if oratorical powers were a qualification for that Bench, no man deserved it better than himself. But he (Lord Wicklow) was surprised to hear with what complacency the right rev. Prelate, recently elevated to honours and rank, seemed to contemplate a change by which the landed interest would be ousted from their property. The right rev. Prelate had stated, that when he visited his diocese he had found the habitations of the poor in a miserable condition; and that the rectors had told him that it arose from the poverty of the landlord; and then the right rev. Prelate rejoiced that the result of this measure would be such a change of property as would remove such incompetent possessors of property. Now, he had endeavoured to conceive what sort of man that landlord might be. He had conceived him a person who, from a long line of an- 548 cestors, had inherited this property; and who, relying upon the faith of the protection which the Legislature had given, had attempted to make charges upon his land for family purposes; and he believed that the transfer of property from such hands would be attended with indelible injury to the whole country. He had endeavoured to turn over in his mind the objections which could be urged to his Amendment, and the first argument which suggested itself, taking the form of a question, was this—"Will you tax the food of the people?" But the answer which would naturally be given to the question was, if it were wrong to tax the food of the people, why was it that they taxed every necessary of life, and all food, except corn?—why should they leave corn the only untaxed article of consumption? Sugar was as much a necessary of life as wheat; indeed, if they took the whole Empire, including Scotland and Ireland, it was more so—and yet they taxed sugar. Now, his noble and learned Friend had stated that there was a broad distinction between duties imposed for revenue, and duties imposed for protection. That, where a duty was imposed equally upon all, it became revenue; but where it was confined to one article, it was protection: now, without quarrelling with that definition, he did not see that it had much to do with the argument. He wanted a duty for revenue, and he did not want it the less because others considered that it would operate as a protection. If laid on, it operated both as revenue and protection; and whenever they might be able to dispense with their Customs altogether, and to get commerce perfectly free, he would willingly give up the duty on corn; but all political economists agreed that customs duties were the best mode of taxation, and it was clear that they must exist as long as this country existed. He therefore said, that it was due to the farming interest of the country to continue protection, though for the purposes of revenue. And here he must say, that he could not understand why the noble Lords on the Opposition side should now turn round upon this subject, except for the sake of imitating the example of those who sat opposite to them—and discard all their former opinions. But he thought they might suspect a reason which the noble Lords would not avow; indeed he believed that if that most impolitic and imprudent letter which had been written by a noble Lord at the end 549 of last year, evidently intended to embarrass a Government, and not written with any notion of the consequences that would follow; he believed that, but for that imprudent and most unfortunate letter, those noble Lords opposite would now be sitting on that side of the House, with the opportunity of proposing their own measure, and satisfying and gratifying the country. He knew, of course, that the effect of carrying his Amendment must, at present, be to defeat the Bill; but he was most anxious so to do—for this reason, that they might get a better and more serviceable Bill. He did not want any sliding-scale—he did not think a sliding-scale applicable to the circumstances of this country—but he was anxious to set this vexatious question at rest; and he was convinced that it was impossible to do so by this present Bill. Those who expected that, were, in his opinion, as ignorant of the state of feeling in the agricultural population as they were ignorant of what was passing in another hemisphere; and he believed, that if they succumbed to the power of the Anti-Corn-Law League, the agitation which that body had excited would be but a slight whisper, in comparison with the roaring tempest which they were raising about their ears. The agricultural population of this country were far too proud and independent to suffer themselves to be trodden upon in this manner; they would be ready enough to sacrifice their own interests, if others were called upon to make the same sacrifice; but when they saw a new principle applied to them, and to them alone, they would never be satisfied with it; and therefore, he was anxious to give to the noble Lords opposite an opportunity of ingratiating themselves with the country. If noble Lords opposite came into office, and introduced such a Bill as he proposed, they would give satisfaction to the country; and if that was the case, what signified a little delay? He asked whether it was not well known that every man in that House, except a few leaders, in their consciences preferred such a measure; and was it creditable then to that House to be influenced by other considerations? He believed that the rejection of the Bill for the purpose of an Amendment of this sort, would give satisfaction to the agricultural population, and no dissatisfaction to manufacturers, who were divided on the effect of the measure. In his Amendment he had however excepted the corn of our own 550 Colonies; and he begged to ask, was it not desirable at present to satisfy Canada? Let them look to the state of affairs in that part of the world, would any one say that the war now raging between America and Mexico would not be attended with serious consequences? If successful, the Americans would only be more proud, and more inclined to dictate unreasonable terms to this country; and if unsuccessful, which was not likely, they would then seek some other ground for the display of their energies and valour. Certainly to take the present moment for any step which would be disagreeable to Canada, would be most unwise. Upon all these grounds, therefore, he begged to move—That instead of 1s., there be a duty of 5s. on wheat imported after the 1st of February, 1849.
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
said, that his opinions upon the general subject of the debate being known, he should not have troubled their Lordships if it had not been for the reference made by the noble Earl to the noble Lords on the Opposition side; and as he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) was old-fashioned enough to desire to be consistent, he would show to their Lordships that in supporting this measure he was acting in perfect consistency with his former conduct. He would remind their Lordships, that in 1841, when he seconded the Address moved by his lamented friend Lord Spencer, the debate turned on whether a moderate fixed duty should be substituted for the then existing protection to agriculture. In that debate both himself and the noble Earl expressed their opinion that it was desirable that the protection to agriculture should be reduced as speedily and as safely as possible: consequently, it was clear his opinion had undergone no change; and the noble Earl who had now introduced this Bill, and who upon the occasion he referred to had moved the Amendment to the Address, drew particular attention to their remarks, and said that their object was clearly free trade. In explanation, he had stated that he wished certainly to come gradually to the abolition of all protective duties, because he did not agree with his noble Friend (Lord Spencer) in thinking that they could at that time be safely repealed at once. Now as regarded the Amendment of the noble Earl, he was of opinion that it would fail in its object—it would be not even a remnant of protection for the country. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) was not one of those who 551 thought that in all cases where it was expedient the abolition of a duty should take place, the sooner it was accomplished the better, because, no doubt, as much discretion was necessary in fixing an appropriate period for a change, as to decide upon the change itself. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) considered that in all such cases regard should be paid to the general feeling of the country, and that all measures which might have a tendency to produce what was called a panic should be avoided; and he believed that if at the time to which he referred, the Government had proposed a measure for the total abolition of all protective duties, an agitation and panic would have been produced seriously injurious to the commercial as well as to the agricultural interests. It was notorious that it would have been absurd at that period to have made such a proposition, which could not have been successful. But within the last three years, not only the Ministers, but the people of this country, had acquired a degree of knowledge on this subject which they did not previously possess, and a very different feeling had been excited with regard to this question. He wished to refer to one point on which the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Wicklow) had touched, namely, the effect this Bill might be expected to produce upon the price of corn. He did not wonder that noble Lords on the Treasury benches hesitated to give an answer to the question which had been put to them as to the price corn might hereafter be expected to bear, though he did not think they had a right entirely to withhold some expression of their opinion thereupon. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde), as one of those who supported the abolition of protection, at once avowed that he advocated a certain degree of diminution of price. Under the operation of this measure, prices on the Continent would undoubtedly be raised, and prices in this country would be lowered, but not to such an extent as essentially to injure the landed interests of this kingdom; for he was convinced that the farmers of this country were able to compete with any agriculturists with whom they could be brought into competition. Their Lordships had heard many complaints of the burdens to which land was subjected; but they must remember the advantages concomitant with those burdens. It was said that compensation would be given to the farmers by measures yet to be brought under the consideration of their Lordships. Now he wished to guard 552 against the supposition that he grounded his support of the measure upon any plan of compensation, or that he thought any compensation necessary; but, he must say that he could not regard the measures which had been brought forward by the Government professedly for the relief of the agriculturists, with reference to the expense of highways and prosecutions, as measures which would compensate the farmers for the effects of this Bill. He supported those measures upon their own merits. But when noble Lords complained that the landowners and farmers were subjected to heavy expenses for the maintenance of high roads, he must call upon them to remember the advantage they derived from such communications. He could remember the time when there were only two main roads in Leicestershire, and when the by-roads in that county were almost impassable by any vehicles; but now the face of the country was entirely changed: there was scarcely a farm to which there was not access by good roads, and the farmers had been more than compensated for the expense of those improvements by the advantages they had derived. The agriculturists also complained of the expense to which they were subjected for the maintenance and removal of the labouring poor who flocked from distant districts, or came over from Ireland, to reap the harvest. But did the farmers consider what an advantage it was to them to have a nation at their beck upon whom they could rely for an abundant supply of labour? There was no doubt that, without such assistance, it would be impossible to get in the harvests of this country. A noble Lord opposite had argued that our farmers could not successfully compete with foreign corn producers, who were not liable to a taxation of more than 1d. and 2d. an acre; but noble Lords must remember the state of the land in the countries to which the noble Lord referred, that they had no roads or rivers, or any of the appliances possessed by our agriculturists. These burdens so much complained of were in his opinion accompanied by great advantages, and therefore no compensation was needed with respect to them. The noble Marquess then alluded to the fixed taxes of the country for the payment of the army and navy, the public debt, and other permanent charges of the State, and contended that if, as was asserted, the operation of the Bill would be to improve the state of the country generally, the power of the nation to sustain those charges would be increased; and those 553 who argued to the contrary were obliged to beg the question by saying, the price of corn, and other prices in proportion, being lowered, the resources of the country would be impaired by such cheapness, which was another word for abundance. The value of land, it had also been stated, would be reduced. How could that happen? The population being expansive, and the land not, the value of land and its produce must, by necessity, increase, as the numbers and wealth of the population increased. The noble Earl (Earl of Wicklow) called upon them to support his proposition for the sake of revenue; and he said that this was a legitimate source from which to derive revenue. To this doctrine abstractedly he had no objection. If they taxed other necessaries of life, they might, on the same principle, tax bread. Taxing iron, wood, or any necessary material for producing bread, was, in fact, just as much a bread tax as if it were levied directly on the import of corn. Holding these views, he did not see that a small duty on corn for the purposes of revenue would be necessarily objectionable. He considered that a small duty, say 5s. or 4s., which he would have preferred, would have yielded a considerable revenue, while it would not have pressed heavily upon the consumer. Supposing the consumption of this country to be 20,000,000 of quarters annually, 16,000,000 of which were home grown, and the remaining 4,000,000 imported at a 5s. duty, the tax upon the consumer falling upon the whole 20,000,000, would amount but to the shadow of a tax. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) must say he was astonished that no allusion had been made to the extraordinary disproportion there was in this country between the price of bread and the price of corn. That was a point on which he had frequently sought, but had never been able to obtain, a satisfactory explanation. He considered that the imposition of a low duty upon corn, for the sake of revenue, might have been a wise measure on the part of Her Majesty's Government; but he wished to remind their Lordships that when he had advocated a low fixed duty, as a means of revenue, he had done so specially with a view to avoid the imposition of the income tax. The noble Earl opposite (Earl of Wicklow), however, could not expect him to assist in throwing out this Bill, which would effect an object he had always advocated, the abolition of protection, in order that a new Government might possibly be formed which might eventually re- 554 lieve the country from the income tax. He did not think Parliament would now be ready to vote a tax upon corn into the Exchequer, on the supposition that the Minister, when he obtained it, would give up the income tax. He had regarded the income tax as an injudicious measure; but he must confess the country did not appear at the present moment nearly so impatient under that tax as it might have been supposed they would have been: he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) was not, however, on that account, disposed to rely on the income tax as a permanent source of revenue. Since the imposition of that tax they had been blessed with good harvests and great prosperity; and those who had observed the course of popular feeling would admit, that when people were in a state of prosperity they were not much disposed to complain of taxation; but it generally happened that at the moment when the Government most needed their resources they were pressed for a diminution of taxation; and therefore he thought it unsafe to rely too much upon direct taxation. But how did the noble Earl propose to carry out his views? He said, "Throw out this Bill, then there will be a dissolution and a change of Government." Now, he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) was not quite certain that these consequences would follow such a course. [The Earl of WICKLOW observed that he had not said a word on the subject of a dissolution; he had only alluded to a change of Government.] He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) must ask their Lordships to recollect the present position of this question, and the opinion which had been expressed by Parliament upon it. The Bill had been brought up by an immense majority from the other House. The second reading had been sanctioned by their Lordships by a very considerable majority; and yesterday, in Committee, the main provision of the Bill had also been sanctioned by a large majority. Did the noble Earl think, then, that the existing Parliament could very consistently adopt his proposition for a fixed duty, and carry out his scheme of finance? He could not conceive why the sliding-scale should be preserved for three years. The farmers in the country with whom he had had some opportunities of conferring were quite unanimous in not attaching any importance to a continuance of the sliding-scale during the next three years, although they disagreed about most of the other details of this measure. He objected to it because it would be to continue 555 a degree of agitation and panic. Sir R. Peel had at first put the Bill on the allegation of the famine in Ireland; but he had since shifted his ground. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) was bound to admit, that although the famine was local, yet in some counties it amounted to starvation. But the Government were not so absurd as to rely for the relief of famine upon this Bill. They had taken admirable measures on that subject; and he was ready to pay his most willing testimony to their judgment and activity. But when Sir Robert Peel was spoken of as the greatest Minister of the day—good God! was the man entitled to that praise who had been all his life pursuing a course which he now admitted to be contrary to judgment and to sound policy? Then they were told how honest it was of the Ministry to avow a change in their opinions; as if there was anything extraordinary in the quality of honesty. They were told also that Sir Robert Peel had sacrificed a great party by bringing in this Bill; but he could not see that the right hon. Baronet had intended for one moment to relinquish office and power. Sir Robert Peel had never said that, and he did not believe it. For there was little doubt, that if the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) had joined Sir Robert Peel in his first attempt to settle this question, the right hon. Baronet would have been in power now, and not only at the head of the Government, but at the head of a strong party. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) could not think him a man of foresight. He could not forget that every party he had conducted, he had led to a defeat. Some of his followers died fighting, as it were, in the last ditch; but the right hon. Baronet always surrendered in time and at discretion. Every one of Sir Robert Peel's changes had been with the current of the moment; and a single instance could not be found on record in which he had changed his opinion in the House of Commons, and had been beaten upon that question. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) had considered the present measure without any bias in its favour; and the result of a fair consideration of the question was, that he was obliged to say "Not content" to the present Amendment.
The EARL of CARNARVON
was understood to say, that there ran through the speech of the noble Lord who had just sat down a fallacy which had been rebutted when it was said to have appeared on this side—the fallacy which was termed beg- 556 ging the question—of assuming that steadiness of price would be attained by what was called free trade, and that if the country prospered under these measures, the landed interest was sure to partake of that prosperity. But that was the very point at issue. If the home market were seriously injured by the importation of foreign corn, he believed that the manufacturers themselves would be injured, much more the agriculturists. Then there was another question, whether the manufacturing operatives would be benefited by cheapness of price. He knew that some of the manufacturers argued that the wages of their workmen could not be lowered under the present restrictive system of supply; but that if the Corn Laws were abolished, they would be able to pay their operatives smaller wages. Now he did not state this as an attack on the manufacturers—he believed that they were pressed by competition on every hand—but still it was an indication of what the working poor might expect. It appeared to him, that so far as the interests of the poor man were concerned, their Lordships would take a shortsighted view of the question in looking merely at the repeal of the Corn Laws. They must take other considerations into account. He feared that by cheapening the price of corn they would throw land out of cultivation; that this would have the effect of diminishing employment; and he was afraid that in this way the poor would lose, on the one hand, more than they gained on the other. And again, so far as the agricultural labourer was concerned, he was sure that any diminution of the profit of the farmer would infallibly react upon the wages of the labourer. In arguing in this way, he must not be supposed to think that cheapness was in itself an evil, or even that it was injurious to the farmer; on the contrary, he might state that an eminent agriculturist had admitted to him, that in one year of extremely low prices he had made greater profit than in any year, either before or since, the abundance in quantity having made up for the cheapness of price. He, therefore, agreed with the late Mr. Huskisson, that he did not care how cheap wheat was, so long as it was the result of our domestic produce; but if there should be an abundant produce throughout Europe at the time of unrestricted importation, there would then be a fearful fall in prices; then would come upon the farmers of this country distress which his heart bled to think of—upon the lesser tenant-farmers, indeed, 557 utter shipwreck; and he would remind their Lordships, that if they wished to be respected, they must look with an eye of respect upon the interests of little men as much as upon the interests of the greatest man in their Lordships' House. He could not help still hoping that noble Lords on the other side of the House would not feel the difficulties of their position to be so great but that they might be able to support this Amendment. From some of those noble Lords he had heard strong and eloquent arguments in favour of a fixed duty. If those arguments were good then, why were they not good now? He could not conceive any advantages which his noble Friends then attached to a fixed duty, which did not still attach to it. And there was one difficulty which a fixed duty would help to get over, that the Bill as it stood left where it was—he meant the necessity of doing even-handed justice as between the agriculturist and the manufacturer. Why should the farmer be obliged to sell his corn at free-trade prices, and then be obliged to buy articles of clothing at protection prices? That was an anomaly which he knew some noble Lords opposite wished to remedy as well as himself; and the only remedy that could now be proposed would be to place a duty on corn to counterbalance the duty that was now placed on manufactures. Then, was it wise to sacrifice such a large amount of revenue as a fixed duty would produce? That would be a serious loss at all times, but it might very soon be felt to be especially serious, as they might expect a period of reaction after the long course of prosperity they had enjoyed. Then it was said, if this Amendment were carried, the forms of Parliament were such, that the result would be the failure of this measure as a distinct Bill. Be it so; but then why could not another Bill be brought in, more in accordance with their Lordships' opinions? Why should it be supposed that there was any disrespect to the other House involved in this course? Surely there was much more disrespect evinced to their Lordships in urging on this Bill, in opposition, as it had been said, not to the votes, but to the opinions of their Lordships. No doubt this course would involve delay; but was the question of delay to be compared, for one moment, with the incalculable risk of rash and ill-considered legislation? Surely they must agree with him, that legislation on the gravest subject which could occupy the attention of their Lordships ought to be the 558 very best which the wisdom of Parliament could devise. But it was argued next, that a fixed duty could not be maintained in years of scarcity. It was very true that it could not be maintained, if clamour and not a sense of public interest were to be the guides of their policy; but as it was generally admitted now that the remission of a duty in years of scarcity benefited the importer only, and not the consumer, he did not see why it should not be maintained; and if Government could be induced to adopt the principle of a fixed duty, he did not think there was much danger of a proposition being made which the practical good sense of the country considered to be entirely useless as a measure of relief. If they did pass this measure, why what did they do? They proposed to compel the farmer to sell his corn at free-trade prices, and to purchase his clothing at protection prices. Was this fair? Was it not calculated to rouse in the breast of the agriculturist not merely a sense of harsh treatment, but of positive injustice? Was it not sowing the seeds of discontent between different classes of the community, and widening the breach between the agriculturist and the manufacturers, instead of cementing those interests, which a more skilful policy would effect? With respect to Ireland, it seemed now to be admitted that the fears of famine had been exaggerated. He did not blame the Ministers for that; but there was one thing connected with it, on which his heart misgave him. The prospect of a famine in Ireland had been urged by the First Minister of the Crown, as a reason for bringing forward this measure; but he had failed to show that the famine existed to such an extent as to require the repeal of the Corn Laws. It was impossible, indeed, not to rejoice that the famine had, in a great measure, passed away; but he (Lord Carnarvon) could not but feel, that if the right hon. Gentleman had been utterly mistaken in the extent of the infliction and the nature of the required remedy, he might be equally incorrect as to his anticipations of the beneficial effects which would result from this measure. If that were to happen, what would be their Lordships' feelings, when they saw the state to which they had reduced the country? For themselves, he believed that their Lordships might get on with diminished incomes; and, indeed, it would be right that their incomes should be reduced, if all other classes were suffering around them; but he grieved for those agricul- 559 turists, many of them men of small capital, whose now happy homes would be rendered desolate by this measure; he grieved for the peasant population of England, whose labour would be, to a great extent, displaced by foreign labour; and he grieved for the effects upon the country at large, for he believed that this measure would affect, directly or indirectly, every interest in the kingdom—not that of a single class merely, but those of the whole nation. As to the idea that they should pass this measure in deference to the feelings of the First Minister of the Crown, he hoped it would not be entertained for a moment by their Lordships. If the fiat of any Minister, however powerful, were to be allowed to stifle and overbear the genuine expression of the feelings of that House, it would not only put an end to the Constitution which they had so long had the happiness to live under, of Kings, Lords, and Commons, but it would be the introduction of the worst kind of despotism, because carried out under the forms of constitutional law and the semblance of perfect liberty. Say what they might, he believed that nine-tenths of those whom he had then the honour to address, were unfriendly at heart to the withdrawal of the principle of protection, and therefore they ought to reject this measure, irrespective of the feelings of any individual. He could easily understand how in the second reading of the Bill many of them might have felt indisposed to reject what, in their opinion, seemed to affirm the essential principle of free trade; but would they submit as Peers to be told that they must not now interfere with the detail—that they were not, except at their peril, to modify or improve a single clause—that they dared not annex, as a condition to the Bill, that fixed duty which those to whom the noble Lords opposite had been accustomed to look up as leaders in legislation, both political and commercial, had for years been pressing upon them? If this were to be the case—if in all cases they were to allow "I dare not wait upon I would" — if they were always to remain in leading-strings, then he must say, that instead of the reality, they had only the playwork of legislation, and that though they might amuse their mornings with railway legislation, yet, for all the great questions of national policy, the House of Lords was dead. There was another reason why he recommended a fixed duty. He had heard several speeches directed to prove the impolicy of their dissolving Parliament on 560 the question of the Corn Laws, and of the danger of arraying class against class on the subject. Now he said, that by refusing this Amendment, they were running the risk of the very thing they were afraid of. At the approach of the next general election they would find the principle of protection still in existence, though sentence of death would have been passed upon it; and could they doubt that the farmers, treated as they had been, would not rise in every country town, village, and hamlet through the Empire—and take the question into their own hands, resolving that they would not again be betrayed by their representatives, and that they would not give up the fragment of protection which yet remained to them? Well, then, were they not much more likely now to settle the question on a stable foundation by adopting a fixed duty? But it was said the tenant-farmers had become indifferent to this question. Those who said so little knew the temper or the metal of the men they spoke of. Many of their Lordships must have seen the burst of agricultural feeling which took place at the time when the protection societies were established—established not by the landed proprietors, but by the tenant-farmers, who rose almost literally as one man on this occasion. If they did not wish to array the agricultural against the manufacturing classes—if they did not wish to fill the kingdom with strife and bitterness, which would find ample vent at an approaching election, then he called upon their Lordships to accept the Amendment of his noble Friend. He called upon noble Lords opposite to support the Amendment, which was, indeed, in a manner, a creature of their own creation—he implored the House to accept it, not merely for its instrinsic value, but as indicative of a disposition in their Lordships friendly to the agricultural interests, with which most of them were so intimately connected. Let them not trample under foot that valuable and industrious class which had been so long cherished and respected; let them rather pour balm into those wounds which were of so grievous a nature, and which had been in a manner so unexpected and so severe.
§ LORD DE MAULEY
had voted for the measure, because he disapproved of the present Corn Law. But to repeal all duty upon corn without the substitution of any other, appeared to him to be so material an alteration in the financial state of the country, and of so much consequence as regarded Ireland, whose only market for corn, 561 her chief produce, was this country, that he must support the Amendment of the noble Earl. He was of opinion that the House should embrace any measure which afforded more time for consideration. He thought that was the sounder and the safer policy. Even so low a fixed duty as that proposed by the noble Earl would assist the revenue, and would enable the Government to repeal taxes which pressed more heavily than this one on the great bulk of the community. It would also afford some slight protection to the landed interest, though he was free to admit it would operate more as a duty of finance than any great favour towards the landed interest, to which, however, it might be prudent to make some slight concession. The concession, as regarded the popular party, would be small indeed; but yet, by the agriculturists, it would be regarded as an evidence of kindly feeling. If Sir Robert Peel remained at the head of affairs, he could easily propose another measure, which would meet the unanimous wishes of both Houses. The right hon. Gentleman, he had no doubt, would adopt such a course in the event of the present Amendment being carried; and whether it was a potato or a principle that influenced, they might be pretty sure he would succeed in carrying it out. Under all the circumstances, therefore, he should feel it to be his duty to vote for the Amendment of the noble Earl.
§ LORD CLONCURRY
said, that as the question of distress in Ireland had been so often introduced into the discussion upon this question, and as he was connected with that country, he did not think it right to permit the debate to close without making a few observations. He could assure their Lordships—and he spoke from practical observation—that though the famine in Ireland was but partial, there were some districts in which the most grievous and afflicting destitution prevailed—in which the people had not even the miserable food on which they had been accustomed to subsist. He had witnessed more misery in Ireland than he thought he should ever see in any country. He never had any particular reason to admire Sir R. Peel; but in this case he thought he had acted wisely. The good sense of the people of Ireland enabled them to see, that by promoting a free trade among the nations of the Continent they would be ultimately benefited. The Government deserved great credit for the exertions they had made to save the people from famine; and if it were not for their prompt and humane interposition, he 562 believed that ere this time thousands would have perished, and the followers of famine—disease and pestilence—would be now ravaging the land. He should oppose the Amendment of the noble Earl.
The EARL of WINCHILSEA
said, he did not support the Amendment of the noble Earl on the ground of its affording any protection, but in the hope that the country might have some opportunity of constitutionally expressing its opinion at an election, before so great and important a measure as that submitted by Government became the law of the land. He was free to admit that if the Government had taken the constitutional course of appealing to the people, and the country had, through their representatives, manifested an unequivocal and decisive wish to have these laws repealed, the House of Lords ought no longer to resist the change. There was another point to which he wished to call their Lordships' attention. He thought it unwise, imprudent, and unconstitutional to bind another Parliament to the acts of the present, by fixing the term of three years, which would include the period of a general election. Again, suppose at the next election there should be a decisive majority in favour of protection, what position could their Lordships hold then? They must either place themselves in direct opposition to the will of the people, or they must betray a vacillation and inconsistency which would for ever lower that House in the estimation of the people of England. It was a mere fallacy to suppose that the question was settled by now agreeing to the measure—it would only enkindle agitation. It had been said by a right rev. Prelate that some of their Lordships had called upon the Bishops to stand in the gap on account of the parochial Clergy; but he saw no harm in any one of their Lordships reminding the right rev. Bench that they were the natural representatives of the parochial clergy, and that they ought not to allow the feeling to go abroad that they were unmindful of their interests. He believed that what affected the interests of the Clergy, affected the moral, social, and religious interests of the whole community. He had been always consistent since he entered Parliament twenty years ago; he was no party man, but voted precisely as his conscience dictated to him, quite irrespective of any other consideration. He did not blame any man for an honest change of opinion; but he could not refrain from saying that when public men were placed in situations of confidence and trust, on considerations of 563 certain principles to which they professed themselves deeply attached, they ought not, if they changed their own opinions, to attempt to force through Parliament any measure of so important, he might almost say, of so revolutionary a character, without giving the people an opportunity of expressing their opinions as to the propriety of the change. He had not been an agitator at any part of his life; but he considered that he had some interest in the counties with which he was connected, and he would agitate this question to the utmost of his power. There would soon be a dissolution, and a new House of Commons would soon reverse this measure. He implored their Lordships, as they valued the independence of that House, and as they valued the respect and confidence of the people of England, not to allow this measure to pass without allowing the country to express its conviction respecting it. If they did, the people would no longer look upon them as the safeguards of the State; and they would manifest an apathy towards that interest which they were especially bound to cherish, totally unworthy of them. He would support the Amendment of his noble Friend.
who was almost inaudible, denied that the people of Scotland were in favour of the measure. Noble Lords opposite had quoted several instances of farms having been let in Scotland at a higher rent than before; and since the present measure was announced; but it would be found that in many instances the reason of such advance of rent was either because the farms had been improved since the former letting, by the expenditure of much labour, skill, and capital, or because by conditions in the new lease the landlord was bound to invest large sums of money on the improvement of the land during the occupancy of the incoming tenant. He believed that there would be no great diminution in the value of land under the proposed Bill; but he was convinced that it would occasion a considerable displacement of labour. He would ask what was to become of the labourers so displaced? Were they to be driven into the towns? Their Lordships, no doubt, had looked into those reports which were on the Table, describing the state of the labouring population in towns; and he must implore them not to pass a measure which would have the effect of driving away from their homes a considerable portion of our agricultural population. He would not trespass further on the attention of the House. He would 564 content himself with saying that he should support the Amendment of his noble Friend.
§ EARL FITZWILLIAM
could not agree with his noble Friend (the Earl of Winchilsea) that they ought not to pass the present Bill without an appeal to the country; for a dissolution upon a question of food was of a most dangerous nature. In a question like that, the interests and feelings of men were so mixed up that it was difficult to appeal to the sense of the people without, in some measure, exciting their passions. It was fortunate, therefore, that they had been enabled to legislate on this subject when an immediate dissolution was not intended. But, at the same time, he was far from saying that he approved of the measures of Her Majesty's Ministers. He thought that House had been ill treated by Her Majesty's Ministers. He thought that House should have had a voice in this question; and that they should not have been driven into a corner. He would ask Ministers why they had not the boldness, the honesty, and the candour to make that House a party to their measures? Were they afraid of making that House a party to these measures of legislation? The measure should have been introduced in the form of Resolutions, in the first instance: that was the course Mr. Pitt had adopted with respect to the opening of the trade with Ireland in 1786, that precedent might very well be followed in the present instance: for he said that the course Her Majesty's Ministers had taken was one not consistent with the character of men who had obtained power, as they had done, from the aristocracy and landed interest of England. They should have brought the consideration of this question into that branch of the Legislature in which the aristocracy of the country had more peculiarly a voice, and which was most intimately connected with the agricultural democracy of England; for it was not correct to say that the democracy was confined to large manufacturing towns. His noble Friend opposite knew that Lincolnshire teemed with an agricultural democracy; and he knew the extent and influence of the agricultural democracy of Cambridgeshire. He had acted along with that democracy, and he still loved it; though he had been recently made to feel the power of that democracy for the vote he had given on this question. But to return to the proceedings of Her Majesty's Ministers. He maintained that Her Majesty's Ministers had acted in 565 a way that forfeited for them the confidence of every man who had placed reliance upon them; and he trusted that whatever appearance of coincidence there might be in some of the noble Friends near him with those who now wielded the Government of the country, they would never sully themselves by an intimate union with men who had conducted themselves in such a manner. There were many lessons to be derived from the debates, and from the course the two Houses of Parliament had adopted on this occasion; but there was one important lesson which he wished them to attend to, and that was, the influence of party feeling. Whatever others had been, he (Earl Fitzwilliam) at least had been consistent upon this question. When he first obtained a seat in their Lordships' House, he brought forward the Corn Law question, and not one of their Lordships supported his Resolution. That was in the year 1833; and if free trade was good now, it was good then. In the year 1839, he again moved the question, and his Resolution was supported by 24 of their Lordships; and again in 1840, when the number of his supporters had increased to 42. Now, he should like any man to draw the distinction between 1846 and 1840. It would exhibit the power of party. The leaders of the two great parties in the House of Commons had agreed on this measure, and forthwith there were large majorities for it there; and in their Lordships' House 47 on the main question, and 33 on the first division in Committee. [Lord STANLEY: "Small by degrees, and beautifully less."] He hoped the majority would be larger that night. He could not run the risk of losing this Bill, as his noble relative (Lord Winchilsea) was willing to do. He would not run the risk—no, he would not run the risk of a general election upon it, and he did not think Her Majesty's Ministers would do it; he had full confidence in the wisdom of this measure, and, therefore, as a practical man he would avail himself of present opportunities. He did not know what might be the effect of the lapse of a year. He had never indulged in any exaggerated statements of the benefits to be derived from a repeal of the Corn Law; but now that he saw it within his grasp, he would venture to say that he believed it would confer a greater measure of benefit, and, in its results, of happiness upon the great mass of the people, than any measure which had been proposed of late times; it would give 566 greater ease and comfort to all classes of the community. It would tend greatly to enlarge the sphere for the employment of labour; it would greatly augment the demand for manufacturing labour, and for all branches of labour immediately connected with manufactures, and even for agricultural labour; the necessity for making greater exertions would call into action a greater amount of labour. Protection, no doubt, had proved in its result, protection to—(not to say bad farming)—but an unadvanced state of agriculture: this measure would advance agriculture in every part of the kingdom, and particularly in those now the least advanced, and where the nature and character of the soil were such as to cause the greatest difficulties. He felt the necessity of opposing this Amendment.
said, that he had been listening to many very able and important speeches which had been addressed to their Lordships in the course of the evening; but they were directed, so far as their arguments were concerned, not so much to the Amendments under their Lordships' consideration, as to the whole merits of the Bill before the House—not to the details, but to the entire measure. He should address himself to those speeches which had been made by the supporters of the Government against the Government, and against the Bill; but he should also have a word to say upon the handling which the Bill had that night got from its supporters. They had been making speeches precisely like the protection speeches on the second reading, attuned to the same gamut; he had been forcibly reminded of those choral symphonies which had sounded in their Lordships' ears for three long nights, with a loudness he had never heard equalled, and producing, especially to one not now in the prime of life, much the same sensation of fatigue as most persons experienced at a public dinner, after being made to bear the cheers of those at the table, and the music in the back ground, as exhausting as the roars. The process of argument by which some noble Lords had arrived at the conclusion they had adopted was certainly peculiar. A noble Friend near him (Lord de Mauley), for instance, was in favour of the Amendment, not because he liked or approved of a fixed duty, but merely because he was against the Bill; and he assigned as a reason for declining to argue the question at length, that he feared lest by so doing he should only weaken the arguments of the noble 567 Marquess near him (Lord Clanricarde), who was the enemy of the Amendment, and the friend of the Bill. But he never was more struck than with the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Fitzwilliam), who had just made a strenuous attack on the measure and on its supporters, and its enemies, for all parties had come in for a share of his censure and vituperation. That noble Lord had carried on for some portion of the time during which he had been addressing the House, a conversation in a low and confidential tone of voice with the noble Lord opposite; and his whole demeanour had reminded him (Lord Brougham) of an anecdote told of a learned Serjeant (Davy), of the Western Circuit. The Serjeant was upon one occasion addressing the court, but he at one time dropped his voice and proceeded with his speech, nevertheless, though in a low tone. The jury not hearing a word of what he was saying, one of them asked him to speak up. "Yes, gentlemen," he replied, "I will when I come to anything material." And so it was with his noble Friend; but, inasmuch as he had not given the explanation which the learned Serjeant had, he (Lord Brougham) would wish to be satisfied that the House had really not lost anything of importance. He should, therefore, ask the question distinctly of the noble Lord opposite, to whom the strictly confidential parties had been addressed, what it was the noble Lord had been saying. [Lord STANLEY: Oh, nothing material.] He was satisfied. He had thought so. But his noble Friend had said, that nothing could be more insulting to the House, or more offensive to the Constitution, than the course taken by Her Majesty's Ministers in bringing this measure forward in the form of a Bill, instead of a Resolution, originating in the other House; and he had added, that by the course pursued, their Lordships' House had been driven into a corner. But there was no reason why the present measure should not be carried through in a manner similar to the other great popular measures which had preceded it. The Reform Bill of 1831, for instance, had not been brought before their Lordships in the form of a Resolution. It had been brought by Lord John Russell into the other House, on the memorable 1st of March, 1831; and their Lordships heard nothing more of it, or its progress, excepting through the ordinary channels of 568 public information, somewhat in the Votes, much more in the newspapers, until after the Whitsuntide recess, when it came up to their House, in due form, as a Bill. But he had a defence still more in point; for the same course had been pursued with the Corn Bill of 1804. It had been so in 1815, in 1822, in 1827, aye, and with the Corn Bill of 1842, and that course had never been made a ground of objection. The alterations in the timber duties and the sugar duties had originated in the other House, and so had the alteration in the Corn Laws, proposed by the former Ministry, and which was similar in principle to the Amendment then before their Lordships. It had been originated by the late Ministry in the other House, and it was there they were beaten upon it. But to proceed to another objection of the noble Lord. When he spoke of popular feeling upon the question, and his unwillingness to appeal to the country, he (Lord Brougham) could not help, when he heard him drawing forth cheers from the enemies of the Bill at the close of every sentence, exclaiming, "Oh, save me from my friends!" He differed toto cœlo from the noble Lord on that subject. What had he said? Why, that they dared not appeal to the people. [Loud cheers from the protectionist benches.] Those cheers came very naturally from the enemies of the Bill, and the friends of the Amendment; but how his noble Friend, the supporter of the Bill and enemy of the Amendment, could be so deluded, so utterly mistaken, as to suppose that there was any foundation for the notion that an appeal to the people would be fatal to the Bill, he was unable to comprehend. He (Lord Brougham) thought, and he felt perfectly satisfied, that an appeal to the people would prove favourable to the Government and to the Bill. But his noble Friend had gone on to say, that his reason for voting against the Amendment was the delay it would occasion in the settlement of the question—that time for thought and for consideration would be fatal to the measure. [Loud cries of "No, no!"] He (Lord Brougham) did not mean to say that his noble Friend had used exactly those expressions; but what he had said, he contended, amounted to it, and was the same in substance. Now, far from thinking his noble Friend justified in using such expressions, he was of opinion, for the reasons he had twice already adduced in debate, that the more thought and the more consideration were given to the measure, the more it 569 would advance in public estimation. He should next endeavour to direct the attention of their Lordships to the real question before them; but before doing so, he was truly sorry that the course the debate had taken, deviating widely from that question, compelled him, how reluctant soever, to follow, in the first place, the deviation; and therefore he must begin by addressing himself to the speech of the noble Lord connected with Scotland (Lord Polwarth), who had brought forward the cases of three farms, in order to show the effects to be expected from the present measures in the event of their passing into law. Now, he should say, that he paid very little attention to such cases. When the House was merely informed of the terms upon which farms were formerly let, and those for which they were either let, or likely to be let or sold, at present, their Lordships were really left almost wholly uninformed upon the subject; for there were so many collateral circumstances which would of themselves, independently of any alteration in the laws, be sufficient to affect materially the value of any particular farm, that the mere mention of comparative prices and offers signified nothing unless they could be put in possession of all the circumstances of each case. The noble Lord had stated that one of the farms he had mentioned had risen only 200l. in value. Now that might be too little to expect; but did it not strike the acuteness of the noble Lord, that those figures were anything but proof? The great argument of the enemies of the Bill amounted to this, that the price of wheat would tumble down 10s. a quarter. Now, the produce of this country had been stated at three quarters to the acre, on an average; whilst that of foreign countries was set down at somewhere about fourteen bushels. Well, let them set down the loss, according to their own showing. It was 30s. an acre—that was the loss expected by the great alarmists: it was not his (Lord Brougham's) statement; he was merely stating the loss put down by the great alarmists, the sum which they said would be cut off from the value of land by this frightful Act. Now, he would administer a little comfort to his noble Friends, which was really, he thought, much wanted, for there were some who seemed to delight in drawing pictures of desolation and terror, and in exciting despair amongst their hearers, while they surfeited themselves with it. 570 They seemed to be unsatisfied unless they fed upon horrors—Gens ratione ferox, et diris pasta chimæris.If there were to be the fall of 30s. an acre, which had been set down by those alarmists as the inevitable result of this measure, and if the very highest average rent at which land could be let at present were, as it was admitted on all hands to be, from 30s. to 2l. an acre, it is evident that the loss, instead of involving a considerable reduction in the rents, ought to involve the amount of the whole rent. Let them suppose a farm of 300 acres, let at 30s. to 40s. an acre, laid down in wheat, on which a loss of 30s. an acre should be suffered in consequence of the proposed measure of free trade—it was evident that there was an end of the rent. But what was the real amount of the fall experienced on those farms on the borders of Scotland which had been mentioned, and where the rent could not be expected to be so high as the high average of rich land in England? Why, it was only a trifling reduction from what might have been expected had no change taken place. But he had promised their Lordships some comfort, and they should have it. He would administer a little to them in the form of statements which had been made to him. He had already said that he paid but little attention to such things by way of proofs; but if they were valuable for one side, they were, at least, equally good for the other, and at least the same amount of weight ought to be given to them. He would therefore refer to two only out of several letters he had received upon the subject. The first stated, that as the Corn Bill was now under the immediate consideration of the House of Lords, the writer thought it well to put him (Lord Brougham) in possession of the result of a sale which had taken place at Garraway's. It was the sale by auction of a farm of 200 acres in Essex, by Mr. Compton. It was said to be in a wretched state of cultivation, and was situated within five miles of a town which he need not mention. The rent was 180l. per annum, without a residence; and the sum it fetched under the hammer the day before yesterday, since the Corn Bill had been sent up to their Lordships' House, nay, more, since it had been read a second time there, was—how much did their Lordships think? How many years' purchase did they imagine? Their Lordships should remember that the 571 sale had been effected in the face of all the disastrous consequences prophesied as the inevitable result of the free-trade measures of the Government. Well, the farm had fetched thirty-six years' purchase. It had been sold for 6,500l. without reserve, so that the purchaser had been content with 2¾ per cent for his money, with the fear of the Corn Bill before his eyes. It said little for the terror with which capitalists looked upon the measures of the Government, when they were contented to invest their money at 2¾ per cent. The second letter stated that the result of a sale which had taken place that evening (on which it had been dated) had quite astonished every one present—even the auctioneer himself was so surprised as to have said that he had almost become a convert to free-trade principles, so far did the prices realized exceed even the valuation which he himself had set upon the property. In many other instances the prices realized were double what the properties would have fetched two years ago; and, continued the writer, the farms are all situated in the neighbourhood of the Bentinck estates, a relative of whose proprietor had made himself conspicuous of late by strong language against the measure. From 50l. to 90l. an acre had been realized for fen and marsh land. The statement, he admitted, like all such statements, proved very little one way or the other; but as he had before said, if statements were good for one side of the question, they were equally so for the other. But with regard to the principle of the Amendment, he far preferred the sliding-scale to a fixed duty. He was for free trade in corn; but if he had to make a choice with regard to a duty to be laid on for the purposes of revenue, he greatly preferred the sliding-scale to the fixed duty. As a measure of finance without protection the fixed duty was nonsense; for unless the same duty were imposed upon the corn at the mill as was charged upon foreign grain imported, it amounted to protection still. Under such a plan, therefore, they had all the evils of protection, and none of its benefits. The noble Earl (the Earl of Wicklow) had contended that from the revenue to be produced by his fixed duty, and from an alteration in the sugar duties, they might be able to repeal a portion of the income tax; but he (Lord Brougham) altogether objected to a tax on corn—it was the worst tax that could be imagined. He de- 572 nied that it would enable them to reduce any portion of their taxation, or to lower the property tax; and he asserted that there was no sort of tax more directly opposed to every principle of financial justice and policy than one which was imposed upon the bread of the people. His noble Friend had denied that the fixed duty would have the effect of raising the price of the people's bread; but surely if the price of wheat imported from Dantzic or Odessa were 35s., the addition of the 5s. fixed duty would necessarily tend to keep it higher than it would be without any such duty. But whatever tended to raise the price of the prime necessary of life was unjust. It amounted to a poll tax, for it was a tax which every man would have to pay alike, inasmuch as every man consumed about the same quantity of the prime necessary of life. Before he sat down he would admit one thing, and that was that the question came before their Lordships surrounded with peculiar and most extraordinary circumstances; and he fully agreed with one observation of his noble Friend, that it stood little chance of being decided upon its merits: the real merits of the question stood as little chance of being regarded as did the real opinion of Parliament of being heard upon it. The position of parties with regard to it was marked by unparalleled singularity. Between candid adversaries and lukewarm supporters—doubtful enemies and self-styled friends—the measure came before their Lordships with the most extraordinary concatenation of conflicting elements they had ever witnessed—the most strange he had ever seen surrounding any question. Their Lordships had been told that a number of Members of both Houses would vote for the Bill, not from any love for free trade, but to prevent what they believed, and what they had a right to believe, was worse—a change of Government. But up got the noble Earl, and cut that ground at once from under their feet; for he told them that the change was inevitable. He said that all their voting for the Bill, their deciding in favour of the measure, would not stay that change one week; and so convinced was he of what he said, that he addressed his noble Friends behind him, and gave them a lecture for the purpose of smoothing their way to his accession to office. Well, but if that were so, the Bill is lost. [A noble LORD: Why so?] He would tell them why. Because there were a good number of their Lordships, and of 573 the Members of the other House, who vote for it, not from any liking they had to it, but because they had a great disliking to his noble Friends behind him coming into office. Their dislike to his noble Friends was greater than their dislike to the Bill; but after the statement of the noble Earl opposite—who from his position and his connexion with the Government ought to be well informed on the subject—that there would immediately be a change of dynasty, those noble Lords would of course vote for the Amendment. It might have been very judicious to try and gain half a dozen votes by making that statement, which he was sure the noble Lord had not intended; but he (Lord Brougham) could not allow him to have the advantage of his manœuvre. Indeed he did not believe the assertion at all: he did not think that change would take place, and he observed that his noble Friend (Lord Stanhope), who thought he had a right to know the prices of next year, did not call upon any one to say who would be Minister twelve days hence, nor to declare, on the average of the next twelve months, how many Ministers would be in office (because there might be a number of short Administrations); but he would assume the character of a prophet, and would venture to predict that there would be no change. There was no more honest and conscientious set of men in the House, than the protectionist party in that House, and he entertained for them the highest respect. But the noble Earl who had spoken last, had given his friends and his party, the Whigs, the advice that, out of regard to the character of the minority to which they belonged, they should not enter upon—nay, more he implored them, and was joined in his entreaties by another noble Lord, not to think of anything so foul as—a coalition with the noble Lords opposite. Oh, said the noble Lord, do not be led to do anything of the kind! He begged the noble Lord not to let himself be frightened from his propriety by the anticipation of any such event. A coalition required two parties. It was not enough to say, "I will coalesce with you," if the other party refused the offer. Now, he did not believe in the existence of any willingness on the part of his noble Friends opposite to lend themselves to any such coalition; and if he had any reason to doubt that conviction, he was aware of the fact that a noble Lord near him (Lord Londonderry) had lauded the Prime Minister expressly 574 for having avowed that nothing could induce him to consent to such a coalition, and had founded his personal reason for supporting the Government in their present trials on the account of that manly declaration. The most zealous and sincere friends of protection and enemies to free trade had a pretty strong conviction that there would be no change. If not, why had they postponed by every means in their power the further progress of this Bill? He could explain it at once, and he would endeavour to refute the arguments of the noble Lord on that subject, and take away his votes if he could. His noble Friends, who were very acute observers of what was passing around them, unless when they were blinded by alarm, saw what was passing elsewhere. They heard of certain meetings called for the purpose of evincing their cordial, candid, and honest sense of the great services rendered by the Minister and his Colleagues to the cause of free trade; for the purpose of aiding the Minister in his difficulties, and for the purpose of disclaiming all idea of factious opposition. [Lord STANLEY: Where? I don't see them.] There were none so blind as those who won't see. But these meetings had been called for these purposes—for the purpose of concerting support, in the other House of Parliament, to that measure which had been unanimously supported by the Opposition in their Lordships' House—he alluded to the Coercion Bill—and, above all, for the purpose of preventing any coalition between the enemies of the measure and the friends of the measure—between the enemies of the Government and the friends of the Government. He alluded to a meeting which could, he concluded, have been only held for the purpose of giving their cordial support to the Corn Bill, and of preventing any factious opposition to the Coercion Bill, and which was held, as he understood, last Saturday week. Those who attended clearly showed what they were after, for they said, we must make the Coercion Bill last very long in its way through the House of Commons, in order that the Corn Bill may be safe; if we turn out the Government, the Bill will he endangered. He judged from information he had received from a person who was present, and who had told him that a person from the sister kingdom undertook that there should be long debates; and no better persons were there for ensuring long debates than these great orators. Thus the Coercion Bill 575 went on as they saw it from day to day. From Friday it was postponed till Thursday, and then no doubt it would be postponed to Monday; and if their Lordships had not by that time come to a decision on the Corn Bill, no doubt it would be postponed still further. The fact was, these persons dreaded a change of Government before the Bill was passed. There were also a few noble Lords on the cross benches who were opposed to the Bill, but had fallen into the trap which had been laid for them, and had given the Bill every facility. They were then perfectly certain that there would be no coalition; they thought the Government was safe, and he thought so too. He therefore considered that the Amendment would not have the votes of those noble Lords. He hoped and trusted that the Amendment would be rejected—first, upon its merits, and he thought he had a right to assume that its effects would be ten thousand times worse than those of the sliding-scale; but next and principally he called on the noble Lords whom he now addressed to reject it, because that would be neither more nor less than rejecting the Bill:—the Bill was lost if the Amendment were carried. As their Lordships had sanctioned this Bill on its second reading by a large majority; as they had unanimously resolved to go into Committee upon it; and as they had last night rejected by a considerable majority the Amendment of the noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham), because if it had been adopted the Bill would have been lost; he called upon them now to negative this Amendment for the same reason, because if they adopted it they would reject the measure.
My Lords, my noble and learned Friend, I think, commenced his speech with this observation—that for two hours he had been listening to a discussion, of which not the whole, no—nor the major part, no—nor a large portion, no—nor any portion whatever, had been directed to the subject-matter of the Amendment now before us. After that preface, my Lords, I naturally concluded that my noble and learned Friend was about to direct his attention and that of your Lordships, strictly and exclusively to the speech of my noble Friend behind me, who proposed the Amendment. But no, my Lords, I have listened with the deepest attention—and with the most amused attention—not for two hours, but certainly for one hour, to the speech of my noble and learned Friend; 576 and I may venture to repeat his own words, that not the whole, no, nor the major part, no, nor a considerable part—I may almost say, no, nor any part at all, was directed to the subject-matter now under under your Lordships' consideration. And, my Lords, my noble and learned Friend has done great injustice to his own individual person. He began by regretting the fatigue which, in common with your Lordships, he experienced, and which, as the noble and learned Lord said, was severely felt by one who, like himself, was not in the prime of life and beauty. Now, my noble and learned Friend did himself injustice. I am sure, when your Lordships look at my noble and learned Friend, you will be reminded, as I was myself, of these lines of Milton:—And now a stripling cherub he appears,Not of the prime, yet such as in his faceYouth smil'd celestial, and to every limbSuitable grace diffused.After these complaints of the effects which my noble and learned Friend—who, as he says, is not now "of the prime"—experienced from the heat and from the fatigue of this long discussion, he proceeded, not indeed to the Amendment now before the House, but to a variety of subjects more or less—but I must say rather less than more—connected with this question. He first referred to the course of proceeding adopted with regard to this measure; and he asserted that that course, so far from being unusual, was usual, ordinary, and proper. I venture, in all humility, to differ with him. I think the instances relied on by my noble and learned Friend were not instances in point; and I agree with the criticism which has been made on the mode of proceeding. I think when a measure of this importance is sent before your Lordships by Bill, and it is then pleaded that you can make no amendment in it because it is a Money Bill, your Lordships are deprived of that fair weight and influence in the consideration of important political measures which are due to your station. I entirely admit the propriety of the maxim, that when a measure is introduced for the purpose of revenue, when the question is that of levying taxation upon the people, the House of Commons should watch with a laudable jealousy any interference on your Lordships' part. But I do say this—that your Lordships' rights are infringed, that the Constitution itself is infringed, if under cover of a measure involving a mere consideration of money to however small an 577 amount—your Lordships are debarred from expressing your opinion on all the greater political considerations which may be involved in it. In point of fact, if your Lordships are to be told, "Take this measure, or reject it—take it you must, or reject it altogether, because it is a Money Bill," your Lordships have no voice in the settlement of the question; you must accept it or reject it altogether, because the alteration of a single clause would be fatal to the Bill. If this doctrine is to prevail, it was in vain that my noble Friend behind me interfered, with regard to this very measure, to prevent a still more outrageous infraction of the privileges of your Lordships' House. It was, we know, the intention of Her Majesty's Government to pass resolutions for the admission of foreign corn, without consulting your Lordships on the subject. My noble Friend behind me pointed out the gross impropriety of such a course of proceeding. The Government, I admit to their credit, saw the impropriety of the course, and retracted their determination. [Earl GREY here made an observation to the noble Lord.] Yes; I am quite correct in the statement. It was originally declared by the Prime Minister in the other House of Parliament, that so soon as the Resolutions should have been adopted by the other House, corn would be admitted free of duty; but representations were made to the Government of the injustice and impropriety of such a measure, and the want of precedent for the proceeding. The course which has been adopted was taken upon that remonstrance, and the measure was sent up for your Lordships' consideration and assent. But, my Lords, if your Lordships are not to alter the Bill, that concession was nugatory and ludicrous. If you are not to alter the Bill, the noble Earl opposite was right, when he said that the proper course to have taken would have been this, that a Resolution should have been adopted by the House of Commons, and then sent up for your Lordships' concurrence; and that upon the joint agreement of the two Houses a Bill should have been framed; so that, at the proper time, and in the proper manner, your Lordships would have had legitimate control over the measure. "But," says the noble and learned Lord opposite, "there are precedents; look at the Reform Bill." Why, what question of the privileges of this House was involved in that case? My noble and learned Friend, though he was a Member of the Government at 578 the time, has forgotten the circumstances which occurred with regard to that measure. The second reading was carried by a majority of one in the House of Commons; Parliament was dissolved, and the sense of the country was taken on the subject. In those days it was not thought either inexpedient or unconstitutional, upon a great and important question, to refer to the sense of the country, and afford them an opportunity of sustaining the Government. The country did sustain the Government of that day; in a new Parliament the Bill was again introduced, it was sent up to your Lordships' House; you exercised the privilege which you undoubtedly possessed, and you made a vital amendment in the Bill—your Lordships, in fact, rejected the Bill. A new Bill was introduced, and was sent up to your Lordships' House, and that measure ultimately received your assent. Were you ever told that it was impossible for you, consistently with the privileges of the House of Commons, to interfere with that Bill?—or can this case be adduced, as forming any precedent to justify the course now pursued, when, on the plea that this Corn Bill is a Money Bill, and nothing but a Money Bill, you are told that you have not the right to amend it in the slightest degree, for by doing so you would violate the privileges of the House of Commons. The first precedent of the noble and learned Lord fails him altogether, and the second will be found equally untenable. I do not know what might have been the intention of the Government in 1842, but the course they then took was this: a Resolution was moved in the House of Commons preliminary to the introduction of the Bill relating to their commercial policy. I must observe—and this is rather an important point of the case—that when these measures were announced, they were not introduced as commercial measures, or as great measures of policy, but they were brought forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a portion of his Budget, and avowedly and expressly for the purpose of making up the deficiencies of a falling revenue. Upon the first Resolution of the three which they introduced, Ministers were defeated in the House of Commons; but the Bills framed upon the other Resolutions did not proceed one step beyond the original Resolutions, the object of which was to give effect to a financial measure of the Government for the purpose of revenue. I wish, before I pass to another 579 part of the question, to refer for a moment to some observations which fell from my noble and learned Friend, with regard to the rents of certain farms. My noble Friend read letters—one from Essex, and another, I think, from a place near Wisbech—referring to the letting of certain farms; and he told us that a farm which had been in a miserable condition, had been recently let on a thirty years' lease at a considerably increased rent. I don't ask how near Chelmsford it was, or whether the railway passed through the farm, or whether the timber was sold with the property, because, as my noble and learned Friend observes, unless you know all these circumstances, you know nothing at all. It may be asked why the particular circumstances of these farms should be stated? Because four particular farms had been referred to which were about, it was said, to be let at an increased rent. In answer to that statement of the noble Marquess opposite, my noble Friend went into the circumstances of these particular farms. With regard to one, he stated that an offer of 1,050l. was made for it in 1845; but on the knowledge of the measure proposed by Her Majesty's Government the offer was reduced to 880l., with the further stipulation on the part of the tenant that the sum of 1,500l. should be laid out in improvements. These specific circumstances not only defeat the argument set up by noble Lords opposite, but they prove the precise contrary, and vindicate our argument that this measure will diminish the value of land. The noble and learned Lord argued, that if grain could be imported at 35s. and a duty of 5s. were levied upon it, the grain would then sell for 40s.
had said, that the effect of the duty was to keep out grain until the price was such as to pay the additional duty; that it tended, in short, to keep up the price.
I am glad to give the noble and learned Lord an opportunity of explaining what it was he did say; but, having taken down the noble and learned Lord's words, I confess I thought I was representing his argument correctly. I hope it will be admitted by the noble and learned Lord that putting on a 5s. duty raises the price to that extent?
We understand it, and we are at all events, I should think, 580 agreed that the duty wont't raise the price 5s., or anything like 5s.
did not say that. What he stated was, that the 5s. was not the measure of the price, but that it might be much greater as well as less. The effect of the duty was to keep out foreign grain, which would otherwise find its way into this country. Consequently it kept its price, though the amount of duty might not be the means of the addition to the price. [Cries of "Order!"]
If my noble and learned Friend meant to answer me, let him; if not, let him not interrupt me. I understood my noble and learned Friend to say, that if grain is imported at 35s., and you put on 5s. duty, it will sell at 40s. He repels that with indignation—that the addition of a 5s. duty raises the price 5s. Then, I say, he admits that the 5s. duty will not raise the price to that extent, or anything like that extent; on which, up jumps my noble and learned Friend, and says—"I said exactly the reverse." This kind of two-edged sword is extremely difficult to deal with—I don't know where to have him. But we are agreed that the whole amount of corn will only be increased in price by the amount of the additional supply which will come in between the 5s. duty and no duty at all—that the amount of the variation of price will depend on the amount which will come in between the two points. My noble and learned Friend says it may increase the price of corn by the amount of the duty; but that it may increase it much more by the imposition of the 5s. duty. I don't understand how, if the corn of the whole world is admitted, you will reduce more than the difference of the duty you take off; it is only that amount between the 5s. and the 1s. that alters or affects the markets at home. I shall now go to the concluding remarks of my noble and learned Friend. My noble and learned Friend talks of certain motives, and certain influences, and certain combinations of party, which may affect the consideration of this measure. He talks of meetings, of which I know nothing, of coalitions, in the existence of which I disbelieve; and which myself, and those who think with me, entirely repel and deny. But I do not deny this, my Lords. I agree that it is a most extraordinary combination of parties that has been brought together for the purpose of carrying this Bill, a large majority of the Members of which, both in this House and the other, disapprove of 581 this Bill—a Bill in which an immense majority of your Lordships disagree; I agree with the noble and learned Lord that it is owing to the extraordinary combination of parties, and not to the merits of the Bill, that it has a chance of being inflicted upon the country. I agree that Government have acted with prudence and discretion in not risking an election. They have acted well and wisely; I don't think the Government have any wish to risk that issue. My noble and learned Friend says that our tactics have not been good, and that we should move postponements day after day. My Lords, I say that we are above such tactics. We rest our case upon reason, upon justice, upon public opinion; and if these are not sufficient to carry us through, and if your Lordships are influenced by the party considerations adverted to on the other side, we yield to your decision, and submit to the fate which we cannot avert. We care not to inquire whether a delay of twenty-four hours in our vote will cause additional embarrassment to the Government upon the Sugar Bill or the Coercion Bill, or whether it will give a better or a worse chance to noble Lords opposite of coming into power. We are influenced, we have been influenced, by no such considerations. I suppose we shall be overpowered; but we have put a plain case and plain reasoning before the public and the country; and the admissions of noble Lords will go before the public and the country, that but for a fortuitous combination of parties this Bill would never have passed through this or the other House of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord says that the Government is not likely to resign. He spoke as if he were supporting a Government in power. I don't doubt the sincerity of my noble and learned Friend's conviction that the Government are to remain in office. Perhaps he thinks that if the Government fall, the prospects of the country — of course, I mean—are not likely to be improved by it. I should not have troubled the House to-night but for the speech of my noble and learned Friend; but I may be permitted to say why we are prepared to support an Amendment of which we do not wholly approve. In an early period of my public life I was rather disposed to approve of a fixed duty in preference to a sliding-scale, and I expressed that opinion in the House of Commons. Mr. Huskisson had the kindness to speak to me after the debate about the qualified opinion I 582 entertained; and fully and clearly, as he always did, he entered with me, a young man, upon the grounds on which he thought a sliding-scale was preferable to a fixed duty. I yielded a ready assent to the arguments of one to whom I looked up with so much respect and consideration. Mr. Huskisson convinced me, and I have always been of opinion since, that the sliding-scale, as a measure, is better than a fixed duty—that it is a better protection to the producer in years of plenty, and a better protection to the consumer in years of scarcity, and when you require the introduction of a large amount of foreign corn. The noble Earl (the Earl of Wicklow) would not, then, have had my vote in favour of his Amendment if the question to me had been, "Will you have a fixed duty or a sliding-scale?" My answer is, that, as a measure of protection, I infinitely prefer the sliding-scale; and if his Amendment had been moved before the second reading, or when there was a hope of inducing the House to come to a decision in favour of the sliding-scale, the noble Earl would have found me among the warmest opponents, as I am now a warm supporter, of his measure. The efficiency of the sliding-scale is, that it approaches the limits of exclusion in times of abundance, and the limits of free trade in times of scarcity. The greater the oscillations the more efficient the operation of the sliding-scale. But, as you have determined to alter and materially to amend the Corn Law—as you have rejected a proposal for continuing the sliding-scale, and are now asked to give your consideration to a fixed duty, I shall vote for that. I should have preferred a sliding-scale to a fixed duty; but I prefer a fixed duty to no protection at all. In as far as Ireland and Canada are concerned, the duty proposed by the noble Earl is a real and efficient protection, so far as it goes. There is another question which ought not to be overlooked—I mean the revenue that will be derived from a 5s. fixed duty. The noble Earl at the Table spoke strongly on the increasing and dangerous tendency in our legislation to transfer all taxation from indirect to direct taxation. I agree with the danger. But if, Session after Session, you cut down whatever surplus you have by the reduction of all indirect taxation, with the further prospect of abolishing the income tax at the end of three years—if you give way on the Corn Laws this year, and on some other question next 583 —if you throw away a million now, another million next year, and another million the year after, the reduction of the income tax is rendered impossible by the course you are taking during the period of its proposed temporary continuance. You are travelling in a vicious circle, and the result is that a temporary measure of indirect taxation becomes of necessity a direct tax, and a direct tax to an amount that throws upon it the whole burdens of the country. I warn you of the danger of this course. The statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives a surplus of 700,000l. this year, including the China ransom, and the ordinary amount received for foreign corn; the income during the last few years from the latter source has been fluctuating and various; but if we take the average at 700,000l., we shall not be far from the mark. Look at the position in which you are placed. Your surplus of 700,000l. disappears after you have provided for the income of three-quarters of a year,; and you are now coming down with a proposal which will debar you of an average income of 700,000l., and that without raising the price of corn in this country. Such a measure would be rash at any time, but, above all, when we know that the loss of the income tax is to be provided for three years hence. We do not know what the situation of the country may be then. We don't know who the Government may be then. There is reason to believe—at least, I believe—notwithstanding what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord, that it is not likely to be the present Government. Is it fair, then, for you to say that you have provided for the revenue of this year, but that it is impossible for you to raise what has brought us in 700,000l., and this contemporaneously with the reduction of the income tax, which has given us 5,000,000l.? Surely this is not prudent; and it is hardly fair to those who succeed you. You may have a new Government, but you must have a new Parliament, which must be called together to discuss and decide on the duties that ought to be imposed, and the policy that ought to be pursued, with respect to the revenue. Therefore, I say, you are called upon to adopt this Amendment with respect to the present revenue—with respect to fairness to succeeding Ministers—with respect to the exigencies, not only of the present time, but of the time to come; but, above all, with respect to the interests of the people of this coun- 584 try and their right to be consulted, of which I shall say no more than that if ever there was an occasion in which they had a right to have a voice in the final settlement of a question, it is in the one now under discussion. But, instead of that, you absolutely refuse to leave to a future Parliament that which must be legislated on by a future Parliament. You insist upon now cutting off future means of revenue—you insist upon now laying down future rules of conduct, not for yourselves, but for your successors—not for this, but for a succeeding Parliament—not for the constituency who returned this Parliament, but the constituency which is to return the next Parliament; and if I wanted an additional argument in favour of the continuance, until another Parliament is summoned, of a moderate fixed duty, bringing in an unoppressive revenue into the Exchequer, I should find it in the statement to which I have already called your Lordships' attention, that this measure never would have been passed but for other considerations wholly alien to it, and for a combination of parties having no reference to the political merits of the question.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
was anxious to address a few words to the House before coming to, if not the last, at any rate the most decisive division that would take place on this question; and, in doing so, he assured the House that, but with one exception, he should confine himself, in the few remarks he should make, to the question immediately under discussion. That exception was to set his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) right upon a subject on which he (Lord Lansdowne) was sure, not from any want of zeal, not from any want of activity, not from any want of inquiry, he had not shown himself perfectly lucid. The noble and learned Lord had described, with that power of eloquence which belonged to him, the chimerical alarms of the protectionists upon the subject of this Bill. He had nevertheless shown to their Lordships that he had formed to himself a chimera of his own; and the alarm which he had for some time past experienced at the possible unanimity of some parties in the State who were now disunited, and the possible agreement of some descriptions of persons who had not hitherto been agreed, had so alarmed and excited the imagination of his noble and learned Friend, that he had thought it necessary to provide himself with information from all quarters, that 585 should enable him to guard that House and the people of this country against those dreadful machinations, the result of which was likely to be something like agreement. He (Lord Lansdowne) did not know whether such possible agreement would be the misfortune which the noble and learned Lord seemed to dread; but whilst he fed on the chimera, the noble and learned Lord had endeavoured most unsuccessfully to provide himself with information on the subject. His noble Friend's search after information had not confined itself to this or the other House of Parliament; but had extended to private houses, from which he had provided himself with not very accurate reports. But there was one house to which his noble Friend had thought fit to allude, with respect to which he (Lord Lansdowne) humbly conceived he had the means of giving more accurate information than the noble and learned Lord. Now, with that information in his possession, he begged distinctly to state that what took place in that private house, to which he would not have alluded if the noble and learned Lord had not done so, was the reverse of what he had stated. It related in no degree whatever to the Corn Bill, but solely to what was called the Coercion Bill; and the only advice given by the person in that meeting who was most likely to influence its decisions, was not to protract the discussion upon the Coercion Bill. He would not leave this subject without stating, that however he might differ in opinion from him on this Bill, and on some points connected with it, he entirely agreed with his noble Friend the late Secretary for the Colonies when he said that with respect either to the Corn Bill or to the Coercion Bill, it would be disgraceful to all men and all parties in the Legislature, if they were to shape their conduct upon those Bills with reference to the attainment of any collateral object, or to sacrifice the one Bill for the other; and he solemnly assured the House that he for one had subscribed to no step being taken the object of which was directly or indirectly to affect the progress of either of these great measures in any other sense than in the lawful and Parliamentary sense of publicly declaring his opinion. That was the conduct he had pursued, and would pursue; and without troubling himself as to what or any coalitions or changes of Government might take place, he would stedfastly adhere to the purpose of securing for the country, upon such questions as 586 these, the benefit of that settlement which would most effectually contribute to its future tranquillity and future happiness. Having now set this matter at rest, he begged, in explanation of the vote he was about to give, to say that in the knowledge of the vast store of ammunition which existed within a hundred yards of where they then stood—he meant the volumes of Hansard, which had been opened as batteries during the course of this debate, and which he must say had been ably served, and, in the circumstances, succesfully directed; but, nevertheless, with the knowledge of the existence of those volumes and that ammunition, he safely defied any person to point out any passage in the speeches which he had at any time addressed to the House in which he had supported a fixed duty in any other sense than for the purposes of revenue. It never had been his opinion, and he had the misfortune to differ in this respect from the great authority of his noble and learned Friend, who had once advocated a fixed duty. [Lord BROUGHAM: When?] In the year 1825; no matter whether 1827 or 1825, his noble and learned Friend would recollect it. His noble and learned Friend then pointed out all the mischiefs of a sliding-scale, which he now said he preferred to a fixed duty. His noble Friend then recommended a fixed duty for the purpose of protection, though he allowed that a sliding-scale might do well enough for revenue; "give me a fixed duty," said his noble and learned Friend, for the purpose of protection. But he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had wished to see a fixed duty adopted for the purpose of revenue. Even now he considered that a low fixed duty for the purposes of revenue was desirable. He could not adopt the opinion of his noble and learned Friend that a revenue was worth nothing because it was larger in one year and smaller in another; it would still yield something. Nor was he willing to overlook it as a means of obtaining the support of others to a change which he thought necessary. Revenue was not to be considered as protective in its effects when it was generally spread over all articles of import. It was quite a different thing to protect a particular interest when other interests were not protected, when they were compelled to raise a revenue, for the service of the country, and to omit one particular interest, because the effect of the latter course would be to divert capi- 587 tal from one species of employment, and give an artificial bounty on its being employed in another. He was bound to admit that this consideration had some force at present; but it had less force than it possessed a few years ago, for this simple reason, that the number of duties on customs articles had been considerably diminished, and that, consequently, the same claim did not exist to the same extent as before for imposing a fixed duty on this particular article. He certainly should have been prepared, at any other time, to contend that such a duty, though it might have the effect of raising prices in a certain degree, would not do so in the degree and to the amount of its imposition, because the greater amount, if not the whole, would be paid by the foreigner. But that being his opinion, while he saw that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Wicklow) had adopted the child of others, and had taken a reduced amount of duty, still he could not say either that the amount of duty which he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) regarded, or the amount of protection which other noble Lords might regard, was worth contending for in comparison with the prospect of settling this question. The inclination which he had felt of replying to the noble Earl, had he had the opportunity of doing so, in the early part of this discussion, had been greatly diminished by all that had passed in the course of this debate; they had heard a great many arguments in favour of the Motion of the noble Earl, but not one argument except his own in favour of a fixed duty, which was the object of that Motion. There was not one noble Lord who had not thought it necessary, in supporting the Motion of the noble Earl, to disclaim being a friend to this particular system which he was desirous of introducing. Noble Lords opposite told them they were about to adopt the child of that side of the House; but those who acted with him were obliged to look to the sort of treatment their child would receive in such hands. No one who had heard the noble Duke on the cross-benches, and noble Lords opposite, could doubt that if they gave up their child to be nurtured by noble Lords opposite, not a great many months would elapse before it would cease to have any existence at all. It was not concealed that the object of proposing this scheme was to obtain first the rejection of the present Bill, and next a dissolution of Parliament. If noble Lords succeeded in 588 those objects, would any one tell him that in a general election they would use their endeavours to obtain a majority from the country favourable to a fixed duty? He was persuaded they would use every effort to get a majority favourable to absolute protection, and then there would be an end of the child they had placed in the hands of noble Lords opposite. It was only as a last expedient, a dernier ressort, that this fixed duty was proposed, and for the mere purpose of dragging down this Bill into the bottomless sea from which no noble Lord opposite would wish to see it extracted. He, therefore, said he was justified in looking at this Motion as an attempt, though not an unparliamentary one, to extinguish this Bill altogether, which he was not prepared to do. On the contrary, he was prepared to make sacrifices for the purpose of enabling this Bill to become the law of the land. He was in favour of its becoming law, because he was sanguine enough to hope that it would prove to be the settlement of this question. It had been asserted by the noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham) as well as other noble Lords who had spoken, that by passing this Bill they would not get rid of the agitation on this question. He (the Marquess of Lansdowne) believed, however, that after this Bill had passed it would be much more difficult to raise anything like a clamour out of doors on this subject. He was not going to indulge in prophecies, the danger and difficulties of which he knew on all occasions, but particularly with regard to such a measure as this; but this he would say, that at the end of three, or four, or five years—he could not say which—but after the lapse of a few years this question could not remain in its present position. The experience of the country with respect to that law will have furnished evidence which will take away the power of noble Lords to agitate the country on the subject, at least if the result was such as he was sanguine enough to expect. If that should not be the case, however, and if the predictions of the noble Lord opposite were verified, there was no doubt that there would be witnessed a great revulsion of opinion—if agriculture, as noble Lords had prophesied, were deeply injured, and the manufacturing interest also in a state of suffering—and the prosperity of those interests could not be separated—if those who expected good results from the Bill found themselves deceived—and that the 589 agricultural and manufacturing interests suffered under its operation according to the prediction of the noble Lord opposite, then there would be a union of opinion upon the subject, which would make it no matter of difficulty to procure with calmness and without agitation a review of the whole question. If however, as he believed, that by the passing of this measure we were destined for years to come, instead of a few months, to agitation and troubled waters as a necessary concomitant, they might perhaps pause before they adopted this measure; but he did not believe that there was the slightest danger of any such occurrence; and, therefore, because he did not believe it he would support this measure. It was not his intention to appeal, and he never had appealed, as an argument, to the probable effects which this measure would produce on the price of food; he had never excited any opposition to the Corn Laws on the score of their repeal being calculated to produce a great and sudden change of prices; for, notwithstanding that it would have a tendency to that effect, it would not effect so much in producing cheaper food, as in preventing an undue rise in the price of food, and giving greater security by that effect. He would not recur at length to arguments which had so frequently been used during the course of the debate, in order to satisfy their Lordships that the apprehensions of a sudden rush of food from other countries to such an extent as to overwhelm this country were unfounded; but there was one argument to which he attached very much importance with regard to this subject; that was the case of Ireland. That afforded an argument which had not as yet been answered. He would ask their Lordships to consider whether when Ireland, which was alongside England, and was charged with what would appear from the statements of those who dreaded that sudden rush of food to be the elements of mischief, cheap food, cheap labour, and rivers and steamers to convey her produce to this country—he would beseech their Lordships to see what little effect that facility of sending cheap corn to this country had produced—to consider what had been its absence of effect for the last forty years; and when they had considered that, he would ask how they could entertain any just apprehensions of this country being inundated with cheap food from countries which, though they were in possession of the same means of mischief, were yet so much more distant? 590 He found from the best authority, that the proportion of agricultural labour in Great Britain and Ireland was as follows: In Great Britain, there were employed in agricultural labour 1,050,000 persons, whilst in Ireland there were 1,100,000 persons engaged in agriculture. In Great Britain the produce of agriculture was valued at 34,000,000l., and in Ireland the produce was only estimated at 14,000,000l.; thus showing that five labourers in Ireland produced only the same amount as two labourers in Great Britain. He did not mean to join in censures on the Irish landlords; he believed that many of them had been much maligned; he believed that many of them devoted much attention to the improvement of the cultivation of land in Ireland; and he, of course, did not suppose that they paid less attention to the cultivation of their estates than the German barons or Russian boyards: and yet we were told that the proprietors in these countries were to inundate the country with cheap corn. From the example of Ireland he could not believe that any such effect would take place, as well as from his experience of every other case where he had seen duties taken off. In every one of these cases the effect produced was no great diminution in the value of the article, but a great increase in the amount of our commerce, which was so essential to our national prosperity; and upon the effect of such removals of duties on the commerce of the country he founded his approbation of the Bill. He believed that whilst it would tend to diminish prices of food, it would compensate the owner of land, the occupier, and the labourer on the land by the demand caused by the advanced condition of the population; and that thus a power would be obtained sufficient to bear down the effect of the measure on prices, and to bear up agriculture as connected with the commercial interest of this great country. He hoped, therefore, that this Bill would pass into a law.
rose amid loud cries of "Question," but claimed a right to be heard in explanation. If any noble Lord thought that he did justice in listening to the attack, and attempting to clamour down the defence, he differed from that noble Lord as to what was justice and what was becoming a nobleman or a gentleman. That was his opinion; he might have formed an erroneous view of both those characters, but that was his opinion; and therefore he asked their attention while he de- 591 fended himself from the attack of his noble Friend. His noble Friend most grievously misapprehended him if he thought that he (Lord Brougham) meant to cast on him (the Marquess of Lansdowne) the slightest reflection as to the purity of his conduct. His noble Friend appeared to think he had done so; for his noble Friend defended his own conduct. He had known his noble Friend now upwards of half a century; and he had never known his noble Friend to act so as to require even an explanation. But would not any noble Lord think from what fell from his noble Friend that he (Lord Brougham) had been playing the unworthy part of collecting information, as an eaves-dropper, of spying into what passed at a meeting within the walls of a private mansion—of collecting that information from reporters or secret informers? What if that meeting had been attended by from sixty to eighty persons—what if it had been summoned by circular—what if the members when they dispersed, talked of what had passed at the corner of every street—what if they spoke about it in the privacy of every club where persons who were politicians and persons who were not politicians passed their time—what if reports of that private meeting, held at a private mansion, appeared in the newspapers to the length of a column and a half, as he had read in a newspaper that was brought to him by a friend of his, who was not at the meeting, but who was a sincere friend of the Corn Bill? Surely, there was an end of privacy—an end of private information—an end of violating the sanctity of private dwellings—an end of unduly obtaining information by means of secret informers—an end of the advice which his noble Friend had given him, that when next he employed reporters he should provide persons who would give no inaccurate reports. The friend he had mentioned was greatly alarmed at the probable risk to which that meeting exposed the passing of the Corn Bill; and it was told him by a person who was not at the meeting that part of what passed (which was not mentioned in the report) was some advice given respecting the passing of the Coercion Bill. That was suppressed in the report. He then asked why that part was suppressed; he was told that it was thought it ought not to be made public during the debates on the Coercion Bill. There was, therefore, something said at the meeting about the passing of the Coercion Bill; and now they were to be told that advice was given, not to protract the debates 592 on it, but dissuading from protracting them. He then went to two other friends of his, and they told him that some members of the meeting had then said, "We will take care that the division on the Coercion Bill does not take place until the Corn Bill has passed in the Lords." His noble Friend had said that the meeting was strongly recommended not to protract the debates on the Coercion Bill. [The Marquess of LANSDOWNE: I said, not to unduly protract.] Then his noble Friend had got into a dilemma, for either the advice was qualified, and was not unduly to protract, which meant to protract, but not unduly, or the noble person who gave that advice had no power or influence on those to whom he gave it; for anything less followed, anything more entirely continued and acted against than that advice had been, he (Lord Brougham) had never seen. With respect to the remarks of his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) applying to himself, he must say that a less fair or more extraordinary course — he would say, with all kindness to his noble Friend, a more unscrupulous course, than his noble Friend had taken he never saw in any place; for his noble Friend, in order to introduce his quotation—a very excellent joke, he admitted—had put in a word which he (Lord Brougham) had never used, which he never had an idea of using, and which his noble Friend could not have imagined that he used. He never dreamt of using that word—a word which he, at his time of life, as well as his noble Friend at his less advanced time of life, had both of them the greatest possible interest in rasing out of their vocabularies. Such a mere invention was resorted to for the purpose of introducing a quotation in jest. But there was another thing said by his noble Friend of a different kind, of a more serious nature. He was astonished at, and must most indignantly repel and cast from him, the insinuation with which the noble Lord closed his remarks. He (Lord Brougham) stated that he believed the present Government would not fulfil the wishes of those who desired to see a change of Administration; that there would be no change; and his noble Friend took upon him to state that no doubt he (Lord Brougham) was showing, by the zeal of his defence, that he was defending a Government that was not going out. That statement was cheered by some, apparently ignorant of the history of the last seven years, and the proceedings in Parliament during that time. It was cheered by some 593 who had not access to know the facts as his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) knew them. He defied any man breathing to cast the shadow of a shade of an imputation on his motives in defending the measures of the present Government. He asked what he had gained by taking part with the present Government? He called on all the noble Lords who sat there, and with whom he was joined in the defence of their measures, in the defence of their official conduct and Ministerial existence, from his noble and gallant Friend the noble Duke opposite, who knew what he alluded to, down to the latest admitted into the Cabinet, who knew it less, or not at all, as they were not in the Cabinet at the time—he called upon all of them to say if there was the shadow of an imputation upon the motives, the absolute and necessary purity of the motives, which led to his defence of this Government. It was no fault of others—it was his fault, and his fault only, that he was out of office, a supporter merely, and a friend, of the present Government. That Government was no sooner formed than he declined, firmly but respectfully declined, most high and brilliant offers, and coupled with absolute political independence. This should not have been wrung from him but for the imputation conveyed (unintentionally, he believed), by his noble Friend. He certainly had chosen to be unconnected with office, to hold no office, either judicial or otherwise, in, or in connexion with, the present Government, for reasons of his own, for reasons applying to his own personal convenience, and from no want of respect for its Members, from no want of confidence in them, or want of friendship for them individually. He could not allow that debate to close without making this statement. When it was said to a man that the Government was not "likely to change because he defended them so well," what was it but to cast an imputation on his motives for so defending them? One word more. He had never cast any imputation on the motives of the protection party. He had never blamed them for their opinions, but he had blamed them for not using better tactics for the defeat of this measure. His statement was, that they might have protracted the debate till a change in the Government took place; and that they might thus have defeated the Bill, which he rejoiced they had not: nothing more had he said in the matter. He had to apologize to their Lordships for 594 detaining them, and would not enter into the question before the House, except to say that 5s. was no measure for the protection of the home-market.
The EARL of BESBOROUGH
wished to say a few words in relation to the meeting to which the noble and learned Lord had referred, and which had taken place at the House of a noble Friend. It was right he should state that the meeting was one of that description the nature of which the noble and learned Lord knew as well as he did. It was held in reference to one particular question, the Coercion Bill; and was in no way connected with the Corn Bill. That meeting took place at the House of his noble Friend, in order that he might consult those with whom he usually acted as to what should be done with that measure: there were present from sixty to seventy, or more persons, and among those a great number connected with Ireland. He asserted, distinctly, that no reference was made to any such proposal as postponing the discussion on the Coercion Bill till the Corn Bill had passed—that there was nothing stated in reference to any connection between different parties, though undoubtedly there were many at that meeting connected with Ireland, who stated distinctly that they had committed themselves to their constituencies to give every opposition in their power to the Coercion Bill, and that the probability was the discussion would be protracted considerably longer than those connected with the representation of this country might have wished. [Lord BROUGHAM: Beyond the Corn Bill.] No, he did not say that; on the contrary, it was the anxious wish of the meeting that the discussion should not be protracted unnecessarily. The noble Lord in whose House they met more than once pressed them not to protract it longer than was necessary; and he begged once more to repeat that there was no intimation, directly or indirectly, with regard to the Corn Bill as to any advice given to protract the one debate for the purpose of having the other finished.
§ On Question "To insert after the word 'wheat' the words 'not being the production of our Colonies, five shillings':"—Contents 107; Not-Contents 140: Majority 33.
§ So it was resolved in the negative.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned.