HL Deb 03 March 1846 vol 84 cc473-80

presented a number of petitions from various places in Cambridgeshire, against the proposed measure of Government in reference to the Corn Laws. The county from which those petitions came, was, he said, purely an agricultural county, and one in which, he asserted without fear of contradiction, the progress of agriculture had never so much advanced as since 1828, when the protection laws were passed. This had been particularly the case in that large portion of the county called the Isle of Ely, where such extensive works had been constructed, such a large amount of capital had been laid out, and such vast improvements effected, that the amount of food raised in it had greatly increased, and the fee-simple of the land nearly doubled. He would not say that all these improvements had taken place since 1828; but he might safely say that since that time the improvements had gone on more rapidly. In consequence of the introduction of the steam-engine, and the extent of drainage which had taken place, in one dyke alone nearly 500,000l. had been spent; the agriculturists had been able to raise such a vast quantity of food as not merely to meet the increase of population, but they had been enabled to export from Wisbeach a larger amount of wheat than had passed through any other port of Great Britain. In respect to the remaining part of the county, he held returns in his hand showing that there also there had been great progress made in the way of improvement. Since 1828, no fewer than eighteen parishes had been enclosed; and the consequence of these enclosures had been, that the fee-simple of the land had been doubled. In these eighteen parishes the annual value of property had increased no loss than 53,508l., and supported an increase of population to the extent of 5,682. He was sure that, in stating this case, he should be excused in doing so from the fact of the county being a purely agricultural one, as well as from the circumstance that the people had made such advances in agricultural improvement—the people themselves believing that it was owing very much to these protective duties that they had been able to make such advances in improvement. At all events, they were perfectly able to show that prosperity and protection had gone alongside, and hand in hand, with one another. The prayer of these petitioners was universally the same—namely, that their Lordships would be pleased to reject the measures which were now in progress in the other House of Parliament; and to continue to them that protection which they now possessed. Their Lordships would, no doubt, do as they had always done—namely, take into consideration the measure itself with a view to the great interests of the Empire, and with a view to the interests and well-being of the people at large. Their Lordships, he felt confident, would not allow themselves to be influenced in any way by the fears or opinions of any individuals elsewhere, but would proceed to the consideration of the measure with a view to acquit themselves in a manner the most conformable to the interests of the people at large. The measure to which he referred was a measure of a most extensive nature—a measure wholly new, and which would require the deepest attention as regarded its ultimate results upon the finances of the country. At all times—he confessed it was so with himself at least—when measures had been presented to their Lordships by the Government of the country, they carried such a degree of weight with them that their Lordships had always taken that into consideration as a most important element in the case; but for himself—and he could only speak his own opinion on this point — the measure now introduced by the present Government would not sway his mind in reference to its introduction in any way whatever. He perfectly understood, and he perfectly knew, the principle upon which the Government had been dissolved; but he had never heard it yet stated upon what principle the Government had been reunited and formed again for the purpose of governing this country; and until he clearly knew and understood the point on which the Government was formed, the measure would never carry with him—and he thought he might say the same of their Lordships, that great weight which the recommendation of Government would otherwise carry with it. He hoped he was not out of order in speaking of the representatives of the people in the other House, who, he considered, must have lost much of the good opinion and confidence of the country by the course which they had pursued. [A laugh.] He knew perfectly well that it might give great pleasure to his noble Friends opposite to see their friends in the other House take that course, just as he knew it often gave pleasure to a certain class of gentlemen when a comrade attained a great object which he had in view, but which did not tend to increase their confidence in him. The noble Lords opposite might be pleased, but they would have no more confidence in the Government than they (the protectionists) had. Coming as the measure did to that House from the other under circumstances so peculiar, and so well known, that he would not allude to them further, he was sure it would be considered by their Lordships in reference to all the points to which he had alluded. Conceiving that to be the case, and believing that that House had always been a great, if not the greatest protector, at least they had always had much to do with the advancement of the liberties of the people of this country—believing and knowing that, at no period of the history of the country, had the liberties of the people been invaded without that House being, at the same time, trampled under foot—looking to the state and condition of the Government, and the state and condition of the other House of Parliament—he had not the slightest doubt that the result of their Lordships' deliberations would be to view the prayer of the petitioners as just in itself, and to reject the measure when it came to them from the other House.


said, he quite agreed with the noble Earl, that it would be more desirable if the proposal as to the Corn Laws were in the hands of those who had been consistent advocates of the repeal of all duties on corn. He should also be glad to know (for they had heard no explanation of the matter in that House) how the Government came to resume their seats after they had resigned them. The noble Earl and the noble Duke on the cross benches were in favour of an immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. [The Earl of HARDWICKE: Not I.] Well, then, it was for the noble Duke alone to consider whether, if the repeal was to take place, it would not be best that it should be immediate. He conceived it would be very much for the advantage of the farmers that the question should be finally set at rest at once, for if a postponement took place for three years, fears were entertained that improvements in agriculture would be retarded, and that a large quantity of wheat would be reserved for importation at the end of that period. Not a murrain in cattle, or any other visitation could take place, but the loss would be attributed to the approaching danger, of protection being withdrawn; and landlords would be exposed to the threat of farmers giving up their farms. Whereas if the duty was at once taken off, prices would not fall; and it would be impossible without overwhelming loss for any man at once to give up his farm without selling off his stock, and thereby being greatly out of pocket. He knew the alarm which the Anti-Corn-Law League gave some noble Lords. He could take upon himself to say, that if the repeal was immediate and total, the League would be dissolved; whereas, if the law continued for three years, the creation of votes (admitted by high authority to be perfectly legal) would go on, and the bad feeling, now so much to be deplored, would continue. From what the noble Duke said the other evening, he must be surprised at the late division. He did not see how the protectionists could reduce that majority, even if an appeal were made to the country, and he recommended them to accept the measure, which could not be amended by their Lordships, but must be thrown out if they were at all opposed to it.


said, that when the measure came up to their Lordships' House, the proper time for this discussion would arrive. He deprecated making speeches on the subject when the House was entirely ignorant in what shape the measure was to come before them, and trusted that the noble Duke (Duke of Richmond) would not be led into a discussion by what had fallen from the noble Lord.


was understood to deprecate discussion. The noble Marquess, who spoke from the cross benches, was quite inaudible.


said, the noble Lord (Lord Kinnaird) who had just spoken, had been giving the protectionists some advice. Now, he was sure that the protectionists would take this very kind of the noble Lord. His noble Friend (the Marquess of Londonderry) had also given him advice; and as he had made it an invariable rule rather to follow the advice given by a friend than by an opponent, he would take the advice of the noble Marquess, and not enter into any discussion of the question which was at present under consideration in the House of Commons. The noble Lord had alluded to the large majority in the other House in favour of the Government measure. Now he (the Duke of Richmond) was not surprised that the measure was carried by so large a majority. That majority, as their Lordships were aware, was 97; of course all the placemen voted—and then there were a great many offices vacant, and there were doubtless a great many persons looking after those vacant offices. Under those circumstances he was rather surprised that the majority was so small. But the noble Lord asked what was the use of appealing to the country upon this question? Now, he (the Duke of Richmond) would tell the noble Lord what would be the use of appealing to the country. It was to turn out of Parliament every one of the ninety-seven deserters—in fact, the whole of the 110 who followed Sir Robert Peel—men, who, if they had been in the army in India, would have abandoned their colours, as they had here run away from their principles. Those men came and swamped the honest opinion of the House of Commons. He could say for one, if it was for no other reason that he wished to go to the county; it would be that those Gentlemen should be shown that the people of England liked honesty—that they did not like men who came into power pledging themselves to oppose certain measures and support others upon the hustings; but who, when they came to Parliament, violated every pledge and promise which they had made. The noble Lord said, that the farmers were continually grumbling; now he thought the farmers had been very wrong in not having grumbled sooner and more frequently; but there was no wonder that they grumbled after the scandalous manner in which they had been treated in the House of Commons by those whom they had sent there, upon the strength of the pledges made upon the hustings. They must not now allude to speeches which had been made since 1841. But some of the speeches which were made in 1839, before the Whigs were driven from office, were very instructive, showing, as they did, what men would say and do when they were desirous to come into power, and how sudden the change frequently was, after their object was attained. He would not believe that the measure of the Government would pass their Lordships' House until he saw it pass. The noble Lord had talked about the consistency of the advocates of free trade; now he (the Duke of Richmond) believed there were very few of that class. It was true the noble Lord had been an advocate for free trade for the last half-dozen years; but he was not so during Earl Grey's Government, when a vote was taken in their Lordships' House—[Lord KINNAIRD: Yes, I was]—at least, if he was, he did not vote for it. Did not the noble Earl (Earl Ripon) oppose Earl Fitzwilliam's Motion upon that occasion? and did not his noble and learned Friend, who had declared himself a free trader, sit on the Woolsack and hear the Motion made without saying a word upon the subject? Then, again, had not the Government of Lord Melbourne proposed a protective fixed duty of 8s.? He (the Duke of Richmond) must admit that those who supported the proposition were not guilty of so great an inconsistency in supporting the present measure of the Government as were the Government themselves in proposing it; for the former had not gone to the hustings and told the people of England that they were in favour of protection, and thereby procured themselves a large majority; and when they got in, turned round upon those who had supported them, and not only abandoned the principles they were pledged to support, but actually headed the attack against them. These were charges which he made against the Government. He was not, he again repeated, surprised at the majority in the House of Commons; but he should be very much surprised if their Lordships did not at once place the Government in such a position as would compel them to go to the country; and, if they did so, they would find that protection had a large number of friends: he might appeal to the recent election for a confirmation of his statement. See how well Nottinghamshire had done its duty: it had returned two protectionists. He might also refer to Dorsetshire, and many other places, where similar results had been obtained; in fact, he believed all the elections which had taken place since Sir R. Peel had propounded the measure of the Government, with the exception of one place in the north, and the city of Westminster (where they took a Radical in preference to one who had deserted the ranks of protection), had all gone in favour of protection. He therefore looked with the greatest confidence to the result of an appeal to the people.


could not join with those who expressed regret that this measure had not been brought forward by the party opposite. Up to the present time, both parties in this country had avowed themselves protectionists. Lord Melbourne, when asked in that House whether the fixed duty proposed by his Government was for revenue or protection, distinctly and immediately answered, for protection. But now a total change had come over the minds of men, which, however, did not qualify one set of men to bring forward this measure rather than the other. It had been stated that the Anti-Corn-Law-League was an unconstitutional body. He was bound to state that that was not his opinion; he thought it was established for a perfectly constitutional purpose, and, though not a member of that body, and not wishing to belong to it, he thought it ought to be congratulated by its friends on the extraordinary success which in so short a time had attended its exertions.


should have said nothing on this occasion; but after what had fallen from the noble Duke he must state that the question of protection was not an open question in Earl Grey's Government. [Earl GREY said he had always been in favour of free trade.] Yes, but then it was as Under Secretary that the noble Earl held those opinions; but, however useful an Under Secretary might be, he is not the Government, and his opinions do not commit the Government to which he belongs. As to the League, he (Lord Brougham) had never said, as had been supposed from something that had fallen from him at the beginning of the Session, that it was an unconstitutional body. He knew it was a legal and constitutional body, founded for a perfectly constitutional object—namely, to teach, or, as they chose to call it, to agitate the people to effect a change by Parliamentary means in the policy of this country in a certain respect. What he had said was, that it was unconstitutional, though it was legal—barely legal—to collect funds for the purpose of purchasing the franchise. The League, however, declared that they did not do that. They said they only encouraged people to buy votes; but, perhaps, they encouraged them in that sort of way that consisted in paying part of the cost; and when he saw this fund of a quarter of a million collected, he must say he thought it not unlikely that something of the kind might be the case.


wished to explain, that in what had fallen from him on another occasion respecting the creation of faggot voters in Huntingdonshire, at a time when Lord John Russell was a candidate for the representation, he found he had not been correct in connecting such creation with the Duke of Bedford, who had no concern whatever in the matter.

Petitions to lie on the Table.

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