HL Deb 19 May 1846 vol 86 cc862-70

moved that the Bill be read 1a.


then put the question, when


said, he could not allow this Bill to pass—to be read a first time—without expressing his opinion that this measure was positively adding insult to injury. Their Lordships were now called upon to consider two Bills for depriving the agricultural interest of protection; and if they looked at the Votes of the House of Commons, they would find that those measures, which were called remedial measures, and which were introduced simultaneously with the Corn Bill, but from which he did not anticipate much benefit, had made very little progress. He thought it most unfair to the agricultural interest that these two measures, attacking them, should have been brought into their Lordships' House before the other measures to which he referred had passed a second reading in the House of Commons. The only remedial measures from which he anticipated any benefit at all, was that under that which it was proposed to lend money for the improvement of land. He thought that such a measure might, to a certain extent, be of some value; but he considered this Bill and the Corn Bill to be as bad measures as could possibly have been introduced. This Bill was inconsistent with the declaration of the Ministers themselves. They were told that the Ministers wished to establish free trade; but he would ask if there was a single line in this Bill for the establishment of free trade? It was, certainly, a free-trade measure with reference to the agriculturists and the landed interest; but they would find, on looking into the Bill, that there was to be no reduction of duty upon our cottons in India. It was true the duties on some manufactures were to be reduced, but that was not free trade. He objected to free trade altogether; and, though the Minister might propose to take away all protection from the agricultural interest, he (the Duke of Richmond) was not prepared, because the Minister robbed the agricultural interest, to turn robber himself, and, by establishing free trade, to throw out of employment the great body of the operatives of this country. He considered that this was a most unjust measure; that it would throw out of employment a large body of silk weavers in this country; and that it would convert Spitalfields into a mass of pauperism. Many parts of this Bill were extremely obnoxious. He called upon their Lordships to remember that, though the Members of the Government had in their speeches advocated free trade, they had not carried out free-trade principles to the utmost. There was nothing in this Bill to destroy differential duties. If they allowed corn to come into this country from the United States duty free, to the great injury of their Canadian provinces, he asked whether, on the principles of free trade, they ought not to permit the Canadians to buy their cotton in the cheapest market? If they did this, the coarse cottons of this country would no longer be consumed in Canada, which now took from us a greater amount of this description of manufactures than the whole of the United States. The Americans would then beat us out of the Canadian markets with their coarse cottons, as they had done in the South American markets, and as they were near doing in China, where they ran our manufactures very close. One of the great leaders of the League, a cotton manufacturer in Cheshire, Mr. Greg, had expressed his opinion, that before long he should see the coarser cottons of America competing effectually with our coarser cottons in Manchester itself. He (the Duke of Richmond) entered his protest against this Bill, as he had already protested against the Corn Bill. He must again repeat, that he regretted these Bills had been sent up unaccompanied by what were called the remedial measures to which he had before alluded. Sir R. Peel had declared his intention to do something to relieve the agriculturists from highway rates, and the burden of medical relief; but this was not to be done by a Bill; it was to be by an annual vote in Parliament. Why had not Sir R. Peel given the landed interest security by a Bill, instead of by Resolutions? For if the right hon. Baronet left office, and he was succeeded by the noble Lords on his right (the Opposition), they might not be able to maintain it, and then the League would come in, and they would not allow them the penny per acre which Sir R. Peel proposed to give to the agricultural interest.


said, these preliminary discussions were very inconvenient; but he could not allow the observations of his noble Friend who has just sat down to pass as conclusive. The noble Duke complained that the measure read a first time last night established a system of free trade, and that the one just brought up was not a measure of free trade. The noble Duke contended, therefore, that there was a difference between the two measures of the Government as they affected commerce and agriculture. He could not acquiesce in one part of the noble Duke's objection to the measure, as it would affect the finances of the country. He denied that the principles of free trade required, on the part of their Lordships, or of any abstract reasoner, a sacrifice of the revenue duties of the country. The principles of free trade demanded the sacrifice of protection, but they were not at all inconsistent with the maintenance of revenue duties on those articles and in that manner which rendered them least burdensome, to the people. The principle which he contended for was, that when they put their hands into the pockets of the people, they should do so in order to obtain, at the least possible expense to the people, that amount of revenue which the public service required; and he could not agree to the statement that in the maintenance of the revenue duties there was any affirmation of, or opposition to, the principles of free trade.


thought, that the course which his noble Friend on the cross benches (the Duke of Richmond) had taken was not only consistent, but necessary. The noble Duke had placed the case in this way. He objected to the Bill which they had read a first time last night. He said, that it was opposed to the principle of protection, and therefore he was opposed to it; and in speaking of the Bill then before the House, he had remarked that it was inconsistent with the principle of the former Bill, inasmuch as the principle of protection was retained. Whatever his noble Friend might have thought of the Bill, he thought that their Lordships ought at any rate to maintain a character for consistency, so far as that, if in the first Bill they agreed to an abandonment of the principle of protection, they ought not in the second Bill to introduce a contrary principle. It was in his (Lord Beaumont's) opinion absolutely necessary that the Bill before them should be delayed until they had given the first Bill (the Corn Importation Bill) a full consideration, in order that they might know how far the second Bill could be reconciled to the first Bill, and thus judge of the degree of consistency between the two measures. He hoped that his noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) would act up to the principles he had advocated in his speech, and consider the second Bill solely on the principle of revenue duties; and if he did so he would agree to some of the objections urged by the noble Duke on the cross benches, for he would find duties retained in the Bill with respect to the trade of the Colonies, and to the silk trade, which had been looked upon as protection duties. He hoped, therefore, that he would regard all the articles enumerated in the second Bill solely with a view to the maintenance of revenue duties, and not with respect to the principle of free trade and protection. He would assure his noble Friend, that the interpretation which was put upon free trade by the country was that which was put upon it by the Anti-Corn-Law League, namely, the total abolition of duties. Those who now opposed the cry of free trade would be found perhaps, when protection was taken away from one interest, ready to join in that unfortunate cry; and they might rely upon it, that the Custom House itself might not long survive the bonded warehouses. His noble Friend on the cross benches had spoken of free trade in the sense in which it was understood out of doors; and he could assure them, that in agreeing to that cry of free trade, they would run the risk of seeing the customs duties assailed at a future period.


felt that no advantage could result from anticipating the discussion of this Bill, for there was no doubt that it would be discussed when the Corn Bill was before them; but he could not allow this discussion to close without protesting against the idea that it was an impeachment of the principles of free trade to maintain duties for the purpose of revenue. There was no ground for such a supposition in proposing to take the duty off corn, the principal food of the people.


agreed with the noble and learned Lord that this was an inconvenient period for the discussion of the Bill, and he hoped that when it was proposed for a second reading, when it would no doubt be fully discussed, the Government would be prepared to state the grounds upon which they had introduced a Bill proposing to do so much, and had not introduced a measure to do more. He agreed with some of the observations made by the noble Duke on the cross benches; but although he did not look upon it as anything like free trade, yet he would accept it as an instalment of free trade. He had not changed the opinions which he had maintained ever since he came into Parliament; he was against all protection to all kinds of interests. He wished to see duties levied for revenue, and for revenue only. He was prepared—and he was conscious the country was prepared—for a general reform of our commercial system, in order that there might be unrestricted liberty afforded to industry; and that was a system the advantages of which would be recognised, if it were once adopted, by both producers and consumers. The noble Duke on the cross benches referred to Canada, and stated that the Canadians were not placed on equal terms with the people of the United States, if they were compelled to compete with them in our markets, and were not allowed to obtain the cheap coarse cotton fabrics of America. Now, he (Earl Grey) would state, on behalf of the great and intelligent body of the manufacturers of this kingdom, that they were willing and prepared to give up all protection, for they did not depend upon protection for their success, but upon their enterprise and energy and skill, and that as they wished to buy corn where it was cheapest, so they did not expect that the Canadians should be compelled by a differential duty to give the preference to their cottons. If they applied their skill and capital to the manufacture of the superior descriptions of cotton, and the Americans, from the cheapness of cotton and other facilities, were able to manufacture coarse cotton cheaper, they might both advantageously employ themselves.


considered the measures which hnd been introduced to their Lordships' notice on that and on the preceding day, of vital importance—he meant, of course, the Bill respecting the Corn Laws and the Tariff, which they were now discussing; and he thought it was proper that they should have before them the entire of that new system, and see the whole produce of that new light which had suddenly dawned upon the Government. Whether these measures were for good or for evil—whether they would bring round such an extraordinary state of prosperity as his noble Friend opposite seemed to anticipate, or whether they would be essentially detrimental to all the industrial classes of the community, as he was inclined to think, it was of the highest importance, and every way becoming in their Lordships, that these measures should receive the greatest possible attention. He did not find fault with any noble Lord for inviting a discussion even upon the first stage of such measures. From first to last their Lordships must be desirous of having all the light possible thrown upon subjects of such immense consequence. As for the definition of his noble Friend opposite (Lord Monteagle), he did not think much of it. He agreed with his noble Friend in thinking it a question of protection or no-protection. He did not approve of that tricky, shuffling sort of definition, which was not very intelligible or distinct, and which was not generally accepted in the complicated sense in which his noble Friend had used it. It was easy to understand the views of the noble Earl (Grey), who was quite a purist—whose free-trade opinions were free from a tinge of protection. He confessed he was at a loss to understand the policy of the Government. They had restrained the German Zollverein and the French from exporting their produce into this country—they had for years kept a system of restriction; and upon what experience were they now about to abandon it? They had incurred immense expense and risk—they had engaged in heavy and expensive wars for the purpose of maintaining their Colonies—they had insisted, at the loss of much blood and treasure, on protecting their Colonies by giving a preference to their produce; and, on the other hand, providing that our manufactures should have a preference by our Colonies; but now it seemed there was to be no preference whatever. Why keep the Colonies at all? Why incur all this enormous expense? Not to benefit themselves, but to benefit the whole world. You will have the charge, they the advantage. He repeated, this was a system perfectly new and unusual; and he very much doubted whether those manufacturers, of whom his noble Friend entertained such great and magnanimous feelings, would take such comprehensive and disinterested views as his noble Friend imagined. He (Lord Ashburton) thought their opinions would be more tradesmanlike, and, notwithstanding the interest they evinced in commercial reform, would, when they found no preference given to their fabrics, even in the Colonies, over American goods, alter their opinions, and begin to see the value of protection. The coarser description of cotton goods, which were manufactured in the United States, would, in the event of perfect free trade, speedily come into competition with ours in the Canadian market, and our manufacturers would find the case very different in respect to this class of goods, with the finer fabrics, which were consumed by a higher and smaller class only. Some time ago there was a meeting at Manchester—a free-trade meeting—and a Manchester man, in urging the free-trade doctrines, said, there was the Macclesfield silk weaver who would have no objection to the introduction of foreign silk duty free; but Macclesfield manufacturers who were present, though quite approving of free trade in any other article, begged to be excused as far as silk was concerned. In short, these free-trade theories, though people might give a general approval of them, they would, when it came to their own case, be quite ready to dissent from, and, in that respect, be stern protectionists. They might as well expect that the Newcastle coalowners would be willing to have free importation of fuel there, as that the manufacturers would be willing to have a free importation of foreign goods. The Government had brought in two measures: one, the Corn Bill to affect agriculture; the other, the Tariff to apply to commerce. Supposing both interests to be equally affected by the respective measures, they would, after all, be only equally injured. As to the Tariff being any compensation to the farmer, it was no more a compensation to him, than to the crew of a foundering ship to be told that their neighbours in another ship, which had struck against a rock, were going down also.


agreed with every noble Lord who had spoken, that it was inconvenient and unusual to enter into the discussion of these measures at present; but, unlike them, would act up to his belief. But he could not permit the sentiments which had been uttered to go forth without at the same time stating, that if these assertions had not been contradicted—if these opinions had not been controverted—it was not from any unwillingness to engage in argument, but merely because the Government did not consider this the proper stage for discussion. When the proper time arrived, the Government would be fully prepared to state the reasons which had induced them to bring these measures before Parliament; and he also stated that they would be able to show to their Lordships good grounds for asking them for their ready and unqualified support.


again rose and said: My Lords, my noble Friend who has just sat down, says it is unusual to enter into a discussion on a subject of this kind in the present stage of the Bill; but I must remind him, without in any manner wishing to make a personal attack, that it is also "unusual"—most unusual—for a Government to change their opinions so suddenly on great questions of public policy—and for the Government of one year to vote and argue against free trade, and the same Government in the following year to vote for and argue and introduce a free-trade measure. If the Government will pursue so unusual a course, particularly without appealing to the country — although the Members of the other House were returned without the sense of the electors having been taken on this most important principle—I say we are perfectly justified—under such extraordinary circumstances, in taking the unusual course of objecting to the first reading of the Bill. I could not permit the Bill to receive the first reading, entertaining the strong opinions I do, without recording my protest against it. I am willing and anxious—[A Noble LORD: Spoke.] I will not be prevented from delivering my opinions on this most important subject—I am much too old a man to be put down in that way. I say that the principle of this Bill is contrary to the principle of the other measure—the one is a free-trade measure, and the other proposes only partial free trade. But my objection is to the principle of both. I wish to maintain protection to British industry. I wish to maintain protection, because I think on the preservation of that principle depends the happiness, the welfare, and the prosperity of all classes of my fellow subjects.


explained, that he did not mean to say the noble Duke had not a perfect right to oppose the first stage of the Bill.


said, there could not be the slightest doubt that his noble Friend on the cross bench exercised his right, as a Peer of Parliament, in entering his protest against a Bill upon the Motion being made for the first reading; nor did he understand his noble Friend behind him to blame for having so done; but his noble Friend spoke of that as an inconvenient time for discussing the measure, because it was, as he said, an unusual course. He entirely concurred in that opinion of his noble Friend, and without following the example that had been set by several noble Lords, each of whom had started three or four different points of discussion, he would merely say that it was not correct to assert that the present Government had ever been determined enemies to free trade.

Bill read a first time.