§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ The EARL of RIPON
My Lords, however desirous I must naturally be to compress within the smallest compass I can the observations which it is my duty to address to your Lordships on this important question, I fear that the very importance of that question, as well as certain circumstances personally applying to myself, may compel me, however reluctantly, at some length to trespass on your patience. For that patience I ask. Your indulgence I do not ask, because doing so might have the appearance of my feeling that I was about to do, or that I had done, something for which I was bound to make excuses and apologies to your Lordships. My Lords, I am about to discharge a duty which I have with a clear conscience taken on myself. I have therefore, no apology to make. At the same time, I have experienced on many occasions too much of the kindness of this House to doubt one moment that that patience which I ask will willingly be extended to me. I have stated 1085 that this is an important question—I have always considered it to be by far the most important question affecting the social condition of the country to which the attention of Parliament can be directed—important, my Lords, inasmuch as it affects, in one way or another, every class of the community—important, as it is unfortunately calculated at the same time, whenever it is brought under discussion, to excite warm if not angry feelings, and to lead the mass of the people to think that one party is disposed to insist upon laws for their own advantage, to the neglect of the good of others; while the same feeling in an opposite direction, may and does prevail on the other side. It is perfectly true that in fair reasoning the interests of the two parties to which I refer, are really and substantially identical. But it is extremely difficult, considering the nature of the question—considering that it refers to that which is absolutely necessary—a sufficiency of food for the people—it is extremely difficult to induce the great mass of mankind to believe that identity of interest, and to refrain from the conclusion that those who entertain opposite opinions to their own, are influenced by conflicting interests which cannot be reconciled. I say, therefore, that the corn question is not only the most important, but that it is the most difficult of all questions; and that it is so, the course which Parliament has pursued on the subject sufficiently indicates. That course has been subject to great fluctuations, and to a great variety in the methods of dealing with it. Plans which at one time were considered calculated to produce public advantage, and to promote the interests of the country, have at other periods been held to be utterly incompetent to the production of those effects, and have been abandoned as useless, to adopt some other substitute. I think this is a circumstance which shows the extreme difficulty in which the subject has been always considered to be involved. I am not insensible to these difficulties. True it is that I have taken an active part in the discussion of this subject. It was my lot many years ago to hold a situation in the Government of that day, and in that capacity to propose to Parliament a very important measure for the purpose of regulating the trade in corn. But I am most anxious—for my own vindication in respect to the course which I have pursued, not only on that but on many subsequent occasions, and, comparing it with the course 1086 which I deem it my duty to pursue on the present occasion—I am most anxious to explain to your Lordships what the principles were on which I supported these measures; and, above all, to show what were not the principles on which I recommended them to Parliament. When I introduced, in 1815, the Corn Bill of that day, I did it—I may say so confidently (and it is now so long since that I can hardly be anxious as to the inference to be drawn from the fact)—I did it—I did introduce that measure with the greatest reluctance. I was not a Member of the Government; that is to say, I only held a subordinate situation in it—and when the Earl of Liverpool sent to desire that I would move the measure, I took the liberty of expressing to him that I had a great objection to the principle of any Corn Law whatever. I thought then—I have thought ever since—that a Corn Law is in itself an evil to be justified solely by the establishment of some paramount necessity, sufficient to overcome the magnitude of the objection, and to sanction the imposition on the country of what is in itself an evil. In the address, therefore, which I then took the liberty of delivering, in the other House of Parliament in reference to that subject, I so stated my opinions. I stated that I thought a Corn Law was a choice, not so much of difficulties, great as they were, as of positive evils; and I showed what the grounds were on which I thought Parliament would be justified in over-riding the general rule, and adopting the measure which I had undertaken to propose. I did not, however, propose that law, and I have never supported any Corn Law whatever upon many of the grounds on which that system of policy has been supported by others. I have never, for instance, supported the Corn Law on account of any question of rent; and I have never supported it on account of the charges imposed on owners of land, arising from mortgages, settlements, and incumbrances of that nature. I consider that none of these matters had anything to do with the real question which was to be dealt with, and I never attached any weight to the arguments which were based upon views of that kind. I am perfectly aware that this line of argument in support of the Corn Law is now pretty generally abandoned—at least it is abandoned in Parliament. It may not be abandoned elsewhere; but I do think that it is not a ground on which any one is now prepared to vindicate restrictions on the first 1087 article of necessity in this country. I never supported a Corn Law upon the ground of its being a part of a great system of protection of national industry. On the contrary, I have always supported a law affecting corn on its own especial grounds, as being entirely contradistinguished from any other article of commerce, and as standing upon ground peculiar to itself. Indeed, it would have been impossible for me to have supported a Corn Law as a part of a great system of national policy intended to give uniform and universal protection to native industry, because over and over again I have laid down the opposite principle with reference to protection; and I have shared year after year in measures and arguments, the object of which was to break in the principle of what is called protection to British industry, and to get rid, as speedily as circumstances would permit, first of prohibition, and then of protection, which I have always held to be injurious not only to the country generally, but ultimately to the very interests which it is designed to serve. I have dwelt on this point, because at present I find the maintenance of a Corn Law supported and insisted on, as being part of a system of protection to British industry. I cannot support a Corn Law if that is to be the ground on which it is to be supported, not only temporarily, but permanently—viz., as part of a system from which we cannot depart without exposing the country to the most imminent danger. I have never supported a Corn Law on that principle, and therefore am not liable to reproach if I do not now support it on that principle. I deny that what is called protection to native industry has been the principle of national policy at all times, and under all circumstances; for when I consider what has been the law and policy of this country from time to time, I do not find that such has ever been avowed as the principle of national legislation; but, on the contrary, the legislation of the country has been over and over again adverse to that principle; and though some cases have been referred to as showing the desire of Parliament to maintain the principle in all its integrity, they really have no reference whatever to it. I had occasion once to point out to your Lordships, when we were about to take into consideration the Tariff of 1842—I had occasion, I say, then to point out to your Lordships what the circumstances were which had given rise to what has been taken, I think erroneously, to be the establishment 1088 of that system of protection. It is true that very high duties had been imposed upon the admission of foreign articles into this country, and that they had the effect, in their operation, of being protective duties; but when we come to the question, and consider it as a question of principle, we must look to what the motives of the Legislature were in imposing those duties. Looking at the case in this point of view, you will find that, in an immense number of instances, those high duties were the result of fiscal necessity. An addition of 25 per cent was imposed upon the customs duties for the sole purpose of revenue, without any consideration of the particular mode in which the increased duties would affect the general trade and commerce of the country. They did not, in fact, rest upon any general principle. I will refer your Lordships to the instance of one article which has been much spoken of—I mean timber. The duty on timber has been supposed to form a part of this great system of protection to native industry. Now, my Lords, whatever it may have become, it certainly was not so forty years ago; for until the year 1809, when a higher amount of duty was first imposed upon foreign timber, the duty on timber was next to nothing; and no one, at that time, thought of protecting either the timber of our own country or of the Colonies by any system of duties of that description. Now, from what did this increased duty arise? It arose from the accidental circumstances of our being then engaged in hostilities with the Northern Powers, who were at that time under the influence of Napoleon. To show that that system of duties was not interwoven with our commercial constitution, if he might use the phrase, the Act imposing those high duties was passed only during the duration of war, and might have expired in the course of two or three years afterwards, if peace had taken place. That shows, however, that this notion of high duties on timber being part of a grand system for the purpose of protecting native industry, cannot be supported in fact. So again in respect to the duties which were levied, or supposed to be levied, for the protection of agriculture. Take, as an example, the wool trade. Now, there was no duty levied on foreign wool up to the year 1819, and then a duty was imposed for the sole purpose of revenue. My Lords, I must know something of that, because I happened in the House of Commons to move the resolution 1089 upon which the imposition of that duty took place, and I can state that the object in laying that duty upon the introduction of foreign wool was to obtain a surplus revenue. The exportation of British wool was formerly prohibited, and all sorts of absurd and inconvenient restrictions were in force with respect to moving wool from one part of the kingdom to another—restrictions which were inconsistent with free trade of any kind, and equally inconsistent with the notion that an important article like this was entitled to have and did possess a share in a protective system. Again, with respect to the manner in which the articles of butter and cheese, and things of that kind, were dealt with by the Legislature: they were not liable formerly to any duty at all. It was not till the year 1816 that any duty was imposed upon either of these articles. It may have been wise, it may have been foolish, to impose a duty upon articles like these; but it never had been considered before to be necessary to give that part of our agricultural population who dealt in these articles of produce the advantage, or the supposed advantage, of protection for their industry. This, therefore, was no part of that general system of protection to agriculture, on which so much stress had been laid. I consider myself, therefore, my Lords, at liberty to assert that I have never supported a Corn Law on any of those principles which are now so much insisted upon. The only ground on which I reconciled myself to the fitness of a Corn Law at all was my apprehension—an apprehension which I most sincerely entertained—that this country would become, or might become, more dependent than in prudence she ought to be upon supplies of corn from foreign countries. I am glad to find that I am not misunderstood. That is the only ground on which I ever have thought that Parliament would be justified in levying a duty upon the admission of foreign corn. Now, undoubtedly, that is a ground which must at all times be fairly liable to be questioned as a matter of fact. It may always be fairly asked whether a necessity for excluding foreign corn does exist, and whether there may not be circumstances connected with the cultivation of the soil of this country which may either make that exclusion not necessary, or may aggravate the evil which protective laws were intended to diminish. That is the ground upon which we have to consider the Corn Laws at the present moment. The Corn Laws have indeed 1090 been described as being almost too sacred to touch, and as being a part of the Constitution of the country; but I certainly do not feel it necessary to advert to considerations of that description. Before we come to the conclusion that the Corn Laws are intimately connected with the political, the commercial, and the financial interests of the country, we may ask whether they are required to be maintained permanently? because if they are not to be maintained permanently, you reduce the question to a mere matter of time; but if it be contended that they must be permanently maintained, then, I will ask your Lordships to review the course of practical legislation which has been adopted by Parliament from time to time with reference to these laws. Certainly during a part of the last century frequent changes were made in the laws affecting the importation of corn; at some times they were made more stringently restrictive than they were at other periods. There existed also during many periods of the last century the same alarms with respect to agriculture and the condition of those engaged in the cultivation of the soil, which prevail at the present day. You will find among the publications of Sir Robert Walpole's day pamphlets without end describing the agricultural interest as totally ruined, and declaring that the landlords could get no rent, and that the tenants were without any return for the capital which they had sunk upon the land, and depicting the condition of the agricultural population in the most gloomy and melancholy colours. No such ruin, however, ensued. The agriculture of the country went on extending and improving itself, and daily became more and more capable of meeting the demands of the population. At last, however, a Corn Law was passed; and the first interference with the importation of corn to which I will call the attention of your Lordships is the Corn Law of 1791. That Corn Law was very restrictive in its nature; not so much so, indeed, as those that were afterwards adopted; but still it was very restrictive. It imposed a very high duty on foreign corn when the corn of this country was under the price of 50s.; when at 50s. and under 54s. a medium duty of 2s. 6d. was levied; and when it reached the price of 54s., then it was admissible at a duty of 6d. That law of 1791 went on for a certain time, until at last its operation was entirely over-ridden for a series of years by the effects of the seasons. It is very 1091 well known, though it may not be within the personal recollection of some noble Lords, that in the year 1795 and subsequent years of that century, and for several years at the beginning of the present century, the prices of corn were so enormously high, that the protective portion of the duty imposed by the law of 1791 never came into operation at all. It is well known that year after year foreign corn was imported into this country without paying any higher duty than 6d. But this was not all. There were many times during that period when the pressure of want was so severe that Parliament had recourse to very extraordinary means of bringing into the country additional supplies of food: the price to which a high duty attached was raised from 50s. to 63s.; when the price was between 63s. and 66s. a duty of 2s. 6d. was levied; and when the price was above 66s. wheat was admitted at 6d. per quarter. Bounties were offered upon the importation of corn; and I believe that not less than one million and a half was given by way of bounty for bringing corn from every part of the world whenever it could be scraped together. There can be no doubt, my Lords, that at that time the pressure of scarcity was tremendous. At last, however, in the year 1804, it was found or thought that this Act of 1791, which was considered to be a perfect specimen of the mode in which protection ought to be given, was comparatively of no value, since in 1803 the harvest was very abundant, and the price of corn was considerably lower than it had been. It was thought, therefore, that the Act of 1791 was not sufficiently stringent, and accordingly a higher protecting duty was imposed by the Act of 1804. By this measure the measure of 1804 was supported, but was not brought forward by the Government of that day as a measure necessary to secure the increase and extension of agriculture, and in that way to facilitate the supply of food. But this Act was inoperative for a great portion of the time during which it continued in force; for prices continued for a succession of years at a great elevation, and there was a severe pressure upon the poorer classes of the community; and at last, when the war terminated in 1815, it was found, or supposed to be found, that this Act of 1804, which was more stringent than the measure of 1791, was, nevertheless, not sufficiently protective of British agriculture. The schemes of 1791 and 1804 were found to be worth nothing, and a new measure 1092 was brought forward in 1815. That was certainly not a very popular law, either at the time of its enactment or after the country had had a short experience of its operation. I need not trouble your Lordships with any detail of figures to show how imperfectly that law did operate; but I recollect perfectly well that it was the subject of general complaint, and not so much a subject of complaint among those who originally objected to it, as among those who were most anxious for some new measure, because the law of 1815 was held to be utterly inefficient for its purpose. Its inefficiency, my Lords, I entirely admit. I admit that the measure was liable to very great objection; it was not a good law for the purposes it was designed to effect, and those who most loudly condemned it were the very persons for whose benefit it had been passed. In 1820 it was admitted that this law had been utterly inefficient; and in that year a proposition was made in the House of Commons that the subject should be referred to a Committee, with a view of rendering the law of 1815—the stringency of which no one could deny—still more stringent. I opposed that Motion on the part of the Government in the House of Commons; but it was sanctioned by the House of Commons, and a Committee was appointed, whose labours were subsequently restricted to the minor question as to the mode of taking the averages. A year or two afterwards another Committee was appointed, and the subject was thoroughly investigated; but their recommendations were not such as had been anticipated by the agricultural interest. The report of that Committee was drawn up by Mr. Huskisson, who, though not chairman of the Committee, was requested to prepare it, and a very elaborate document it was. It contained much sound reasoning and valuable information. This report became the foundation of an alteration of the law of 1815, with the object of relaxing by degrees the restrictions of that law, so as to admit foreign wheat before prices had reached the extreme height at which, under that Bill, importation was likely to commence. The law for effecting this alteration was passed in 1822; but it was strongly objected to by many individuals connected with the agricultural interest. In point of fact, it never came into operation, for its operation was to depend upon the price of corn reaching a certain height, which it did not attain so long as that law remained in force. It was felt, however, 1093 that this law would be attended with great inconvenience; and it became necessary for Parliament to interfere, on more occasions than one, to suspend its operation: in one case by Act of Parliament, and in another by an exercise of the power vested in the Executive Government. He (the Earl of Ripon) could not say much for the principle of a law which it was necessary to suspend at the moment a severe pressure was felt. The evil, indeed, was felt so strongly, that in 1827 the attention of Parliament was again called to the subject, and a new scheme was devised, intended so to arrange the nature of the protection afforded, that the law should always regulate itself, and correct all the evils to which preceding Corn Laws had given rise. The Act of Parliament for effecting this alteration was finally passed in 1828. It was introduced into Parliament by Mr. Canning, in 1827; in the course of the summer of that year it reached the House of Lords; but, in consequence of some alterations made in it in their Lordships' House, it did not then pass into a law. A similar measure was, however, again introduced into Parliament in 1828, and adopted; and that law continued in operation till 1842. There were, however, many circumstances in the details, the practice, and the working of that law, which in the progress of time became the subjects of much criticism and objection. Many persons who had given serious consideration to the question were of opinion that that measure was open to great objection on account of the sudden fluctuations in the amount of duty, and the sort of jumping scale which it established; and it was finally altered in 1842, when the present law received the sanction of Parliament. I have mentioned these changes, my Lords, for the purpose of showing that if this system of protection be one which is so essential and so interwoven with the interests of the country as has been represented, it is the least stable that could possibly have been devised for the purpose of maintaining a permanent place in our policy. I confess, therefore, notwithstanding all the objections which have been urged against the removal of protection, notwithstanding the statements that without protection agriculture must go to ruin, and that the application of capital to land must entirely cease—when I see what is going on at this very moment, notwithstanding all the feeling which has been excited in the country, and all the apprehensions which have been aroused in Parliament and elsewhere— 1094 when I see this, and perceive that there are no practical symptoms of a decline of agriculture, and no symptoms of land being thrown out of cultivation—I confess, I say, I cannot bring myself to think that this system is essential to the due and perfect cultivation of the soil of this country. Again, if I am entitled to look at this question as one which does not bear and never has borne the character of permanence, the question becomes narrowed to a mere question of time. But the moment it is admitted to be a question of time, the principle of protection is gone altogether. There would, however, necessarily be great differences of opinion as to this point; but the moment it is admitted that the question is merely one of time, the question of principle is put altogether out of view. If it is admitted that the question is one of time, and not of principle, no man is open to reproach who avows his conviction that the time for an alteration of the law has arrived. This is the point of view in which I contend we are bound to consider this subject at this time. There are some circumstances to which I feel it my duty to refer, which have a peculiar bearing at this moment upon the present question. I will first refer to what I regard as a most important consideration—the great, rapid, uncontrolled, and uncontrollable increase in the population of this country. This is a consideration which deserves serious attention. The tendency of population, in any country, to press upon the limits of subsistence, is a maxim which does not admit of dispute; it is established by the soundest reasoning, and by the application of indisputable facts. If, then, population has a tendency to increase almost in a geometrical ratio, and if the production of food does not keep pace with that increase, it is evident that some means must be adopted for meeting the increased demand. It has been stated, that the population of this country is increasing at the rate of between 300,000 and 400,000 annually. Now, though the application of capital and skill to the improvement of land has tended greatly to increase the quantity of corn produced in this country, and has to some extent afforded a supply for the increasing wants of the population, it is a very remarkable circumstance, that during the last few years, though the price of corn has not been very high, there has been a regular importation of foreign wheat to a considerable amount for consumption in this country. Now, if this corn is not wanted, I wish 1095 to know how it came to be imported into and bought in this country? Certainly, if it was necessary to bring into consumption these quantities of foreign corn, the fact is clearly established that the population has outstripped the means immediately possessed by this country of meeting their wants with, regard to a supply of food. I may refer to another circumstance which, in the consideration of this question as one of time, applies with peculiar force. I refer to the position in which Ireland has been placed with regard to a supply of food. I am aware that considerable difference of opinion exist on this subject, and I do not wish to lay too much stress upon the circumstance. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not wish to lay too much stress upon that fact as an argument for the present measure.
§ The EARL of RIPON
I do not see, my Lords, that I am necessarily called upon, in enforcing any particular measure, to say that my views of particular arguments are directly coincident with those of anybody else. I do not reject any views which have been put forth by the Government; but I may say that I do not lay any great stress upon the scarcity in Ireland, though I do think that it has a very great and serious bearing on this question. A deficiency of food in Ireland is not the same thing as a deficiency in this country; and the deficiency of that particular sort of food on which the Irish people chiefly subsist, necessarily produces indescribable misery and wretchedness. In Ireland those who suffer from the failure of the potato crop were persons who, in 99 instances out of 100, lived upon that food alone, which was the produce of their own land. The Irish people have not the resources of good wages, as we have in England. The wages in Ireland are very low; and there are hundreds and thousands of people in Ireland who derive no part of their subsistence from the wages of labour, but merely live upon the produce of a small portion of land—a circumstance which leads to so much competition for its possession, and to the evils and mischief to which such competition gives rise. When scarcity comes, there is no resource for the population of Ireland to fall back upon except charity. They are very charitable to one another, and assist one another as long as they have the means; but it is impossible that, under such circumstances, 1096 a large mass of people can be maintained in this manner. I know that it has been said that it is nonsense to talk of famine in Ireland, because there is no deficiency of crops of oats and wheat in that country; that while a large proportion of the people of Ireland is said to be starving, hundreds and thousands of quarters of wheat and oats are coming over to this country. My Lords, it is very true that wheat and oats do come to this country from Ireland, because here the Irish find a market for their produce; they can find no such market at home. If they have no employment and no money which will furnish them with the means of buying that which would otherwise remain in the country, their corn will infallibly come here; but that does not make their wretchedness less. The people of Ireland must be fed, and therefore the existence of such a state of things as scarcity in Ireland is a grave matter for consideration when we are deliberating upon the question of a supply of food for the Empire. It has been said that it would have been better to have suspended the present Corn Law; I think that would have been a most undesirable course; a suspension of the law ought never to be undertaken unless circumstances will entirely justify the application of such a remedy. When this plan was discussed in the other House of Parliament, it was said that if the law were repealed for a limited time to meet the distress which was now experienced, those who advocated protection would not be disposed to object to that arrangement; but I will ask, did it ever occur to the advocates of the Corn Law, who proposed that temporary suspension, that such a suspension of the Corn Law would destroy its vitality altogether? The principle upon which the Corn Law is defended, the principle upon which it has been supported, is, that it is capable of meeting all cases which could possibly occur—that the arrangement by which the duty falls as the price rises, and the duty rises as the price falls, would enable corn to be introduced into the country precisely according to the want indicated by the price. That is the theory upon which the law was introduced; and if it is not capable of producing that effect, of meeting any casual deficiency, that theory cannot be supported. The moment you come to suspend its operation you condemn its principle, by saying it is not capable of affording that relief which, according to your theory, it was intended to afford; and those, therefore, 1097 who say it ought to be suspended, cannot avoid seeing that if once suspended it will be impossible to revert to a system which was found to be incapable of maintaining itself. Now, with respect to the importation of foreign corn. I apprehend that the ground upon which this measure for admitting the importation of foreign corn is opposed by the advocates of protection, is the risk which we would thus run of throwing land out of cultivation.
§ The EARL of RIPON
My noble Friend says it is one of the grounds; but in my view it is the only important one. I have ever viewed it as such. I have always looked upon it as the greatest ground of objection which has been urged, and I have never been able to ascertain upon what that argument has been founded. Why do they think that such a result would follow the passing of this measure? To what extent would the land be thrown out of cultivation? What species of land is it that would be likely to be thrown out of cultivation? I have never been able to ascertain that. But I know it has been stated that very large tracts of country would cease to be cultivated if this measure were carried; and as a proof reference has recently been made to particular districts, which would, it is said, in such an event fall back into their original barrenness, and become capable of producing nothing but rabbits. That part of the country is certainly one which has been as much indebted as any other district in the United Kingdom for its improvement to the liberality of the landlords, and the spirit, energy, and skill of the tenants; and it would afford every one who traversed that county pleasure to reflect on the difference in its condition which has been the result of its superior cultivation. There has been an admirable description of what it now is and what it once was, published by the hon. Member for Berkshire, which was printed in the Royal Agvicultural Journal. The hon. Member describes what it was before its reclamation, and what it is at present. He describes it as a large district, which is cultivated in a manner that reflects honour upon those to whom the land belongs, and upon those who practically carried out the improvement for its cultivation. It is not, however, stated by the hon. Member (Mr. Pusey) that all this improvement has been the consequence of protection; but that 1098 district has been referred to by others as a proof of the effects of the Corn Laws; and the deduction has been drawn that if the operation of the Corn Laws were to cease, that land would relapse into its original sterility. I, however, see no reason to think that such would be the case, and may add that I know something about that district, for nearly all the land I possess in that county is on that very heath—Lincoln Heath—which I have let, together with portions of the fens assigned, to the heath farmers. That part of the district in which the lighthouse was erected a century ago for the purpose of marking the road—such a wild and barren track was it—belongs to me; but this has now been transformed into a fertile district, very much to the advantage of the owner of the ground, and of those who cultivate it. The owners of the soil in this neighbourhood, in the years 1809, 1810, 1811, and 1812, turned their attention to the expenditure of capital in the enclosure and cultivation of tracts of land which were susceptible of improvement, and thus they were brought into their present superior shape. The result of this application of capital and industry has been that this sterile district has become one of the most beautifully farmed parts of Lincolnshire; and I never heard from any of its present industrious occupants any expression of fear that this measure, if carried, would deprive them of the means of obtaining a fair return for their capital. I have heard no representations of that kind from the tenants—I heard of no desire to give up farms on grounds of that nature; and it so happens that when circumstances recently placed at my disposal a portion of my estates in that district, in the midst of all the alarms which were raised, and all the difficulties which it was said would follow any measure of this nature, it was my fortunate lot to let a considerable portion of my estate not at a reduced rent, but at positively an increased rent. What could be a stronger proof that the farmers in that district did not anticipate any risk of the land being thrown out of cultivation by a removal of the existing system of Corn Laws? The increasing population of the country is of itself a powerful stimulus to the application of capital in the improvement of the land. The people must have food; but it does not follow that the only means of maintaining that supply are to arise from importation. It does not follow that because a portion of foreign corn will 1099 be imported, that no spirit and energy are to be applied to increase the production at home. For my part I see no cause to believe that such results would follow the termination of a protective system. With respect to the details of the Bill, I do not know that it is necessary for me on this occasion to go into them at any length, for your Lordships must all be well acquainted with the nature of its provisions; but there is one point on which a material difference of opinion prevails, and which I may allude to in passing—it is whether the termination of the existing protection ought to be immediate, or whether it ought to come into operation in three years from the introduction of the measure. As the Bill at present stands there is a modified protection to be maintained for three years; and although I have no apprehension that any evil consequences would arise if protection were to terminate at once, yet as it is wise that in questions of this kind sudden and extreme changes should be avoided; and if the protection terminates at no distant period, it appears to me that to insist upon its termination immediately would not be necessary, and would not be sufficient to counterbalance any disadvantages which might arise from pressing for it. I feel, my Lords—painfully feel—the imperfect manner in which I have dealt with this question; nor can I suppose that any observations I have made can operate in producing conviction on the minds of those noble Lords who hear me, and who are so well capable of forming their own opinions on the important subject before the House; but this I can truly state—that I do not feel, and cannot think that I ought to feel any blame at the part I have taken on myself—first, in being a party to this measure, and secondly, in proposing it to the House. I know it will be said to be inconsistent with what I have formerly done, and that the opinions that I now express may be said to be inconsistent with what I formerly uttered in this House. I know that extracts may be made from the records of this House, which may perhaps be described as inconsistent with the reasons which move me in proposing the second reading of this measure; but I take no shame to myself for the course I have taken, because the only cause for throwing blame on a change of opinion is that it has proceeded from bad motives. I am not conscious, my Lords, in being influenced by any bad motives; on the contrary, I entertain a solemn conviction of the advantages 1100 which this measure is calculated to produce. That opinion has been formed after much reflection—reflection which was stimulated, I admit, by the necessity for adopting an alteration in our present system; and I therefore repeat my solemn conviction, that in proposing this measure for your adoption, I am not proposing to your Lordships a measure which could be injurious to any interest, but which, on the contrary, will do good to all. I may be wrong in the opinion which I have formed; and in acting upon it I may have forfeited the good opinion of many who thought well of me, and who may suppose that I have abandoned unnecessarily a course which I have hitherto supported, and which many of my Friends have honoured me by supposing that I had supported well when I supported that cause. I supported it because I thought that in so doing, I acted rightly and consistently with my sincere convictions; and if I propose this measure now, from a conviction of its necessity, and because the reasons upon which I advocated former measures no longer exist, I hope I shall stand fair in the eyes of your Lordships when I tell you that this is a question which I feel I can recommend to your consideration as one in which all are equally interested. The noble Earl concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ The question having been put,
§ The DUKE of RICHMOND
My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months; because I feel in my conscience that no measure ever proposed by a British Minister to Parliament was more likely to inflict a deadly blow on British agriculture; and therefore more fraught with ruin to the nation at large than that which is now before your Lordships. I think, my Lords, we have just cause of complaint against my noble Friend who has just sat down, that he has not told your Lordships what in his opinion the price of corn will be if this measure should unfortunately pass into a law. My Lords, rash and blameable as I think they are, I cannot believe that Her Majesty's Ministers can be so totally reckless as to have introduced a measure, affecting so important an interest in the country, without having formed some estimate of its probable effects. And if they have done so, I ask, why withhold from this House information so necessary for fair, full, and impartial deliberation on this question? My Lords, it is most difficult 1101 for me in any way to account for the conduct and proceedings of Her Majesty's Ministers since the last Session of Parliament, and more particularly during the memorable month of November; but the surmise I make upon this head is, that the measures now before your Lordships were not submitted to the Cabinet until the Members of the Cabinet were pledged by Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne. For I will venture to say, that if those calculations had been fully gone into—if the returns necessary to form a proper estimate of the results of the Bill, had been laid upon your Lordships' Table, and fully considered, the state of things would be different. My Lords, this is the first time a Minister has ventured to bring forward a measure of this importance without being able to form an opinion upon the point I have just adverted to: if I am wrong in that conclusion, my noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade can set me right, by producing the estimates. My noble Friend opposite (and here I beg leave to say, that I have not the slightest desire to impute anything to him but the most praiseworthy motives) will permit me to say, that although he has carried us back to a very long period of time, he has not touched upon the most important period in all these considerations. He carried us so far back as the year 1822; but, my Lords, he never said a word about the year 1842—and yet that is the very Bill which has most to do with the question—the very Bill we are called upon to repeal. The noble Earl went so far back as 1791. My Lords, we are not called upon to repeal the Act of 1791—neither are we called upon to pass an opinion upon the Act of 1822; but I say again we are called upon to repeal the Act of 1842. Upon that Act my noble Friend has not condescended to utter one syllable. My noble Friend was willing enough to advert to a former period; but upon this he was silent. I am now about to quote some words used upon former occasions by my noble Friend—and here I beg again to say that I make no personal attacks upon him; I quote his language because it conveys my sentiments in better words than I could hope to clothe them. My noble Friend, in 1815, said in the House of Commons, when he proposed the measure of that year—In looking to the principles which should guide their decision, the House ought to recollect that they were not now in the situation of arguing, for the first time, whether they should act on the principle of restriction or not. For not only on the subject of corn, but on all great branches 1102 of trade in this country, they had from time immemorial proceeded on a system of restriction. And, therefore, he contended they were not now placed in a situation of discussing first principles. They were not now for the first time to inquire whether they were to act on this principle or not. The system had been acted on for a long period, and we could not depart from it without encountering a frightful revulsion, which it would be dreadful to combat. It was not, therefore, a question between restriction and non-restriction, but how they were to apply principles that had been long called into action, to the existing circumstances of the country. This was the only ground on which he would now recommend the measures he was about to submit to their consideration."*That is the remarkable and forcible speech made by a Gentleman named Robinson, in the House of Commons in 1815. I must now call my noble Friend's attention to a speech, not made by Mr. Robinson in the House of Commons in 1815, but by a noble Lord in this House in the year 1841. It is quite fair to say that at that time the noble Lord to whom I allude, was not sitting on the Ministerial benches. My Lords, the noble Lord was sitting on the Opposition benches. I will just read from his speech. I can assure my noble Friend that I don't want to hurt his feelings by arguing the Lord Ripon of 1841 against the Lord Ripon of 1846. I cannot, however, help saying, that I think it would have been better if the former opinions remained unchanged, and that I would much sooner be guided by his former than by his present arguments. In 1841 the noble Earl said, "Looking at the history of the nation, and the motives by which men were governed, he could not believe that, for the sake of giving a little extension to the trade in corn, they would all at once abandon the whole settled policy which had, for upwards of a century, been held. * * * It appeared to him that the Government scheme was false and vicious." (The noble Lord alluded to an 8s. duty, which was then proposed.) "Under the supposition that the project of the Government would be carried into effect, no man could have a reasonable doubt"—what follows, my Lords?—not any fears from Lincoln Heath—but "that a very large portion of the corn land in this country would be thrown out of cultivation." But if you wait for a moment you will see that you may get to Lincoln Heath:—"If the evil commenced, no one could say where they would stop, or what would be the disastrous consequences."* So that my noble Friend looked forward to the* Hansard's Debates, Second Series, Vol. xxix. p. 800.1103 period when the lighthouse would be again of use. I now come to another speech my noble Friend made in 1842: here he takes rather a different view of the question:—The great evil which I anticipate from the adoption of the principle that all restrictions on the importation of foreign corn should be withdrawn, is this, that the people of this country would be compelled to depend on other countries for their supply of corn—not to meet an occasional deficiency, but to depend altogether on other countries for the main part of their annual supply—that such dependence would be leaning on a broken reed—and that they would be habitually in danger of the failure of that supply. No one doubts, my Lords, that the progress of agriculture in this country has for many years past been most remarkable. That progress has been such as to keep pace with the demands of the people (not entirely, for that was impossible), but has been such as to supply—not entirely, but almost—the wants of our greatly increased population; and that with very little addition from foreign countries we may be said to be able to rely on our own resources. From many causes into which it is not my intention, nor is it necessary, to enter, the cost of agricultural production in this country has become higher than in other countries of Europe."*My Lords (said the noble Duke) this is still the case—but my noble Friend went on to say—It is quite clear from what I have said, that the amount of our agricultural produce has been brought nearly equal to the demand; but this could not have been done unless capital had been applied to the land, and obtained such a return as induced the capitalist to continue his investment; but if you take away the protection which has been given to our home produce, you will cause the withdrawal of some of the capital from the land; and, of course, the produce will be less, and you will then have to depend on foreign supply, not only for the amount you were in the habit of getting, but also for the amount you would lose by the withdrawal of a portion of the capital heretofore invested in the lands."†Then my noble Friend went into another topic. It appears that it was doubted by some of your Lordships, that the Bill of 1842 was not to be final. Upon this head my noble Friend said—If the Ministers have been guilty of the crime of endeavouring to deceive the people of this country on this subject, I can only say, that they would be guilty not only of the most miserable as well as the basest of political offence of which a Ministry could be guilty; but they would commit an act of inconceivable folly. I am convinced that this Bill will be received by you as a final adjustment of this great question."‡It appears that a noble Friend of mine on the cross benches (we believe the Duke of Buckingham) was not satisfied with that declaration. He put the question again* Hansard, Third Series, Vol. lix. p. 50.† Hansard, Vol. lxii. p. 575.‡ Hansard, Third Series, Vol. lxii. p. 589.1104 respecting the finality of this measure, when my noble Friend (the Earl of Ripon) replied—He certainly had not the arrogance to state that any law which Parliament might pass on this subject, or any other, must be taken as final; but there was nothing in that which should be thought threatening to those who might be apprehensive of ulterior consequences from the measure. All he could say for himself was this, that if he brought forward the measure, intending or wishing it not to be final, he would say so. He had never said that with respect to this measure. He hoped it would be final. He thought it would be a good thing if it were: and it would not be his fault if it were not."§My Lords, my noble Friend, it appears, admits that a large sum of money has been expended on the improvement of land in this country. My Lords, a great deal of money was invested in that way prior to the year 1842; and I am sure that many of your Lordships here present will recollect that that money having been laid out on the faith that protection would be maintained, was one of the main arguments which was adduced to your Lordships, as well as in the other House of Parliament, when Motions were made for the purpose of inquiring into the Corn Laws. Has not that argument been strengthened since 1842? I read the speech of the Minister in the House when the measure was proposed, and it was admitted that a large capital had been expended on the faith of an Act of Parliament on this laudable and desirable object. Then, my Lords, I ask you, will you now pass this measure? Will you bring in a retrospective law for the confiscation of property? Will you deprive capital of its fair recompense? Will you debar the owner or occupier of the soil from the honest return which his money and skill deserve? Will you prevent him from receiving the fair reward of his industry? Will you, in short, violate the engagement which you formerly made to him under the solemn sanction of an Act of Parliament? My Lords, these men have been of great service to their country. It is a great benefit to the State to have improved the land. The condition of the agricultural labourers has been improved, and the fertility of the soil has been much increased. What does another authority say on this subject?—Under the system of protection we have lived for 200 years, extensive tracts of country have been reclaimed, by which the health of the people has been improved, their lives prolonged, and this, too, not at the expense of the manufacturing prosperity,§ Hansard, Third Series, Vol. lxii. p. 752.1105but in concurrence with its wonderful advancement.I make that quotation, my Lords, because it is so applicable to the present time and to the present moment. But are your Lordships going to remove this system of protection which has so long existed, out of compassion for the condition of the working man and the operatives? I speak of the manufacturing and agricultural labourers generally, for I know that for all you entertain the deepest sympathy. I feel the same sentiments towards both. This part of the subject has been much misrepresented. The evil of protection to the operative has been insisted upon; but I ask your Lordships is there any country where protection does not exist that the following return could be produced? There are at the present moment in the savings banks 1,060,000 accounts of 27l. each. There are 600,000 depositors of 7l. each; and the total sum so invested in this country that has been "pauperised by protection" amounts to no less than 33,000,000l. sterling. I ask your Lordships whether, then, protection has been such an evil as it has been represented? My Lords, I may be forced by a majority to abandon protection, but with such statements before me I can never do so willingly. Never, with such statements, can my reason be convinced that it is a just and a good measure. My Lords, we are told by the manufacturers, who advocate free trade—no, I should not have said the manufacturers, but a section of the manufacturers—a section, in fact, of the Manchester cotton spinners—they tell us we know nothing of farming—they say, "All of you are blockheads; we will take your land from your hands, and bring capital to bear upon it." They do not say experience, and I wonder they do not—but what do they admit? They admit this, and mark it well: they admit that this change cannot be made without our being called on to remove from our farms 20,000 or 30,000 of the present occupiers. My Lords, they say you must remove them from their present holdings. But what is to become of these poor men? Where are they and their families to go? What will the poor labourers do, who are turned out of employment? Why they must all go to the union workhouse for their daily bread, or they must go, where I suppose the majority of them will go, into the manufacturing districts, and there it will be their lot to serve under those very men who have been the cause of their ruin—the 1106 destroyers of all their worldly prospects. My Lords, I know well that the section I allude to, wishes indeed to lower the price of produce in this country; they have adopted a system of hostility against the farmers of England, because they know the farmers have always been sincerely attached to our Constitution and to our institutions. They wish to lower the price of agricultural produce for another reason. They know that thereby they will throw the land out of cultivation—that the agricultural population will be forced into their towns, that competition for labour will be thus increased, and wages permanently lowered. They wish permanently to lower the wages of the operatives, and they wish that, not only that they may get the greater profits themselves, but also for the purpose of effectually preventing those "strikes" which seldom take place when the wages are low. Then I will ask your Lordships what will become of the yeomanry and tenantry who are not ejected? If production be so much diminished, and the poor rates so much increased, what, I ask your Lordships, can they do, but linger on a few years? It is, I have no doubt, well known to your Lordships, that in this country, generally speaking, when the prices of produce fall, the poor rates are increased. I have taken the trouble to extract from the Tenth Report of the Poor Law Commissioners; and although that Report does not come lower than 1843, I am prepared to show your Lordships that this has occurred. The noble Duke then read the following document:—There is an anomaly in the cost of pauperism to the population as compared with the price of wheat. When wheat was 55s. 3d. per quarter, the cost per head was 5s. 10d.; when wheat was 52s. 4d. per quarter, the cost per head to the population was 6s. 1½d.; showing that with a decreased price of wheat there was an increased cost of pauperism to the population.This anomaly is not confined to the St. Thomas Union, it is the same throughout the kingdom, as the following table, extracted from the Tenth Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners will prove:—
Years ending Lady-day. Price of wheat per Quarter. Rate per head upon the Population (1841) of Expenditure for In-maintenance and Out-Relief only. s. d. s. d. 1840 68 6 4 8 1841 65 3 4 11 1842 64 0 5 1 1843 54 4 5 5If the price of wheat have any influence upon the cost of pauperism, the last year (1843) should have been the lowest, instead of the highest.One of the attacks now made by my hon. Friend's new Colleagues of the Anti-Corn-Law League, is, that the British farmers have no capital no skill. My Lords, I believe there is no country in the world where the farmers are more skilful or more intelligent—more upright—or where they behave better to their poorer neighbours. And, my Lords, I think I am entitled to speak with confidence on this subject, for I believe I am acquainted with more farmers in this kingdom than almost any one in this House. I contradict most emphatically the assertion that they are not skilful; but with respect to their capital, I think it too hard that a Minister should turn round and taunt that large and industrious body of men with having no capital. My Lords, the heavy, unjust, and unequal manner in which they are taxed, coupled with the Currency Bill of 1819, has decidedly diminished their means, and narrowed their circumstances. But if they have not at present sufficient capital—if that be the complaint, how is it you propose to increase the capital which is to be the means of improving their land? Why, by diminishing the value of their produce. Yes, by diminishing the value of their produce. ["Hear, hear!"] Well, then, if you don't diminish the value of the produce, permit me to tell you you are doing a very dangerous thing, by raising or countenancing the cry of cheap bread. It is a dangerous thing to tell the people the effect of the measure will be to give them cheap bread, should they find it otherwise. I do not feel myself justified in trespassing longer on your Lordships' attention, because I have never for a single moment disguised the strong feeling which I entertain on this great and momentous question; and I think I am also relieved from troubling you, because the great majority of your Lordships think as I do upon this question. I do believe—and I state now what I said on a former occasion—that if a vote on this Bill was taken by ballot in this House, there would not, in my opinion, be a dozen of balls found for Aye. However, there are some of your Lordships who say, free trade must come in the end—there is no use in continuing the conflict—it is better to give way at once—there is excitement out of doors. I deny, however, that the great body of the operatives of this country are in favour of the measure. 1108 The Anti-Corn-Law League has never ventured to hold a meeting even in Manchester, that hotbed of their own sedition, without having recourse to the ticket system; they were not open meetings; but even if the feeling were much more in favour of this measure than it is pretended it is, it is no argument for the abolition of the Corn Laws, that some noble Lords say, protection must one day or another cease. Why, my Lords, if you once permit such an argument as this to be used, the very best of our laws will be endangered. We never vote against the Government, other noble Lords say, we don't like to vote against the Bill, we have always supported Sir Robert Peel, we don't like to abandon our party. Do not noble Lords know that it is not the party who have abandoned Sir Robert Peel, but it is Sir Robert Peel who has abandoned his party? And, my Lords, what good will it do to come forward to serve Sir Robert Peel now, and lose your own character for consistency, for there is no man in the country who believes that Sir Robert Peel will ever regain the confidence of the great mass of the people? It took that Minister twelve years to regain the confidence of his party after his conduct on the Catholic question in 1829; but he has no more chance of regaining the confidence of the people now, than he has of sitting upon the Throne of this country. Then, my Lords, I will call your attention to the motives publicly announced out of doors by some of the advocates of free trade. Why, they admit that their object is to crush the aristocracy of this country. One of them, I will not say the most respectable of the Members of the Anti-Corn-Law League, because he certainly is not the most respectable—Mr. Bright—well, Mr. Bright declared openly his desire to crush the aristocracy. I hope and trust your Lordships will all recollect that this is a question of vast importance—that you will remember, that in the eventful time which you must look forward to, it is of the greatest importance that the hereditary legislators of this country have a duty to perform, which they ought to discharge without fear, favour or affection—that you are bound to lay aside party feelings, personal considerations and political bias; and that you should vote strictly according to your consciences upon a measure deeply affecting the weal of a large mass of your fellow subjects. It is also incumbent on you to reflect upon consequences, to consider what will be in all 1109 likelihood the effect of your sanctioning this measure. Is it expedient? If you concede this, will not other measures be brought forward for destroying the Church—for injuring our institutions—for subverting the constitution of your Lordships' House? If you will act well, you will be indeed powerful, because you stand firm in the good opinion of the great body of the people—of the intelligent middle classes of this country. But I tell your Lordships, with perfect respect, that unless you maintain that good opinion—and you cannot maintain it if the people find you voting against your former promises, your former pledges, your former opinions—you will be then powerless indeed. My Lords, in conclusion I will humbly, though at the same time most earnestly, implore you to vote against this measure, because I believe if you do not reject the measure, it will be accepted only as an instalment for the future—as the commencement of great changes. Influenced by these feelings and by these considerations, I ask you now to take up your post manfully in front of the battle; for, unless you do so, you will hereafter find it impossible to maintain your ground. For myself, my Lords, I vote against the Bill, believing, upon my honour, that it is only the first of a series of such measures—that it is a measure which, if carried into a law, will shake the very foundations of the Throne, will cripple the Church, endanger our institutions, and convert our hitherto happy and contented people from a state of comparative comfort into one of misery and wretchedness—because I believe that it will lead to endless confusion and anarchy. For these reasons, your Lordships are now called upon to make that stand which I humbly and fervently trust you will.
§ The Question and Amendment having been put,
§ EARL FITZWILLIAM
said: My noble Friend who has just sat down, read in the conclusion of his speech a formidable list of dangers with which he has threatened your Lordships if you consent to this measure. I think my noble Friend would have done well if he had pointed out with more distinctness the grounds on which he expects that your acquiescence in this measure will lead to those terrible results. I entertain none of these apprehensions. I must deal with the measure, as I think your Lordships will deal with it, as a measure of national policy, without any reference to those fears which my noble 1110 Friend has conjured up and nourished in his own mind in order to alarm this House of Parliament. I shall not, therefore, go into any part of the speech of my noble Friend on the cross bench; neither shall I trouble myself with the three-quarters of an hour of apology with which the noble Earl opposite ushered in the measure, on which he barely condescended to bestow the remaining quarter of an hour; though, with respect to that remaining quarter, I cannot but concur with the noble Duke who last addressed you, that we had some right to expect from the Government an explanation of the state of things which, according to their view, called for and would result from the measure they have now proposed. If my memory does not mislead me, my noble Friend on all former occasions—and he is a man of a large experience on these subjects—always condescended to inform the House of Parliament (whichever it was that he was addressing) of the state of things to which he expected his measure would lead. But not so now—he leaps at once to his conclusion, and calls on you "at once," in one sense, though not "at once" in another, to pass from restriction to free trade—free trade for which I have long contended, but which I hardly thought to have obtained from my noble Friend. I must, however, defend him from the charge of inconsistency, because I am free to acknowledge that he always, not only now, but on all former occasions on which he has proposed any alterations in the Corn Laws, has avowed himself an enemy to the imposition of a duty on the import of foreign grain. The warfare which I have been so long engaged in is now brought to an end; and I confess it gives me the greatest satisfaction to contemplate the peace and tranquillity which I shall hereafter enjoy. Here is an end of the question: my noble Friend near the Table (Earl Stanhope) may depend upon it that when this measure has passed, not even he will come down to propose a revival of the Corn Law; for, most undoubtedly, although I think it was the duty of the Government to explain to the House the effects they think the measure will produce, I am not one of those who think that it will lead to any disastrous consequences to the landed interests of the country. And, indeed, circumstances have come to my knowledge, even since this measure was introduced into the other House, which prove that no such apprehensions are entertained either by the landed interest in their dealings 1111 with their tenants, or by their tenants in their dealings with their landlords. But though I hail with great satisfaction the peace and tranquillity which I anticipate, since I shall be relieved from the necessity of making those Motions with which I have so often troubled your Lordships, nevertheless I must speak my mind frankly upon this subject. I am about to vote for this Bill. I believe it will be carried by a great majority; but I am free to say, that if it had been my lot, on any of those occasions to which I have referred, to have succeeded in inviting your Lordships' attention to this question, the Bill now before your Lordships is not the one which I should have asked your Lordships to sanction. I am not one of those who deal in language which I think more fit for ancient ladies than grave statesmen, who talk about the cruelty of taxing the necessaries of life. I am not one who believe that there would be anything inhuman in maintaining, even under the pressure of scarcity, a duty on the import of foreign grain. I do not believe that there would be any difficulty in levying that impost. In this respect, therefore, I disapprove of the present Bill, because I think we have thrown away a large revenue which we might have raised, and which you must replace by other taxes, either to be continued or imposed—I say, either to be continued or imposed, because under even that system of law which having been condemned by the House of Commons, and which I now anticipate will be equally condemned by your Lordships, I may venture to call an absurd system, a large revenue has been raised. The other House must find a substitute for the revenue which they have lost; where it is to be found I know not, whether from an increase of the Income Tax or of the Excise duties, if the Excise duties can be further extended. It so happened that when I was first made acquainted with this proposed measure, I was at a great distance from this country. I heard, then, that it was said in the House of Commons that Gentlemen were not to look at the repeal of the Corn Law as an insulated measure, but that they must look at it in connection with other measures, and they would thus see what would be given by way of compensation. Now I, who do not expect that the landed interest will suffer from this measure, do not think that much compensation is required; but others view it in a very different light. When, therefore, I heard of compensation, undoubtedly I thought, and 1112 not a very unnatural thought, that as there was to be an end of what had been considered a great boon to the landed interest, some benefit would be conferred on it instead. I was told abroad that the whole system must be viewed together, and I consequently thought there would have been a total revision of the taxation of the country—not that there would have been a new Customs Tariff (for that is a different thing), but a complete revision of the Excise laws; and I fancied, in the sanguineness of my expectations, that it would just be possible that Her Majesty's Ministers, who thought so little of mere revenue, that the loss of 500,000l. or 600,000l., or 700,000l. raised on foreign corn was of no importance, would have proposed at least a diminution, if not the entire repeal, of the malt tax. I certainly expected something of that sort, and I think that that would have been a large and comprehensive compensation for those who thought compensation necessary. I know not whether all agree with me in this; perhaps my noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) does not—but my noble Friend has been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and like all Chancellors of the Exchequer has his own peculiar idol—but for myself I certainly thought that the landed interest had just reason to expect a great diminution, if not an entire repeal, of this tax. I consider the malt tax to be a tax which weighs most oppressively upon the landowners of this country. I know it to be most unequal, and I regard it also as an unnecessary tax. I know that in the main it is a tax upon the consumer; and I think, when we are untaxing the consumer's bread, that we should also untax his beer. But I think that this tax is a sort of Janus—that it has two faces—that it looks behind as well as before—and that in reality it not only taxes the consumer, but also the owners and the occupiers of the land; especially the latter class; because, perhaps of all persons, the occupiers of land and those in their employ are the greatest consumers of that article, which they are prevented by this unequal impost from manufacturing even for their own use. I am aware that the giving up of this tax would involve a large addition to other imposts; but I am favourable to such a course. I think that the income tax should be abolished; but I should wish to see a large addition to the property tax—not to the old land tax, because that is done away with—but to taxation on the real property of the country. But, my Lords, there is another point in which I 1113 exceedingly disapprove of this Bill; and I am astonished, except it be for the purpose of maintaining a paltry rag, the smallest remnant of consistency, that we are to have a little bit of a sliding-scale kept up for three years to come. What on earth can be the use of it? I speak, I may almost say, as a witness upon this subject; for I have taken pains to ascertain the feeling of the agriculturists in the counties with which I am connected, and I believe that the almost universal desire is for an immediate settlement of this question. I have always been of opinion, and I have ever stated it with confidence, that when you began to deal with the Corn Laws, you should decide in your own minds what the state of the law should be, and that you should come to that state at once. I have always opposed the gradual abolition system. It may be a system favourable perhaps to the landlord; but it is most injurious to the tenant; for in every bargain that might be made during the currency of this protection, a great advantage would be given to the landlord over the tenant. For this reason, had it been my lot to have proposed a law upon this subject, I should have proposed a different one from that which is now before your Lordships. As it is, I am not surprised at the indignation which the Bill has excited. Unfortunately it seems to me as if there had been a sort of race—a kind of St. Leger or Derby—in this matter. The First Lord of the Treasury got ahead upon this occasion, he determined to take advantage of it, and he has gone for the full measure. Well, insomuch as it gets rid of the question, I rejoice at it; but I do think that it is one of which your Lordships have reason to complain. I disapprove of it, but I must vote for it. I am driven into that course, and there is no help for it; because I mnst either vote for this Bill, which is a money Bill, or I must run the risk of losing the measure for this year, and perhaps of losing it more permanently. I value the abolition of the Corn Laws too much to run even the slightest risk of such an event. I perhaps ought not to say what I am going to say, but certain noble Lords have said to me, "Will your Lordship help us?" My Lords, I was obliged to say "No," I can give you no help: you never helped me, and you have therefore no right to ask me to help you. I do not know that my assistance would have been worth much, even if I had been willing; but I could not give it consistently with 1114 the great object which I have in view in the condemnation of these laws. I think however that this House has much reason to complain of the Government. I ask Her Majesty's Ministers why, in propounding a measure of this magnitude—and which must have been proposed to the surprise of all your Lordships—why they proposed it in such a way as precludes all your Lordships from making any amendment in the measure? I repeat, was such a course either right or decent? They may say that they had no other course; but that is not the fact. They had another course. It is in accordance with precedent that in measures of this great importance Resolutions should have been moved in the other House, and should have been communicated to this House in the first instance. I think that would have been the proper course for Her Majesty's Ministers to have pursued. Your Lordships could then have entered into a full consideration of the measure in conjunction with the other House. You might have stated your views, and might have negotiated with them; but now, the ground is cut from you, and you cannot enter into any such negotiation. The smallest accident to this Bill loses it, and I am not one who will run such a risk. Adopting, not the opinions of the noble Duke on the cross bench, but adopting all the views which he expresses with respect to the conduct of the Government upon this question, I feel necessarily precluded from acting in any other manner than I am about to do. I implore your Lordships not to resist this great measure; and this appeal I make not only to those who agree with me in wishing to set it at rest for ever, but to those also who think that the existing laws should be maintained as being calculated to maintain the best interests of this country. Whatever opinion you may entertain upon this question, there is one point on which you can entertain but one opinion, and that is, that if you reject this Bill, you prolong that conflict of opinion, and that contest for a repeal of these laws, which has been so mischievous to every class of society, and from which, give me leave to say, no class has reaped such bitter fruits as the agricultural interests of this country.
§ The DUKE of CLEVELAND
said, he was unwilling to give a silent vote upon this measure, and he must therefore trouble their Lordships for a short time. He had long placed the greatest confidence in the political integrity of the Minister who had 1115 brought forward this measure, whether in or out of office; and it was, therefore, with no ordinary feelings that he found himself compelled on this occasion to sever himself from a Government which he had always hitherto endeavoured to support. For the head of that Government he had ever entertained the highest respect; and he had always entertained the same feeling for the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington), from whom he was now compelled to separate. This change had arisen from no whim and no caprice on his part. It was occasioned by what he considered to be a total abandonment of all principle on the part of the Government. He had had a correspondence with the noble Duke at the commencement of the year 1843, when that noble Duke had the kindness to offer to him the moving of the Address in the House of Lords in answer to the Queen's Speech. Agreeing with the Government in all its principles, he felt complimented by this offer; but then there was one circumstance of which he could not avoid taking notice. There was then a rumour that it was the intention of the Government to make a material alteration in the Corn Bill, which had only been brought in the year before. He communicated this to the noble Duke, and asked his permission to be allowed to declare that the rumour was not only unfounded, but that, as far as the present Government was concerned, the measure was to be regarded as final. To that request the noble Duke said he could not accede, as it would be allowing a greater license than usual; and he therefore declined moving the Address. He had now to observe that when this Bill was first brought into this House, the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) had drawn a distinction between private and political honour; and the noble Earl (the Earl of Ripon) said he would not admit of such a distinction. He agreed with the noble Earl on that point; but if consistency was to be comprised in political honour, he must say, that after the statement made that night, and after the extracts which the noble Duke had read of speeches made by his noble Friend on former occasions, his noble Friend could not be quoted as an example. As to the measure then before the House, he thought it unprecedented for its boldness, as it was dangerous in its application, and sudden in the mode of its introduction. It was a dangerous and a hazardous experiment. If it did not succeed it was an irreparable evil; for whatever 1116 its consequences might be, they must remember that they could never retrace their steps. It was a measure conceded to agitation by a Government, which agitation ought to have been suppressed by the Government, if the Government were determined upon doing its duty. Let it be admitted that there ought to be a protecting duty on grain; yet it might be said that protecting duty was too high—that it was higher than on other articles of British manufacture. Still he said, admitting that, the question ought to be asked, why was it so high? and the answer was, simply in consideration of the heavy burdens and taxes imposed upon land which prevent our farmers competing with foreigners on equal terms. He had often said, both in and out of Parliament, that let their tithes and poor rates be equalised — let them bear but the same proportion with other parts of the community, and then the land would not require a higher protection than any other domestic interest in the country. The noble Earl (Fitzwilliam) who had just sat down, had referred to the compensations that had been promised to the agricultural interests, and had said the measures ought to be taken as a whole. There could be no doubt that the Premier had promised certain concessions to the agriculturist, and he had said they were to be embodied in this Bill; but their Lordships were well aware there was no such thing. He felt that there was a great deal of complication in the arrangements proposed by the Government; but as they boasted of being able to overcome every difficulty, he felt it was for them to extricate themselves from the labyrinth as they best could. He would now allude to the concessions which had been promised, which he could only gather from the Prime Minister in his speech, and which formed portions of the Tariff. The first concession was a reduction of the duty upon linseed, from which the farmers were promised great benefits. Now, as to the main sufferers, the small farmers, there was scarcely one of them that used oil cake; they could not afford it, and therefore the reduction would be of very little service to them. The next compensation consisted in the free introduction of cloverseed; but the farmers of this country generally grew their own clover, and they would not be materially relieved in that way. The next reduction was that in the duty on French brandy. He could state that when the small farmers—in that part of the country, 1117 at least, with which he was best acquainted—brought their produce for sale on market day, and drank their brandy and water, very few of them knew that there was any brandy imported from France. What they drank was a British compound, very much resembling French brandy in colour, but having no other of its attributes; and he believed that a repeal of the duty levied upon brandy French would not be of the least use to English farmers. There might be other articles upon which concessions were made, but these were all that he was aware of as being made to the British farmer; and if these compensations amounted to nothing, so much the more oppressive would be the measure which was now under their Lordships' consideration. Well, if this was the case, this measure was the cruellest, the most oppressive, and the most injurious that had ever been attempted to be passed by a Legistature against an industrious, a loyal, and an independent class of men — a measure adopted in order to oppress them with a view to benefit another class who were notorious for their disloyalty, turbulence, and discontent. If this measure had emanated from any Member of the late Government, he should not have been in the least surprised, because in proposing it they would have been doing nothing more than acting in accordance with the principles upon which they had hitherto acted, and for acting upon which he gave them the greatest possible credit, because they had always been perfectly consistent; and he very well remembered that the very last notice of a Motion which Lord J. Russell gave when leader of the Government was for a fixed duty of 8s. a quarter upon wheat, and a proportionate reduction upon other descriptions of grain. He remembered very well that that notice was literally scouted by every side of the House—not only by the Members of the Conservative party, but by a great number of Whig Members who had always supported the measures of that Government. But there was no one more loud against the proposition than the present First Lord of the Treasury himself; and the immediate consequence of the notice was, that on the following day the right hon. Gentleman assembled at his house a small number of his political associates, of whom he (the Duke of Cleveland) had the honour at the time of being one, and consulted them as to what was best to be done to save the country from so dire a calamity. Other noble Lords, now in that 1118 House, were also present at that meeting. His noble Friend on his left was one—the present Postmaster General he believed was present—the late Postmaster General he knew was. And what was the result of the deliberations then held? It was that Sir R. Peel himself should give notice of a Motion of want of confidence in the existing Government. That Motion he did make in a very able speech, as he always did, but he rested his case chiefly, if not entirely, upon two points: the first was the alteration of the Sugar duties, which had already been brought before the House, and upon which the Government had been beaten by a very large majority; the other was the alteration in the Corn Laws to a fixed duty instead of the sliding-scale. He need hardly remind their Lordships of the issue of that struggle. After four or five nights' debate the Motion was carried by a majority of one in the largest House perhaps that had ever divided. The numbers were 310 on one side, and 311 on the other, which, with the four tellers, made 627; the largest House, he believed, that had ever come to a division in the House of Commons. It might be assumed that his (the Duke of Cleveland's) vote was the one that had turned the scale; but although he had done this, and it might be very fair for those who disagreed with him to find fault with him for doing so, yet he challenged any one to prove that, in the course of his political life—not a very short one—he had ever given any two votes, the one of which was in direct contradiction to the other, or ever given one vote which was not dictated by the purest and most conscientious conviction. He knew it might very fairly be said, "When you gave that vote, do you deny that it was given for a party object—for the purpose of dislodging one Government and placing another in its room?" In one sense he gave a frank admission that the vote was a party vote. He had been a party man all his life. He did not think it was derogatory to any man to belong to a party. On the contrary, he thought it was the bounden duty of every man who took an interest in public affairs to attach himself to a party, as the only means by which the views he entertained could be carried out. But although he had always belonged to a party, it must be remembered that he had not always belonged to the same party. He had stated the course he had taken on the occasion in question; but, although he had given that vote at the time for the purpose of displacing one Government, 1119 and putting another in lieu of it, he assured their Lordships with the utmost sincerity it was not because the name of the leader of one party was Peel, and that of the other Russell, that he did so, but because he approved of the principles advocated by the one, and consequently thought those of the other detrimental to the interests of the country. But at the same time, if he could have foreseen that the same Minister who had always up to that period advocated protection to agriculture with so much ability, and held it up as the keystone of our Conservative policy—if he could have imagined that within five years that same leader would abandon all those principles, he would sooner have cut off his right hand than have given that vote. Even since the meeting of Parliament and the introduction of this measure, he confessed the late speeches of the Prime Minister, as reported, had filled him with astonishment. Although he had paid great attention to the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, and acknowledged the ability of his arguments, he must say that he could not discover the slightest justification for the policy he was now pursuing. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman had brought forward able arguments in support of a repeal of the Corn Laws; but they were the very same arguments which had been heard for years from Mr. Villiers and Mr. Cobden, and which the right hon. Baronet had then so strenuously and so zealously opposed. This being the case, he could not see what sudden new light had broken in upon the right hon. Gentleman. Let their Lordships recollect that the present Corn Bill, which was only of four years' standing, was of the right hon. Gentleman's own bringing in, and was intended at the time, as had been stated by the noble Earl who moved the second reading of this Bill, to be final. Every one imagined so. He thought it an improvement on the existing law. The right hon. Baronet, before he introduced the Bill, was kind enough (he was sure he did not know for what reason)—he was kind enough, before the Session commenced, to send him (the Duke of Cleveland) a rough draft of the Bill, and to ask his opinion and approval of it. He had no hesitation in saying that he did highly approve of it. Many of his friends disagreed with him; and his noble Friend behind him (the Duke of Buckingham) threw up his seat in the Cabinet in consequence. He thought his noble Friend 1120 wrong in doing so; but after what had since occurred he gave his noble Friend credit for more penetration than he (the Duke of Cleveland) possessed, and now felt that his noble Friend was right and he was wrong. Although he had received a draft of the former Bill, he need hardly say that he had been favoured with no perusal of this. He did not complain of this on his own account; but he thought that before they introduced a great measure like this—making a total change, not only in the policy of the Government, it was the duty of that Government to have assembled their friends, to have informed them of it; and, if they had strong and powerful reasons — as he supposed they had—for enforcing such a measure, to have put their friends in both Houses of Parliament in possession of those reasons, and not to have betrayed them in the manner they had done. What were the objects of this Bill? Their Lordships were told that the right hon. Baronet, with those plausible arguments of which he was so able a master, had converted many landowners who had entertained opinions opposite to his own; that he had made converts of them; and induced them to adopt his opinions. He (the Duke of Cleveland) did not find fault with any man's opinions, nor had he a right to do so; but he wished to impress upon their Lordships that, however many classes might suffer by this Bill, the great and wealthy landowners would not be the greatest sufferers. The small landowners—the country gentlemen—would be greater sufferers; and there was a still more important class, the yeomanry, who were justly considered the pride and honour of England—those who had about 300l. a year in land, whose whole sources of income were drawn from the land—who lived upon their farms and cultivated them themselves—they would suffer still more severely. Whatever reduction might take place in the value of agricultural produce—whether 20 or 30 per cent—the loss would fall upon the yeomanry most heavily—in short, it would almost annihilate them as a body. The next large class of society that would be severely injured were the tenant-farmers. He had frequently heard it said—but the argument was so absurd that it would not be used by their Lordships or by any one who understood the management of land—that this was a landlord's question, and not a tenant's—that the rate of price would not affect the tenants if the rents were reduced 1121 in a similar proportion. Those who used this argument had no reflection, or they did not know the fact, that in South Britain the agreement between landlord and tenant was universal—in North Britain it was not so; but throughout the whole of South Britain the tenant, when he entered upon his farm, paid every charge except the landlord's property tax, and that he paid in the first instance, but was allowed to deduct it from his rent. He had all the expenses of labour and cultivation, was obliged to incur the risk of diseases in his live stock—to sustain the losses arising from failures produced by unfavourable weather and other causes. When all expenses were paid, the surplus profit was divided in two parts between the landlord and the tenant. Now what was the general rate of rents in these cases? He did not exaggerate the argument when he said that no landlord received more than one-fourth of the gross produce: few received so much; but he would take it at one-fourth. Suppose a farm at the rent of 300l. a year: the gross produce of such a farm would be 1,200l. a year; suppose the reduction in the value of that produce by the operation of this Bill to be 20 per cent. By this reduction, the landlord's rent would be diminished from 300l. to 240l.; but the other 900l. was the property of the tenant, and consequently the reduction of 20 per cent would leave him only 720l. instead of 900l., so that the tenant lost 180l., while the landlord lost only 60l. He would ask them whether this was more a landlord's or a tenant's question? He would now come to a very deserving class, and the one which was the most numerous of all, he meant the agricultural labourers. What was to become of the thousands, the tens of thousands, nay he might say the hundreds of thousands, who must be thrown out of employment, at least on the poor soils, which could not be cultivated under the operation of this Bill. Let their Lordships bear in mind the peculiar tie that exists between the occupiers of land and the labourers—a kind of contract which subsists in no other case between employer and employed. Their Lordships were aware that a journeyman tailor, for instance, works this year for one master, another year for another; so also a journeyman shoemaker, and others of that description. But the agricultural labourer is rooted to the soil; he has never worked for any but the one master; he works for him from 1122 year to year, and there is a tie between them—a bond of amity and affection, which is to be found in no other class. This tie would be broken if the measure should operate as he expected. In the first place, the small landowners, of whom there were great numbers, in order to save expense, must live on the Continent. The labourers who had hitherto been looked upon as heirlooms on the property, must be swept away. Then with respect to the tenant occupier, where he would retain labourers, he must, in order to reduce his expenditure, diminish the number. Necessity would oblige him to do so. What was to be the resource of all the poor people thus dismissed? They were told, that in proportion as the land was thrown out of cultivation, factory mills would be increased in number, to give employment to the surplus population. He implored their Lordships to pause before they passed so fatal a decree as this displacement of agricultural labour. He hoped they would look at the consequences that must flow from it; he trusted they would contrast the condition of the agricultural labourer at present with what it must be if this Bill passed. He was, as it were, fixed upon the one property. He passed his life in humble, but, nevertheless, independent circumstances: living in the bosom of his family, he exercised his daily toil amidst the sweetness of a salubrious air, and wholesome atmosphere. Look at him after this measure should have passed, and see him condemned to pass his life in a crowded building, in a pernicious atmosphere, healthy and sick, strong and weak, huddled together, never beholding the light of day; but living from morning till night in a dense fog, and a pestilential air. Having troubled their Lordships with these three classes belonging to the land, he should not go into detail with respect to other classes which were in a great measure dependent on it for their subsistence; but he would shortly mention some of them. There were the small shopkeepers in country towns, the artisans, and various others, who derived almost the whole of their subsistence from the owners and occupiers of land; but after them came a class of a superior description, and whom he maintained to be not altogether unworthy of their Lordships' consideration, when they reflected upon the nature of their calling, the respectability of their station in life, and the alms which they were bound to distribute-and did distribute, among the poorer mem, bers of their flocks—he meant the parochial 1123 clergy. No class would suffer more than they would; and he hoped the right rev. Prelates would consider their interests, and protect them from the operation of this measure. He looked upon the parochial clergy as the greatest sufferers from this measure, because the landholders could, by skilful farming and improved modes of cultivation, increase the produce of the soil. By the former law, the clergy would share in the benefit of that increase; but by this they would be precluded from doing so, because in their case while the quantity was fixed the price would vary. And now he must ask, what was to be the upshot of all this, and what were really the views of the Government? Did they really think that by such a measure as this, they would put an end to all the agitation? Did they suppose that this Bill would for ever shut the mouths of the Cobdens and the Brights? That measure could be considered in no other light than as a steppingstone to ulterior measures; he had no hesitation in saying that the next point of attack would be the Irish Church. Considering that on that measure Her Majesty's Ministers were not acting according to their own desire — considering that they had yielded to clamour—what security had their Lordships that they would resist a clamour which might, nay which would, be got up against the Irish Church? And after that was gone, would not the English Church be attacked also? There were many persons even now who advocated the voluntary system: that was a feeling which would not diminish. He contended that if that measure were passed, many years would not pass by before they would see the demolition of both the one and the other. Entertaining these views, on which he had ventured such predictions, he conjured their Lordships to pause before they gave their assent to a measure which was sure to be followed by such consequences. The House of Lords had always stood high in the estimation of the people; it had at all times been believed to be an independent body; the support which had been given by particular Members of it to a Minister, had originated in no interested motives, either with a view to official employment or from seeking any of the honours or distinctions in the power of the Crown to grant; and as such had been the character of their Lordships' House, he trusted that that character would now be maintained. They all knew that an old building, not far from their Lordships' House, was much infested 1124 with a description of vermin which were denominated rats; he trusted the noxious animal would never be seen running across their Lordships' floor. He had to apologize to their Lordships for occupying so much of their time. If he had animadverted too strongly upon the conduct of any of his noble Friends, he could assure them that he had not done so with a view to give offence; nothing was further from his intention: but placed as he was in the position of an independent Member of their Lordships' House, he would endeavour upon all occasions to do that which he considered his duty; and that, in his opinion, was so to vote as to advance those interests which were best for the country at large, and for the benefit of the whole community, and with those feelings he would give his vote for the Amendment of his noble Friend.
The MARQUESS of LONDONDERRY
apologized for his rising to address the House at the same time with the noble Earl (Fitzwilliam), but he confessed he felt anxious to address their Lordships after the speech of his noble Friend the noble Duke; and he felt in a manner called upon to do so, because they were inhabitants of the same county, and were in some degree connected with the great interests of that county. He had not had the good fortune to be in the House when the noble Duke presented the petition from the county of Durham; but he might in a few words state what he was sure his noble Friend would admit, that the meeting at which that petition was voted, was held before there was any explanation by Her Majesty's Government of the course which the Prime Minister intended to pursue, and it was only attended by the landowners and occupiers in and around Durham; but the petition was afterwards handed round the county for signature, and the total number of signatures obtained, after all, was between 2,300 and 2,600. Now, the county of Durham comprised 12,000 registered farmers and freeholders in the two divisions of the county, being about 7,000 in the one county, and 5,000 in the other; and seeing that 2,300 was all they could get to sign the petition, he had no fears that even if a dissolution of Parliament were come to, there would be four protectionist Members returned for the county, or that there would be a single protectionist Member for either of the two divisions. He believed that the general feeling in the north of England was in favour of this measure, and that the farmers there 1125 entertained very different views from what were entertained in the south. He would not pretend to the same acquaintance with the farmers of the kingdom as the noble Duke (Richmond); but he might state, that even after Sir Robert Peel had proposed his measure, he called upon a farmer, a friend of his, in Stockton-on-Tees, and asked him what he thought of the scheme? He said, "Oh, my Lord, I am quite satisfied!" He (Lord Londonderry) asked him what he meant, and he replied, "I am satisfied it will be for our benefit, for the farmers must now grow two blades of grass where before they grew only one." With regard to the question before them, he admitted that it was one of immense importance, of great embarrassment, and of great difficulty. He felt that it was an experiment—that it was a great experiment; but having given his confidence to a Ministry who had already carried the country through so many difficulties—who had succeeded to the situations of noble Lords opposite, and with their situations had succeeded to a revenue which did not meet the expenditure, which they had most successfully remedied—when he found that the foreign affairs of the country were administered by a noble Friend of his, who discharged his duties to the general satisfaction of the country, and, he believed, of all Europe—when he found that all the other departments of the State, as well as the Army and Navy, were carried on in the most efficient and triumphant manner—when he found that all this was the case, he was at a loss to know why he should change his opinion of the Government, and put himself in direct opposition to them on a question which, after all, he maintained, was more a question of rent-roll and of profit, than one concerning those high principles of policy on which this country should be governed. They found that there were now Whig protectionists and Whig free traders, and Conservative protectionists and Conservative free traders, so that, in fact, it was not a question of party at all, or of one on which were ranged on one side those connected with the interests of agriculture, and those connected with commerce and manufactures on the other. It was unfortunate that they should be brought into such a situation as this, because it was difficult, from the exaggerated statements made on both sides, to form a deliberate judgment on the question. He felt he must admit that he was incompetent to follow the noble Duke 1126 through the whole of his able statements; but, for himself, he must say that he generally took, where he was not able to form an opinion of his own, the opinions of those with whom he generally acted in public life. He found that those individuals—one and all of them—who had carried the country through a dangerous crisis, had all found it expedient to change the opinions which they had formerly held. But change was no matter of reproach to any man. If change was to be made matter of reproach, let them look at the last division in their Lordships' House on this question. The noble Earl (Earl Fitzwilliam) stated, that he believed this measure would be carried by a very large majority; but how many of their Lordships had ever voted for it before? Why the largest number of their Lordships who had ever before voted for the total repeal of the Corn Laws was only six. So after that, and considering that a majority was now to vote in its favour, he thought there could be no accusation on the subject of change. The noble Duke who had moved the Amendment, he regretted to say, had been a little personal. He had turned to the conduct of his noble Friend the President of the Board of Control, and by an industrious searching of Hansard, he had got up a considerable number of his noble Friend's speeches made at former periods, and he had quoted them as if they proved a great triumph over his noble Friend. But there were some not very small changes in the noble Duke's own opinions; and if he were to look up Hansard with equal industry, he thought he should be able to make out as good a case against the noble Duke—he would perhaps be prepared to do so at another time. [The Duke of RICHMOND: I challenge the noble Earl.] There had lately been some very sudden changes in public characters; military men and sportsmen were about to become statesmen; but he doubted if they would ever succeed the noble Earl against whom and whose Colleagues they were so fiercely inveighing; and if they did, he should put a question once asked by the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington), viz., "How is the Queen's Government to be carried on?" Was there not in 1829 the same clamour? Was there not, then, the same sweeping charge of change of opinion? And what had been the consequence? Why, the country applauded and proved their approbation of the statesmen implicated in that change; and if next year Sir 1127 Robert Peel could point to his Tariff and to the revenue, and could show that his experiment had succeeded, would not the clamour now raised cease? Let them give to this experiment a fair trial, and let them, until the result proved they had trusted without reason, continue their confidence in the Minister who had brought the country to a state of unprecedented prosperity. The noble Duke had finished his speech with a prophecy; but in entertaining these fears for the future, the noble Duke must be supposing that his (the Marquess of Londonderry's) noble Friends who acted with Sir Robert Peel would become parties to the future changes. Sir Robert Peel had, himself, on the 27th or 28th of March, declared, after expressing his sense of the aid given by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) and other Members of the Opposition, in passing the measure, that on its passing, his opinions and his policy would be as distinct and as widely separate as ever from the noble Lord's, This was a very strong proof that the right hon. Gentleman did not, in bringing forward the measure, which he thought essential, in any way alter the principles by which heretofore he had been guided. He had none of the fears expressed by the noble Duke; and he, for one, would never give his support to the Ministry which proposed such changes as those referred to. He was firmly persuaded, in regard to the Corn Laws, that every Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool had, in his conscience, felt that the time must eventually arrive when those laws would have to be repealed. The gradual relaxations in their restrictive legislation had been, in each instance, succeeded by a prosperity greater than before, and these results justified him in the vote which he would now give for a still further relaxation. He did not think that any of the evil consequences predicted would follow upon the alteration; and, as to his own country—Ireland—he was convinced no injury would be felt there. He had already stated his opinions on the subject of the scarcity in Ireland. He defended the right hon. Baronet for having availed himself of the circumstance: if the object to be attained was the good of the country he was right to avail himself of anything that occurred; an able general would do the same. He did not believe that the measure would be attended by all the mischiefs the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) had enumerated, and which appeared to have frightened him; and if the measure was allowed due and effective operation, 1128 he thought those who were now so so vociferous in condemning the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, would again return to his standard for shelter. He had long sailed in the right hon. Baronet's boat; if it was sinking, he would be the last person to desert it. He would stand by him still in perfect confidence, believing that, even if he should be overthrown by the combination of parties, he would recover the fall again.
My Lords, I can assure your Lordships that it is with the most unfeigned distrust of my own powers, but at the same time with the most unhesitating conviction of the truth and strength of the case which I have to support, that I venture to submit myself to your Lordships' indulgence while I enter into a defence of that system of law which has been designated by a noble Earl on the other side of the House as absurd, and which has been most vehemently, but I can hardly say vigorously, assailed by those who have hitherto boldly and most strenuously defended it; and who were indeed among the principal framers of the existing Act. I feel, my Lords, how much need I have of your indulgence; because I find myself, unhappily, on this occasion, opposed, impar congressus, to all those who have been hitherto the leaders of both the great parties into which this House and the other House of Parliament have been divided. But, however much and however painfully I may feel the inequality of the contest in point of ability, I cannot admit that the weight of authority is in favour of those who propose the abolition of the Corn Laws. My Lords, I will not appeal—it would be invidious to do so—to the authority of the present against the former opinions of noble Lords on either side of the House. I will not cite the opinions they may have formed, or the expressions they may have made use of; but, my Lords, I will venture to appeal from the authority of the living to the authority of the dead—I will venture to appeal from the authority of the statesmen of the present day to all the great names among those who have been the most liberal commercial Ministers of England in times not long gone past; I will appeal to the authority of Chatham, to the authority of Mr. Pitt, to the authority of Mr. Huskisson; and, my Lords, while I mention their names, I will refer to those of others whose eloquence still rings in our ears—and would to God their wisdom and prudence were still directing our councils!— 1129 trusting I shall be forgiven by three of my noble Friends who now occupy seats in this House, if I cite in opposition to their opinions the authority of those who first cast imperishable lustre on the names of Liverpool, of Canning, and of Grey. But I can appeal not only to statesmen of almost the present day—I can appeal against the statesmen of the present year to the authority of all those who have swayed the destinies of this country ever since it took a prominent place among the nations of the world. The noble Earl (Earl Ripon) says this question was not raised by former Governments on the principle of protection; I say, that if you search the records of our history from the earliest times, you will find in the most distinct form, from the preambles of successive statutes in successive ages, that the principle which guided the Ministers of this country was, the principle of encouraging the domestic industry and protecting the agriculture of this country. As early as the time of Edward IV., I recollect a memorable preamble, one which might almost be applied to a statute of the present day: it recites, if I remember the words, "That whereas the labourers and occupiers in husbandry"—not the great owners of land, observe, not the great proprietors—but "the labourers and occupiers in husbandry, be daily grievously endamaged by the bringing in from foreign countries of corn into this realm when the price of corn within this realm is low;" and the statute, after that recital, goes on to prohibit the importation of corn when the price here was 6s. 8d. per quarter. The same principle has guided the Legislature of this country from that day to the present, varied according to the circumstances of the country, varied according to the exigencies of the time, varied according to the state of husbandry, and the state of our relations with foreign Powers. But through all, without an exception, there has been maintained this principle—that in order to secure the independency of this country of foreign supplies for the food of its own people, it was the policy of this great country to give encouragement and protection to the cultivation of its own soil. But I will not be satisfied with appealing to home authorities; there is not one nation in the world of any eminence that has ventured, up to this hour, upon the bold and rash experiment upon which your Lordships are invited to enter, of leaving the provision of the food of its people unrestrained by legislation, unprotected by fiscal 1130 regulation, and subject to mere chance, or worse than that — to chance controllable and controlled by the caprice, the enmity, or the inability to supply, of foreign countries. I will go through the principal nations of the earth. France and Holland have both not only a system of protection, but both have a sliding-scale, and France has a sliding-scale infinitely more complicated and stringent than our own. Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Germanic Confederation, Prussia, Portugal, Spain, the Roman States, Austria, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and the United States of America. Have I gone through all the principal nations of the world? Not one of all these countries has ventured to leave its agriculture unprotected, or to allow the provision of the food of its people to be dependent on foreigners. And when I see all this, not only can I not admit that the weight of authority is with the opponents of the measure, but I venture to doubt the truth of that which has been put forward as an indisputable axiom—that the primâ facie inference is in favour of unrestricted free trade. On the contrary, I think the weight of authority—the authority of the past and the present, of this and of all other countries, nations with every variety of soil and climate, with every variety of density and sparseness of population, under all varieties of civil institutions, from the most absolute monarchy to the most unrestricted republicanism—the combined authority of all times and countries, is in favour of the system of protection. I dispute that which has been held to be an indisputable axiom; and I contend that the inference, the primâ facie inference, is, that all statesmen of former times in this country and all other countries at the present day, have not been wholly destitute of political wisdom and political sagacity. I cannot believe that not a single beam of enlightenment dispelled the universal darkness, till that which flashed simultaneously and with such marvellous power of conversion upon the statesmen of the present age, in the month of November last. I hope I need not assure your Lordships, and I am quite confident I need not assure the noble and gallant Duke near me (the Duke of Wellington), that however deeply I may deplore the course he has pursued as a Minister of the Crown, no words shall fall from me in the course of the observations I shall have to offer, in the slightest degree inconsistent with the deep personal respect 1131 I entertain both for his public and private character, or tending to cast the shadow of a suspicion—which does not exist or find a place in my mind—upon the entire purity of the motives by which he has been actuated. Even if my noble Friend's brilliant career and the pre-eminent position he occupies in this age and country, did not place him—I will not say beyond criticism—but above the apprehension of censure, the uniform single-mindedness of his character, his utter forgetfulness on all occasions of self, and his abhorrence of all that is low, mean, and selfish, would be a guarantee to your Lordships and to the world, that, whatever be the circumstances which have produced it, his decision has been formed upon a sincere, but, I respectfully think, a mistaken sense of what is best for the public interest. Nor, my Lords, will I presume to doubt the sincerity of the conviction of my right hon. Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government, that this measure was called for by a great exigency. A man of far loss sagacity and experience than my right hon. Friend could not have failed to foresee that the inevitable consequence of this measure must be the dislocation and disruption of all those party ties without which, in my humble judgment, the affairs of this great country can never be steadily or safely conducted; he must have foreseen the shock it would give to public confidence in public men, to the confidence of constituents in their representatives, to the confidence of the country in the House of Commons, and, forgive me for saying so, in your Lordships' House also, if you should unhappily imitate the too facile conversion of the other branch of the Legislature. He must have known the embarrassment, the painful conflict and struggle between personal attachment and public principle, to which it would expose his warmest and most devoted adherents; he must have felt the injury he was doing to his own public reputation, and the diminution he was causing of his own means of future usefulness; I believe my right hon. Friend foresaw all these circumstances, and therefore I cannot but think that he conscientiously believed the emergency of the case required this course to be pursued. But I think my right hon. Friend fatally and unhappily mistook the character of that emergency, that he mistook the real judgment of the country. I think he committed the error the most fatal a statesman can commit—I think he mistook the brawling torrent of 1132 agitation for the still, deep current of public opinion. And it will not be the least unhappy consequence of this unhappy measure that this country and the world will believe—truly or falsely, justly or unjustly, I will not say—that a triumph has been gained by an organized and interested association over the Minister of the Crown; and that a still more fatal triumph has been gained by the Minister of the Crown, acting under the influence of that association, over his political supporters and the independence of Parliament. With these observations I dismiss all that is personal with regard to this question. I will not be tempted to enter into personal motives even by that general panegyric of inconsistency which has been pronounced by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Londonderry). But I must, in passing, express my regret that the noble Marquess should have thought it becoming in him to cast a taunt upon those able, zealous, and conscientious men who, abandoned by those in whom they formerly placed their confidence, have been put forward in an unwonted struggle, and in that struggle have exhibited ability, talent, and courage which only reflect the greater credit upon them, because, for a long period of time—as long as they could Confide in those who formerly led them—they had modestly kept those talents concealed from public view. I say I will not enter upon personal considerations. I will not expose myself to the sort of attack intimated by the noble Marquess; I will not quote a single page of Hansard—I will not go back to one previous opinion or one previous speech; I do not desire to appeal to your Lordships' passions, but to your reason; I do not desire to aggravate the feelings of mortification, perhaps I might use a stronger word, with which you must regard those by whom you have been, to say the least, misled; I wish to omit all personal considerations: if, indeed, I were to enter into the question of consistency, I think I should have to direct my observations with tolerable impartiality to both sides of the House. I cannot concur with the noble Duke (Duke of Cleveland), who thought that those on the other side of the House are entitled to say that on this question they are pursuing a consistent course. I take leave, with great respect, to remind noble Lords opposite that, up to 1841, there was little, or no difference of opinion among them as to the necessity of maintaining the then existing Corn Laws. The noble Marquess has, I think, estimated 1133 at six the number of the minority of your Lordships on that subject. And though since that period there has been a difference between the two sides of the House, it has not related to the question whether agriculture is entitled to protection or not, but simply as to its extent and amount, and the most efficient and politic mode of applying and administering that protection. And such I believe was the case down to that memorable month of November, 1845—down to the day when that verbosa et grandis epistola venit, which has caused many of your Lordships to exclaim, "Oh, that mine enemy would write a letter!" From that period, and that period alone, we can date the claim of noble Lords opposite; if, indeed, there be a claim—to be considered the opponents of protection. It may be, that some of your Lordships who are about to vote for the second reading, desire to record your opinion against the principle of the sliding-scale, to give effect to your own conscientious, and I believe I may say unaltered opinion in favour of a fixed duty. In that case I have nothing to say against your perfect consistency; but if you are about to join a Government for the purpose of abolishing all protection to agriculture in whatever shape, you must not flatter yourselves that you are altogether free from the imputation of that inconsistency with which you are so ready to taunt Her Majesty's Government. And now, I turn from the personal part of the subject, and from the discussion of the question by whom the measure was proposed and supported, to the much more important matter, the arguments by which it is maintained. But, here I must say, we are met at the outset by a difficulty of rather a singular kind. When, in the other House of Parliament, we have asked the Minister of the Crown a question—not I think an unfair or an unreasonable one—what do you anticipate will be the result of this measure? The simple answer given was, that they must decline to prophesy; their prophecies failed in 1842, and they would not risk their reputation as prophets hereafter. If we ask what the effect of the measure will be, we are frankly told that they cannot say. Now, where is it you are about to try this experiment, of which the Minister who brings it forward cannot tell what will be the possible or probable results? The old proverb says, Fiat experimentum in corpore vili; try your experiment on some small scale, in some insignificant corner of the 1134 globe, in some inartificial state of society; try it where a mistake would not be irrevocable; where an error in judgment would not lead to such formidable consequences. But you are going to try this experiment in the wealthiest and mightiest Empire of the world; you are trying it in this England of ours, the highest and mightiest among the nations of the world, that which is in the most artificial state of society—that in which the slightest derangement of the social scale, the slightest disturbance of the relations between the different classes of the community—may produce the most extensive, serious, and most irremediable mischief. And it is in this country, and supported by such arguments as you have heard from my noble Friend to-night, that you are invited to try this great experiment, the issue of which the Minister of the Crown tells you he cannot foresee! It may be very well for an irresponsible body, like the Anti-Corn-Law League, engaged in an active and an interested pursuit of their own objects—I do not mean to say not believing that their own personal interests are not inconsistent with the public interest—it may be very natural, if not very legitimate, for their agents, and those whom they employ, to hold different language to different classes of the community; to speak to the manufacturing classes of cheap bread, of bread at half the present price and wages double the present amount; to talk of a grinding aristocracy, of the plunder of the poor, of robbery by the monopolists, of the heartless landlords, and all those clap-trap phrases by which an ignorant multitude have been deceived and deluded, and then to turn round to the agriculturists of this country, and to tell them of the universal prosperity that will result from this measure, and to say, "Do not for a moment apprehend a fall in the price of your produce, the price will rise; far from losing you will only be sharers in the universal gain. Somehow or other bread is to be infinitely cheaper to the consumers—somehow or other you are to get a much better price for the corn you grow." But, my Lords, if this conduct be natural or legitimate in the members of the Anti-Corn-Law League, it is neither natural nor legitimate in the First Minister of the Crown, wielding the authority of the Crown, speaking in the name of the Crown, exercising the influence of his high station, and his high character, and his high talents, to carry measures of deep and vital importance, of hazardous and doubtful policy. 1135 Your Lordships and the other House of Parliament have a right to be told by the Minister under such circumstances what is the object at which he aims; and you have a right to canvass fully and distinctly, first whether the object be in itself desirable, and next whether the means which he proposes for effecting it are likely to attain that object if it be desirable. You have a right to know from the Minister what he calculates upon, as being the probable effect of this great measure. My Lords, in the silence of the Government upon this point, we turn to the arguments which they have made use of; and although certainly one of them has been in a considerable degree abandoned by my noble Friend this evening, yet in the course of the discussions that I have heard, this measure has been rested mainly upon two arguments, namely, the apprehended famine in Ireland, and the successful operation of the Tariff of 1842. But, my Lords, this does not relieve my difficulty. These arguments may both be invalid, as I will endeavour to show by and by that they are; but valid they cannot both be, for they are mutually contradictory, the one of the other. If the repeal of the Corn Laws, in any mode, or by any possibility, be calculated to relieve the famine in Ireland—supposing always the famine to exist, it must be by bringing a large amount of corn into consumption at so low a price as to place it within the reach of the poorest and the most distressed of that starving population; but, if I am not much mistaken in the boast which Her Majesty's Government make of the successful operation of the Tariff, it is this: that while it is materially extending commerce, it has not diminished, on the contrary, it has rather tended to raise the price of the articles which have been subjected to its operation. Let me, however, examine these two questions—the famine, and the operation of the Tariff; and if, in entering upon this topic, I am compelled to trouble your Lordships at much greater length than I desire, and to enter upon some details which may be wearisome, but which are certainly not unimportant to the decision of this great question, I must pray your Lordships' indulgence, on the consideration that in entering upon these dry details, I cheerfully and willingly sacrifice all advantage which I might derive from dwelling upon more exciting because more personal topics. Now, with regard to the famine, I must beg to call your 1136 Lordships' attention so far back as to the period of October and November last. The noble Lord has told us that the famine was not the inducing cause of this alteration in the Corn Law being proposed. With all respect for my noble Friend, I will venture to say—and I am confident I shall not be contradicted by any single Member of Her Majesty's Government—that if it had not been for the apprehension of scarcity in Ireland, and the supposed failure of the crops, your Lordships would never have been asked—in the course of this Session at all events—to alter or repeal the corn law. When the Cabinet was called together in the close of October last, it was for the purpose of considering the state of Ireland. Papers were laid before us, representing the failure of the potato crop, the anxiety that was felt, the reports of certain learned professors—which reports, by the by, tended mainly to increase the anxiety, and, with all respect for whom, if their advice had been followed, I believe the evil would have been aggravated. We were called upon to consider what steps should be taken for the relief of Irish distress; and it was for the relief of Irish distress, and it was in consequence of the supposed failure of the potato crop, that we were invited to open the ports by Order in Council, and thereby to suspend the operation of the Corn Law. My Lords, I was of opinion then, and I continue of opinion now, that at the close of October, in the first place, the real state of the case with regard to the famine, or the apprehension of scarcity in Ireland, was wholly unknown to the Government or to any one else. Not above a third of the potatoes had at that time been dug up. Further, I believed then, and I believe now, that there never was a season in the history of Ireland when, so far from there being either famine or scarcity, there was so large a supply in the country of all descriptions of food for the consumption of the people. We were also told that foreign countries were taking steps to prevent the export of their supplies, that crops upon the Continent were short, and that if our supply failed we should have no means of renewing it from abroad. I certainly thought that was an additional reason against taking such a step as opening the ports, because the effect of this step under such circumstances would be to stimulate consumption at a time when, upon the hypothesis, it was desirable rather to discourage it, and that to stimulate consumption 1137 would be likely ultimately to aggravate the evil of distress, if indeed distress and scarcity existed. But I entreat your Lordships to bear in mind the wide and manifest distinction that there is between scarcity or famine, and great local and individual distress. My Lords, I speak of the famine as a vision, an utterly baseless vision, which haunted the imagination, and disturbed the judgment, of the Government. I speak in very different terms, and with very different feelings, of that amount of destitution and individual distress, into which a large body of the small cottiers in Ireland have been thrown by the partial or total failure of their potato crop; but I conceive that this is a kind of distress, this is a species of destitution, upon which your repeal of the Corn Law, whatever effect it produces upon the price of wheat, will produce no more effect, and can produce no more, than if you were to pass a law which should reduce the price of pineapples. The evil to these people is not that corn is dear, or potatoes dear; corn never was dear; the price of corn, in spite of all that took place, never rose to any very high pitch. The state of distress and suffering to which these people are exposed arises from this, that they are not, as the labourer in England is, dependent for their subsistence upon labour and steady wages, the produce of their gardens serving to eke out their wages with some little additional comfort; but that they have invested their labour, invested their all, in the cultivation of some small plot of ground, for which they pay a large rent, and if the produce of that plot fails, they have no labour to look to, their stock of provisions is gone, and, having no means of employment, they have no prospect of obtaining money wherewith to purchase food to replace the potato crop which has failed. That is the cause of the distress of the smaller cottiers of Ireland. But now I pray you to mark another class, and it is not an unimportant one, a class which, including the families of those who compose it, comprises probably 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 of the people of Ireland, namely, the small farmers and occupiers of land in Ireland. In what state are they placed? Their system of cultivation is oats and potatoes; their potato crop had failed, or a great part of it was diseased; it was unfit for human food. It was not unfit for the food of animals, and many of them very wisely increased the number of their pigs, fattened them upon the diseased potatoes, and realized a very 1138 fair profit. But what was the compensation to a farmer of this class? Why, the potato crop had failed, but his oats were superabundant, bringing a very fair price; and he had in his superabundant oats the means of sustaining himself, and, in their price, of recovering in some degree the loss of his potatoes. And by way of relieving that man you propose, when he has lost his potatoes, to inflict a further injury upon him by reducing the price of his oats. Therefore, as applicable to the famine or scarcity stated to exist in Ireland, I took the liberty of recording my opinion against the proposed opening of the ports. At the same time, so strongly and so forcibly did I feel the importance of unanimity in the Cabinet—so strongly was I convinced of the injury done by the breaking up of any Government, that although entertaining serious doubts whether a suspension of the Corn Laws and the opening of the ports would be of avail, or might even be injurious — I intimated my entire readiness to yield my own opinion, and consent to a suspension of the Corn Law, provided a suspension was proposed. But, when I was told — not exactly in the language of the noble Marquess just now, who talked about a skilful general, and an able diplomatist, making use of the best plea he could find—but still told that that temporary exigency, that passing emergency of apprehended scarcity in Ireland, was not to lead to a remedy commensurate in duration with the expected evil, but to be made the ground work of suspending, for the purpose of not reenacting, the Corn Law, I felt that I could not take that course consistently with my own feeling as an honourable man; and that, with such ulterior views, to propose to Parliament to sanction the opening of the ports would be to lead those who were disposed to support us, into a snare and a delusion. Your Lordships are aware, that the discussions at the close of October terminated by an adjournment of the question; several of my Colleagues being of opinion, with me, that at all events we had not sufficient information to act upon. When the Cabinet met again in November, I was one of those who cordially concurred in those measures for the relief of Irish distress adopted by the Government; the chief of those measures consisting in the appointment of a Commission composed of the heads of those departments of the Government who would have the best opportunity of furnishing 1139 the population in case of distress with employment as the means of subsistence, in communicating with the Lords Lieutenant of counties, establishing local committees in every district, compelling the landlords of Ireland to know the real state of their several neighbourhoods, and the degree of co-operation which would be expected of them, rendering assistance through the medium of the Commissariat; even entering upon the very delicate task of regulating the markets by the transmission of food from one part of the country to the other, to meet the consequences of local speculation; giving employment where local funds were insufficient; and laying in a certain portion of provisions, in order to feed the destitute in the last extremity, when employment should not be found. I considered these measures applicable strictly to the case of Ireland. I considered that the abrogation of the Corn Law, unjustifiable in itself, could not be warranted upon that ground; and, far from doing good, would assuredly injure the people of Ireland. The question, when the Cabinet met again, was certainly different; but I confess it was with some surprise, and no little disappointment, that when the question was put to the Cabinet, not of an immediate issue of an Order in Council, but of an early summoning of Parliament for the purpose of proposing a virtual abrogation of the Corn Law, I found myself alone in my opposition. Will you forgive me, my Lords, for one word on the personal subject? I felt deeply and painfully the prospect of separation from Colleagues I esteemed—I felt most painfully the awful weight of responsibility which I found was about to devolve singly upon myself. I am not ashamed to say that I asked for forty-eight hours to enable me to decide on the course I should pursue. My Lords, it was no sacrifice to me to abandon office; on the contrary, I had most rigidly to examine my own mind whether I were unduly influenced to an obstinate perseverance by my anxiety to escape from the responsibilities and labours of public life. I tried to school myself into the belief that, under certain circumstances, the interests of the country might require even a sacrifice of a personal and public character. My Lords, I could not bring myself to so humiliating a conclusion; and most reluctantly, but without difficulty or doubt, supported as I was by one of my Colleagues, whose name I am not at liberty to name, but which if I could name, I am quite sure 1140 his position and his character would satisfy all your Lordships that, in subsequently rejoining the Government, he could be actuated by none but the most honourable motives, I was compelled to tender the resignation of my office. Upon that, the Government of Sir Robert Peel was broken up. Your Lordships are all aware of the circumstances which followed. I did not at that time trouble your Lordships with explanations which might possibly have led to controversy; and I owe an apology to your Lordships for digressing now, even for a moment, from this important question, to a matter personal to myself. My Lords, you are called upon to abandon the Corn Law of 1842. And why? In what respect has it deceived your expectations? How has it falsified your prophecies? Your prophecies have been realized to a wonderful degree of accuracy. In what respect has it failed? The object of this and of every Corn Law, I take to be to place this country in a state of virtual independence of foreign countries for its supply of food. I know that object may be scouted by some of the very enlightened politicians of the present day; but it was not thought unworthy the consideration of great men not long passed away from among us; and if your Lordships will forgive me for referring to it, I will quote a passage from a letter of Mr. Huskisson, which puts the whole question in a few words in the clearest light in which it can be seen. He was writing at the close of the war, and his sentiments are worthy of the deepest attention. We have forgotten the circumstances of that time—some of us, indeed, are too young to remember them—but, generally, we seem not to remember, in dealing with this question, the evils to which, prior to 1815, this country had been subjected from its dependence for a supply of corn on foreign countries. On that occasion Mr. Huskisson said—The present war, it is true, is now at an end; but peace is at all times too precarious not to induce us to guard against the repetition of similar calamities whenever hostilities may be renewed. But even in peace the habitual dependence on foreign supply is dangerous. We place the subsistence of our own population not only at the mercy of foreign Powers, but also on their being able to spare as much corn as we may want to buy. Suppose, as it frequently happens, the harvest in the same year to be a short one, not only in this country, but in foreign countries from which we are fed, what follows? The habitually exporting country—France, for instance—stops the export of its corn, and feeds its people without any great pressure. The habitually importing 1141 country—England—which, even in a good season, has hitherto depended on the aid of foreign corn, deprived of that aid in a year of scarcity, is driven to distress bordering upon famine. There is, therefore, no effectual security, either in peace or war, against the frequent return of scarcity approaching to starvation, such as of late years we have so frequently experienced, but in our maintaining ourselves habitually independent of foreign supply. Let the bread we eat be the produce of corn grown among ourselves, and for one, I care not how cheap it is. The cheaper the better. It is cheap now, and I rejoice at it; because it is altogether owing to a sufficiency of corn of our own growth. But, in order to ensure a continuance of that cheapness and that sufficiency, we must ensure to our own growers that protection against foreign import which has produced these blessings, and by which alone they can be permanently maintained. The history of the country for the last 170 years clearly proves, on the one hand, that cheapness produced by foreign import is the sure forerunner of scarcity, and, on the other, that a steady home supply is the only safe foundation of steady and moderate prices.Now, my Lords, you aim then, by a Corn Law, at independence of foreign supply, accompanied and produced by such an encouragement to your home grower, as shall guarantee him up to a certain point against foreign competition, and shall, beyond that point, protect the consumer against exorbitant and extravagantly high prices, protecting all parties against that which is most injurious to all—rapid and sudden fluctuations. Now, I say, that beyond any law which has ever been in force in this or any other country, this law of 1842 has accomplished these its great and main objects. First, with regard to the provision of a home supply, we have no statistical tables in this country, and it is a great pity we have not, by which we could ascertain, year by year, the amount of the production of the country; but if it can be proved, that in a state of society in which the population is increasing as rapidly as has been stated by the noble Earl, and in which, let me add, the proportion of wheat consumers is increasing more rapidly, still the population of this great country has not alone had a sufficiency to meet the increased demand, but has had that sufficiency at a reduced price, and with a diminished and not an increased supply from abroad; then, my Lords, I maintain that the inference is, that protection has fully effected its object; and that by its means we have been enabled to keep pace with the increasing demand of our increasing population. I will show you, my Lords, that this has been the case. I must take a series of years, because the quantities imported must necessarily vary largely from year to year; and 1142 this whatever may be your legislation; for these fluctuations are dependent on the seasons, over which you have no control. You may provide by legislation, that on an average a larger or a smaller portion of your supply shall be drawn from abroad: but whether you have a sliding-scale, or a fixed duty, or no duty at all, the annual amount of import must greatly vary. In a bad year you will import more; in a good year less, whatever be the state of your law. But looking at the Tables which have been laid before your Lordships, I find that, speaking of wheat alone—and I shall confine myself throughout to wheat, and not weary your Lordships with unnecessary details with regard to other grain, the principles being the same in all—in the course of these last twenty years we have imported 21,432,000 quarters of wheat. The yearly average for the last 20 years amounts to 1,021,000 quarters; for the last three years, to 741,000 quarters; and in the course of the last year it was 308,000 quarters. Has this result, I would ask, been produced by any increased price of wheat at home? A great number of fallacies have been made use of, and statements attributed to us, who defend this Corn Law, which we never uttered. We are constantly told that the intention of this Corn Law was to guarantee to the farmer the price of 55s. a quarter. The intention of the Corn Law was no such thing. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the measure, stated that if, by legislation, he could fix the average price of corn, he would fix it from 54s. to 58s. The avowed object of the Corn Law, therefore, was this, that when the price is above 58s. the consumer should be protected by a large influx of foreign corn; and that when the price is below 54s., the producer should be protected against any other competition than that which he can engage with upon equal terms — namely, competition with those who are exposed to the same vicissitudes of the same climate, and who have the same advantages, and are subject to the same burdens and restrictions with himself. What has been the result of the Corn Law as far as the consumer is concerned? I find that the average price of wheat for the last 20 years has been 57s. 4d. a quarter, whilst the average price for the last three years, since the Corn Law passed, has only been 50s. 9d., and the price last year, which we have been told was a period of great scarcity, was 50s. 10d. My right hon. Friend stated his 1143 wish to keep the price between 54s. and 58s., and since the passing of the Bill the annual average price has not risen above 50s. 9d. or 50s. 10d. But a Return laid before the House of Commons gives a more accurate test of the operation of the sliding-scale, and of the manner in which it acts to check the tendency to a rise of price whenever that tendency is exhibited. The Paper I allude to is a return of the weekly price of corn in every week from March, 1844, to March, 1846; and with respect to those 104 weeks, the result was that the price has been between 54s. and 58s. in no less than 43 of those weeks; the price has been below 54s. in 54 other weeks; the price has been above 58s. in seven weeks only, and the price has never risen in any one week above 59s. So far, therefore, as concerns the consumer, has he any right to say that the Corn Law has deceived any expectations he was led to form of it? Now, although it is quite true that the prices of corn have fallen considerably below that which was anticipated by my right hon. Friend, if we look to the total amount imported since the great influx of 2,500,000 quarters, immediately after the passing of that measure, we shall find that of 2,000,000 quarters which have come in since that time, there have been entered under 55s., only 305,000 quarters between 55s. and 59s., the actual point at which we desired to limit it by the Bill—1,475,000 quarters, and between 59s. and 62s., 261,000 quarters. I conceive, therefore, the law has operated in the manner and nearly to the extent it was expected to operate. Another great and important point respects the fluctuations in the price of corn. Since this passed, the fluctuation of price which has taken place between 1844 and 1846 is only from 58s. 4d. to 45s. 2d. The whole difference between the highest week and the lowest week in these two years was not a difference of 30 per cent. The greatest weekly fluctuation in the price between any one week and the succeeding is 1s. 6d.; and the greatest fluctuation in any period for the whole four weeks of the month is a fluctuation of 4s. and no more. When this Corn Bill was introduced in 1842, I recollect it being put forward as a matter of boast, that the Corn Laws as they then stood had produced only a fluctuation of forty-nine per cent in any one year, while the existing Corn Law has produced only a fluctuation of 30 per cent in two years. But let us look to the fluctuation 1144 of price in other countries, from the month of December, 1844, to December, 1845. Observe, that in two years the total amount of our fluctuation has been 30 per cent, while in that one year, the fluctuation at Dantzic was 56 per cent; at Hamburgh, 86; at Rostock, 78; at Stettin, 84; at Odessa, 50; and at Alexandria, 54. Perhaps you may tell me, that this is the effect of our own sliding-scale and of our Corn Law operating upon prices abroad. Then I will refer you to America. In 1842 my right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies moved for a return of the maximum fluctuation of price in the markets of America, from 1834 to 1840, and according to that return the greatest fluctuation in any one year was in New York 70 per cent; in Philadelphia, 76; in Portsmouth, 72; and in New Norfolk, 62. The account of these fluctuations has been carried down to the present time, and between the years 1841 and 1846 (whilst our fluctuation never exceeded 30 per cent between 1844 and 1845; and whilst on the market of Montreal, which ought, if the argument of my opponents is just, to have been the most affected by our Corn Laws, the fluctuation did not exceed 17 per cent on the price of last year), I find in New York in one year a fluctuation of 51 per cent; in Philadelphia, 50; in Richmond 76; and in Baltimore, 90. As far, then, as the experience of three years has gone, no law in this or any other country has produced so great a steadiness of price with cheapness as the law of 1842, which your Lordships are now called on to abandon. But if your Lordships wish to refer to a period of the greatest fluctuation in this country, refer to the period between 1792 and 1805; a period when there was the greatest dependence on the foreigner. Hear on this subject the evidence of Mr. Malthus, in a pamphlet written by him in the year 1814. He says, "During the last century, the period of our greatest importation and dependence on foreign corn was between 1792 and 1805, and certainly in no four years of the whole century was the fluctuation so great. In 1792 the price was 42s.; in 1796, it was 77s.; in 1801, it was 118s.; and in 1803, 56s." So that between 1792 and 1801 the price was almost tripled; and in the short period between 1798 and 1803 it rose from 50s. to 118s., and fell again to 56s., and that in that period of the history of this country in which we were most dependent on foreign supply. If it were necessary to prolong the discussion on this point, 1145 I would ask your Lordships to look at the fluctuations of price in other articles. You are told the fluctuations in corn are attributable to the sliding-scale: look at the fluctuations in the price of potatoes. There is no sliding-scale as respects them; but there is free trade. They may be imported from anywhere, and they pay no duty, yet I know that the price of potatoes varies from 100 to 150 per cent in the course of a single year. Then, again, look at the price of upland cotton. No sliding-scale affects it; and the demand is regular and steady. Yet if you look at the price of upland cotton at Liverpool, in 1836, 1837, and 1838, you will find that it was in January, 1836, 8½d. per lb.; in March, 11½d.; in January, 1837, 10¼d.; in May, 5⅞d.; in December, 8½d.; and in April, 1838, 5d. I ask, is there any fluctuation in corn to be compared with this? Now, I trust, I shall be excused for adverting to another point of importance; namely, the supply which our Corn Laws procure for us to meet the exigencies of the country. I will recall to your Lordships' recollection what was the state of the different countries of Europe at the commencement of the present year. There existed a great apprehension of scarcity among all, and measures were taken for their own protection and security; and that I may not be supposed to misrepresent in the slightest degree the facts of the case, I will read from a statement made by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury. After stating the apprehensions of scarcity felt by various foreign Powers, my right hon. Friend goes on:—From Belgium, dated the 24th September, we heard that the Chambers had sanctioned the proposal of the Government to prohibit export, and permit import. Egypt, on the 22nd of October, prohibited the exportation of all corn arriving at Alexandria after that day. Turkey prohibited the export of all grain from the ports of Anatolia and her Asiatic provinces from the 27th of August, 1845, to harvest-time in 1846. Sweden prohibited the export of potatoes from the 15th October till the next harvest. There was, indeed, at this period, a general apprehension of a scarcity of provisions, extending from Sweden to Egypt; and from Riga to Turkey, and measures were taken to stop their exportation, and for excluding us from some of our usual sources of supply.This shows that the moment a pressure takes place, measures are taken by these parties to stop the exportation of food, and deprive us of the opportunity of obtaining it from them. We were also told to stop the export of provisions, to take off the duty on import, to prohibit the use of 1146 grain in distilleries. We took none of those steps. We trusted to the operation—the steady, quiet, certain operation—of our existing Corn Law. I believe that the best test of scarcity is to be found not in the report of learned professors; but that there is a much better barometer as to that point, and that is the price of food in the market. The self-acting operation of the Corn Law did not come into effect, and because it did not, its authors said that it was a sliding-scale that would not slide. Of course it would not, and for this good reason—because there was not a deficiency in the country to increase the price. By relying on the operation of our Corn Laws, what was the result? What was the amount of corn in bond at the close of the year 1845, to meet the exigencies of our demand? I am not talking of the amount in bond now, of the amount most unfortunately accumulated there in consequence of the introduction of this measure, and which may now come in with a ruinous effect on the market. I am speaking of the amount which your Corn Laws provided in bond at a time of universal scarcity. The average quantity in bond in December for the last twenty years, has been 445,000 quarters; and the highest amount in bond in December in any previous year was 899,000 quarters. But in December last, in face of the difficulties in Europe, in face of the established prohibition of export, you had in bond, in waiting for an exigency that did not come, 1,106,000 quarters. Will any man, then, tell me that the Corn Law has failed in the essential points of keeping us, in the main, independent of foreign supply, in securing cheapness and steadiness of price, and in providing for us an abundant foreign supply in case we should require to make up any deficiency in this country? Will any man seriously contend that this great advantage resulting from the Corn Law has been purchased by the sacrifice of commercial interests? Is there any man who does not know the enormous and unparalleled strides which this country has made in commercial and manufacturing industry, I do not say on account of, but I will say notwithstanding, the operation of the Corn Laws? Since the year 1827, the exports of this country have increased from 36,000,000l. in value, to 58,500,000l. In the course of those years the import of cotton alone has increased from 177,000,000 lbs. to 721,000,000 lbs. In the course of the period since 1814, while the value of landed property, as shown by the property tax 1147 paid in respect of schedule A, has increased from 39,300,000l. to 45,750,000l., being an increase of 16 per cent, the increase on schedule D, showing the profits of trade, manufactures, and professions, has increased from 35,800,000l., in 1814, to 64,344,000l. in 1842, being an increase of no less than 84 per cent, against 16 per cent increase on land. Now I ask you, have these Corn Laws proved inconsistent with manufacturing prosperity? And why are we now invited to enter upon this great experiment? It is, I suppose, still further to expand the commercial and manufacturing interests of the country. I belong to a manufacturing county, and no man is less inclined than myself to depreciate the great advantages derived from the manufactures of this country. A great increase has taken place in our wealth, and, in many cases, in the comforts and prosperity of the labouring classes, by this system of manufacturing prosperity. But this system of manufacturing activity is not without its attendant drawbacks and dangers. It is a system that requires to be carefully and steadily watched, instead of being unduly pampered and fostered. Manufacturing industry is subject to constant, great, and rapid fluctuations — its powers of production are always overtaking the powers of consumption—a period of prosperity is invariably followed by a glut in every market of the world, and corresponding period of adversity. Do nothing, for God's sake, to check the prosperity of your manufactures; but do not let us, by unwise legislation, promote and pamper an unwholsome increase, which, when the bubble bursts, involves all in serious evils. But even if it were certain that an increase and extension of our manufactures were desirable, and would justify all the powers of legislation being brought to bear upon it, it is not clear to my mind that the repeal of the Corn Laws would have the effect of increasing our manufacturing industry. If there be no great reduction of the price of corn in consequence of this measure, it needs no demonstration to show that there will be no larger increased consumption of corn; the consequence is, that there will be a transfer of business, to the same, and no greater extent, from customers in this country to customers abroad, and that would be all. Are we to believe the argument of the successful operation of the Tariff? We are told that the price of wool has risen, and also of timber, silk, butchers' meat, 1148 and I know not what besides. I must say however, that of all the bold paradoxes ever palmed on the credulity of mankind, and passed, upon the authority of great names, for sovereign and supreme wisdom, the boldest and the most laughable is this, that increased competition tends to raise the price of those articles which are the subjects of it. Reason is against it; and more, facts are against it. True, the reduction of a halfpenny per pound on wool last year, taking place at a thriving period of your manufactures did not check consumption; the demand for the article went on increasing more than the supply, and the fall was not felt. But what happened in 1825, when Mr. Huskisson reduced the price 6d. per pound? My noble Friend on the cross benches recollects that Mr. Huskisson reduced the duty from 6d. to 1d., and that, while from 1819 to 1824 the average price of Southdown wool was 1s. 4d., it was from 1825 to 1830 only 10d., being a reduction to the full amount of the duty. If you talk of silk—I will not enter into the details of the silk trade; but admitting for the sake of argument, what I think not quite clear, that the silk manufacture is in a better state than it would have been under a system of greater protection, this fact is notorious, that simultaneously with the removal of the prohibition from the manufactured article, you largely reduced the duty charged upon the raw material; and your Lordships must allow me to remind you, moreover, that after the prohibition was removed, the silk manufacture of this country was, and has been to the present moment, protected by a duty averaging no less than 30 per cent on the price of the article. I need not ask you about timber. It is quite true the price of Baltic timber has not fallen to the full extent of the reduction of the duty, though I believe the price of Canadian timber has; but what has been the effect on the price of the article in this country? I hold in my hand a return showing the money price for fifty cubic feet of timber for three years previous to the Tariff, showing a mean price of 103s. 9d.; while since the Tariff the mean price is 91s. 3d., and last year only 86s. 8d. I ask my noble Friend at the head of the Woods and Forests, if he has any doubt of this, whether the Government did not some short time ago offer for sale some timber and bark in the Forest of Dean, and whether he was not obliged to withdraw it without sale in consequence 1149 of the depreciation in the price? [Viscount CANNING: It was sold.] Was it? Then what was it sold for? I will not enter upon the question as to the rise in price of butchers' meat, or the various causes which have led to that increase. I find the total amount of sheep imported has been 7,113, and I find that in one single market, in Smithfield, the falling off was from 27,370, in the week ending the 14th of April, 1845, to 16,240 on the 13th of April, 1846. Here, my Lords, is the explanation, and a very sufficient explanation, of the rise in butchers' meat, not on account of, but notwithstanding the limited operation of the Tariff. I contend that under this proposed abrogation of the law there will be a large reduction in the price of corn. But, before I leave the question of the Tariff, I may be permitted to refer for a moment to the effect the Tariff has had upon British shipping. Great stress has been laid upon this point. Prices were to fall, but the Tariff was to have the effect of increasing our commercial activity in the employment of British shipping. A great deal has been said of the increase in the amount of our shipping from 1842 to 1845. But, my Lords, how does this case stand with reference to the Tariff, to which I was a consenting party, because I thought it would have a tendency to settle prices, and that it would tend, moreover to expose the home grower to such an amount of competition, and no more, than he could very safely meet? The principle of the Tariff was protection, and not prohibition. The principle of the Tariff was competition, and my notion of competition is this, that you must have the competing parties placed upon an equality to start from; and that unless you have this equality of circumstances in the competing parties, your principle of free trade may turn out to be the most rank and entire monopoly. Now what has been the increase of British shipping employed under the new Tariff? The tonnage of vessels belonging to different ports of the British Empire in 1842, was 3,619,000 tons, in 1844 it was 3,636,000 tons: showing in two years an increase of 17,000 tons. Now, since 1833, there has been a progressive annual increase in the amount of your shipping tonnage each year, with one exception, surpassing the year preceding. The total amount of that increase has been 985,000 tons, and the average biennial increase 197,000 tons. But the increase in the two years since the adoption of the 1150 Tariff has been 17,000 tons. Is that all? Now I will show you a branch of the shipping trade of this country in which there has been a large increase, and which compensates for the large deficiency which would otherwise have been presented by those two years—a branch certainly for which the Tariff can take no credit, and which depends and has depended on the prosperity of agriculture, and on the improvements going on in agriculture, encouraged by a system of protection. I refer to the number of ships engaged in the guano trade in the years 1843 and 1845. You may smile, and think this an inconsiderable branch of trade; but what has been the increase in the tonnage and number of ships employed in it? This trade began in 1841, and in 1843 the amount of tonnage was 4,056 tons, employing 202 seamen; and in 1845, 219,000 tons, employing 11,434 seamen. There was, therefore, an increase of 200,000 tons of shipping in the guano trade alone since the Tariff was adopted. Now, I admit the fall in the price of corn will not be equal to the reduction in the duty, and I do not think it is difficult to estimate what the amount will be on a large proportion of foreign corn. I do not refer now to the prices in Dantzic or other places, but to what our experience of the Tariff informs us. At the price of 55s. we have had a large importation of foreign corn; and at that price the duty is 15s., giving the real price 40s., which is the maximum price that you could expect to realize. We may, therefore, fairly anticipate that when the duty is taken off we shall have a large importation of foreign corn at 40s. inundating our markets, and making 40s. a quarter pretty nearly the maximum price you can ever expect to realize. I feel, my Lords, that I am troubling you at too great length. I am ashamed to do so; but this is a great question. I feel that I am arguing the question very feebly; but I trust your Lordships will bear with me a little longer. I received this morning a letter from a gentleman who is at the head of the oldest firm in the corn trade in Liverpool. The letter is as follows:—Liverpool, May 23, 1846.My Lord—As principal of the oldest firm in the corn trade at this port, I am induced, by the distinguished part your Lordship has consented to take, at this perilous juncture, in defence of the best interests of your country, to trouble you with a few lines on the past and present state and prospects of the trade here, with relation to the momentous 1151 question which is so soon to receive the sanction or disapproval of your Lordships' House; and although I cannot doubt but you are already possessed of all the necessary information to enable you to refute the sophisms and fallacies so unblushingly put forth by Sir Robert Peel and Sir James Graham in their 'famine' speeches in the House of Commons, I nevertheless venture to trespass upon your time for a few moments.There is now not the smallest doubt in the minds of thinking men here, but that the little unfavourable weather we had in September last, coupled with the partial decay of the potatoes, was seized on with avidity by the Anti-Corn-Law League, and their willing instrument, Sir Robert Peel, to sound an alarm of a deficiency of food; and thus, by working upon the minds of a few other of Her Majesty's Ministers, to bring about the consummation of their long-cherished project—a repeal of the existing Corn Law. Inconsiderable as was the advance in prices, produced by the unfounded alarm created, your Lordship may rely upon it, that the rise would have been a good deal less considerable but for the fallacious cry set up by the League of a serious deficiency in the wheat crop; for I will venture to assert (and the fact must have been known to Sir R. Peel), that seldom was there in England so large a surplus of wheat from any previous crop as there was from the crop of 1844 in October last. I could adduce no better proof of the abundance of the crops in 1842, 1843, 1844, and of their sufficiency for the ordinary wants of our population, than the fact that we have had scarcely any liberation of foreign wheat or flour since September, 1844 (the duty paid in the whole of that year being at the rate of 16s. and 17s. per quarter), a period of nearly twenty-one months; and though Sir R. Peel's new measures have been delayed beyond all calculation, the supply of home-grown wheat (English and Irish) has proved amply sufficient for the wants of the community; and you may rest assured there is still a large quantity of wheat held by our farmers, especially in twelve or fifteen of our midland and southern counties, where the last year's crop was most abundant, and that even Ireland, also, is very far from being yet exhausted.Besides some stocks of English and Irish wheat, we have at this port of foreign in bond 270,000 quarters wheat, and upwards of 600,000 barrels (196 lbs.) of American flour—a stock unprecedented in the annals of Liverpool. Moreover, the former will now increase materially, weekly; and the latter (judging from the advices just received, by the Great Western, from New York) is likely to be augmented during the summer to 1,000,000 barrels, even if our present bonded prices alone be maintained.Now, in anticipation of Sir R. Peel's new proposition, the best flour in bond brought here 33s. per barrel in November last, whereas at the present moment, the six months that were to have exhausted our home supply having elapsed, the same flour is worth only 24s. per barrel, though the holders of it rely confidently upon its speedy liberation at a duty of 2s. 5d.My house has this week received advice of the purchase of a considerable quantity of prime flour in New York, to cost, with freight to Liverpool, 22s. 9d. per barrel; and there are other purchases which stand in only 22s. 3d. per barrel, freight included. I have lately received consignments 1152 of this article by the finest American ships at a freight of 1s. 7½d. per barrel, and some has been shipped at 1s. 6d. freight. I further beg to inform your Lordship that I hold in bond two cargoes of fair red wheat, which were imported early last year from Ibraila, on the Danube, at a cost of 14s. per quarter free on board ship, the freight to Liverpool being 9s. 6d. per quarter; and I do not hesitate to give it as my deliberate opinion, that if the measure now before your Lordships' House be suffered to become law, we shall, after the expiration of three years, be annually in the receipt of 5,000,000 quarters of foreign wheat and flour, probably more, provided the seasons be ordinarily favourable, and our average prices admit of the sale of it at not less than 36s. to 40s. per quarter gross in England, the duty being 1s. per quarter as proposed.Between September, 1844, and May, 1845, during the whole of which time the price was permanently from 45s. to 46s., and the duty 20s.; there were entered for home consumption 120,000 quarters of wheat, which, consequently, realized to the importers from 25s. to 26s. a quarter. But I am not absurd enough to suppose that if the duty had been taken off, because these parties could afford to import and sell corn at from 25s. to 26s., therefore they would have done so. These parties would have derived very large profits from their importation; and what would have been the result? There are many districts of country on the Continent, larger, perhaps, than many of your Lordships imagine, which might be devoted to the growth of corn. Look, for example, at the plains of Hungary. There you have very considerable districts admirably qualified for the growth of wheat, to the cultivation of which the opening of your markets will give great encouragement. But even supposing that no great addition be made to the area of the corn-exporting countries, there can be no doubt that the application of skill and capital to the improved cultivation of the land, would give to the cultivator a far greater amount of produce from the present area than it now yields. Your calumniated and ill-treated farmers can produce about twenty-eight bushels to the acre; in hardly any other country is the produce more than fourteen bushels to the acre. A large profit is derived by the importers from these countries. This tends to the application of capital to the improvement of the soil. The continued application of capital and skill enables the cultivator to produce his corn much more cheaply, and the same effect will be produced by the application of capital to improve and facilitate the means of shipment. My objections to this measure, 1153 therefore, are not lessened but rather aggravated by the fact, that you will not feel the injury it entails all at once, but that, gradually and progressively, the importation of a larger and larger amount of foreign supply will be encouraged by your legislation, and will by degrees drive out of cultivation a larger and larger amount of corn land in this country. But it is said, that when the price of corn falls, the manufacturers will obtain a great outlet for their goods, and will be able to sell them at a much cheaper rate. But how are they to sell them more cheaply than at present? How is this cheapness to be effected? If it is to be effected at all, it will be effected by a reduction of wages. I thought it was a favourite doctrine of the Anti-Corn-Law League, I know it is a view which has been taken by some Members of Her Majesty's Government, that the price of corn has nothing to do with the amount of wages. As I have said, it is anticipated by the repeal of the present Corn Law, the manufacturers will be able to produce their goods more cheaply. I do not exactly understand how they can do this without paying their labourers lower wages. Now, I do not mean to say that either in the manufacturing or the agricultural districts the rate of wages exactly or regularly follows the price of corn; certainly it does not follow all the fluctuations in the price of corn. I say that wages, like everything else, are regulated by the proportion between the demand and supply. In proportion to the demand for labour, the working classes were ready to enter into competition for that labour, which would afford them the necessaries and comforts of life. But the amount of the necessaries and comforts of life must be ultimately measured by money; and consequently, the competition remaining the same, if a lower amount of money would procure the same amount of the necessaries and comforts of life, the price of labour must fall in proportion as the price of corn falls. I do not say, however, that it will follow all the fluctuations of the price of corn. This is a most important point. It is of vast importance to the labouring population that the price of corn should be steady, be it high or be it low. The labourer, where prices are low, has not the prudence or foresight to economise his earnings; and when the pendulum swings the other way he is too often plunged into a state of distress. It is then in the absence of fluctuation from one extreme to 1154 another, and not on the average money rate of wages, that the comforts of the labourer mainly depends. If, however, the labourer's money wages are to be reduced, he ought, I think, to have fairly stated the balance of advantage and disadvantage to which he is about to be exposed under this system. Suppose a man with a wife and three children consume (I take the highest average) five quarters of wheat a year, and that there is a permanent fall of 10s. in the price of corn. A diminution of 1s. per week in the wages of any one member of the family — and you can hardly suppose that any diminution would be less than that—more than counterbalances any advantage derived to the family from the reduction of 50s. in price of the five quarters of corn they consume. But then I am told that even if there is no fall in price, still we must export largely, from the necessity of furnishing us with a return. But, then, we are told that, even if manufactures do not become cheaper, trade will increase largely, from the necessity, on the part of foreign countries, of taking our goods in exchange for their produce. This argument assumes that Russia, Prussia, and the United States, do not take our manufactures because we refuse to receive their corn in exchange. There never was argument less founded on fact than that. The fact is, with regard to all those countries, that at the present moment our imports from them largely preponderate over our exports to them; and the duties we impose upon their goods—ay, even upon corn and timber—are far lower than the average amount of duties which all those countries charge upon the principal articles of our manufacture which we export to them. Take the case of our trade with the United States. You may perhaps be surprised to learn that the value of the cotton alone which we take from the United States, in the course of a single year, far exceeds the value of all the goods put together which we export to the United States in the same period. For a period of five years, the average value of our exports to the United States has been 5,700,000l. a year. For a period of eighteen years it has averaged about 7,000,000l. a year. Now, assuming that we take four-fifths of our whole supply of cotton from the United States, and that that cotton is worth 4d. per lb. (a low average), our imports of cotton alone from the United States have amounted in those five years to 39,087,000l., or an average of 1155 7,817,000l., per annum. Since 1827 our imports of cotton have increased from 177,000,000lbs. to 721,000,000lbs., while our exports during the same period have remained stationary. I may refer on this point to an authority which would not be disputed — that of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States; and I beg those noble Lords, who advocate a system of reciprocity, and who anticipate those great advantages which we are to derive from taking a larger quantity of the produce of the United States, of Russia, and of Prussia, to bear with me while I quote from this report from the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States on this subject. From that report the following appears:—
TRADE WITH UNITED STATES. Years. Imports into U. S. Exports. Balance. 1840 39,130,921 70,420,846 31,289,925 1841 51,099,638 62,376,402 11,276,764 1842 38,613,043 52,306,650 13,693,607 1843 28,978,582 46,901,835 17,923,253 1844 45,459,122 61,721,876 16,262,754 1845 49,903,725 61,044,535 11,140,810 253,185,031 354,772,144 6)101,587,113 16,931,185This,"the Secretary observes, "is the nominal balance, but there should be about 25 per cent, at least, added to this, to make up the real balance. The exports given in the above table are made up according to the home valuation, and the returns from the shipments would, of course, be increased by any profits that may be realized in foreign countries. There has been a balance in our favour in each of the past six years, and, with one exception (1839), in each of the past nine years. It appears by these statements, that our foreign trade is yearly becoming more profitable to the United States. Our export trade is annually increasing, while our imports remain about the same. Any modification made in the Corn Laws of Great Britain, permitting the introduction, on reasonable terms, of our bread stuffs, will give an additional impetus to our export trade, and prove of immense advantage to the producers of this country, by giving an outlet for our surplus produce. On the other hand, every improvement or increase made in our manufacturing establishment serves to supply the home demand for cotton and woollen manufactures, and tends to reduce the importation of these articles.The writer of this report then goes on to expatiate on the unfriendly relations and correspondence subsisting between the two Powers. He refers to the indissoluble links in which we are bound by commercial advantages, and he seems ready to congratulate us that the little cloud in the West 1156 seemed to have passed away. "On the other hand," the Secretary goes on to say, "every improvement or increase made in our manufacturing establishment serves to supply the home demand for cotton and woollen manufactures, and tends to reduce the importation of these articles." This, then, is to be the result of a liberal measure for allowing the importation of bread stuffs from the United States. If you flatter yourselves that by such a measure you will gain any advantage for your manufacturers, undeceive yourselves; the Secretary to the Treasury of the United States tells you that they will soon be able to dispense with your assistance, and that they will not require your manufactures. Then, with regard to Russia, I find that Mr. M'Gregor gives the following statement for the year 1838:—
Thus leaving an average balance of 5,000,000l. in favour of Russia; while to Prussia, the declared value of our exports was in the same period 505,000l., and the estimated value of the imports from that country was 3,138,000l. You talk about a duty of 25, 30, or 50 per cent upon timber as an extravagant and prohibitory duty. By the United States' tariff, the duty upon our woollens and silks is 40 per cent; upon our cotton, ale, and porter, 50 per cent; upon coals, 60 per cent.; and upon paper, 75 per cent; and their duties upon various other articles of our manufacture, which are principally articles of export, range from 45 to 150 cent, and upon glass amount to 243 per cent. But the tariffs of Russia and Prussia are equally restrictive.
Total exports £11,996,471 Of which to Great Britain 6,977,326 Average imports from Great Britain 1,663,342 Balance £5,314,054Russia," says Mr. M'Gregor, "may be said to prohibit the importation of every material which can be drawn by the labour of her serfs, from her mines and forests; and of every foreign manufactured article, in order that the labour of these serfs, with the aid of machinery, either imported or made in the country, and directed by skilful foreign artizans, shall be made to produce articles either similar to, or that may be substituted for, those of foreign manufacture.Those articles of your manufacture, the importation of which is not prohibited by Russia, are subjected to an average duty of 65 per cent, ranging upon some articles, for instance glass, to 900 per cent. Prussia imposes a duty varying from 50 to 130 per cent. And yet the argument is boldly put forward, that our protective system, 1157 which imposes a duty of about 25 per cent upon the importation of corn, prevents us from receiving the wheat of those countries which levy a duty of 60, 70, or 100 per cent upon our manufactures. Various expectations of advantage have been held out to Great Britain on this subject; and in 1839, Dr. Bowring, who had been appointed to make inquiries on those topics, stated as follows to your Lordships' House:August 7, 1839.—I have put prominently forward the subject of cotton and woollen manufactures; I have been asked what we were disposed to do, and have mentioned that the question of the timber duties might be opened, and any minor subject interesting to the Prussian Government. On these grounds they are willing to treat. Prussia will propose and support a general reduction of the duty on cotton fabrics; she will also recommend a new classification of woollens, so that the duty shall press less heavily on the lower qualities. The extent of the reduction will depend on the powers which England has of meeting her, and on this point I hope your Lordships will favour me with early instructions.And again the same year—It is clear, however, that the amount of changes to be obtained here is wholly dependent upon the views and the powers of the Government at home, and not our own legislation. I have put forward the points which interest us most, viz.:—reductions on the duties on cottons, woollens, hardware, and pottery. The general reply is, that Prussia will recommend diminished duties on these articles, and will try to give effect to her recommendations, if we can obtain liberal modifications of the corn and timber duties in Great Britain. I have explained all the difficulties of these questions, but still am very anxious to obtain from the Prussian Government specific declarations that if such and such changes take place in England, they will be met by such and such changes here. The head of the customs says they will entertain a proposal for a general reduction of the duties on cottons, and for a classification of the duties on woollens, so as to relieve the lower qualities of the prohibition which the system of taking the duties by weight brings with it, and for lowering of the duties on hardware and pottery; the groundwork of the understanding to be, that so much shall be deducted if the duties on timber are lowered so much, and so much more if a fixed duty be laid on wheat, instead of the present fluctuating scale. I have not found any of the authorities here expecting the introduction of their corn into England duty free.Well, my Lords, we have reduced the duty on timber "so much," and we are about to do, with respect to corn, more than any of the Prussian authorities ventured to expect: and now let me ask my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, how much has Prussia done, and how much does he expect she will do, in reference to our cottons, woollens, hardware, and pottery? What has been the effect of the reductions we have already made in the 1158 duty on timber, with regard to our exports of cotton to the Northern States of Europe? Since 1841, our imports of timber have increased from 351,000 loads to 642,000 loads. Now in 1843, we exported to Russia, Prussia, Denmark, and Sweden, 2,200,000 yards of plain cotton; now, we export only 2,000,000. We then exported 1,200,000 yards of printed cottons; now, we export only 970,000 yards. Your imports of timber have nearly doubled; but your exports to these people, in spite of Dr. Bowring's predictions, have fallen off instead of increasing. I suppose, at all events, that your shipping trade has improved. I have been told that British merchants will not engage in the corn trade because it is speculative. Speculative! why speculation is the basis of all trade. Take off what duties you please, the corn trade must be eminently speculative, because it is dependent upon the seasons and the probable demand in this country. But it is said our merchants are too wise to engage in these speculations. It is said they are unsuited to the character of the British nation. It is said that hazardous speculations, leading possibly to great risk, and possibly to great gain, are so adverse to the character of the people of this country, that it is not likely any great number of persons would engage in them. And this is said in the year 1846! Well, but the timber trade is not a speculative trade. We have opened that trade. Our shipping, of course, have entered largely into that trade. Listen to a fact which is of great importance. In 1839, the Baltic trade employed 612 British ships, against 566 foreign ships. In 1845, it employed 609 British ships, against 1,485 foreigners. In 1839, there were 145,000 tons British employed, against a nearly equal amount of foreign tonnage; in 1845, there were only 133,000 tons British, against 378,000 tons foreign. In 1839, there were 6,016 British seamen employed, against 6,300 foreign seamen; in 1845, there were 5,375 British seamen employed, against 17,169 foreigners. But even if I were to admit that you might produce a large increase in your manufactures for a time, under a system of free trade: that you might puff up your manufactures with a brief, but extraordinary prosperity; when that fails, as it will fail, and when the day of distress and difficulty comes—when war intervenes, I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would feel much more easy in the event of a war with the 1159 United States—which God forbid!—if, instead of drawing four-fifths of our cotton from the United States, we drew four-fifths of it from our own territories. But when war comes, these markets will be closed against you. You will have destroyed your home market, and when your foreign market fails you, then comes the period of depression—then comes the bitter suffering amongst the manufacturers—then comes the bitter reaction of feeling against those who are now deluding their unhappy dupes with the prospect of increased wages and of "cheap bread." Now, my Lords, I have spoken of the home market. Do not let your Lordships, and do not let the country, undervalue the importance of this home market. If you were to believe certain cotton manufacturers—if you were to believe what has been put forward in another place—you would believe that seven-eighths of the whole quantity of cotton goods are exported, and that the consumption of cotton goods among the population of this country amounts to little more than 2s. per head. Your Lordships will judge of the accuracy of that statement when I tell you that in 1840 the consumption of the West Indies was, not 2s. per head, but 1l. 6s. per head of the population. I cannot believe that when the West Indies consume 1l. 6s. per head of your cotton goods, the population of this country consume only 2s. per head. Now, I don't hesitate to state my conviction that the home market of this country is to the foreign as forty to seventeen. In the year 1820, there were exported 248,000 yards of cotton made up into goods. In 1844, that quantity was increased to 1,046,000 yards, or nearly fourfold; but in consequence of the immense fall in price, that fourfold increase in quantity produced an increase of only one-fourth in the value. The value was 17,612,000l. against 13,000,000l. in the former year. In 1823, Mr. Huskisson estimated the value of the cotton goods consumed in England at 32,000,000l.; and I find that the home consumption, deducting all that had been exported, was 73,000,000 of lbs. weight in the year 1820, and that it had increased to 280,000,000 of lbs. weight worked up for goods, employing British labour, and paid by British consumers, in 1843. Allowing that there has been a proportionate reduction in the price of articles of home consumption; that the increase, therefore, of fourfold amount has been only one-fourth in value, your whole consumption in 1843 1160 was worth—and it is much more now—40,000,000l. sterling, against an export of cotton goods to the value of 17,612,000l. 40,000,000l. is a low estimate for the amount of cotton goods worked up and consumed in this country; and if I take the great articles of produce of this country—cotton, woollen, linen, silk, coals and culm, iron, hardware, brass, copper, leather, saddlery, cabinet wares, and papers—of which the exports amount in value to 48,344,000l., at a low estimate, the total amount produced is 250,000,000l.; thus leaving nearly 200,000,000l. out of the 250,000,000l. for the consumption of the home market. Now, my Lords, that is the market you are now called upon to endanger; these are the customers you are called to sacrifice in your blind zeal to promote the export trade by your "cheap bread," and the importation of foreign corn. But then I am told by the manufacturers—"Surely, there will be a reduction in the price of corn, and an increase in the consumption." That is not quite so clear. There may be a diminution in the price of corn, but cheapness and dearness, my Lords, are relative terms; they are not positive terms. An article may be cheap in point of money cost, but very dear in point of ability on the part of the consumer to purchase. Wheat is cheaper in Ireland than in England—cheaper in Poland than in Ireland; but wheat is not more within the reach of the population of Poland than of the population of Ireland; and paying an infinitely higher price for all articles of consumption, the ability of the consumer in this country to purchase, makes the articles virtually cheaper—that is to say, more within his reach; and he is, therefore, able to consume more of them. Therefore, it does not follow because you reduce the price of corn, and thereby diminish the cost of your manufactures, that you increase the consumption of manufactures; and that therefore your home consumers will be able to take the same amount as at present. I have gone over a great part of this question, and I know I have trespassed upon your attention. I come now to the question, upon whom will this loss fall? I saw lately in one of the French newspapers, an article upon the probable effect of the destruction of the Corn Law, and there was this philosophical argument made use of:—"Quand même ces millionaires d'Anglais perdraient le quart de leurs revenues, ils ne joui raient pas moins des douceurs de la vie." Now, I, for my 1161 part, am not satisfied to have one-fourth of our incomes taken away, though we may have some of "the sweets of life" remaining. Something has been said, in language unfairly and unjustly misapprehended—something has been said about the difficulty of administering the affairs of the Government, and reconciling the conflicting claims of "an ancient monarchy, a proud aristocracy, and a reformed House of Commons." Now, my Lords, I entirely put by the erroneous interpretation made upon that expression. I admit the sentiment—I admit the difficulty—and I admit further than that; I admit, further, that you are bound not to legislate for a class. You are not to legislate for the interest of one class against the interest of another; but this I say, that if you materially alter the social relations of the different classes of the community in this country—if you lower one at the expense of another, it is not a private injury, but a public injury, that you inflict upon society; and whatever may be the difficulty of keeping the balance between the "ancient monarchy," between the "proud aristocracy," and the "reformed House of Commons," rely upon it, my Lords, the difficulty will not be less, if for "a proud"—in the proper sense of the word—you substitute a "pauper and dependent aristocracy." And if you do, rely upon it, you break down in that "proud aristocracy," the firmest breakwater and the safest barrier between that limited monarchy and that spirit of democracy which is fitly represented in the reformed House of Commons. Do not mistake me when I speak of the aristocracy. I do not speak exclusively nor mainly of that body which I have now the honour to address. I speak, my Lords, of the great body of the landed proprietors of this country. I speak of men unennobled by rank, and many of them undistinguished by great wealth, but who, and their ancestors before them, for generations after generations, have been the centre each of his respective locality—who have the prestige of old associations attached to their names; who conduct the business of their respective counties; who influence the opinions and feelings of their respective neighbourhoods; who exercise a modest and a decent hospitality, and preside over a tenantry who have hereditary claims upon their consideration and affections. My Lords, these are the aristocracy of this country to whom I allude. Reduce these 1162 men, and you inflict an irretrievable and irreparable injury upon the country. Lower them in the scale, and you have deranged the social machine beyond the power of correction. God forbid that the successful manufacturer or that the princely merchant should not take his place among the landed aristocracy of this country! Such infusions add fresh vigour and power to that class of the community; but depend upon it, if you sweep that class away at once with all the associations attached to their names, their families, their histories, and the previous associations which belong to the character of their families, and substitute a new body of capitalists, to come amidst an unattached tenantry, and a neighbourhood where no associations are connected with their names, their moral influence and effect will be irretrievably lost. I say I should not be satisfied if I were to believe that the loss would mainly fall upon the proprietors of this country; but I am satisfied that there never was so great a delusion as this. Why, a reduction of 10s. a quarter on wheat is equivalent to a reduction of 40s. an acre on a great portion of the wheat lands of this country, and when accompanied by a corresponding reduction in the price of other articles will go far to eat up the whole rental of the landed proprietor. My noble Friend on the cross benches most ably argued this part of the case, and I will not, therefore, dwell at any great length upon it. The fact is, that the loss will fall—ay, and they know it will fall—they showed by their feelings the other day—that it will fall, not mainly on the landlords, but on the tenant-farmers. The first step these tenant-farmers will take to relieve themselves, will be to suspend improvements—will be to discharge the labourers—will be to reduce wages—will be to drive those unhappy labourers into the manufacturing districts, to enter into hopeless competition there for the lowest class of employment in manufacturing labour, carrying their own wretchedness to pine away in the manufacturing towns, adding to the already grievous competition for employment, and thus pressing down the wages of the manufacturing operatives, as well as those of agricultural labourers. What would be the consequences to the landed proprietors of the country? I will assume even the case of one unencumbered by any debt, and whose income is entirely clear, though I fear such cases are the exception rather than the rule. But what is the first thing he does? 1163 He dismisses a certain portion of his establishment. It is no great sacrifice of real comfort to him; but he turns into the labour market a great number of competitors for labour whom his fortune has hitherto employed; and, mind you, whatever else may be said against the landed proprietors of the country, I do not think that it can be charged against them that they are a class of men accumulating and hoarding wealth, and not spending their incomes at least as fast as they receive them. Well, then, they reduce the employment. And now mind what we are told, "True, but you may make up any loss yourselves. You have only to act up to the real principles of free trade." Well, what are these real principles of free trade? They are, to dismiss every useless and unprofitable hand; they are to employ no men beyond those who are absolutely required to make a profit to their employer. Are they to have no consideration whatever for tenants who may have been upon the land perchance for fifty years? No: it is more profitable to have one large farm than three small ones. Pull down two or three houses of human beings, and establish one great farm—it is cheaper, and will keep up your rents. Your new tenants have the capital; the others have none; let them go and starve. There are not above 600,000 tenants whose holdings are under 200l. a year—at least there were not in 1814. Do not stop at such a "drop in the ocean" as that. Turn them adrift; bring new tenants from a distance, from the Anti-Corn-Law League, place them on large farms, encourage them to spend capital, and then you will be able to recover all the injurious effects of a fall in the price of corn—that is, if the law did not prohibit it. But, my Lords, the law imposes upon you the burden—even if your own feelings would not revolt at such a system, the law imposes upon you the burden of maintaining all the poor. But I have too good an opinion of the landlords of England to believe that they would act on such principles. I believe, that to the extent of their ability they would go on giving the utmost amount of employment that they could. I believe they know that they have to deal, not with stocks and stones, but with men, human beings, with the same feelings, the same attachments, and the same affections as themselves. And I do not believe that under the pressure of the greatest difficulty the landlords of England as a body would 1164 adopt, even for their own protection, the cold and selfish and calculating doctrines of political economy and free trade. But, my Lords, if this system is to be adopted in England—if you venture to recommend this system in England, will you dare to advise that it should be carried into execution in Ireland? In Ireland the bulk of the population are small farmers, holding farms which vary from one to twelve acres—a farm of fifteen acres is a large farm; they have no capital and but little skill—they exhaust the land. I admit it—they do not pay half the rent which the employment of greater skill and capital would extract from the land. Carry into effect your doctrines of political economy, your landlords will suffer—but they may recover themselves. The clearance system I have often heard denounced as at the root of half the evils of Ireland; but the doctrines of free trade require a wholesale application of that system. You may make much more money, and preserve yourselves from all loss; turn off the farmers of Ireland, turn off your tenants, get capital, and in a little time after the existing generation are starved out, you will find that things go on very well. Possibly that may be so; but he would be a bold and a hardhearted man who tried the experiment. And then to tell me that this measure—this repeal of the Corn Law, is brought forward as a measure of relief to Ireland above all! I understand what you mean when you talk of relief to England. England is an importing country; it may be for the benefit of her population, though I doubt if it be found to be so in the long run, that the price of corn should be greatly lowered; but then as to Ireland, whose exports are exclusively agricultural, and which is entirely an exporting, not an importing country—to say that you are benefiting Ireland by reducing those exports by which alone she can obtain a return of the comforts of life and the articles of manufacture which she receives from you—that you are to benefit Ireland by reducing the value of her exports to the amount of 1,500,000l. or 2,000,000l. sterling a year, is a proposition which I would place by the side of that other paradox—that increased competition tends to raise prices. Lastly, and I am sure your Lordships will be glad to find that I am drawing to a close, I must call your attention to one branch of the question so important that it cannot be overlooked, and upon which, from the situation I lately had the honour of holding, I feel 1165 that I am entitled to address you. I allude to the effect which is to be produced, not by the repeal of the Corn Law, but by the principles of free trade, and the doctrine of the removal of protection, upon the Colonies. Now your foreign trade takes a very large amount of foreign shipping, and a very small amount of British shipping—I beg to call your attention to the fact, in the first instance that by a Return laid before the House of Commons in the year 1845 the tonnage of ships to your Colonies was 1,273,395 tons British, entered inwards, against not one single ton foreign. Cleared outwards there were 1,263,432 tons British, against 3,702 tons foreign; your colonial trade, therefore, being as it always is, exclusively carried on in British ships, employing British seamen, and giving the profit of the trade on both sides to British subjects exclusively. I will not enter upon the extent of that trade. But here are a certain number of the Colonies, the exports to which, in the year 1844, amounted to no less than 14,247,714l. And now, my Lords, allow me to say, in passing, that when we calculate the amount of the export trade of this country, we include in that export trade, which bears so small a proportion to the home trade—we include in that trade the trade which goes on with your Colonial Empire, and amounting to one-third of the whole. Now, destroy this principle of protection, and I tell you in this place that you destroy the whole basis upon which your Colonial system rests. My Lords, if you do not know the advantages of your Colonies, Napoleon Bonaparte knew them well. It is by your Colonial system, based upon the principles of protection, that you have extended your arms—I do not mean your military arms, I mean your commercial arms—to every quarter and to every corner of the globe. It is to your Colonial system that you owe it that there is not a sea on which the flag of England does not float; that there is not a quarter of the world in which the language of England is not heard; that there is not a quarter of the globe, that there is no zone in either hemisphere, in which there are not thousands who recognize the sovereignty of Britain—to whom that language and that flag speak of a home, dear, though distant, of common interests, of common affections—men who share in your glories—men who sympathize in your adversities, men who are proud to bear their share of your burdens, to be embraced within the arms of your 1166 commercial policy, and to feel that they are members of your great and imperial Zollverein. It was said, I think, by Mr. Cobden, that a system of protection is a system of mutual robbery. I admit that it is "a mutual system;" it is a system under which, and in accordance with which, each surrenders some advantage to himself, for the purpose of partaking in the general advantage of all—it is a system by which each sacrifices something of the profits of his own trade for the purpose of ensuring a reciprocal advantage from others. I am not sure that it would not be found in the end to be a certain reciprocity of profits, a system in which both parties gain—both parties are secured against hostile interference—against foreign intrusion—against foreign caprice and foreign hostility—would in fact, in the long run, be that of which we heard so much, "buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest;" and that, even though the profits might not be readily or distinctly expressed in a money value. Sure I am, that whatever disadvantage may be sustained by the trifling additional amount of a protecting duty on articles of colonial produce; and whatever may be the small amount added to the cost on the British article under a protecting duty still the disadvantage is amply compensated by the extension of our power over the wide world—by securing for us in every quarter friends and allies—by securing for our people certain employment and certainty of consumption, uninterfered with by foreign competition—and by employing a vast amount of British seamen, ready to act at any moment in defence, and for the sustainment of the strength, of the Empire. Yes, taking into account all these things, I will coincide with Mr. Cobden in the correctness of his representation of the system of "protection;" if he will substitute for "mutual robbery," a system of "mutual insurance." I say, then, that upon the system of protection is based the whole of our colonial system. I know that your political economists are for casting off your Colonies, that they say let them trade with us, or with any other country—give them the full advantages of free trade—let us not restrain them—as they are removed from all protection, let them also be free from all burdensome duty. I do not say that I have any doubt as to the loyalty of these Colonies, for I have no doubt of their attachment; but I do say that you should not do anything to weaken that attachment—that you should be very careful that, in 1167 granting commercial independence, you do not take a step to their political independence. You cannot tell them to trade freely with all nations, without also telling them to look no longer to you as their protectors. You tell the emigrant that from the time he sets sail from your shores, he is no more to you than a Dutchman, a Frenchman, or an American. You say to him, wherever you may be placed, you shall be entitled to no favour from us, and you will get from us no protection; you are like all other foreigners, and you are just as much connected with them as with us. We are now upon the question of corn; but apply this general principle to that particular article, and mark the results. Look at the trade with Canada, and see what will be the consequence of the abrogation of the Corn Law. I have heard this put forward as a great boon to our Australian Colonies. I do not exactly see how. At the present moment wheat from the Australian Colonies can be introduced into the market here, subject to a duty which never exceeds 5s. a quarter. Upon the payment of a duty not exceding 5s., Australia has an exclusive admission to the protected market of this country. You are about to take away the duty of 5s. the quarter, which prevents Australian corn from being introduced here; and then if corn falls in price 5s. a quarter, so far is Australia from being benefited, that it is placed in a worse position than it was before. And now what have you done with regard to Canada? You introduced a Bill in which you promised to Canada a great advantage in the British market. You presented it to Canada as a protected market; and upon the faith of what you had done, she imposed a duty of 3s. upon corn and flour taken from America. You encouraged Canada to make a large outlay of money in improving the navigation of the St. Lawrence — you even lent her money for that purpose. You are now about to render that outlay valueless—you are going to break the promises held out to Canada—you are going to destroy its trade you fostered and encouraged. Nay, you are going to do much more—you are going to destroy the improved communication of the St. Lawrence. You are going to make the port of New York the channel of commercial intercourse between this country and Upper Canada, instead of your own St. Lawrence. Those who know that Colony know that on this point I speak the truth, and nothing but that—one that 1168 ought not to be treated lightly. It is a matter almost of indifference to the grower whether wheat grown in the Western States of the Union and in Upper Canada, is carried to New York or Montreal. The communication with New York is somewhat cheaper and easier. The market of Montreal regulates the price of the markets of New York; but now the corn of the Western States and Upper Canada comes down the St. Lawrence to Montreal, employing British shipping, and that in our own territory, because there is a differential duty in favour of its coming by way of Montreal, and against its coming by way of New York. But if this measure passes that will be changed, and the corn will come, not by your own St. Lawrence, in ships navigated by your own countrymen, but through the United States; and I will tell your Lordships what is the fact. There are merchants in Montreal who, in anticipation of this measure passing, are preparing to set up their establishments in New York. I say nothing of the effect you are producing upon the feelings of the people. I will say nothing of the shock you will give to the loyalty of the people; but I say this, you are doing your utmost to irritate them by the breach of your engagement to them. My Lords, I will not enter into details; but I will venture to remind your Lordships that as political independence may follow closely upon commercial independence, so political dependence on another State may also follow from commercial dependence upon it. Are the United States blind to this fact? Do they not see the nature of your suicidal policy? Are your Lordships aware of the Bill passed by Congress one or two years ago? That a Bill was passed, actually granting a drawback to the full amount, or almost so, of the import duty upon goods going into the seaports of the United States, provided those goods were carried through the United States, and reshipped to Upper Canada; and that a Bill is now pending in Congress for the purpose of extending the import of goods from Canada, to be reshipped to this country from the port of New York? Will that fact of the policy of the United States open your Lordships' eyes to the nature of the policy which you are pursuing? Again, your Lordships have read, or if not, I hope before you come to a decision upon this measure you will read the despatch of the Governor General of Canada. This despatch has been laid on the Table by Her Majesty's 1169 Government. It is from their representative, Lord Cathcart, who has been recently appointed. It is addressed to the Government, not in his own name, but in that of the whole Executive Council of the province of Canada. He thus writes:—My attention having been very earnestly called by the members of the Executive Council of this province to the apprehensions they have been led to entertain by discussions which have recently appeared in the English newspapers, pointing strongly to a change in the Corn Laws, I am induced, at their earnest desire, even with no better foundation, to bring the subject under your consideration by the mail which leaves this night, as the opportunities for communication at this season are so infrequent as to produce inconvenient delays. The province of Canada is so vitally interested in the question, that it is a duty of the Executive of the province to urge on the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers a full statement of the necessity of continuing a protection to the colonial trade in wheat and flour, and of the effect of any changes by which the protection hitherto given would be taken away. The improvement of the internal communications by water in Canada was undertaken on the strength of the advantage of exporting to England our surplus wheat and flour by Quebec. Should no such advantage exist, the revenue of the province to be derived from the tolls would fail. The means of the province to pay principal and interest on the debt guaranteed by England would be diminished, and the general prosperity of the province would be so materially affected as to reduce its revenue derived from commerce, thus rendering it a possible case that the guarantee given to the public creditors would have to be resorted to by them for the satisfaction of their claims. The larger portion, nearly all, of the surplus produce of Canada, is grown in the western part of it; and if an enactment similar in principle to the Duties Drawback Law should pass Congress, permitting Canadian produce to pass through the United States for shipment, and the English market was open to produce shipped from American ports on as favourable terms as if shipped from Canadian ports, the larger portion of the exports of Upper Canada would find its way through the canals of the State of New York, instead of those of Canada, rendering the St. Lawrence canals comparatively valueless. The effect of the Duties Drawback Law has been to transfer the purchase of sugar, tea, and many other goods to New York, from whence nearly all of those articles for the supply of Upper Canada are now imported. Should such a change in the export of Canadian produce take place, it will not only injure the Canadian canals, and forwarding trade, but also the shipping interest engaged in carrying these articles from Montreal. A change in the Corn Laws, which would diminish the price the Canadian farmers can now obtain, would greatly affect the consumption of British manufactures in the province, which must depend on the means of the farmers to pay for them. An increased demand and consumption has been very perceptible for the last two years, and is mainly attributable to the flourishing condition of the agricultural population of Upper Canada. Even if a relaxation of the system of protection to the Colonies is to be adopted, 1170 it is of infinite consequence that it should not be sudden. The ruin that such a proceeding would cause is incalculable. The political consequences as to the government of the Colony involved in the foregoing suggestions are sufficiently obvious (viz., alienation from the mother country, and annexation to our rival and enemy, the United Statcs), as also must be those arising from the trade of Upper Canada being, as it were, transferred from Montreal to New York.I do not wish to urge this matter further. I desire but to show you what effect this Corn Law will have upon the single province of Canada. I have stated the case of Canada and the Corn Laws; and, having shown the effect which this measure will have upon the individual province of Canada, I will not trespass upon your Lordships' attention by entering into details with respect to other Colonies, or the effects which a similar course may have upon them. But there is one other point I must refer to. When we are told it is essential for the advantage of the manufacturers of this country that free trade should be established, and that no advantage should be derived by the Colonies, I presume that if you deprive the Colonies of all the protection they now enjoy, you intend to repeal that Act of Parliament which compels the Colonies to impose a differential duty in favour of your produce. I can conceive no grosser injustice than your refusal to do that, if you deprive colonial produce of the protection it has hitherto enjoyed. Protection is mutual—free trade must be mutual also. One half, or more than one-third, of your manufactures goes to the Colonies. There you are not exposed to competition. Hear now what is the language of Mr. Greg, a distinguished member of the Anti-Corn-Law League, as to those markets—the neutral markets—in which you are exposed to competition:—At present," says Mr. Greg, "we are undersold by foreigners in neutral markets, in all the staple articles of English manufacture. In the articles of cotton, hosiery, and cutlery, which amount altogether to three-fourths of our exports, this is notoriously the case. In cotton fabrics the Swiss undersell us in several markets. In cutlery, Sheffield is immensely undersold by the Alsace, and our exports are yearly decreasing. In hosiery the case is still worse. Saxony is driving us, not only out of the foreign markets, but out of our own. In hosiery we used to supply three-fourths of the American demand. We now scarcely supply any. Saxon hosiery, after paying a duty of 20 per cent, is sold in London 25 to 30 per cent cheaper than the produce of the Leicester and Nottingham looms. In Leicester the stocking frames have diminished from 16,000 in 1815, to 14,000 in 1840; whilst in Saxony in the same time they have increased from 4,590 to 25,000. 1171 How far," says Mr. Greg, "with cheaper food, no taxes on the raw material, and no duties but for the sake of revenue, we might yet recover our lost superiority, is a matter for grave consideration. I do not believe we could either in woollens or hosiery, and even in cutlery or the cotton trade. I think it very doubtful. The machinery of foreign nations even now is not inferior to our own, and is daily and rapidly improving; and the capital is fast accumulating, and the yearly interest of it approximating to our own rate. In the only remaining cost of production, that is, the wages of labour, foreign nations have a decided advantage; and although a free trade in provisions, by lowering them here and raising them abroad, I doubt if it ever could be entirely recovered, yet better education, more sober habits, more frugality and general forethought, together with cheaper food, will, no doubt, enable our people to live in much greater comfort than at present upon considerably smaller earnings.This, then, is the language of Mr. Greg, one of the leaders of the Anti-Corn-Law League; and he, on the part of the manufacturers, frankly intimates that the last chance for the success of what is called free trade resolves itself into a reduction of wages and cheapness of food. It is the last desperate experiment, and when you are called upon to give up markets which because they are protected, take one-third of your manufactures—when you are called upon to do this, to damage the home market, the proportion of which I take to be to the whole foreign markets at least as four to one, and this upon the chance of finding markets abroad, I really must say that the force of folly can go no further. I trust that you, my Lords, will not be led away by any fanciful delusions upon this subject. I trust that you will not, in yielding to these delusions, consent to sacrifice the home producer. I am sensible, though I have spoken at great length, how feebly and imperfectly I have performed the duty I desired to discharge. I know that I must have wearied your Lordships; I know that I must have indifferently fulfilled my task; but I do hope that your Lordships will give me credit for having kept closely to the subject; and I hope further that I have redeemed the pledge that I gave at the outset—that in no observation that I might make, if I could possibly avoid it, would I make use of an expression calculated to wound the feelings of any one. But before I sit down permit me to address a few words to those amongst your Lordships—and I believe there are many—who in their hearts go along with me in the arguments I have employed, and who regard with the same alarm that I do this measure; and yet who, for various reasons, 1172 are prepared to assent to the second reading. I can conceive various motives which may impel highminded and honourable men to take such a course. I know there may be those who feel ready to yield to the authority of the House of Commons—I entertain great respect for the authority of that House, of which I was a Member twenty-two years. But where on this subject am I to discover its authority, and how to collect its opinions? I can but discover them in its recorded votes. Am I to be bound by its votes of 1846, of 1844, or of 1842? When I find that a measure in 1842 was rejected by a majority of 213, and another measure to the same effect, in the same year, rejected by a majority of 114; when I find it rejected by a majority of 256 in 1843, and again by a majority of 209 in 1844, and when I find a Motion for a repeal of the Corn Laws rejected by a majority of 132 in June 1845, and when I find that same measure not negatived by a majority of 132, but affirmed by a majority of 98 by the same men and in the some House—I say that this sudden conversion must tend to diminish the value I attach to the authority of the last vote of the House of Commons. I respect the judgment and decision of the House of Commons; but not because it is a decision of a majority of Gentlemen more or less educated and enlightened. I respect their decision because it is the decision of the representatives of public opinion in this country; and if I am to take the decision of the House of Commons, I must, if I am to be bound by either decision, take that decision of the collected representation in 1842, rather than that of the collected representation in 1846, as the deliberate judgment and opinion of the people of this country. There are those who disapprove of this decision, but who, from a personal feeling of attachment to the Government, are prepared to vote with them. I sympathize with that feeling, but I cannot assent to the justice of the course. There are too great interests at stake in this question, to be complimented away out of deference to any Minister. Depend upon it, the public interests can never be benefited by the sacrifice of your own deliberate judgment, by turning round upon your own principles for the purpose of saving an Administration. My conviction is, that if you make the sacrifice, it will be made in vain, for there never was a Government which permanently maintained office, much less power, when it rested on the somewhat contemptuous 1173 sufferance of its opponents, joined to the ill-concealed disgust, and the lukewarm and half-ashamed support of its adherents. There may be those, my Lords, who hope, by giving their consent to this measure, to put an end to agitation, and to give satisfaction to the members of the Anti-Corn-Law League. When, my Lords, was an organized agitation put down by concessions extorted from its opponents? Depend upon it, that when this body shall have once tasted the cup of political power, the draught will be too sweet to induce them to relinquish it. I agree with my noble Friend, that this is only one of the measures which one after another will be the object of the Anti-Corn-Law League. Why, my Lords, there is no secret made of it. I do not say that every member of the Anti-Corn-Law League enters fully into those opinions; for I believe that there are many excellent men who have joined that body with none but commercial objects—who sincerely believe that free trade will be a benefit to the country and to themselves, and who would withdraw if there were any attempt to carry those objects further. But recollect, that agitation, having succeeded in one object, is not a thing easy to put down. Here is the language used by one of the free traders at a meeting held in this city, at which a Mr. Lawrence Heyworth was in the chair:—They were told of the wonders that resulted from public opinion, that it was performing something like miracles, converting Prime Ministers to right principles; but they must have something more than free trade in corn, fresh meat, and vegetables. The discussions which had taken place had enlightened the public, and they would begin to ask, why continue a system of levying taxes by which the trade of the country is decreased, and the comforts of the people lessened? Men would begin to ask whether it would not be better to have one tax—a tax on property—to carry on the Government of the country? Whether it would not be better to abolish the Custom-house system, to do away with the preventive force altogether, and to put up a board on the sea-coast with these words—'Honest traders of all nations may land their stuff here. No taxes. No duties.'In further allusion to the great principles of free trade, he said—They had lived to see their triumph in the most extraordinary way, but he would not have the friends of free trade to relax in their endeavours. They must remember the House of Lords yet lived. It was still the stronghold of the aristocracy. They were struggling now for something more than the maintenance of the present commercial policy. They had a sure conviction that free trade would not only give the people more comfort, but more independence, and this was the thing they feared. Commercial and trading liberty 1174 would promote intelligence, and give an increased impulse to those great principles of civil and religious liberty on which this country was placing its affections. After the settlement of the free-trade question, the people would then have more time to agitate for the great principle of universal suffrage. If it is good," said he, "for commerce to be free, it is good for man to be free. If it is good for cotton and corn to be free, it is good for man to be free. Gradually, human life was becoming of more importance—the very gallows was becoming odious. Everything which weakened the aristocracy, and increased the intelligence of the people, must be in favour of this noble and Christian principle.And I beg the attention of the right rev. Bench to this passage:—Could they have free trade in commerce without free trade in religion; or could, under such a system, ecclesiastical despotism continue to blight our country? The time was not far distant when Catholics and Dissenters would ask, 'Why shall the Church of Christ continue to be bandaged by the trammels of the State? Why shall the ministers of the gospel be compelled to wear the State's livery? Freedom in religion, as displayed in the entire separation of Church and State, will be one of the glorious effects of free trade.Lastly, my Lords, there is another motive which is most likely to operate with highminded men; it is an unworthy fear of the suspicion that they are acting from interested or dishonourable motives. My Lords, if I were speaking of an ordinary assembly, I might warn them of the danger of yielding to such motives; but speaking to the assembly which I have the honour to address, I feel that I should rather warn you against a bias in the opposite direction; against assenting to a measure injurious both to the public and to your own interests, lest you should be unjustly suspected of interested motives. My Lords, you have no right to yield to such considerations. You are the trustees for far more than your personal interests; you are the trustees for your country, you are the trustees for posterity, you are the trustees for the Constitution of the Empire. My Lords, you each, and all of you, live amongst your neighbours, by whom you are looked up to as the guides for their political opinions; from you your neighbours take the colour of their opinions and their views; to you they look, to your opinions a respectful deference is paid, and it is you who have encouraged and promulgated the opinion that for the great interests of the country agricultural protection is essential. With what feeling, my Lords, with what face, having voted for the destruction of all protection to agriculture, can you show yourselves in the midst of those neighbours, who have hitherto regarded you 1175 with respect, and whose principles and opinions you have heretofore influenced? They will charge you, and charge you justly, as you now charge the Government, with having misled and betrayed those who have placed their confidence in you? Therefore, my Lords, if against your own deliberate opinions, you consent to pass this measure, be prepared to abdicate the hitherto high place you have held in the Constitution; if you sacrifice your own opinions to the intimidation of faction, the allurements of power, or the dictation of any Minister on earth, be prepared hereafter to be looked upon as a subordinate branch of the Constitution, to be looked upon only as the registrars of the edicts the House of Commons, and as the pliant of followers of the Minister of the day. My Lords, if I know anything of the constitutional value of this House, it is to interpose a salutary obstacle to rash and inconsiderate legislation—it is to protect the people from the consequences of their own imprudence. It never has been the course of this House to resist a continued and deliberately formed public opinion; your Lordships always have bowed, and always will bow, to the expression of such an opinion; but it is yours to check hasty legislation, leading to irreparable evils; and it is yours—though the Constitution can hardly have been deemed to have provided for such a contingency—to protect the people, not against their own hasty judgments, but against the treachery of those whom they have chosen to be their representatives. My Lords, if acting on your own deliberate and impartial opinion, scorning the degrading suspicion of being actuated by unworthy motives—you follow the course which, in your consciences you believe to be for the good of the country, you may fail in effecting your purpose, but you will not be contemned; overborne by numbers you may be, but not degraded. You may not succeed in averting the threatened evil; but you will secure the approbation of your friends, and compel the respect of your opponents. And if, by the blessing of God, your decision on this great question shall arrest the progress of this hasty and inconsiderate measure; if you shall thus give time for the intelligence of the country to act upon the public mind; if happily, you shall succeed in leading back the country to a wiser course, and in adopting the too much despised wisdom of your ancestors, then will you justly be a "proud 1176 aristocracy;" proud of having faithfully discharged the duty vested in you by the Constitution; proud of having withstood alike the seductions of power, and the threats of popular clamour; proud of having succeeded in saving your country from this great delusion, this hazardous and fearful experiment. Your best reward, my Lords, will be the approval of your owu consciences; but doubt not but that you will have a farther reward in the approbation of a grateful and admiring nation, to which you will have given just cause to exclaim, "Thank God, we have a House of Lords!"
My Lords, you have heard a speech of singular ability, but delivered at so late a period in the evening, that whoever has to answer it may more justly complain of the time it took to deliver, than the ability it displayed; for amongst the many great advantages which my noble Friend enjoys over me, advantages which I need not stop to enumerate, because all who have heard his admirable speech must at once feel to what I allude; but amongst those advantages, which intrinsically belong to him at all times, and at all hours of the night, he certainly has one advantage over me which is purely accidental, but which upon this occasion is equal to all his other advantages put together. He has made a most exciting, a most animated, a most spirited, and, over a large portion of your Lordships, a most successful speech; but it was also a very long speech—though I did not feel that it was long, or that it stood in need of those apologies for its length which he frequently addressed to us—so long that it makes me rise to address you, not at nine o'clock of the evening as he did, but at past twelve o'clock at night. This is a great disadvantage in any assembly, and more especially in this House, where we are not accustomed to protracted debates; but it teaches me one lesson—of some use to your Lordships—that of confining myself within narrow limits, and proceeding at once without further preface to the question. I trust, my Lords, as I am about to address myself not to those Members of the House with whom I agree, but to those with whom I have the great misfortune to differ, that I shall be favoured with some portion of attention, whilst I apply myself to answer my noble Friend. I waive with my noble Friend all personal allusions. He did well to keep them out of his speech. I will follow his example. But there is one subject 1177 of a personal nature I cannot pass over, and I will begin with it. I mean as to the origin of the present measure. [A cry of "Adjourn."] I beg pardon of noble Lords for interrupting them. I have a duty to perform; and if they have any duties to perform elsewhere, and especially if they think it becoming to listen to the arguments upon one side, and decline to hear a reply from the other, perhaps the sooner they go elsewhere to the discharge of those other duties, or to the tasting of those other enjoyments which they may prefer to anything here, or to the discharge of any duty, peradventure the House will not be the worse for their absence, and they themselves will very greatly profit by the move, which I recommend, and which I see they are with exemplary candour and justice taking advantage of. I beg to say a word in reference to my noble Friend, to whom I paid undivided attention, and from whom I promise to require not so much as one-third the attention that he exacted from the House upon the origin of the present question. I will proceed at once to the origin of the present measure. It is said to be the pressure of the famine, or the supposed famine, in certain districts in Ireland. My Lords, I doubt the fact of there being any general famine in Ireland. I have never heard it stated to be general; but that there was a great scarcity, a topical scarcity in many large districts, is a fact as certain as that we are sitting here in debate on this measure to-night. Then, says my noble Friend, that is no reason, it furnishes no sufficient ground, for doing away with protection, or for even opening the ports, as has been recommended. My Lords, I deny that fact; and I am ready to show by facts that it does. But I beg to observe in the outset it is perfectly immaterial to the merits of this Bill what was the origin of it. I might most consistently, if I were so disposed, say it was wrong to bring in the Bill this year—I might most consistently maintain, there is no ground for precipitating this measure with the speed with which it has been brought forward; I might admit that I can see no ground whatever for making us pass it in the year 1846. I might most consistently urge that Sir R. Peel did a rash, a speculative, and if you will, a most improper act by bringing in this Bill this year. Yet whenever introduced, under whatever pressure, however indiscreetly, I care not one whit; and if, upon the merits of the measure itself, I hold it to be a sound one, I am 1178 bound, as an honest man, to give it my support; else why did I urge the same policy when I brought forward the question in 1839? I state this in the outset, to guard myself against being supposed to depend upon extraneous and accidental circumstances as the ground, the real ground of my approval of this measure. But I am also free to admit that I see nothing superfluous, nothing rash or indiscreet, in the choice of the last autumn or the last winter, as the time for first proposing it. For what was the real state of the case as regarded the potato disease? Vast numbers of persons, my noble Friend admits, found themselves reduced to great distress by the failure of their crops; those persons having not merely their potatoes bad, but having no other wages wherewithal to pay for food except the produce of their little plots of ground, that unhappily being the currency, as it were, in which Irish labour is mainly paid. Are your Lordships aware what has happened since this measure was originated? Is my noble Friend ignorant of what has happened since it was introduced into the other House? He omitted to notice it, but surely he is aware of the change which has taken place—namely, that one part of the measure which naturally belonged to the Corn Law has been transferred therefrom, and inserted in the Customs Bill, and by the force of that change there has been already effected an importation of foreign maize? Maize has been allowed to be imported, as if the Corn Bill had been passed, and we are now enjoying the benefit of the alteration. How does that apply to my noble Friend's argument, who says that this measure is unnecessary, and mischievous, and speculative, and that as a remedy it will not meet the case to which it is applied? Why, it does meet the case to which it has been applied, for it is in order to provide for the wants created by the diseased potato crop that maize has been introduced; and those connected with the sister kingdom will tell your Lordships that they have been thankfully feeding not their cattle merely, but the poor peasants of the country with it. Therefore the measure has even already been applied, and successfully. Then, says my noble Friend — and no part of his able and excellent address appeared to me to excite greater approbation than this, for it led away some Friends near me for a moment, but only for a moment—"Why you lead the poor Irish peasant to see that 1179 because his potatoes are useless, you take away the protection from his corn—you make him sell his corn cheaper, so that he burns his candle at both ends. You do not give him food to supply the loss of his potatoes; but you take away his means of purchasing both food and potatoes by cheapening his oats." No part of my noble Friend's speech made a greater impression than this. But at last came the answer to it in my noble Friend's own conduct; for he admitted candidly, that he was perfectly ready to have opened the ports, and for a period to have let in oatmeal, to lower the value of the Irish peasant's oats, thus lowering the price of his produce, lessening his means of procuring food, and doing himself the very thing at the bare prospect of which he trembled so greatly, if this measure became law. I only mention this, as one little instance, to show that my noble Friend had no right to charge others so lavishly, and, as he did upon all sides, with inconsistency; to remind him that he had better look at home when he launched such accusations. He said he was afraid he could not confine that charge to those who sat upon one side of the House, but that it applied just as much to those who sat upon the other. Is not my noble Friend himself a little liable to the same charge? I do not say I bring it as a charge against him—far from it. But he charged all around with inconsistency. He says, the Ministers are paragons of inconsistency; but he does not let the Gentlemen of the Opposition triumph over them, for he says they have been as inconsistent themselves. But, has my noble Friend none to account for himself? In the first instance, here is this little inconsistency, whereby he entirely subverts the most eminently successful part of his whole speech, that of the potatoes and oats in the case of the Irish peasant. Is there nothing else? Has my noble Friend forgotten the Canada Bill? Has he forgotten what was done in the Canada Bill of last Session or the Session before? I highly approved of that Bill—I heartily supported it. I defend the consistency now as I did then of those who had their consistency then impeached; I defend men of all sides from my noble Friend's charge; but among others, I defend my noble Friend himself, the author of the Bill. He has accused all, but none more than himself. What was that Bill? It was a free-trade Corn Bill for Canada; it was a Bill 1180 giving Canada corn-law repeal; it reduced the duty upon the importation of American bread stuffs into that Colony to 3s.; it allowed the whole of those American bread stuffs imported into Canada to be brought over to England—where the Corn Law still existed—where protection was still in being—and where protection was still said to be absolutely necessary to the landlord, the tenant, the peasant, the labourer, the manufacturer, the aristocracy, and to all our institutions. Without protection we could not continue to exist; all those ranks of the people, all those classes of the nation, were to enjoy the full benefit of corn-law protection just as much as ever they did. Yet there was exactly 1s. duty and no more laid on, be the price ever so low, and no sliding-scale at all was applied. No sliding-scale was to range, as in the Bill of 1842, which my noble Friend supports to this day; and, whatever the price might be, whatever was admitted, at any port, was admitted at the nominal duty of 1s. the quarter. What is the reason? That reason my noble Friend gives. I do not mention this to taunt my noble Friend with inconsistency, but to show that ne mo omnibus horis sapit, there is no one who acts the part of a wise man at all times—if wisdom is to consist, as we now are told, in clinging by whatever has once been appointed, and it be true that no one acts the part of a wise man but he who refuses to profit by reflection and further experience. If, then, there is no one upon any side free from inconsistency, is my noble Friend himself totally free from the charge of having at different times been a party to opposite measures? But it is not to point out that, for it would be to a useless purpose, that I rise; but to show that the argument by which my noble Friend supported the Canada Bill is applicable to the present measure. "Think," says he, "of Canada, of the increase of population; consider how rapidly the numbers of our people are augmenting from day to day; think of England, and that every year are added between 300,000 and 400,000 to the numbers of the consumers of food in this country, and that, unless you bring down that food to the lowest possible price, you cannot hope long to feed those increasing numbers, and you cannot discharge your duties to your country." My Lords, the same argument applied to the Corn Law at all times; and it is upon that ground of its applicability at all times, and 1181 without reference to accidental or temporary I circumstances, that those I act with now are, and that I have ever been, the advocate of free trade. This leads me to observe—and here I come at once to the point which is the main stress of the question—upon the probable effect of the repeal of the Corn Laws in reducing prices. I wish I could take the same view that my noble Friend does. I heartily wish I could believe in the possibility of one-fifth part falling—that I could believe in 20 per cent of the price of grain being taken off by the repeal of the duty. The Government are charged by my noble Friend who spoke from the cross benches, as well as by my noble Friend opposite, with having refused to answer this question — what effect is the repeal of the Corn Law likely to produce on prices? I should have thought a more difficult question to answer could not have been propounded by any noble Lord. Why, to tell what increase or diminution of prices will take place in any given article at a distance of two or three years, the law, the commercial policy, the national relations remaining unchanged, is one of the problems the most difficult in the whole universe to answer. What must it be, then, when its conditions are unascertained—when there will be a change of considerable magnitude in the nature and amount of your importation, and you literally have not the data, do not and cannot possess the means of forming any just calculation? Observe: wheat is now selling, we shall assume, at 30s. in Dantzic under the existing law; the question is, how cheap it will sell in England when the Corn Laws are repealed? In order to tell that, you must be able to tell what will be the effect of the English markets being open on the market of Dantzic. The question is not whether it is now sold at 40s. in Dantzic, but what will be its price after the ports are opened in England? Can any man doubt that the immediate effect of opening the ports here will be to raise the price of grain in foreign ports? But then, says my noble Friend, a great deal of new land will be brought into cultivation. But your Lordships must not suppose that this is an operation so easily accomplished in all the countries of Europe as it is in Middlesex or Bucks. We constantly hear of the clearing of land in the Ukraine, in the countries surrounding the Baltic, or in Hungary, as if it were the easiest matter possible. I do 1182 not know if my noble Friend knows less about Hungary than the Ukraine—probably he does not know more; but if he inquires of any Hungarian nobleman now in England as to the possibility of suddenly clearing such a breadth of land as to export to this country 500,000 quarters more than are now exported from Odessa and the ports of the Danube, I believe he will find that he reckons quite without his host. Just consider for a moment what is the operation to which some look forward with such alarm. It is that acre after acre shall be suddenly cleared away, if covered with forests, by stubbing up the trees, digging out of the roots, and getting rid of all the timber, so as to convert it into arable soil instead of thick woodland; then that fences and inclosures shall be made, that roads should be made, that barns, and other buildings shall be constructed. Can that be done without a numerous host of skilled labourers, such as is not to be obtained at once? Will the population of those countries go on increasing at the rate at which yours is augmenting, of one thousand a day? That is not all; capital is required, and where is it to come from? The slowest of all growths is that of national capital. It is stated that in this country every tenant, to cultivate a farm already in cultivation, must have capital to the amount of 10l. an acre, 1,000l. on a hundred acres. But how much per acre will it require in the Ukraine or in Hungary to clear a primitive farm, and to bring it out of a state of nature into a state of culture? My noble Friend, however, supports his argument upon the authority of his respectable correspondent (I suppose Mr. Sanders), and upon the authority of that gentleman my noble Friend tells your Lordships that the effect of this Bill will be to cause the cultivation of 5,000,000 additional quarters.
No; it was not Mr. Sanders. That writer said if the price should be from 36s. to 40s. within three years, there would be a supply of 5,000,000 quarters from abroad.
Why, that is just the same thing. My noble Friend is a little fatigued by his speech, and has not recovered his faculties, otherwise he would have said yes instead of no. There is no difference.
That "no" is in effect "yes"—my noble Friend seems to 1183 say no, but really the effect of his answer is an affirmative, and the result is that I am right and he is wrong—three years! Surely in talking prospectively of the eternal interests of trade, three years are but as an instant. When we are dealing with that which has endured since the time of Henry IV., to which my noble Friend referred us, any thing that depends upon a period of three years may well be called sudden—it is most sudden. No doubt that writer is a respectable correspondent, but I wish he was a little more sensible. I do not require that he should be a man of powerful intellect or large views, because he is not giving any opinion; but I am entitled to require that he should be a rational man, seeing that he speaks to matters of fact. If I am called upon to be governed by his authority, I must be satisfied that he is trustworthy; I must have no reason to suspect any lack of judgment; I must be convinced that he is able to put two ideas together; I must require him to be in his sound senses; and yet when I consider the correspondence of this gentleman, I cannot repress feelings of the utmost astonishment at the monstrous fables which he tells. Of all the blunders in the way of calculation, I never in all my life heard one so monstrous, portentous, and incredible as this, that in the short space of three years, nay, if you will, three years and three days, as the lawyers are accustomed to say, 5,000,000 quarters are to be added to the produce of the cultivation of foreign countries, and to be poured into our ports to overwhelm our markets, to deluge our agriculture, and destroy our industry. I believe nothing of the sort. Any increase in the growth of corn from Ukraine, Hungary, or the forests of Poland, must of necessity be gradual and slow. No application of capital and labour can for years be expected, such as to make it possible greatly to augment the supply. No application of capital can for years be expected equal to the management of those lands, and the carying on of those extensive works. Consequently, we must calculate on a very moderate decrease of prices, and a very slowly augmented supply to meet our demands. At the same time, I by no means intend to argue that there will be no diminution of prices, though I perfectly recollect that a noble Friend of mine, now no more—I mean the late Lord Spencer—held that such a change in the Corn Laws as is 1184 now proposed, would not effect any diminution whatever in the price of provisions. That was his deliberate and serious opinion; and though I have always thought that that opinion was entitled to the highest respect, like every other opinion entertained by that noble person, I still hold that there was in it something of exaggeration; and my expectation is that in the price of corn there will be a small, a moderate reduction after the passing of this Bill. But there is a class of men to whom I may appeal—and my noble Friends on the cross benches will surely join me, for there is no class to whom they appeal more willingly, or for whom they profess greater respect—I mean the tenant-farmers. Now, it does happen that the tenant-farmers, whatever the landlords who care for their interests so zealously may think, have no such apprehensions. I state it as a fact that, generally speaking, if you inquire in different parts of the country, you will find that the great bulk of the tenant-farmers labour under no apprehensions, though I believe there is no class more likely to be sensitive. I have made it my business to inquire practically into the feeling among them in different districts, and the result of my examination is that they are not apprehensive of a change. If they are apprehensive, they take extraordinary pains to disguise their fears, and adopt the most singular mode of showing that they are tremblingly alive to the dangers of their present position. For what do your Lordships think they do, in order to show that they dread the repeal of the Corn Laws, and tremble at surveying the ruin it is likely to produce? They take farms when they are out of lease without any hesitation. Wherever the land happens to get out of lease, is it not a fact that the applicant for it has invariably some half a dozen competitors? But then, perhaps, there is a reduction of rent? There is no such thing. The fact is directly the reverse. My noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond), who seems to regard my statement with very great contempt, has no doubt a right to despise my opinion, he having very great experience in such matters, and I very small experience; but I can assure him that in all parts of the country where I have been able to make inquiries I have learned that instances have occurred of farms having been let at an increase of rent, while there has not been any instance of the rent having been lowered in consequence of any 1185 apprehensions arising from this measure; and what is more that there has not been any instance in which there was not a number of competitors for the land to be let. In Durham a friend of mine asked some tenant-farmers who were about taking land, whether they were not aware of what was going on in Parliament, and whether they were not afraid of the risk which they ran in entering upon fresh engagements with their landowners; and their answer was, "Oh, we have taken it all into account, and we have no fear whatever of the result." In one instance an advance in the rental of a farm had been made of 70l., and in another of 120l. a year. My noble Friend the Chairman of the Committees has had some experience in these matters, and he can, I believe, bear me out in what I say as regards Dorsetshire; and I can assure my noble Friend at the Table (Earl Stanhope), who seems to doubt these facts, that precisely the same state of things is to be found in the county of Wilts. As to the certain results of this measure, I certainly would form a very mean opinion of the judgment or the modesty of any one who should take upon himself to say confidently that he could form a precise opinion of the result of the measure. We should speak with great moderation on the expectations that are to be formed of the effects of this or of any other great change. That prices may to a certain degree be diminished, I will not deny; but what the precise amount of price under this measure will be no one can say. I have a little doubt that, to a certain degree, wheat will be cheaper, not immediately, but after a little while, and in the course of years it will come down, perhaps, 3s. or 4s. a quarter; but I speak with no kind of confidence. When I mention this amount, I do not mean to pledge myself to calculation of the precise sum, for I think nothing would be more absurd or conceited than for a man to take upon himself to express such an opinion dogmatically. I only mean to say that the change of price from this great measure is not likely to be more than the amount I have now suggested. But that is not the main ground of my approval of the measure. I am confident that the agriculturists will benefit much more in other respects than they will apparently lose by any reduction in price from this great improvement in the laws; for I look forward to the measure as one which is certain almost immeasurably 1186 to extend the foreign trade of the country in a very short period. Before, however, I come to that part of my noble Friend's statement—and here I must say that some of these statements put forward by my noble Friend have rather puzzled me, and I hope we shall receive a little more light from the noble Lord hereafter, either in or out of the House, for they have left me perfectly in the dark—I wish, before alluding to them, to turn to another part of the speech of my noble Friend. My noble Friend has again and again stated, both by quotations and in his own language—which is certainly not inferior, but is really superior to the language of the authorities that he has cited—that the object of all laws of protection is to make this country independent of foreign supply with regard to the article of food; and among others he quoted Mr. Huskisson as having been of that opinion. Now there can be no doubt whatever that the interest of this country and of every other country requires that the bulk of the food of the people shall be grown within the country. With the exception of the United Provinces of Holland, there is no instance where the people are not of necessity fed by the corn grown within the bounds of their own country; and, as far as England is concerned, the utmost you can expect from abroad is relief in a time of scarcity, or a supply to diminish the dearth of a bad year. Even in years of famine there never have been two millions of quarters of wheat brought in one year into the country. In 1800 and 1801 the supply for each year was only 1,100,000 quarters of corn, and 200,000 quarters of flour, or about a million and a quarter of quarters altogether; and in the year of the greatest supply, 1810, there were not more than 1,500,00 quarters imported. Why, therefore, do you wish to continue these restrictions? And why do you say that the people of this country ought to be independent of the people of other countries for the supply of food? Oh, it is said, foreign Powers may change their law, alter their policy, and, at any moment, close their ports and starve you. I have an answer to that in one word; I point to 1810, and I say that your argument survives not the mention of that year one single instant. When did you ever see the Continent under such a power as that to which it bowed in 1810? When, ever again, are you likely to see it enthralled by such a mighty hand as that which then grasped the 1187 universal sceptre of Europe—I may say, of the continental world. Do you remember what year that was? Talk to me of petty Sovereigns now stopping exportation from Egypt, from Belgium, from Antwerp, from the Hague: why then, Napoleon, in his iron grasp, held, as I said before, the sceptre, not of France only, but of all continental Europe; and do you remember the degree to which he had enforced his despotism over these States? Why, from the very centre as it were—from the heart, the pulsations of which vibrated all through Europe—from Paris to the extremities of the Continent, he could send forth an edict to shut all Europe against us. From the Channel to the Gulf of Leghorn, from Paris to the uttermost plains of Poland, there was not one single person in authority, not a troop of horse, not a company of foot, not a custom-house officer, not an exciseman, not a policeman, who did not tremble at his name, or who dared question or contemn his mandate. Is that likely to happen again? Did that ever happen before? And yet, what was the result of it all? Was Napoleon bent upon any single thing so much as destroying the trade of England? Was he bent upon any one project so much, was anything so dear to his heart, as sealing up our own produce, and preventing any one bushel of corn ever reaching this country? And yet the result of it was that 1,250,000 quarters, or, including flour, 1,514,000 quarters, were imported into England during that same year—1810, being greater than ever reached us in any one year. And not from outports, observe, where his power might be supposed to be somewhat weakened; not from Odessa, where he had least influence; not from Africa, where, it may be said, he had none; not from Naples, where his strength was unimportant; not from Sicily, the olden granary of Rome — no: no such thing; but 99 parts in every 100 of those 1,514,000 quarters came from France itself—from thence imported into this country. The mention of that year, 1810, at once extinguishes the argument, and lays it prostrate before me. The noble Lord said the protection system was supported by universal consent. He quoted our own law to show how deep a root it had taken. But if we are to go back upon old statutes, I could furnish the noble Lord with many examples of as ludicrous statutes, of as absurd provisions, as he could wish to see, which the wisdom of our ancestors, 1188 to which he so eloquently referred, fixed in the Statute-book, and carefully preserved for our amusement and our wonder, if not for our instruction. The laws against forestalling and regrating were once said to be the pillar of our commercial prosperity. These are things now laughed at by universal consent. But it was no laughing matter when those laws were in force; it was an offence for people to forestall and regrate, and men were punished by imprisonment for committing that offence: no man could buy standing crops; no man could purchase corn for the purpose of selling it again at market; no man could purchase corn before it came to market—there was to be no middleman. The object was that the good, worthy, honest tenant-farmer should come to market that he might sell corn cheap to the people. The law said, "You shan't buy corn to sell again;" and the same rule was applied in the case of hops. But, said the noble Lord, other countries have the same law. Are not these, he triumphantly asks, the great countries of the world? And have they not laws for the protection of native industry? Another part of the noble Lord's speech gave the answer to this argument, that notwithstanding their protection law, they all had found it necessary, when there was a pressure on the means of subsistence, to suspend that protection law. The protection laws of Belgium, of Holland, of Egypt, were all suspended in the autumn of 1845. It was no bad or useless commentary upon the inefficient nature of any system of laws, that those countries were obliged to get rid of them the moment the pinch came. My noble Friend then argued that the trade of the country was not likely to be benefited by this great measure: and here I may defend him against himself; because anything more unfeeling, more harsh, more cruel, I should say more uncharitable—nay, I should almost say unchristian—than his treatment of himself in his argument on the Tariff, I never witnessed. I could not have believed that any one would have had so little bowels of compassion as the noble Lord showed toward himself. I pitied him. My noble Friend is so great an artist that he drew himself in such colours that I sorrowed for him. I was forced to separate the two individuals. There is one active and one passive—the party punishing and the party punished—and yet it is one and the same person who punishes and is punished. I wish to say one word, if not in defence, at least 1189 in extenuation, to rescue him from the severity of the merciless infliction with which he has been visiting himself. The Tariff, his own Tariff, did not deserve all the vituperation which it received at his hands; and I wish to say one word in its favour before sentence is recorded. No rational man would say as he charged some reasoners with alleging, that increased competition among producers tends to increase prices. By increased competition among producers you reduce prices. But the object of the Tariff was to enable you to obtain cheaper goods from abroad, and to enable you thereby to send your own produce more advantageously to foreign parts. The noble Lord said the Tariff afforded no precedent for the present measure. "See," he said, "with all your Tariff of 1842, to what it is come! What advantages then do you expect from a repeal of the Corn Laws?" Very great advantage, I should reply, because that repeal will extend further over foreign trade already increased exceedingly by the Tariff. I must refer to the argument as to the increase of seamen, and the diminution of the tonnage of vessels. It is said, taking so many years before the Tariff was adopted, your vessels in the Baltic trade were so much; taking a similar period since, they are so much less. The proportion was somewhere about 6,400 to 5,300. That was a very trifling diminution; and if the means of transport were made up by foreign vessels, your trade was so far extended; these foreign vessels carried your goods, and we find that the difference before and after the Tariff is made up with a vengeance; for the number indicating the increase of foreign shipping engaged in your trade after the Tariff is 17,000. This is a most complete demonstration that our trade has increased, for in whatever ships it is driven the traffic is exceedingly increased. Then my noble Friend called on noble Lords to attend to a report of the American Secretary of the Treasury; and as I may have found an ex-secretary wrong, so I may find an actual secretary equally wrong. The statement which the noble Lord read does not prove that we take less from the United States than the United States take from us. Did they get what was stated as imports for nothing? You must pay the balance in bullion, or in goods. Did we send 2,500,000 dollars to clear off the balance? No, we paid it in foreign produce. It is what is called a "roundabout" 1190 trade, and is almost as profitable as a direct trade. Then we are told the same thing occurs in Russia. About 11,000,000l. were imported from Russia; 8,000,000l. only were exported to Russia; there was a balance of 3,000,00l. Are we to believe that, the Americans having made us a present of two and a half millions of dollars, the Russians have been very anxious to vie with them in kind generossity, giving us three millions sterling of their goods for nothing; as if the two hemispheres were emulating the one the other—the West endeavouring to prove to the world that she is able to excel all that has been told us of the "gorgeous East with richest hand?" But we have received no such gifts from either of them. If we have not sent them our own goods, we have given them the coffee and the sugars of Brazil. But, my Lords, what is my expectation with regard to the Corn Law, so far as relates to foreign trade? I do not look forward to any rapid, sudden, instantaneous increase of our traffic with foreign countries; but one thing I confidently expect, that if we set the example, and remove the restrictions from our commercial code, other countries will follow the same line. We do not live in a period when any country, especially countries like France and Belgium, with constitutional Governments, or Germany, which is likely soon to obtain constitutional Government—countries where the voice of the consumer is heard, and the opinions of the capitalist and manufacturer are consulted—are likely to remain behind; those countries, you may be perfectly assured, if you withdraw your restrictions and change your narrow illiberal line of policy, will effect a corresponding change in theirs. Of this also I am certain, that you can do yourselves no kind of service by retaining your restrictions; even should the improvements of this system be postponed by other countries, you will be none the worse for it; while, if your example be followed by them, it will be a most important and valuable benefit for this country. I am not one of those who take the gloomy view of the subject that Mr. Greg and the correspondent of the noble Lord, had done. If ever I heard a statement of opinion—and I had never heard that before—touching any subject, and on any occasion which seemed to be made under the influence of the prevailing bias of a man's mind, it is that statement of Mr. Greg. According to him, we are plunged into the abyss of ruin: 1191 our capitalists make no profit, our manufacturers are undersold, labour is so dear that there is hardly any chance of obtaining it cheap enough to enable us to enter into competition with the labour of any country, placed in more happy circumstances. But if we are in such desperate condition that there is not an article nor a market in which the foreigner does not undersell us, as Mr. Greg thinks, how is it that our exports have gone on increasing from year to year, till last year they were greater than before? My noble Friend has at great and much more needless length dwelt on the vast amount of our trade—a fact wholly beside the main question, because both sects equally admit it; but it is fatal to Mr. Greg's alarms, though to the argument on the present measure it had no more application than to any other Bill, public or private, of the Session. Before I sit down I wish to say a word upon the sliding-scale. My noble Friend, although he did not say much in favour of the Tariff, did speak in favour of the sliding-scale; and he asked why alter a system which had been approved as working so advantageously? That argument, at least, does not apply to me, because I never approved of the sliding-scale; it is strictly an argumentum ad hominem to those who did so approve it. I never did; and my argument against it was this — that the immediate and inevitable consequence of a sliding-scale is, a great accumulation of corn in the foreign ports, or in the bonding warehouses, ready to pour in upon us, and thus all of a sudden the market is flooded, and drenched, and overwhelmed with the influx at the very moment when the home grower can least bear up against it. But let me remind my noble Friend, that the years which have passed since 1842 are not such as could test the sliding-scale. The test of the sliding-scale is the pinch of a year of scarcity. We have happily no such thing. In the year 1842 there was a good crop; in 1843, a better; and that of 1844 was the best of all—the best known for a long time. The crop of 1845, although not excellent as to quality, was not deficient as to quantity; while that of 1844 was so amply abundant that no less than three months' consumption of the produce of that year would remain after the harvest of 1845 had been gathered, nay, after its consumption had been grown. Under those circumstances can any man possibly argue the merits of the sliding-scale as regulating the price and maintaining 1192 steadiness in the market upon the experience of facts? The case has never arisen, and the sliding-scale may have all the merits that have been attributed to it; but they have not yet been proved to us by any kind of experience. My Lords, I have argued this case as I always have done, with a total abstinence from inflammatory topics. Your Lordships will bear me witness as to the manner in which I brought it forward some years ago. In the same spirit I argue it now. I am no party to the follies and exaggerations regarding this subject which I have observed to prevail out of doors. I am no party to the abuse which I have seen heaped upon the landowners of this country. My Lords, I view the landed interest of England as the great, the substantial, the most important of all the interests it contains. I regard the advocates of that interest with unalterable affection and respect. Even where I differ from them in opinion, and do not join with them in the conclusions they arrive at, I view them as performing a great, a conscientiously discharged duty to their country. Above all, I deny that the supporters of the landed interest in this realm are only to be numbered by the landlords and the tenants, the yeomen, and those who are more immediately engaged in the cultivation of our soil. The great landed interest of this country is of weight, and of power, and of influence enough to counterbalance all the other interests, if they were put into the scales, the one against the other. That has ever been my fixed and decided opinion. But they are not to be put in opposite scales; for there are ranged on the side of the landed interest, not perhaps the middling merchants and petty tradesmen, although the tradesmen in the country towns will always be found ranked with it, but all the great traders, all the great capitalists, all the important mercantile men in the kingdom, all the great mercantile bodies, the Bank, the India Company, the Insurance Companies—the Railway Companies, the Law, the Church, the Army, the Navy—all those bodies forming the prodigious mass of the whole power, and wealth, and influence of England; one and all are found for the most part, and in the main, and in the long run to take part with the landed interest as the great Conservative body of England, the guardians of the institutions of this Empire. Therefore, my Lords, be sure, that when I have made up my mind to support this measure of Corn Law repeal, 1193 for the purpose of taking away what I think is most fallaciously thought to be, and what they erroneously call, natural and necessary protection, be well assured, with these opinions which I hold, and have ever held, that, regarding the vast importance of the landed interest, I am the last man in the world to give a consent to this measure if I thought, by its passing, that the interest, the safety, the security of that great body were placed in jeopardy. But that, my Lords, is not my view; and when I am told that our institutions require this protection, and that without this protection of raising a little the price of food—and if it be to raise it but 1s. a quarter, it is a poll-tax paid by every man in the country; and suppose you wanted to raise a million and a quarter, is not that the last tax you would have recourse to, however much you stood in need of it, ay, though the maintenance of your fleets and your armies were endangered—is not a poll-tax even of 1s. the very last that any man in his senses would propose in order to raise the necessary supplies? And yet if the Corn Law keeps up the price of the subsistence of the people only 1s. a quarter, it is a poll-tax upon every man, rich and poor, in the kingdom. Therefore, my Lords, although I do not consider that the protection of the landed aristocracy requires such measures, or that they are essential, as has been fantastically supposed, to the preservation of our precious, our immemorial institutions, though, on the contrary, it is my opinion that the sooner such measures are done away with the better will it be for the interests of that aristocracy, and the more secure will be those institutions, I will tell the landed aristocracy where to look, if they would find protection for themselves and a bulwark for those institutions. Let them rely upon themselves. Si munimentum quæris circumspice. Look around at the display of talent which has been evoked by the discussion of this great question to-night, which was evoked by the debates elsewhere, and let those blush for shame, if they are capable of doing so, who ever ventured to talk with contempt of the talents, the accomplishments, the acquirements of the aristocracy of this country. Not to speak of my noble Friends who addressed you with such power to-night—the noble Duke who moved the Amendment, and the noble Lord the late Colonial Secretary—let them reflect on the splendid exhibition of debating power which was 1194 made in another place during the entire of the discussion on the Corn Bill. My Lords, it calls to my remembrance a fable which was related of old, of one who went to a magician and begged that he would discover to him a treasure in his field. The magician told him to labour at his field, to dig up the entire surface, and not to leave a single clod that was not upturned. He went his way, and complied with the direction, nor desisted in his toil till every clod was reduced to powder, and all was exposed to the genial and fructifying atmosphere, but no piece of gold was discovered, and the hapless labourer — for so he considered himself—returning to the magician, bitterly complained that he had been deceived. "What," said the wise man, "have you found nothing?"—"Not one farthing," replied the husbandman, "in the whole field, although I dug up the entire surface, and left no sod unturned." "Go," said the magician, "sow the field that you have dug, and you will find a much greater treasure in the crop you will reap next harvest, than in any piece of gold you could possibly have found." And so, to apply the allegory, I would say of the landed aristocracy, "Although they have failed (and fervently do I hope that they may fail here as they have elsewhere) in obtaining the object of their great exertions—although they have not found the treasures they sought for—although they have failed in getting the measure defeated against which they are leagued, they have, notwithstanding, gained another and a greater object—they have achieved a more effectual protection for themselves, and a better security for those institutions of which they are the chosen guardians, and, I will freely admit, the best defenders; for they have made a display of ability, have shown a talent for affairs, powers of debating, and intellectual endowments of every description, such as their adversaries gave them little credit for, but which they may themselves well be proud of, and from which their country will hereafter most assuredly derive lasting benefit, and their order imperishable renown. No longer let them rely for power on their pride of heraldry, their proud castles, the immemorial splendours of their ancestry, but take that position to which they are entitled as well by merit as by birth. My Lords, I have studiously avoided all personal allusions; but I should fail of discharging a duty which I owe as a citizen of this country, and as 1195 a Member of this House—a debt of gratitude upon public grounds, but a debt of strict justice as well—did I not express my deep sense of the public virtue, no less than the great capacity and the high moral courage which my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government has exhibited in dealing with this question. He cast away all personal and private considerations of what description soever, and, studiously disregarding his own interest in every stage and step of his progress, he has given up what, to a political leader, is the most enviable of all positions—the calm, unquestioned, undivided support of Parliament; he has exposed himself to the frenzy of the most tempest-troubled sea that the political world in our days, perhaps, ever exhibited. He has given up what to an ambitious man is much—the security of his power; he has given up what to a calculating man is much—influence and authority with his party; he has given up what to an amiable man is much indeed—private friendships and party connexions; and all these sacrifices he has voluntarily, and with his eyes open, encountered, in order to discharge what, be he right, or be he wrong, he deemed a great public duty. He, in these circumstances — he, in this proud position—may well scorn the sordid attacks, the wretched ribaldry, with which he is out of doors assailed, because he knows that he has entitled himself to the gratitude of his country, and will leave—as I in my conscience believe he will leave—his name to after ages, as one of the greatest and most disinterested Ministers that ever wielded the destitinies of this country.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ House adjourned.