The EARL of WILTON
said, that he could assure their Lordships that it was not his intention to occupy much of their Lordships' time and attention on the present occasion; but as he believed the measure now proposed by the Government would effect a great social revolution in the country, he thought it was only right that he should come forward and state the course which he intended to pursue, and the vote which he intended to give on the present occasion. He had for many years supported those principles which had influenced the councils of Her Majesty's present advisers; and their Lordships must believe that it was with no feelings of ordinary regret that he felt bound, in the honest discharge of his public duty, to oppose the present measure. And if it was with feelings of pain and regret that he adopted that course, how much more poignant must all these feelings be, when he found himself for the first time—and he trusted most sincerely, for the last time—opposed to the noble and illustrious Duke near him—(the Duke of Wellington), by whose counsel and opinions he (the Earl of Wilton) was not ashamed to say he had been actuated during the whole of his political life; and whose renowned career and the history of whose great life and actions he had been enabled to view through the medium of private friendship and esteem. He would not enter into any statistical details, for he felt that it would be impossible to add in that respect anything to the admirable speech made last night by his noble relative (Lord Stanley). He intended to rely on two grounds: first, the operation of the Corn Bill of 1842; and, secondly, the grounds which had induced her Majesty's Ministers to abandon the principles involved in that measure. He was far from entertaining any hostile feelings towards free trade, so far as it was compatible with the institutions and condition of this country. But his firm belief was, that relaxation must have a limit—and he believed that the idea of an unfettered system of free trade could only exist in the mind 1211 of the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey) in the minds of those who, like Her Majesty's Ministers, were sanguine as to the results of the proposed measure—in the minds of dangerous enthusiasts; those who, with more deep and perilous designs, had been hallooing on Her Majesty's Ministers in their wild career. Now, he must insist that there never was a Bill which so completely fulfilled all the intentions of its originators as the Corn Bill of 1842; for, under the operation of that Bill, they had seen an equalisation of prices; that both manufactures and agriculture had flourished; and that a better feeling had grown up between the antagonist parties in the country. Why, then, quarrel with it? What were the reasons which had induced Her Majesty's Government to depart from the principles of the Bill of 1842? Notwithstanding the disclaimer of his noble Friend (the Earl of Ripon) who moved the Bill, there could not be the slightest doubt that the ground for the proposed change was to be found in the destitution and scarcity which were said to exist in Ireland. They were told, if they had any doubt on this subject to wait until the month of May, and we should have demonstrative evidences of it. The month of May had now arrived, and, he asked, where were the evidences of that destitution and scarcity? and echo answered "where?" Even if the scarcity did exist of which they were told, it still would afford no great, statesman-like ground for making a great change in the whole commercial system of the country. He must also say, that he could not bring himself to believe that prices would be lowered in the same proportion that the prices of wages would be reduced. Now, if that were the case—if the means of purchasing provisions on the part of those who would be principally affected by the measures were to be decreased—he would implore their Lordships to pause before they proceeded further with the Bill. He was unwilling to trespass on their Lordships' time on so trite a subject; but he must be allowed to refer to the manner in which the measure was carried through the other House. It was carried through the House of Commons by a compact entered into between those parties who entertained the most extreme and dangerous opinions: to these were added that portion of the Whig party who had changed their opinions from a fixed duty to no duty at all; and also that section of the Conservative party whose opinions had undergone a 1212 change still more startling. He wished to address a few words to those noble Lords who had, like himself, supported the present Government for many years, but who now, not like himself, proposed to continue that support. If they were satisfied this measure was right and just—if they considered that favourable results would follow the passing of this measure—if they considered by passing this measure they were not giving a stimulus to an agitation for lowering the position of the aristocracy, then by all means let them vote for it. But if they considered with him that he was right in the view he had taken, then let them, without fear of clamour from without, and without fear of the imputation of being actuated by selfish motives, vote against the second reading of this Bill, and make use of that legitimate power which the Constitution had invested in them, for the preservation of the monarchy and the institutions of the country. He had now made the few observations which he felt it to be his duty to address to their Lordships on this important occasion, and it now only remained for him to thank the House for the indulgence which had been shown him.
§ The DUKE of CAMBRIDGE
My Lords, I feel it due to my own character to state to your Lordships the line which I shall feel it my duty to take on this very important question. I believe that I am now the oldest Member of this House. I have been now more than five-and-forty years a Peer, and from the day I first started in public life I never voted with the Opposition; for when I found that I could not conscientiously vote with the Government, I abstained from voting at all. Some years ago the late Lord Grey applied to me to attend here on an important occasion. At that moment I was so much engaged—for I believe the States in Hanover were sitting—that I could not leave that country. I wrote to Lord Grey, saying that I should be of little assistance to him as I was not a speaker; and I gave him other reasons for not attending. Lord Grey approved of the course which I then pursued. And again some years later—after I came over to this country to settle here—I mentioned to a noble Duke the course which I pursued, and I had the satisfaction of finding that it met with his sanction. I have, therefore, two high authorities for thinking I have acted rightly in what I have hitherto done. My Lords, I am now too old to change my opinions. My object 1213 in rising now, is to state that I do not intend to vote on this question. I state to your Lordships plainly and honestly, that I cannot vote with Her Majesty's Government. But, my Lords, my own character is at stake; and if I did not state fairly, and frankly, and honestly, what I feel, I should be supposed to be lukewarm on one of the most important questions that ever came before the country. No one can deplore more than I do, the discussion of this question. I went to the House of Commons, having the highest opinion of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, and I hoped that he would convince me, when he introduced the measure, so that I should be able to accede to it and support it. Now, I must state fairly that I could not approve of the reasons which he gave. I was totally unbiassed at the time, for everybody who knows me knows that I am no politician. All that I wish to do is to act fairly and honestly for the good of the country. With regard to the question itself, I must repeat that I regret its discussion. I wish that it had never been brought forward; but I regret this less on account of the question itself, than of the consequences which it may lead to. Many measures may be good in themselves; but when one turns round and sees the consequences, he will probably regret afterwards that it was ever brought in. I have felt it my duty thus to state my feelings to your Lordships. With regard to the question itself, it has been so ably stated and argued by my noble Friend (Lord Stanley), that I can only say that it would be very wrong and absurd on my part, if I attempted to add anything to the admirable speech made by my noble Friend. I can only repeat that I cannot approve of the measure, and that I shall feel it my duty not to vote at all.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, that he felt how presumptuous it was in him to offer himself to their Lordships, when there were so many noble Lords who were desirous of addressing the House. In expressing his sentiments upon the present occasion, he should studiously follow the example which had been given this night and last night of abstinence from all personal imputation. It was not for him to praise or to blame Her Majesty's Government; but he must be allowed to say, as one who for some years had been in favour of unrestricted free trade, that the sacrifices made by the Government in adopting free-trade principles gave some weight to the arguments 1214 which he and noble Lords who thought with him had been in the habit of urging. Their Lordships had been told of the weight of authority which existed in favour of a Corn Law; but in matters of commercial legislation he thought that the worst authority to which they could appeal was the wisdom of their ancestors. He considered that with the changes which were constantly occurring, the increase which had taken place in manufactures, wealth, the means of communication, and with the increase of population which was going on, it was idle, in matters of commerce and trade, to go back to the time of Edward the Fourth. He would much rather look and see who were the parties who opposed, and who supported, the present measure. Now, a great deal had been said about the unanimity of the farmers on this subject. He was not so sure that this unanimity existed, and at any rate he thought that it was rather to be looked for in the western parts of the metropolis, than in the rural districts. By some, indeed, it was asserted that converts were constantly made among the farmers to free trade. He owned, however, that he did not think that this signified much, nor did he consider that the opinion of the farmers, as a body, ought to have much weight with an enlightened assembly like that which was to be found in their Lordships' House; for although the farmers were a most useful and highly respectable body of men, yet, from their education and habits of life, it was almost impossible for them, as a body, to come to correct views on the laws which regulated the distribution of national wealth. Let their Lordships look at a higher class in society—the class of country gentlemen. The country gentlemen, as a body, were well educated, and generally well informed; but it was notorious that they not only, as a body, were not political economists, but detested the very name of political economy: although without some knowledge of that science it was impossible to attain a proper acquaintance with the laws which regulate commercial transactions. Their opinions, therefore, on questions of this nature, were not entitled to much consideration. There was another class of persons to whose conduct he wished to direct their Lordships' attention, he meant the clergy of the Established Church. He thought that if the predictions of the opponents of the Bill were verified, and that corn bore a lower price than it had hitherto brought in the market, the clergy would 1215 suffer directly from the operation of the measure; and the compensating effects would not reach them so soon as they would other classes of the community. Feeling this to be the case, he considered that the highest credit was due to the clergy for their abstinence from public discussion on this subject. He found, however, that though this measure was said to be opposed by the farmers and the country gentlemen, it was supported by the manufacturing and the commercial classes; and he could, not allow men possessing their intelligence and standing in the country to be called turbulent. These classes were in favour of free trade; and when those who had the direction of public affairs headed those classes, he felt that whether his opinions on the subject of the present measure were right or wrong, he had some authority for holding them. Much had been said about the severe blow to agriculture which would be given by this Bill; but when he saw some of the poorest land in the southern parts of the country ploughed up, he felt that some of the alarm which had been excited must be imaginary. If there were any alarm upon this subject, he believed it to be chiefly of that species of apprehension which arose from the fear that their Lordships might possibly refuse to pass this measure. If they passed it into a law, they would make no change in the Constitution, but only a great fiscal change; setting an example to other countries of the true principles on which commercial legislation should be conducted, and settling an agitation which divided two interests which ought to be inseparably united. He hoped, therefore, that their Lordships would not be actuated by any fear of a charge of inconsistency, but would suffer the Bill to become law.
The MARQUESS of NORMANBY
said, that this Bill was not such a settlement of the question as he for one should have preferred to have seen carried into effect. His noble Friend (Lord Stanley) had said, that he was desirous to avoid all personal observations in the remarks which he felt it his duty to make. He (the Marquess of Normanby) was equally desirous of pursuing the same line of conduct; but, agreeing as he did with most of the arguments of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) in his speech of last night, he had felt inclined to say a few words then, by way of protest, against the eloquent piece of declamation with which his noble and learned Friend concluded his speech. 1216 The object of his noble and learned Friend's peroration was, to convey to the minds of their Lordships the impression that the conduct of the Prime Minister entitled him to be considered as a great statesman, not only for the age, but for all time. He (the Marquess of Normanby) might perhaps rest the justice of that assumption upon the reception which that observation met with in their Lordships' House. Enforced as that statement was by all his noble and learned Friend's brilliant powers of declamation, it was received with one solitary cheer from the right hon. Gentleman's zealous Colleague on the Woolsack, which found a faint echo in the voice of one of his (the Marquess of Normanby's) noble Friends who sat near him. That was the reception which such a declaration met with in their Lordships' House. He was rather unwilling to enter into the question of what the motives were which had induced their Lordships to show no concurrence in that statement. The question was, how far the right hon. Gentleman, who had without doubt conducted himself through life with the most perfect honour in private transactions, had applied the same principle in his public conduct towards others. That was not a question for him to enter upon; but as there was no assembly in the world in which the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman could be more fairly weighed, he considered that the expressive silence maintained last night was a faithful commentary upon his conduct, and almost amounted to a sentence of condemnation. Was the greatest Minister of the day, he would ask, the person who for the last thirty years had done more to throw difficulties in the way of settling this question, than any other living man? He would, however, advert now to the question before the House. His own opinions upon the subject of the Corn Law were, perhaps, rather peculiar; and he did not think that the results, either for good or evil, which would follow the adoption of the present measure, would be so important as the conflicting parties expected. While, therefore, he had listened with great attention to the sentiments which had been that night expressed by a noble Earl, he must venture humbly to state his own opinion, that neither the institutions of the country nor the cause of religion would be endangered by the passing of this measure. He had no opinions to retract or to change upon this subject. He had always been in favour of a gradual tendency in our com- 1217 mercial regulations towards free trade. He had approved every relaxation of the Tariff which could tend to promote amicable relations with foreign countries, and lead to a more equal interchange of our mutual productions; and he had never held that any peculiar exemption from the application of those principles should be allowed with respect to corn. This being his opinion at present also, he owned that he felt it to be his duty, in the few words which he should have to address to their Lordships, to state how strongly he felt that the beneficial effects to be expected from the measure had been exaggerated, more particularly with reference to its operation upon the condition of the working classes; and he did so with the view either of mitigating the present excitement, if the Bill should not pass, or that tardy, but in his opinion not less certain disappointment which would result from the working of the measure. He thought that, looking to both sides of the question, the balance would be in favour of the Bill, as it would tend to diminish the misery under which a large portion of the inhabitants of this country unfortunately laboured. He did not allude to that misery which to a greater or less extent was, and ever must be, the lot of those who had to labour; but he referred to that deep degradation and misery, more apparent from its contrast with surrounding wealth and comfort, in which the poor of many districts were plunged, and which, unless they disregarded the safety and credit of the State, ought not to remain unalleviated. His attention had been most painfully directed to this subject when, for a period of two years, he administered the internal affairs of this kingdom; and the result of his experience during that time had satisfied him that any alteration of the existing Corn Laws would not, in itself, tend very materially to mitigate the sufferings of the poor. Adam Smith said, that a full reward of labour was the best proof of the increasing prosperity of a country; that its scanty remuneration proved that a country was stationary; and that poverty of the working classes was a sure indication that a country was retrograding. Now, when these opinions were expressed, the working classes of England were in a condition which enabled them to maintain their children in comfort, and to afford them a satisfactory education; and yet, at that time, a Corn Law was in existence which, when prices were fair, amounted almost to a positive prohibition of the importation of foreign 1218 corn. He (the Marquess of Normanby) did not assert that the condition of the labouring classes depended upon the Corn Law; but, as the reward of labour was not so ample now as when Adam Smith expressed the opinions he had quoted, it was necessary to review the changes which had occurred in the intervening period. Now, whatever mighty advantages might hereafter ensue from the wonderful improvements in machinery, there could be no doubt that the progress of those improvements during the period to which he referred, had exercised a serious influence upon the labour market. He was not one of those antediluvians who wished machinery had never been invented; but he thought the Government of this country ought to have carefully watched the effects of a transition state, and that there ought to have been no premature attempt on their part to force a development of the power of machinery. One effect of a great demand for labour in particular districts of the country had been, to induce extensive immigration to them; and the natural consequence had been, that a monopoly price had been established with regard to the dwellings of the people in those districts. It was stated in Mr. Chadwick's Report upon the Sanatory Condition of the People, that while the rent of a cottage in Rutlandshire was only 50s. a year, the annual cost of a very inferior apartment in Manchester was 7l. 10s. It appeared, also, from the Report of the Sanatory Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Health of Towns, that the cost of preventible disease in Manchester was 300,000l. a year, and as the population of Manchester amounted to 300,000 souls, this was equivalent to a cost of 1l. per head, and indeed more, because whole classes of the population were exempt from that species of disease to which the Commissioners referred. Between Rutlandshire and Manchester, there was a difference, therefore, of 5l. in the rent of a dwelling, and 1l. per head at the least in the cost of disease. Now their Lordships had heard a great deal about "cheap bread;" but he would ask their Lordships to look at the expense incurred by the poorer classes for another article of first necessity — water. Mr. Hawkesley had stated that the former cost of water to a labouring man in the town of Nottingham was 3d. a week when he fetched it himself; and when it was brought to him its expense was 3½d. to 4d. a week. Under a new system, however, for the supply of 1219 the poorer classes in that town with water, they now obtained seventy-nine gallons for a farthing, while formerly they did not obtain more than three gallons for the same money. Now the tax of an 8s. duty on corn to a labouring man would be something like 1¾d. a week, that was if the labouring man paid the whole of the tax; but, as it was stated by Mr. Senior, that only one-sixth of the tax would fall on the consumer, the cost to the labouring man would be about a farthing a week. Now, what use did he make of all this? He did not say they ought not, by passing this measure, to increase the comforts of the labouring man to the extent of a farthing a week, and he thought that this would show their inclination to do more. He wished, however, to point out what had been the conduct of the Government in this respect. They had had these reports before them three or four years, and they had the opportunity of acting upon them without creating any division of parties, or incurring reproach; but they had neglected to do so. He would now turn for one moment to the statement cited by his noble Friend from Mr. Greg. Mr. Greg gave the country a very melancholy account of the prospects of the manufactures of the country, and declared that in foreign countries there was an increasing power of underselling our manufactures. He (the Marquess of Normanby) had taken great pains to inform himself on this subject in the course of the last autumn, and he found that, to a certain extent, Mr. Greg's observation was well-founded; but his (the Marquess of Normanby's) foreign commercial friends gave a very different reason for the fact to that assigned by Mr. Greg. They did not say, "We find that we can undersell you;" but they said, "We find that we can sell as cheap, by taking more pains with our manufactures, and making articles which please the eye more." He (the Marquess of Normanby) stated this in a spirit of kindness to these Gentleman. It was high time, he thought, that these Gentlemen should apply some part of the ingenuity which they had devoted to teaching the agriculturists how to improve their land, towards the improvement of their own manufactures. There was another observation which it occurred to him to make. A hope had been expressed that the passing of this measure would lead to a better education of the working people of England. He (the Marquess of Normandy) was known to entertain a very 1220 strong opinion upon a question which had been lately agitated in the Legislature; and he thought the avowal of his noble Friend was most valuable, as proceeding from one who had hitherto opposed that reduction in the hours of labour which could alone afford the working classes an opportunity of intellectual and physical improvement. The factory operatives throughout the country suffered most severely from the maintenance of long hours of labour; and it was truly stated in a recent Parliamentary Return, that while the average duration of human life in this country had generally increased, in consequence of the improvements in medical science, the average duration of life in the factory districts had fearfully diminished. The deterioration of human health in those districts had been so great, that, whereas ten or fifteen years ago the average value of human life was fifty years, it was now only forty-five. He must say that he thought their Lordships had a right to complain, when they found themselves unexpectedly forced to come to a decision upon this question in a manner which they had no right to anticipate. He complained of the conduct of the Government, because they had very much aggravated the difficulty of a peaceable and quiet settlement of this question. They had roused that defensive principle against a supposed attempt to overreach and deceive, which was one of the most powerful stimulants of human action. He considered that much higher questions were at stake here than a mere commercial principle. He thought that in all constitutional Governments public character was a sort of common stock, and that where it was wantonly disregarded, every one who was interested in the prosperity of the country and the maintenance of its institutions, suffered a positive loss. They had heard much about buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest; and those who inscribed that motto upon their banners might discover some merit in a cheap Minister, who watched the turns of the political market, and turned himself accordingly. He did hope, however, that there still existed among the great body of the people of this country some regard for public character and consistency; and that a promise made by a public man, or a pledge upon which he obtained power, would still be considered one which ought to be religiously and scrupulously observed. He must say, for his own part, that he would very much 1221 prefer a fixed duty to the proposition now under consideration. This was a description of Bill with which their Lordships very rarely interfered. It was contrary to the spirit of the Constitution for their Lordships to impose taxes; and the custom had been, if their Lordships considered that a measure of this kind was so objectionable that it ought not to pass into a law, to propose its rejection on the second reading. That would be an intelligible course, and it would be equivalent to a rejection of the Bill. Any noble Lord who felt inclined to vote for an alteration of the present Bill in Committee, had better vote against the second reading, because he might be assured that any Amendment in the Bill would be followed by its rejection in the other House. He had a great anxiety to maintain the legitimate influence of their Lordships' House; and he should be sorry to see them exposed to the undeserved reproach, that, in taking so unusual a course as that of interfering with a Money Bill, they were influenced by a regard for their own private interests. Did the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) believe that the present Ministerial majority of ninety-eight in the other House would be diminished in the event of an appeal to the country? Those who thought so saw their way much more clearly than he did; and he did not believe the Government could be carried on in the other House except by one or other of the two great parties who were pledged to the maintenance of this Bill. He did not agree with those who spoke of this Bill as "irrevocable." If it produced all the evils that were anticipated—if it threw land out of cultivation and disturbed the labour market, their Lordships would have no difficulty whatever in retracing their steps. He believed that this measure would be for good, but it would be purchased at a suicidal price by its authors in the sacrifice of their public character. Their Lordships, however, could betray no constituents by voting for it, and there could be no responsibility upon them if they took the course he recommended them to take, and passed this Bill. On the whole, viewing it as a measure from which benefits might arise, and seeing great evils in that House interfering for its rejection, it was his intention to give his vote for the second reading.
§ The EARL of CARDIGAN
apologized to the House for occupying their attention at a time when so many noble Lords were 1222 anxious to address their Lordships. But having now had the honour to hold a seat in this and the other House of Parliament for considerably more than a quarter of a century, during the whole of which time he had given a steady and undeviating support to the Members of the present Government and to those of their predecessors in office who held the same opinions, he felt anxious, in a few words, to explain to their Lordships and to Her Majesty's Government why he would not support the Government on the present occasion, and the grounds on which he considered it his duty to vote for the Amendment which had been moved by the noble Duke on the cross-benches. If, during the long course of years which he had held a seat in the Legislature of the country, he had not always given a consistent vote, at any rate he had given a steady, consistent, and faithful support to the measures of Her Majesty's Government. Undoubtedly, in the year 1829, when the great measure of Catholic emancipation was brought forward, he had recorded an inconsistent vote; but he did so from the high opinion and the profound respect he entertained for the noble Duke who was then at the head of the Government. But how could he possibly imagine that the carrying of that measure into a law would be but the prelude to concede every other important measure, so that the end would be that the Government would in truth have no fixed or definite political opinion of its own; but that its whole career would consist in borrowing the principles or carrying out the measures of others? With regard to the measure now under consideration, it was not for him to enter into the merits and the details of this important question in the presence of their Lordships. It would be useless for him to do so. Suffice it for him to ask the question—what had arisen, what had occurred, to justify Her Majesty's Government in calling upon them to repeal the laws in respect to the importation of foreign corn? It was unfortunately true that, to a certain extent, distress did exist during the winter months in the sister kingdom; and though he believed that these statements had been much exaggerated, yet, be that as it might, Her Majesty's Government had taken a prudent course in applying temporary relief to the distress of that country. But he would ask their Lordships, was there any man living who conscientiously believed that a temporary calamity was a sufficient ground 1223 for Her Majesty's Government calling upon them to repeal the protection existing upon the agricultural interests in the United Kingdom, and to repeal the laws which had so long existed? The right hon. Baronet had encouraged by his conduct and his speeches the cry which had been raised at the last general election, when the representatives of the people offered themselves to their constituents on the cry of protection to agriculture, as opposed to the cry of cheap bread, which had been raised at least by a portion of the late Government. What was the success of that appeal to the country? Was it not most triumphant? Was there not an enormous, a preponderating majority returned to the House of Commons in favour of protection? The representatives of the people in the House of Commons had recorded their opinion in favour of protection to agriculture since the year 1841, by large majorities, no less than four or five different times. Their Lordships also had taken every opportunity to record similar votes. But they were now called upon to stultify all their former proceedings, and to reverse all their former votes. They had placed themselves under leaders, on whose talents, and judgment, and supposed rectitude, they had hitherto reposed every confidence. He did not know what might be their Lordships' opinion upon this subject; but, for himself, he must say, that when the leaders of a Government would induce and lead on a party for five, ten, twenty, or twenty-five years by every argument which the eloquence of the English language would supply, they had no right to turn round afterwards and call upon their followers to reverse their proceedings. He did not pretend to have any stronger or finer feelings than other people—nay, likely less; but he could not refrain from saying, that he thought they had been placed in an unfortunate predicament—either to disunite themselves from their party, which, were it not for the conduct of their leaders they should be sincerely attached to, or to reverse their former votes and decisions, and place themselves in a position which, in his humble judgment, would be derogatory to their position as legislators, or even as gentlemen. Their Lordships would shortly be called on to record their votes on this question. He would not presume to advise them; but he would ask this question—were they going to reverse their former decisions and opinions? And he would ask this further question—what would be 1224 the opinion of the respectable middle classes of this country if they did so? — what would be the opinion of the yeomanry of this country?—what would be the opinion of the farmers of this country, a respectable race, who loved honesty and plain dealing, and hated duplicity and sudden change? If their Lordships would consent to yield up this question at all, let them yield it up to the fairly demonstrated opinion of the people of this country, after that opinion had been tested by the choice of their representatives in a new election—yield up to the demand of the great body of the people; but not to a vacillating and inconsistent Minister. He must apologize to their Lordships for having detained them so long. He would conclude by saying that he had long supported the Government of Her Majesty, both in this and in the other House of Parliament; but thinking the measure proposed would bring confusion and ruin on the country, he must give it his decided opposition.
The EARL of WINCHILSEA
said, he had a strong and conscientious feeling on this important question, and felt that he would not be doing his duty as a Member of their Lordships' House if he gave a silent vote. He could with truth say, that he would give all that he possessed if he could satisfy his own feelings by simply recording his vote against this measure. The consideration of the question deeply affected the happiness of the people of this country—and whether he regarded it as the downfal of a great political party, with which he had been been connected upwards of thirty years, or whether he regarded it in the still greater point of view, as being the destruction of all confidence in public men—he felt that he could not give a silent vote. The maxim ought to be engraved in golden letters—for it was a divine truth—that all public respect, all confidence in public men, should arise from the regard which they maintained for principle, for honesty, and for truth. The history of nations had shown, and, indeed, it seemed to be decreed by the Divine Governor of mankind, that when once those whom he had blessed with means, who ought to be the most educated and the most enlightened—the higher orders of the country—were found wanting in their duty, such a nation when cast in the balance would be found wanting, and the sentence, "You shall be removed from among the kingdoms of the earth," fulfilled. The question was not so much 1225 would they remove protection from agriculture, as would their Lordships countenance or allow the Government of this great country to act in so degrading a manner as to give a premium to those who brought forward one of the most revolutionary schemes that had ever been introduced. What was the case in 1829? The principles which he advocated then as well as now were supported by a large party, and were the strong bond of union between the Government and their supporters. That measure too was carried in violation of plighted pledges—of professions and of principles—in direct opposition to the pledges upon which the Members of the other House had been returned. That question—and he said it with shame and with sorrow—after being rejected by a majority of 45 in this House, was six months after carried by a majority of 105. What followed? A reform in Parliament, by which the legislative functions of that House were placed in abeyance. The noble Earl, whose character he had long admired for honesty and for consistency (the late Earl Grey), whose talents had been rarely equalled in that House, but who was, alas! no longer among them, came down and said he was empowered by the Crown to make an unlimited number of Peers unless they allowed the Reform Bill to pass. What was the consequence? They no longer dared to resist: a few, it was true, resisted to the last, but the measure was passed. But leaving that period to come to the question before them, he would ask, had not this Parliament been returned to support the principles of protection? Several divisions had been taken respecting the question of the Corn Laws, and the result had been, the maintenance of that principle. But the leader of the other House turned suddenly round, and because he got a few personal followers—some 105 out of 350, the number of the Conservative party—he threw himself into the arms, not of that highminded and honourable and constitutional party, who lent him their support, but into the very arms of the Anti-Corn-Law League faction, embraced their views, and supported their policy — he threw himself upon another class of supporters, too, who, he had no hesitation in saying, had abandoned the principles and belied the professions upon which they were returned. He hoped their Lordships would have a due regard to the Constitution of this country, and to their own order 1226 —to their own existence and privileges—for, depend upon it, the House of Lords would be powerless indeed unless they acted in a manner to secure the affection, the esteem, the respect of the enlightened, the highminded people of this country. Their Lordships ought to take care not to tamper too lightly with the principles upon which the very Constitution of this country itself might be said to rest; and they ought not, at all events, to sanction a measure which might be attended with such disastrous results, until the people had a full and a fair opportunity of recording their free, unfettered opinions upon the change. Would they at once accede to the Anti-Corn-Law League, whose unconstitutional proceedings were manifest—a body which would level in the dust every institution that was sacred in the eyes of Englishmen? Would the House of Lords again desert their principles, as in 1832, and leave the people in the power of the Anti-Corn-Law League? He would say, that there was not a man in their Lordships' House who was a greater friend to cheap bread than he was; but he was not for destroying British agriculture—he would have corn at the lowest price at which the English farmer could produce it, but he would not ruin him to gratify the wishes of a section of manufacturers—he would not destroy British agriculture, and thus become entirely dependent upon the foreigner—a supply which might either from the ill-will of the Governments of those countries, or from circumstances over which they had no control, be found to be a most precarious and dangerous thing to rely on; for the two great interests of the manufacturer and the agriculturist could not be placed in the same position. The former might increase his produce as he pleased; but, for the latter, however he might expend his capital, the seedtime and harvest time were not his own—after all, the return for his capital came from the Giver and the Dispenser of every blessing man enjoyed. Now, if they took the returns of the quantity of corn grown in this country, they would find that from the superabundant years there was sufficient on the average for the consumption of the people. Being his own steward over three properties in three different counties, living amongst his own tenantry, and being in constant communication with them as he had been for thirty years, he knew something of this question; and he could state it as a fact, that in the year 1835, when wheat was sold at 34s. 1227 and 35s. a quarter, the farmers gave the wheat to the pigs and to the horses to eat: hundreds of thousands of quarters had been expended in this way which had never been taken into account at all; but if there had been any providence on the part of the Government, to have treasured up that superabundant quantity—a system he had always advocated—there would have been sufficient at other times for the consumption of the people. He was no advocate for high prices for agricultural produce, nor did they much benefit the farmer; for when they occurred it was generally between the months of April and September, when the farmers had no grain on hands—when, in short, the market was supplied by speculators, who, by a fallacious system of keeping up the averages, contrived to introduce foreign corn at the lowest possible rate of duty, which they poured into the markets at the very time when the home supply would be available by the harvest. The poorer farmers were, in order to pay their rent and taxes, obliged to sell in a falling market, generally about Michaelmas. He maintained, in opposition to those free-trade theorists, that the wages of labour was, to a great extent, regulated by the price of corn. He had seen repeated instances of it. But some said that the prices of agricultural produce would not, after all, be so much lowered—that Lincoln Heath and such places, which had been reclaimed at a great expense, which was farmed still with more cost than richer soils, would not be thrown out of cultivation. Well, then, he answered such statements by replying, if the price of agricultural produce would not be much lowered, why unsettle the whole condition of the country? Why check those improvements? Why disturb men's minds? It had been admitted, that since 1842, the farmers and landlords had spent more capital on land, than for the ten years preceding. And why was this? Because they thought this question had been finally adjusted—completely settled in 1842. And if bread would not be much cheaper than it was at present, why should they deceive those who supported the measure on the ground solely that it would give cheap bread? There could be no doubt corn would be cheaper; and the effect would be that not only the inferior but the richer soils would be thrown out of cultivation. The richer soils would be burdened with poor rates, which they would be unable to bear; and the British capitalist would fly to foreign 1228 countries and invest his money in land, as he had already invested them in the construction of foreign railroads. It was asked, where was the corn to come from? There need be no fear in that respect. Why, in America alone more corn might be produced than all Europe would require. In a letter he had received from a gentleman who was now living there it was stated, that the quantity raised last year in the United States was not less than 105,000,000 of quarters. The land then of this country must go out of cultivation, and what would become of those persons who were now employed upon it? But he would not trespass further on their time; and he earnestly implored their Lordships, without any consideration to private feelings or private affections, to discharge their duty conscientiously, and to reject this measure. He would say that some noble Lords were inclined in 1846 to take the same course which they took in 1829; but he implored them not to do so; for if they gave a vote contrary to their conscientious opinions, they would forfeit not only the respect and confidence of the country, but, what was of more consequence, their own. Several noble Lords had expressed to him the deep regret which they would carry to their graves that, upon a memorable occasion, they had been induced to, do violence to their own feelings and support the existing Government of the day; and their Lordships might depend upon it that if they forfeited again the respect and confidence of the people of England, as they did in 1829, from that moment the independence of their Lordships' House would cease. It might exist as a House of Lords, but it would be dependent upon the House of Commons.
§ The EARL of CLARENDON
I can assure your Lordships that I shall trespass very briefly upon your time, for I have the satisfaction of not finding myself in the category of those whom the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) has so solemnly warned against their inconsistencies, or upon whose consciences he expects their votes to weigh so heavily. I have no new opinions to avow, nor old ones to retract, having rarely missed an opportunity, since I had the honour of a seat in this House, of stating what I conscientiously thought were the mischievous effects of protection in any shape, and of expressing my hope and belief that the time was rapidly approaching when the Corn Laws must be abolished; still, however, as I trust that 1229 this is the last time your Lordships will be called upon to discuss the question, I cannot avoid expressing the unfeigned satisfaction with which I, in common with all those who desire to carry out the principles of free trade, must view a measure which will for ever, and I wish I could add at once, extinguish the whole protective system, and which is introduced with all the weight and authority that a Conservative Government can impart to it. It little matters now by what causes the Government may have been influenced, whether they be the result of observation and experience during the last three years—whether they be the sound arguments of their opponents, or the diseased potatoes of Ireland—all doubtless had their part in bringing about that decision which we learn from my noble Friend (Lord Stanley) was unanimous in December last, with the important exception of my noble Friend himself; and no one more cordially regrets than I do that his doubts upon which he took eight-and-forty hours to deliberate were not so resolved as still to give Her Majesty and the country the advantage of his services and great talents. I rejoiced, however, that such a measure as this was brought forward by the Government, and I rejoiced almost as much at the wisdom and justice of the avowals by which its introduction was accompanied, and its defence has been conducted throughout the long and weary ordeal it has had to undergo; but I have never looked upon this as a triumph to any party either in Parliament or in the country, or the question as one of party at all, but rather as one of facts and experience; for of all subjects the Corn Law is the one with respect to which opinions during the last thirty years have unavoidably been undergoing the most frequent modification as knowledge was acquired, as science advanced, and as the numbers and wants of the community increased. Why, the different Corn Laws themselves are a proof of this; and there is not a man in the country, who has seriously reflected upon this important subject, can affirm that during thirty years his views have remained the same; for where the elements upon which judgment is formed are themselves variable, opinions must be subject to modification; and can the protectionist party say that their minds have escaped this process, and still remain uninfluenced by circumstances? Will they when they take upon themselves the responsibilities of office, as they now do the 1230 responsibilities of opposition — an event which may speedily occur—will they insist upon maintaining the present law at all hazards, or are they not even now prepared to admit of some change in it? Would they not now gladly accept and hail as a measure of salvation, that very duty of 8s., which five years ago they scornfully rejected and denounced as a revolutionary plot to ruin them? Are we not even threatened with some such proof of their change of opinion when this Bill goes into Committee?—some Amendment which will throw overboard their whole principle, and which will demand not protection for agriculture but protection for the Exchequer? I repeat, then, this is no political question, but one of facts and experience; and I sincerely regret, therefore, the public time lost, and the public injury inflicted, in discussing not the merits of this Bill, but in demonstrating that it was a party question, though, in fact, all the virulent abuse that has been expended upon Sir Robert Peel, and all the opposition that has been raised against the Minister, even more than against the measure, merely proved that he was influenced by higher considerations than those of party; and that if he did forfeit the favourable opinion and support of his political Friends, he sacrificed them to what was of far higher importance—the public good: he can have had no other conceivable motive, except a sense of public duty, for doing what he has done. With famine advancing at rapid strides in Ireland—(Ironical cheering)—noble Lords may cry "hear, hear!" but they must give me leave to tell them that if they had been sitting on the Ministerial benches last October, and had received from the Lord Lieutenant and other official quarters the reports that reached the Government, they would not have dared to disregard them; nor would they, any more than Sir Robert Peel, have refrained from taking measures for relieving the Irish people. It was his bounden duty to protect, as far as human means could do so, that country from starvation and its attendant evils—disease and turbulence; and he might in November last have opened the ports by Order in Council—for my own part I heartily wish he had—indeed, during the progress of the debate he was told by one of the protectionist leaders that he would have been fully justified in so doing; and he was formally invited to open the Irish ports by others, who thereby admitted that the existing law is inadequate for any sudden emer- 1231 gency, and inefficient when tested by the pressure of circumstances. Now, this is another proof of change of opinion, for if this party had stedfastly adhered to their doctrine, that the law always secures an abundant supply at reasonable prices, they should have insisted upon more stringent protection for the relief of Ireland, instead of demanding the temporary admission of corn free of all duty. I shall not waste a moment in observing upon the absurdity and the impossibility of opening the Irish ports, when there was a duty of 17s. upon corn in the English ports and the trade perfectly free between the two countries; but if the ports of the United Kingdom had been opened in November last, is there any human being who thinks that after a suspension of the Corn Laws for six or eight months, it would have been politic or practicable to restore them? My noble Friend complained that Sir Robert Peel would give him no guarantee that they should be reimposed—he would have had much greater cause for complaint if he (Sir Robert Peel) had given a pledge which he knew he could not have redeemed. There is no power in the country that upon questions of food—questions that may really be called vital ones—can dare to disregard public opinion, or to precipitate the conflict that may any day occur: and this Bill is, in my humble judgment, the only means now open to us of averting such a struggle between different classes—the only kind of civil war that our manners and state of civilization now admits of, but not the less formidable for that—with all the rancour and animosity it would leave behind, and all the consequences it would entail upon those who eventually would have to yield, and who would repent when too late of not having been wise in time. The noble Duke on the cross benches declares that he and his party have been completely taken by surprise by this measure; but if they have chosen to be deaf and blind to the intentions of Sir Robert Peel, the country has not been so—the country has well understood what he was about, and in which direction he was steering for the last four years. Previously to that time, however, is a very different question, and for my own part I have never been able to explain how statesmen of acknowledged experience and foresight—statesmen who must, or who ought to have, understood the wants and the wishes of the country, and the manner in which alone they could safely be dealt with— 1232 political leaders whose speedy advent to power and the responsibility of Government was secure—how they could have joined in maligning the motives and misrepresenting the measures of the late Government, in advocating the fallacies which they knew it would soon be their duty to combat, and in decrying the policy of free trade, which they must have foreseen they should shortly have to promote, has, I repeat, always appeared inexplicable to my mind upon any hypothesis of common sense or common honesty. Be that as it may, however, it is fortunate for the country that circumstances since that time have been precisely reversed, and that upon all questions affecting our great commercial interests we have had a Government possessing the power to do good, and an opposition without the will to thwart them. During these four last years Sir Robert Peel has never ceased to speak in language intelligible to those who did not wilfully deceive themselves. Such persons alone can have believed that the broad principles of commercial policy laid down by him on every occasion were inapplicable to the Corn Laws, and that when he threw wide open the gates of free trade he did so only for the admission of colonial asses, and drugs, and furniture woods, and a few hats and boots, and resolutely intended to close them against the most important of all commodities—the food of our rapidly increasing and always under-fed population. But notwithstanding the abundant notice of his intentions given by Sir Robert Peel—a notice, moreover, which has been well understood even by those who pretend ignorance, for suspicion and denunciation of him for his speeches, his Tariff, his Canadian Corn, and his political economy have really formed the staple topics at agricultural meetings for the last three years. Notwithstanding the important statements of Sir James Graham, whose official position united with the most extraordinary industry make him more than any other man master of the statistics of this country — notwithstanding that he proved year after year, by incontrovertible facts, that cheapness and plenty were the real foundation of our prosperity, that coincident with them were to be found greater contentment, diminution of crime, abatement of commotions, improved health, and increased commerce, and that high prices of the necessaries of life were always disastrous to the country; that the poor were tempted to crime, and that the rates 1233 of mortality increased—notwithstanding all this the agriculturists have affected to stand aghast with surprise, and have loudly raised the cry of protection to native industry—not, as formerly, protection to agriculture; that would be rather too stale and too exclusive for the present times and the present state of the public mind—and there again is another proof of change of opinion: a more comprehensive cry was required, and protection to native industry, protection to all the industrial classes of the country has been substituted; but native industry in this general sense does not want you, it repudiates alike your new-born sympathy and your worn-out legislation. The great staple manufacturers of the country—men, some of whom give employment from 1,000 to 2,000 workmen, and pay from 1,000l. to 2,000l. a week in wages—men who, give me leave to say, are as much or even more immediately interested than your Lordships in the tranquillity of the country and the prosperity of all classes in it; they want no protection, neither do the manufacturers of cloth and linen, although with glove-makers, and bootmakers, and hatters, and glass manufacturers, they have each in their turn thought that the withdrawal of protection would be their ruin, but now find how infinitely more they prosper without it; and they, moreover, have had the manliness and the honesty to avow it; in fact, there is not one single instance in the commercial history of this country where consumer or producer has been injured by a relaxation of the prohibitory system. Well, then, as native industry stands in no need of protection, the patriotism and indignation which have been raised in its behalf must return to the source from which they sprung, to agriculture; and I quite agree with the noble Duke on the cross benches that the interests rightly understood of all persons engaged in that important branch of industry are identical. I quite agree in the affectionate assurances given to tenant farmers and day labourers at those convivial meetings which have multiplied so prodigiously since the repeal of the Corn Laws was seriously agitated, that the landlords, and tenant farmers, and labourers, were all in one boat; that they must pull together, and swim together, or sink together; that there could be no separation of interests; I quite admit it: but if these interests are embodied in, or identified with, a system of protection, I utterly deny it. I defy any one to show that the labourers have gained 1234 by that system, or are in any way interested in its maintenance. The noble Duke has drawn a lively picture of the thatch under which they live, and the good air in which they work; but not a word has he said of their wages, of the 6s. or 7s. a week upon which a man and his family are said to support themselves in some counties; consider that my Lords, consider the quantity and the quality of food by which with them life is sustained; consider their moral and physical condition, their hopeless life of toil, their impossibility of saving—hardly of existing; consider the evidence of the numerous medical men from all parts of the country examined two years ago before the Committee on medical relief administered to the poor; their answers without exception were, that large portions of the labouring classes were miserably under-fed, and that that was the reason why so many of them could not perform a proper day's work, nor recover from sickness when they fell ill. I will defy any one, then, to show that the labourer can sink lower in the social scale than he now is under the protective system; and he has, therefore, no interest in upholding it. Next come the tenant farmers—and I will admit that some of them who have neither capital, nor education, nor experience, men who take 200 or 300 acres of land as they would a public house, but who have no more business to be farmers than they have to be jewellers—I admit that such men may require artificial means to save them from the consequences of their own incapacity; and that they, perhaps, will be unable to bear up against competition. I am aware that in saying this I expose myself to being classed with those whom my noble Friend accuses of cruelty and heartlessness; but his arguments, if carried to their legitimate extent and practically acted upon, would check every attempt at progress, and always make improvement wait upon ignorance: they are just as valid against home competition as against foreign; they would have been quite as applicable in favour of spade husbandry against the plough, or against the spinning-jenny in favour of the distaff. But to the good farmer, to the man who has the necessary capital, and education, and intelligence, who does not obstinately adhere to the system and the implements of his forefathers, who receives every new improvement as a boon, who watches the discoveries of science and their practical application in order to turn them to his 1235 own use, and has confidence that he is secure of reaping the profits of his own investment and skill, to such men competition will, in agriculture as in every other business of life, prove but a healthy stimulus. Supposing, however, that the worst fears of the worst alarmists were at first to be verified—that we were inundated, as it is called, with all this foreign corn which is to pour in upon us, Heaven only knows whence or how, though to judge from the language of some we might expect it to roll in upon the waves of the ocean, and be delivered gratis at every man's door; for it now would seem sufficient to read or hear of any great plain in the heart of Russia, or of the United States, in order at once to jump to the conclusion that twenty or thirty bushels an acre of the finest wheat will be immediately grown there, and sent here at 25s. or 30s. a quarter, without the smallest reference being necessary to want of capital and skill, to inveterate habits of bad husbandry, to cost of transport or vicinity to places of shipment; when really one should think that with Ireland close to our doors, governed by our laws, exposed to our example, far less taxed than ourselves, commanding, as she ought to do, our capital, and possessing every advantage for becoming the granary of this country and rendering us independent of foreign supplies, but where much of the land is absolutely lying waste, where all of it is but half cultivated, and from whence, with the exception of last year, we have annually derived a less and less supply of wheat;—with such a picture as my noble Friend has drawn of agriculture in Ireland, and with such a practical example under our eyes of the difficulty of changing the habits of a nation under all the circumstances most favourable instead of most adverse to such a change, one should really think that we might spare ourselves this bugbear of inundation. But supposing it to occur, and that all at once millions of human beings were to be cursed with an abundant supply of human food, well, all that in this impossible supposition could happen to the tenant farmer would be that he could not pay the same rent, that he must have some reduction until the exportation of grain from abroad had raised its price to the level of that produced at home, or until he found the means of successfully meeting this foreign competition; and that, in fact, is what it is all reducible to, to an hypothetical, and, as I am convinced, 1236 groundless apprehension of reduced rents; but in saying this I neither mean to impute selfish motives to any one, nor to doubt the conscientious convictions of those who think that any material reduction in the value of land would be hurtful to all classes of our countrymen; but, on the other hand, I have my own convictions, founded upon no brief or careless consideration of the whole subject, that this is solely a landlords' question, and that it is to their alarms we owe all this fierce opposition to the measure, all these charges of treachery and these lamentations over native industry, not a syllable of which, be it remembered, was heard here when the duties on silks, on cloth, on linens, on gloves, or hats, or boots, or furniture, were reduced—when the exportation of machinery was permitted, or any of those various changes affecting productive industry, and involving foreign competition, which for the last twenty years it has been the policy of this country to adopt. The British lion was not roused, and the British sun did not set for ever upon any of these occasions; it is only when corn, or cattle, or wool, or hops, or apples, are meddled with, that we hear of treachery and dishonour, and men deserting their colours, and who if they had been in India lately would all have run away; and it is only when the things we grow, not the things we make, are touched, that we arrive at the true Parliamentary definition of native industry. But, I say, that all this arises from a hypothetical and groundless fear, because we know that in consequence of the improvements in the science and practice of agriculture, and the stimulus given to production during the last thirty years, the price of corn has fallen 50 per cent, while the rental of the country has increased 16 or 17 per cent; and that the price of wheat cannot, therefore, be taken as any test of the prosperity of the land, or the rent of the landowner; and that it would be just as true to affirm that because a piece of cotton which at the close of the war was worth 25s. now sells for 5s. the manufacturers of cotton have suffered, whereas the reverse is notoriously the fact. These fears are groundless however, although some of your Lordships will doubtless at first be considerable losers; my noble Friend, for instance, who I am sure conscientiously believes everything he asserts, and who I am equally sure will endeavour to mitigate the ruin he has so confidently predicted to his tenants, by lowering his 1237 rents some 50 or 60 per cent directly that this Bill becomes law; yet I am convinced it will be a gratuitous, though I admit a necessary, sacrifice on his part, and that competition for his farms will soon force him into the enviable position of recognising his error, and increasing his income. I say again the alarm is groundless, because it gives no sign of existence; no stimulus has been unapplied, no effort has been wanting to raise a panic, whether emanating from Parliamentary speeches, or protectionist landlords, or newspapers, or from agricultural societies, or from that great central focus of alarm—No. 17, New Bond Street; but they have all fallen stillborn, for I cannot look upon that provincial assembly which was summoned to meet last week at Willis's Rooms as any proof of panic, when I bear in mind that during the four months that the measure of the Government has been before the country, farmers have made no preparation for the oncoming calamity by turning off their labourers, or lowering their wages. Tenants, in spite of all warnings, will hold on their farms or renew their leases at the same or sometimes at higher rents since the full extent of their approaching misfortunes was explained to them; and land, notwithstanding so much of it is about to be thrown out of cultivation as to become barren waste, will unaccountably sell at its accustomed price. I again repeat that these apprehensions are groundless, because the greatest alarmist is not prepared to act upon his assertions, or to prove his own belief in them by selling his estate at a depreciated value; and of this I am sure, that if any one of your Lordships will this evening publicly announce that he is prepared to accept four or two years' purchase for his estate less than its marketable value eight months ago, his difficulty will be, not in finding a purchaser, but in deciding among the host of competitors for his property, by whom within the next few days he will be assailed. One of two things must be admitted, either these fears are groundless, or they have a reasonable foundation. If the former—if there be no real cause for alarm—if the free admission of corn into England be not likely to produce effects materially different from those which for a series of years have been observed in the Channel Islands, where the corn trade being perfectly free and the people able to take the most favourable moments for importing it, and in quantities not capable of influencing the German 1238 markets, the average price of wheat from 1820 to 1840 inclusive has been 51s. 9d. in Guernsey, and in Jersey from 40s. to 50s. per quarter. If it be not really believed that we are so destitute of capital, and skill, and enterprise, that in everything we must be beaten by everybody—if it can be doubted that the agriculturists of England have more capital and greater skill than any others, a more fertile soil and as good a climate. [Lord STANHOPE: No!] The noble Lord says "No;" but I should like him to tell me what country possesses so many agricultural advantages. Can he compare those of Germany to ours? can he deny that our land produces more than any other, that our farmers have better breeds of cattle, better roads, better markets, and cheaper labour for the work done? and of this last point there can be no doubt; for although the numerous English labourers who have for some time past been employed abroad in the hard work of constructing railways receive twice as much wages as the foreign labourers, yet the capitalists who employ them consider this abundantly compensated by the more than double labour they perform. Well, then, if all this be true, neither rents, nor agricultural profits, nor the value of land will suffer; and the opposition that has been raised against a measure by which a more regular supply of food will be secured to the people is both unjust and mischievous; or on the other hand, the apprehensions are well founded and the price of corn will greatly fall—to what price however it is not easy to say; where the calculations of loss are so vague and are so little founded upon facts or experience, it is difficult to fix upon any particular point in the descending scale of prices upon which alarmists would agree; but perhaps 10s. a quarter would not be an exaggerated interpretation of that total ruin which by some is so confidently predicted; and I observed that that amount of loss was the basis of my noble Friend's calculations—in other words, that our wheat must fall 10s. in order to be on a level with the foreign wheat that enters into competition with it. Well, but what is that but saying that corn can be bought elsewhere cheaper by 10s. a quarter than our own, and that of that advantage the community is deprived by the existing law? and taking the consumption at 20,000,000 of quarters annually, the agriculturists would thereby impose a tax of 10,000,000l. sterling upon the people—double the amount of the in- 1239 come tax—not one farthing of which goes into the Exchequer, or alleviates other burdens, and not one farthing of which goes into the pockets of the landlords; if it did, there would be some reason in the system, and no small patriotism and self-sacrifice in the abandonment of it; but this enormous tax would simply be paid for the increased cost of production, and be as absolutely wasted as if it were thrown into the sea. I cannot conceive that there should be a question about the uncompensated injury that this would produce, and I will endeavour in a few words to illustrate what I have now been saying. I will suppose that two vessels are lying side by side in the port of London. The one from Dantzic with corn on board at 30s. a quarter, the other from Hull with wheat of the same quality at 40s. There can be little doubt to which of these ships the labouring man, or indeed the wealthy man, would go for his supply. He goes to the Dantzic vessel, but finds it guarded by tidewaiters who order him to pass on to the other, where he pays 2l. for the eight bushels of corn, which from the first vessel he might have obtained for 30s.; and not all the ingenuity of my noble Friend will render that man grateful for the protection thus vouchsafed to him, nor make him believe that it secures to him and to his family as much as they want to eat at the most reasonable price; and do you suppose that the manufacturer will thank you for your protection to native industry, which makes the labourer pay 25 per cent dearer for the food that he must have, instead of buying with it the clothing and the comforts that he must then manage to do without? Will not the manufacturer consider that the Legislature has thus deprived him of a customer; and will not these two men agree that as both are injured by the law, and that as people could not be so foolish as to make laws which did good to no one, that all the advantage must be for the producer of the corn, and that into his pocket had gone this additional 10s., this 25 per cent of the poor man's wages, which to him would have given comforts, and to the manufacturer custom? Yet this supposition would be entirely erroneous, the producer of the corn would not have touched a farthing of it, he gains no more than the producer of any other commodity, for the rent of land assuredly never exceeds the profits derivable from any other business; and yet agriculture has had far greater advantages, or 1240 what were supposed to be such, than any other productive industry, but always with worse results. The system has been created by the landlords: the laws have been passed by themselves, for themselves, just when, and how they pleased; and yet no branch of business has, all things considered, made less progress: none has been so often in distress, none has so often, or more piteously solicited and obtained legislative relief; and yet it is proposed to reject the measure now before you, and to persevere in a system which not only the principal leaders of party, but the principal possessors of land in this country look upon as obsolete, unnecessary, and hurtful. A system which the most ardent or the most reckless protectionist would not venture to guarantee for three years, which he knows the first deficient harvest must sweep away when further resistance would become too dangerous, but when concession extorted by compulsion would lose all its grace and the best portion of its usefulness. It is for such a system as this, that the landed aristocracy of England would peril the proud position they now hold; a position which no other class in any country of the world can boast of, and in lieu of that homage, which is really the fittest word for the feelings with which their wealth, and rank, and social position, and as a body their general usefulness are regarded, they would expose themselves to a continued social conflict, and to that tremendous power of association which the money, the intelligence, and the active enmity of the industrious and middle classes would infallibly bring to bear against them. Before I sit down, I desire, with your Lordships' permission to say a few words upon what is a novel and much maligned, but to my mind, an important and beneficial feature in the system of commercial policy which we are about to adopt, viz., that of meeting, and I will confidently add, of defeating, hostile tariffs by a friendly one—that of admitting freely the productions of countries which exclude our own. I have on former occasions expressed my earnest hope that diplomacy would no longer be resorted to for the purpose of liberalizing the commercial systems of other countries; and I have expressed my belief, founded upon some little knowledge and experience, that all future attempts to effect this by negotiation or treaty, would, as they have hitherto done, end in failure; for all such negotiations imply reciprocity and an interchange of equivalents, which 1241 it is found impossible to adjust with satisfaction to the various interests on both sides concerned; and the consequence almost invariably is that if a treaty be concluded one of the contracting parties considers itself overreached, and is anxious to evade the stipulations or abridge the term of its engagement, as in the case of the Brazils for instance; or else the negotiations after being long protracted are finally broken off, as in the cases of France, Spain, Portugal, and other countries within the last twenty years, leaving the non-contracting parties less amicably disposed towards each other than when they commenced, and more firmly convinced of the impossibility of reconciling their reciprocal, or as they suppose adverse interests, and thus they continue to wage that war of custom-houses, which is hurtful alike to the producers and consumers of every country. The only wise and practical course is for each nation to pursue that which it believes to be best for itself, and to disregard the policy adopted by others; and surely, the fact of our being a heavily taxed people is no reason why we should pay dearer than is necessary for the commodities we want, and which are produced abroad. The income tax, and the assessed taxes, and the poor rates, are all so many reasons for not superadding to them the Custom-house tax, except for purposes of revenue. The illiberality of other countries is no reason why we should not buy in the cheapest market, although we may not at first be able to sell in the dearest; it is no reason for our inflicting upon ourselves a double penalty. We have but to look to our own interests, and at the same time that we advance them, we shall give an example which the rest of the world must follow; for as other countries unfortunately will not make us a present of their commodities which we want, they must take in exchange the commodities we have to give; but then we are usually told that this may be very true, that they will send us their productions, but they will take nothing but bullion in return. I shall, however, not waste the time of this House in demonstrating that there is no distinction between the precious metals and any other commodity, and that to obtain gold and silver, we must have exported to the Brazils or to Mexico some productions of our own of which those countries stood in need; but I totally deny that any such result would permanently ensue. It may arise under extraordinary circum- 1242 stances, as in 1839 and 1840, when, owing to our deficient harvests and our sliding-scale, we had to import nearly 3,000,000 quarters of corn at a cost of about 7,000,000l. sterling suddenly, when no preparation could be made for payment by the ordinary means of trade, and when, consequently, this corn had to be paid for in bullion, the only medium available for the emergency. At that time the bullion in the bank of England sunk from 9,300,000l. in the month of January 1839, to 2,500,000l. in the month of October—7,000,000l. sterling were withdrawn in the space of nine months; and by the assistance of the bank of France alone, we were preserved from the misfortune and the disgrace of a national bankruptcy. But what has been the consequence since? Why, upon its being ascertained that we should annually require from the Continent about 1,500,000 quarters of corn, due preparations in the ordinary channels of commerce have been made for meeting this importation; and I beg the special attention of your Lordships to the fact, that from the time of the establishment of the Zollverein in 1833, our exportations to Germany after a partial decline remained stationary at rather more than 4,500,000 annually down to the years 1838 and 1839, during which period, little or no corn was imported into this country; but that since those years our importation of corn having been considerable and regular, our exports to Germany have risen from 4,800,000l. in 1837, to 6,700,000l. in 1844, and no derangement in our monetary system has taken place. As a further illustration, I will advert to the case of France, where shortly after the Revolution of 1830, a Mixed Commission, of which I had the honour of being a Member, was appointed to sit at Paris with the object of placing the commercial relations of the two countries upon a more satisfactory footing; and although the able and enlightened men named by the French Government, one of whom was M. Duchatel, the present Minister of the Interior, were quite as desirous as their English colleagues to conclude a treaty, it was found impossible to reconcile adverse interests or to effect an exchange of equivalents, and the negotiations were suspended. At that time the value of our exports to France did not reach 500,000l.—an amount really disgraceful, when we consider the contiguity of the two countries and the reciprocal need of each other in which they stand—since then the French tariff has continued in 1243 unabated hostility; but it has been our policy to reduce the duties upon a great variety of French commodities, and what has been the result? Why, that the value of our exports to France has increased from 476,000l. in 1833, to 2,600,000l. in 1845. This export trade, moreover, is not confined to one or two articles, but includes all the different manufactured productions of this country. Facts such as these cannot fail to have their due weight with your Lordships; but I will further illustrate the subject by referring to Spain and Portugal, where the tariffs are absolutely prohibitory, and what do we see there? Why, that British goods, cheap and abundant, are to be found in every part of the Peninsula; for it must be remembered that it is one thing to enact a prohibitive system, and another and a very different one to enforce it; so true is it that the interests of men are always more powerful than the laws made to restrain them. The smuggler is always at hand to correct the errors of the legislator; and he will always provide that the exchange of commodities, or in other words trade, shall flow in a natural, though it may be in an unlawful channel. I do not defend the system, I am only dealing with facts; and I say that the contraband trade invariably exists where prohibitory duties prevail, not only in Spain and Portugal, but in Italy, from Belgium and Switzerland into France, along the whole extent of the Russian frontier; the Zollverein cannot guard against it, it is found in activity upon the boundary line of Canada and the United States, and throughout the continent of South America. Napoleon with all his power, and all the means at his command, could not prevent it—his attempts to do so were one of the main causes of his downfall. We ourselves, in our circumscribed limits, with our well-organized coast guard and revenue forces, we could not under the prohibitory system prevent the unlimited introduction of silk goods, we cannot now prevent a greater quantity of tobacco being smuggled into the country than passes through the Custom-house, and no human power can prevent it but by rendering the smuggler's trade an unprofitable one. We need not then have any the slightest apprehension as to the mode in which the productions of other countries will be paid for by us; and we may safely rely that if trade exists at all it will be beneficial to all those engaged in it. I know that the recent speeches of M. Guizot and M. Canin Gridaine have been triumphantly referred to 1244 as proofs that we have nothing to expect from France in return for our liberality; but I view these speeches in no such light. I think they were most proper and prudent speeches, particularly on the eve of a general election. I am sure we heard much worse here before our own last general election; but no Minister of a representative Government can ever be expected to originate measures which disturb powerful and protected interests until he is supported by public opinion, until the question in fact, as with ourselves, has been settled out of doors, and is ripe for legislation; and it is only when the French people become convinced, without any reference to foreign countries, that it is not for their interest to pay an enormous price for bad iron, and to submit in every branch of industry to use inferior implements, which increase the cost of production; it is only when they become convinced it is not for their interest to pay extravagantly for the wood, which for the sole benefit of the owners of forests they are compelled to consume, when from Belgium or England they might obtain a cheap and abundant supply of coal; it is only when they become fully alive to these and other uncompensated tributes which they pay for their protective system, that they will know how to deal with it as they have before done with other obnoxious privileges. Public opinion, however, in France, is daily more and more directed to these subjects; and I can assure my noble Friends on the cross benches that a free-trade league with a Duke at the head of it, is now established at Paris. The Neapolitan Government has already made great reductions in the duties on cottons, woollen goods, and salt fish. The example has been followed in the Papal States. The Sardinian Government is liberalizing its commercial system. Prussia, within the last year, has made a decided stand against any further extension of the prohibitory system of the Zollverein. In Norway, the duties upon woven goods have been lowered in consequence of our reduction of the timber duties; and as to the United States, if my noble Friend had read the whole of the paper from which he quoted, your Lordships would have discovered what my noble Friend certainly did not lead you to expect, viz., that in that most able document, the Government of the United States submits to Congress the expediency of entirely abandoning the system of protection, and of levying no duties but for purposes of revenue. I will 1245 not, however, weary your Lordships by any further attempts to show, that although we may for some time to come expect in other countries a continuance of those errors which in our own are gradually yielding to knowledge and experience, yet that the universal tendency must be towards a freer interchange of the respective productions of different countries, and towards a recognition of the principle that low duties are always most profitable to the revenue. In fact the whole system by which human intercourse has hitherto been so mischievously obstructed is fast crumbling away, and is about to find its level among a host of other exploded fallacies and antiquated superstitions. As for ourselves, impelled as we are by the necessity of penetrating into new markets, and of providing an increased demand for our increasing powers of production, we are about to adopt a policy which other countries will and must follow; not as a concession to us but for their own interests—a policy by which we shall extend the intercourse of nations, and carry into execution that law of God by which men are destined to be of mutual assistance to each other, but by which above all we shall give, and we shall receive guarantees for placing upon a solid foundation that greatest and most inestimable blessing—peace. It is for these reasons, I think, that Her Majesty's Government act most wisely in proposing to regulate our foreign commerce without reference to the policy of other countries; and with respect to our domestic concerns, as I am convinced that no time more favourable than the present—a period of comparative prosperity—can present itself for effecting a change of system with less disturbance and dislocation of existing interests, I earnestly hope that this House may in its wisdom see fit to assent to a measure which will remove the chief source of discord from among us, and which in my conscience I believe will be advantageous to all classes of the community, because itis founded on a wise and discriminating regard for the varying circumstances and complicated interests of this great country.
The EARL of CARNARVON
said, that he could not but regret to see Her Majesty's Ministers introduce such a measure as that before them; for he thought there had never been a time in the history of the country when such a measure had been less required; and he was persuaded that, instead of promoting that peace and harmony which the noble Lord who had just 1246 sat down contemplated it would, it was on the contrary, calculated to inflict great and extensive injury on the interests of the country—his opinion being, that, whatever might be said as to the soundness of free trade in the abstract, it was by no means applicable to the varied and complicated interests of England. It had been observed, that our exports with France had very considerably increased of late, which increase was attributed to commercial relaxations there; but might it not be rather attributed to the untiring and unceasing energy of two great countries, each rapidly advancing in every department of industry, and going on from greatness to greatness, and neither of which had yet, he firmly believed, reached its highest point of prosperity. With greater reason, then, he would say, that under the auspices of protection, England had attained to that immense height of prosperity which it enjoyed over every other nation—and altogether deny that the increase of the exports to France originated in any commercial principle which might have been adopted by France. Reference had been made to the traffic which was carried on by smugglers. It could not be questioned but there were many articles of commerce in which smugglers could traffic with impunity; but permit him to say, that for the smuggler to carry on an illicit traffic in corn was totally out of the question. He thought there was a peculiar inapplicability in the noble Lord referring to a traffic in corn by smugglers. Allusion had been made by his noble Friend to the improved feeling which it was thought had been growing up among foreign States—that there was what was called a more liberal commercial policy prevailing now than heretofore; but he (the Earl of Carnarvon) had neither heard nor read of the springing up of that so-called liberal commercial policy; and even among those statesmen who bore a liberal reputation, such as M. Guizot or M. Thiers, he was not aware that there were any indications among them of an approximation to the principles of free trade. Perhaps some of the very minor States might have adopted the policy to which the noble Lord (the Earl of Clarendon) adverted; but as to Naples, Sardinia, and Prussia, he did not make out his case, particularly as to Prussia, which, instead of relaxing, rather was looking out for further protection. While he (the Earl of Carnarvon) was never an advocate for high prohibitory duties, and while he thought there was a great error committed in 1815 1247 in carrying prohibition to such a height, yet he could not forget that in a country where the state of things was so complex, principles, which might be sound enough in the abstract, could not be applied with due consideration for peculiar circumstances and individual interests. Being impressed with that view, he would advise their Lordships to be cautious and circumspect in legislating upon subjects which, if prematurely adopted, might cause such a reaction as to do more harm than good. In the course of the present debate they had heard the subject of famine brought forward. He thought that the famine question had been altogether abandoned. Of famine there was a great deal in speeches, but not much in the markets. They were told that the famine was to come in May, and then it was put off till the autumn, and now he thought he might venture to say that it had been adjourned sine die. The noble Lord who had last night introduced the Bill, had created in his mind no little astonishment by leaving them to suppose he had been a free trader all his life. With every respect for his noble Friend, he had never considered him in that light; but, judging from the language he had heard from him, had always looked upon him as a true and faithful friend to the cause of protection. His noble Friend had argued that if the ports had been once opened, they never again could have been shut. He remembered that the ports were opened in 1826, and he had never heard that any difficulty whatever was found in closing them when the necessity for which they were opened had gone by; and, judging by the quiescent state of the manufacturing towns, he had no doubt but that when the apprehension of a famine in Ireland had been dissipated, the law would easily have been restored. In 1841, when his noble Friends opposite proposed the substitution of a fixed duty in place of the sliding-scale, they were compelled to admit that in periods of unusual scarcity or famine they would be obliged to remit that duty. Surely, they meant honestly by the farmer; they did not mean to give to the agricultural interest a mere shadow of protection, and deny them the substance; they never said they would not reimpose the duty whenever the scarcity or famine had departed. Why could not his noble Friends who now formed Her Majesty's Government have acted in the same way? His noble Friend who last addressed their Lordships said, that, with the existence of 1248 a famine in Ireland, it would have been impossible for any one to come down to that House and propose to re-enact the existing duties. That was a most dangerous argument to be used in that House. What, that a Minister could not come down to Parliament, and ask for measures of relief for his starving countrymen, without, at the same time, making a proposition for a permanent change in the Corn Laws? He should like to see the man who would have ventured to have stood up and resisted the proposition of the Minister of the Crown, because such a condition was not attached to the measure for relieving the distress of a large portion of his fellow countrymen. If such a man there was, he could not be branded with sufficient scorn; and if the Parliament had refused to grant the relief, or if they had even faltered over such a proposition, there was not a manly heart in England that would not have sympathized with the popular cry for the Repeal of the Union. His noble Friend said that the manufacturers repudiated the support of the agricultural party—that they refused protection. One of them themselves, Mr. Greg, admitted that the hosiery of Saxony was preferred in our own markets, because of its cheapness, over that of our midland counties, even although the latter enjoyed a protection of 20 per cent. That statement was borne out by a petition signed by 25,000 persons engaged in that trade, presented to that House in 1843, imploring the Legislature to prohibit the importation of foreign hosiery into this kingdom at so low a duty. Then with regard to the manufactures carried on in Sheffield: it was well known that knives and scissors, which were pretended to have been made there, were introduced from Belgium, and sold at a price which would ruin the English producer. He was strongly inclined to believe and willing to admit that the manufacturers would thrive after the passing of that measure; but he was also convinced that it would be only for a time, because they would lose their best customers when they lost the home market. Noble Lords who supported the present policy of Her Majesty's Government seemed to consider the home trade as being insignificant when compared with the foreign trade; but that was not the opinion of Adam Smith; and even in America, at the present day, there existed a strong feeling amongst the parties engaged in agriculture against the admission of cheap foreign manufactured goods into their country. Noble Lords must 1249 know that in even the smallest villages there was to be found a shop filled with the goods of Manchester; they also knew how those villages were studded over the country. The quantity of goods which they sold must, in the aggregate, be very great; and proved the value of the home market, which, most undoubtedly, would be placed in much danger by the measure under their Lordships' consideration. His noble Friend had also alluded to the state of the labour market. Undoubtedly the lot of the labouring man was a chequered one, and would to God that legislation could improve it! but he was much afraid that the measure now proposed by Her Majesty's Government would reduce the condition of the labourer to the level of the cultivator of the soil in foreign countries. If wages could be maintained under the altered law, no question then the measure would be a boon to the labourer; but the rate of wages must be regulated by the demand and the supply in the labour market; and although the examples of Poland and of America proved that there was no inseparable connexion between the price of food and the price of labour, still he feared that in England, where the labour market was already overstocked—where the population was increasing at the rate of 1,000 a day, if much land were thrown out of cultivation, the labour market would become more overstocked, and then he feared the wages must, and would, be regulated by the price of provisions, and be reduced to the lowest level at which human existence could be maintained. It might be said that he was wrong in supposing that land would be thrown out of cultivation. His noble Friend had alluded, too slightly he thought, to the case of the small farmers—men who, he said, ought not to be farmers at all—who had no business to be farmers. They were a large body of men. The measure before the House would consign to hopeless ruin a large proportion of the tenantry of England. Their Lordships with their thousands would feel the blow perhaps but slightly, and without the loss of one substantial comfort; but the same blow would strike that unfortunate class to the ground. The wealthy farmer might ride the gale out in safety; but it would wholly swamp him who was obliged to sell his produce the moment he obtained it. It had been said that the Currency Bill of 1819 had been as disastrous as a field of battle, and had caused as much desolation as had ever 1250 been caused by the worst horrors of war. In his opinion the desolation and the amount of suffering which would be caused by the measure under their Lordships' consideration would be infinitely greater amongst the men of small capital than had been that caused by the Bill of 1819. Unquestionably, it was most desirable that a better mode of cultivation should be introduced wherever practicable; but in order that that should be so capital was wanted; and his noble Friends were not going the right way to increase the capital of the farmer. Under favourable circumstances, the cultivator, by a free outlay of capital and skill, might grow four or even five quarters of wheat where he now grew only three; but if that measure passed, the fall in prices would be so great that it was probable he might not obtain more for his four quarters than he now did for his three. He had heard with much regret those remarks of his noble Friend which seemed to impute idleness and want of energy to the English farmer—the fact being, that there was no part of the world in which a better system of husbandry prevailed—no country in which so much was produced, in comparison to the space cultivated; as was proved by eminent statistical writers, both in France and America. A most eminent statistical writer declared, that while the average produce of wheat in France was fourteen bushels to the acre, and while it was fifteen bushels in America, the produce in England was immeasurably superior to either country. The same writer also stated, that while the cattle, sheep, and pigs of England had doubled since 1710, in the whole of France, matters as regarded live stock remained almost in statu quo, although the amount of population and the territorial extent greatly exceeded that of England. His noble Friend who moved the second reading of the Bill, said he did not lay much stress upon the famine in Ireland—he did not support the Bill on that ground alone. The noble Duke on the cross bench had happily observed, that very different opinions had been given in the other House, for the introduction of the measure. He thought that was one point on which the country had a right to complain. The opinions which had been advanced in its favour had not always been consistent; they had varied with every varying circumstance, and made to shift as party tactics required. On such a question the views of the Government 1251 should be intelligible, and distinctly laid down—not even the shadow of a doubt ought to rest upon them. He had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman who filled the office of First Minister of the Crown had consulted what he conscientiously believed to be the best interests of the country; he acquitted him of acting from any sordid or ungenerous motive, but he must be forgiven for saying that he did not think that he and those who had acted with him had done that which public men should do. He did not think that the position taken up in reference to the country was an ingenuous one, or their manner of treating a great and honourable party had been fair. In public as in private life, any departure from the straightforward path of honesty was sure to be punished—retribution was sure to follow in the loss of all moral influence to the guilty party. However much he deprecated the measure, he would have felt it more deeply painful to have opposed it, had it been supported by the noble Duke behind him. Nothing could erase from his memory the events of the last autumn. No after agreements, no after explanations, could ever lessen or impair the effects of the resignation of the noble Duke and his other noble Friends who were now Ministers of the Crown. He well knew that in the noble Duke's (the Duke of Wellington) long career of public life, there rested not a speck on the stainless mirror of his honour. He could not forget the practical sagacity with which the noble Duke had long led his party; neither could he cease to recollect the debt of deep gratitude which the people of this country owed to the noble Duke; he could not forget that which was an old story, that but for the noble Duke we might have neither Corn Laws or country to save. It was formerly said that if the Corn Laws were repealed 2,000,000 of acres of the best land in England would be thrown out of cultivation, and 6,000,000 of people would be thrown out of employment, and reduced to beggary and despair. Now for his own part he must confess be had little faith in political prophecies of any kind, whether made by himself or by others; but he knew that in a great measure tenants were guided by the impressions of their landlords, and that those feelings had a material effect upon the march of improvement. There was one fact he wished to mention here. He could assure their Lordships, he had heard of an individual who, before this 1252 measure was propounded, intended to invest no less than 150,000l. in agricultural improvements; and though he was a person who expressed no great fear with regard to the result of the project, yet he declined investing his money until he saw what would be the effect of it. That was an important fact, and he was very much afraid that the example of this person would be followed by many others in consequence of the new legislative policy of Her Majesty's Government. Men would now pause before they invested their capital in the improvement of the soil, and their hesitation would be fully justified under such circumstances; their proceedings would be marked by temperate caution and prudence. They would not enter into doubtful speculations — they would wait until they saw the effect of this great practical experiment; and it must be productive of baneful results. His noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) who spoke last night, referred to the question of the price of food, and expressed his hope and belief that the price of bread under the new system would be moderate. But he (the Earl of Carnarvon) very much disliked the proposed measure, because he thought it would have quite as much tendency to make the price extraordinarily high—high to a ruinous extent, as to effect a great reduction in it. If this Bill passed we must necessarily depend in a great measure for a supply of corn from the northern parts of Europe, where land was little burdened with local taxation, and labour was wonderfully cheap. The effect of that competition would be to throw the lighter and indifferent descriptions of land out of cultivation, and consequently deprive a large portion of the labouring population of the means of employment. What, then, would become of the English people if we had a deficient harvest, and that we required a large supply of grain from foreign States? We should be perfectly helpless. The same cause which affected the harvests in this country, generally affected in the same way the harvests in foreign countries; and when the Governments of those foreign States did not actually forbid the exportation of grain, they would, for self-preservation as well as for the purpose of increasing their revenue, place a very large export duty upon it, which would have nearly the same effect. Under such a system he thought the people of England would not be very great gainers by a free trade in 1253 agriculture. It was said that the United States would remedy this difficulty; but, generally speaking, their harvests were affected as much as our own. The scarcity and plenty at different times, which he believed must be the result of the proposed system, would produce such violent fluctuations in prices as to inflict great injury on both the producers and consumers. When, according to Mr. Hudson, corn could be brought from Hamburgh and sold here at 25s. a quarter, it was a period of our greatest peril; and the result he (the Earl of Carnarvon) believed would be the same if the measure before the House came into operation. If a regular corn trade was established, he could not doubt that foreign countries would give every facility, compatible, of course, with their own interests, to maintain it; and that even British capital would rush into those countries, offering, as they then would, so fair and ample a field for speculation. It had been well laid down that when an article could be progressively increased to any extent, that its price would not rise in proportion to the increased demand, but that, in the long run, the price would fall. A steady increase in the demand was frequently met by a more than equivalent amount of production, and a reduction of price was the consequence. The tea trade had been very appositely referred to in support of this view. There had been a prodigiously increasing demand for tea from China within the last few years, and yet there had been a progressive fall in price. Why should not the same results attend a demand for foreign corn, and an increased importation of foreign food into this country? Considering the whole circumstances of the case, he believed they were treading on difficult if not on dangerous ground—that they were embarking on a course of hazardous legislation. Agriculture in this country had made gigantic strides—that was admitted by the noble Lord who introduced the Bill; but he said, at the same time, that the greater was the occasion for the adoption of such a measure. But he (the Earl of Carnarvon) asked, when the country was in a state of prosperity—when millions of capital were invested in agriculture on the faith of their own protective laws—was it wise, was it fair, on the part of the Government and the Legislature towards the agricultural interests, to deprive them of the only chance of working out that system of improvement? for it was a consummation most devoutly to be wished which 1254 should enable England, from her own resources, to produce sufficient food for the sustenance of the people. A noble Lord in the other House had collected some valuable statistical information in reference to the agricultural improvements which had taken place in this country. Sir H. Parnell, when Chairman of the Corn Committee in 1833, stated that the agricultural produce of the kingdom had increased one-fourth during the ten previous years; Mr. Wakefield, in 1801, computed the average produce of the wheat lands of England at seventeen bushels an acre; Mr. M'Culloch, in 1840, estimated the average produce per acre at twenty-six bushels; and, in 1844, Mr. M'Gregor estimated it at twenty-eight bushels. These facts showed that the protective system was favourable to agricultural improvement. They were told that importation would never be prevented, and that even in the last war large quantities of corn were imported from France. But he believed the year 1810 was a very peculiar one; there was an unusually abundant harvest in France, and a deficient one in England; he understood, too, that certain parties obtained influence through some of Napoleon's marshals, and an exportation was allowed that, under ordinary circumstances, would not have been permitted. But if the argument founded on the advantage of being independent of other countries for our supply of food was tenable in 1840, he did not see that anything had occurred to make it untenable at the present time. He did not believe the principle was asserted merely to draw a convenient roar from the British lion of the day. Perhaps he might be allowed to say a word or two on the circumstances connected with the proposal of this measure by Her Majesty's Government. There was in this country a strong and ardent feeling in favour of plain straightforward honesty of conduct. The eyes of the public, too, were narrowly fixed on the conduct of public men; and, whether it was prejudice or not, the people to a great extent connected character with consistency. He thanked God it was so; for it was not for the interest of either public or private life that sudden departure from long recorded opinions should pass without involving some kind of penalty. Therefore he could not look upon the policy of the Government as a mere question of defective party management—he looked upon it as wrong and unprincipled—he would not say intentionally so; but if ever there was a House 1255 of Commons elected upon a given principle—if ever there was a Government bound by the circumstances of their formation to the principle of protection, it was the Government of his noble Friends. The political history of their lives was a continued pledge; they were pledged by their language in office, by their language out of office; they were bound by acts stronger than any verbal pledges. That the constituencies were unintentionally misled he was quite willing to believe; but still they were misled, and he did not think that the Government of the country, when they had discovered their mistake, had any right to take advantage of their own wrong, and to give effect to their own error. The agricultural constituencies of this country would never have wielded the electoral franchise in favour of his noble Friends, if they had had the remotest notion that they intended so soon to depart from their former professions. The strong man was lulled to sleep by his confidence in their intentions; and now that he had yielded his weapons to them, they hoped to vanquish him unarmed without a struggle. Under the banner of protection the Government of the country ventured to the battle-field against what was then termed the maddening cry of cheap bread; they secured the followers of the party, and then drove the noble Lords on the other side of the House out of office. They were ejected from office for the crime of proposing an insufficient protection of an 8s. duty; and now the First Minister of the Crown came down and proposed a virtual duty of 4s. Under no conceivable circumstances should the Government of the country abrogate their own enactments. They should do it with the utmost degree of caution and care, for the sake of the country which should place confidence in public men. Without intending to say anything in the slightest degree offensive to his noble Friends, who had been placed in a most embarrassing position, still he thought that, all the circumstances considered, this was too strong a departure from those fair and recognised principles which ought to actuate public men towards each other and towards their country. He would ask, if the principle was questionable, was the policy good as far as it had been developed? Was the utter alienation of such a great element in the constitution of things in this country as the great landed interest a wise and statesman-like policy? Alas, to what a state of moral weakness had this 1256 unhappy policy reduced one of the most powerful Governments that had ever existed in this country. Like Samson they had been shorn of that which was the implement of their strength, by a single stroke, in the plenitude of their power, as yet untouched by the faintest germ of decay. There never was, he believed, a Government possessed of more real power for useful purposes—there never was a Government which from the peculiar circumstances of its position was enabled to do more of great and useful acts—there never was a Government from whom the people of this country would have accepted more of real and solid reform. Would to God that the better counsels of his noble Friend the noble Duke, and of his noble Friend the late Secretary of the Colonies, had in November last prevailed, over what he must term the infatuated councils of that day; but it was otherwise decreed, and all the confidence had been destroyed, and all the strength which was given for better and for higher purposes, had been cast away. Many who were lately their stanchest friends were now in open opposition to the Government; others, who actually sympathized with their policy in another place, yet were unable, from a sense of duty, to support them, and were compelled to retire from Parliament; others, protesting in their speeches against their policy, and yet voting for it with a heavy and misgiving heart. Could a policy be statesmanlike which produced such results as these? Could a policy which placed every human being connected with it in a false position, from the Minister in the Cabinet, who was known a short time since to have been a strenuous advocate of the Corn Law, down to the humblest follower of the party, who scarcely knew what to do between his conscience and his duty—could such a policy be a statesmanlike policy? Could this measure come before their Lordships with any real weight, when it was in startling opposition to the decision at which the House had arrived a year ago? This time last year the House of Commons had decided against this measure by a large majority; this year it had decided by as large a majority in its favour. Which spoke the real sense of the country—the decision which was arrived at in a period of calmness and freedom from excitement, or that which had just been adopted under the pressure of the most conflicting and agitating emotions that could afflict the mind of man? It was the duty of the Government 1257 of the country to raise the tone of public morals, not to elevate or depress in any way the standard of political honour; and he did not think that the Government of the country should have called upon the House of Commons to do that from which the most highminded of their supporters had shrunk, and thrown up their seats. Talk of delegates—one of the greatest mischiefs that could arise from this measure was, that it went directly to the establishment of delegation, as the only mode the constituencies could have of ensuring some kind of representation. Under these circumstances, Ministers should have referred the question to the free and open verdict of the English people. They should have said to the great interests, "We have changed our opinion—have you changed yours? Take back the trust which you gave us under this impression, or confirm it under the altered circumstances of the case. We will not avail ourselves of any false or ungenerous advantages; we will not fight you with the weapons with which your unsuspecting confidence has armed us. We come to you in what we believe to be the name of the country, though with altered views. If you adhere to your own opinions, we ask for a fair field, and the country to decide between us." Had his noble Friends adopted this course, however much he might have differed from them in opinion, they would have won the approbation and admiration of every gallant heart. It was for the purpose of rectifying this error into which he conceived they had fallen, rather than permanently to oppose the progress of the Bill, that he should give his vote against the second reading, for the purpose of obtaining for the people and for the agricultural interest an opportunity of pronouncing their opinion upon it. Let him beg noble Lords not to consider that, in voting for the Amendment of his noble Friend, the noble Duke on the cross bench, they were deciding irrevocably against this measure. They were not doing so; they were only securing for the country that breathing-time of which it had been deprived by what he must term, at the time when this measure was brought forward, a panic-stricken policy. That House had ever been considered the guardian of the rights of the people: it was, he believed, revered as such. Let not their Lordships divest themselves of that sacred character. Their Lordships' House had ever been looked up to for that restraining judgment which tempered pre- 1258 cipitate change, without firmly opposing a single object of useful innovation. Considerate men of all classes, agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing, would not disapprove of a considerate policy. Let not the cry of that true-hearted body of men, the yeomanry of England, who had been connected for so many centuries with their Lordships' families—let not that cry come up to them in vain—they did not ask for favour at their Lordships' hands, they only asked for justice. They craved no partial, no final decision: they only prayed that, as far as this question was concerned, they might not be practically blotted out from the representation of their country, or sacrificed, without having an opportunity of exercising, at the determination of this question, that legitimate influence which was vested in them by the Constitution of their country; but of which they complained they had been robbed, by no fault, no negligence of their own, but by the most extraordinary change of opinion of those who governed, and those who represented them, that the yeomanry of any country were ever subject to. They asked their Lordships to exercise their legitimate functions with that caution which they applied to the meanest case of property that came under their notice. In this case, the property of the yeomanry to the amount of millions, and millions, and millions, was involved. They prayed their Lordships to exercise their functions, not for the purpose of permanently defeating this measure, if it should prove to be the real object of the national feeling, but only to ascertain that point. They implored their Lordships to stand in the gap between them and what they considered ruin, unjustly and unnecessarily inflicted, and secure for them that which Englishmen should never ask in vain at the hands of British Peers—fair play. Their Lordships were told last night that there was danger, and there was danger lest honourable minds should be led to do that which they ought not to do for fear of having unhandsome motives attributed to them. This should be urgently pressed upon their Lordships. If they were struggling, as assuredly they were, for the happiness, the welfare, and the prosperity of their country, and not for selfish advantages, were they, on account of personal imputations—painful unquestionably, as all imputations were—to shrink from the performance of that which they felt convinced was their duty? If they were to shrink from their duty for any such 1259 motives, then he would say, but without offence and in the mildest manner, that they had not the requisite courage for manly and useful legislation. A noble Earl, who was not now in his place, had on the preceding evening stated that they ought not to throw any obstacles in the way of the Bill, or to impede its progress in any degree, by prolonging the debate, for that it was necessary for the welfare of the community that the measure should pass as speedily as possible; but he implored of them to reflect whether they would not best be consulting for the interests of all classes, and best acquitting themselves of that high duty which devolved upon them from their position, by rejecting the measure now, and affording the population of this country, whose interests were so vitally concerned, a full and fair opportunity of deciding for themselves, and letting their voices be heard in a manner not to be misunderstood? If measures were to be considered as passed before they were assented to, they had better be given up. Their Lordships had better consult their dignity, by abandoning at once the task of discussion, and, adopting the advice given by a noble Friend, register hereafter, in humble and obedient silence, the edicts of the House of Commons. The removal of agitation by such means would only bring fresh agitation. Who could for a moment doubt that if this Bill passed through the House on such grounds, their Lordships would have to pass a variety of sweeping legislative measures? Let them think for a moment upon the consequences to that Church Establishment from which they derived half the blessings they enjoyed. If the policy now proposed were to be acted upon, that Establishment might not be long permitted to exist in its present form. They should bethink them what a dangerous precedent they might be instituting by adopting such a measure as the present. They knew not for what strange innovations they might be opening the door. Might they not be told ere long, that hereditary legislation was not compatible nor consistent with the advanced ideas of the age, and that although those assembled in that House to-night might be allowed to retain their seats in that assembly, the hereditary right for their posterity to do so would not be permitted to descend so those who were dearer to them than themselves. If such a principle as that now contended for were to be sanctioned, popular clamour would demand sacrifice after sacrifice of the Go- 1260 vernment and the Legislature, which they would not have the power any longer to resist; because they would have learned to live upon concession, and to seek popularity, not in the wholesome principle of laws well administered, and interests quietly advanced, but rather by a series of coups d'état, which though they might dazzle the public eye and captivate the public ear for the moment, were not based on those true and solid foundations whereon all wise measures of legislation should repose. Their Lordships had repeatedly expressed their opinion on subjects of this nature, which, however, were far less hazardous in their probable operation; but were they now prepared to show to the country that on the gravest question which could affect the welfare of the British people, they were about scornfully to reject all expostulations—all representations of those most deeply concerned—and to advance the interests of one class of the community, by immolating those of another? Would such a course of proceeding raise their character with the country for political faith and consistency?—or, would it not rather favour the impression that they would acquiesce in a compromise, were such proposed? In fact, what would the public think of them—yesterday supporting protection, and to-day advocating free trade? He would give to the Bill his unequivocal opposition, and he could not resume his seat without observing that the course he was about to adopt on this question was the only one that he believed to be consistent with honour. Unblemished honour ought to be ever the leading characteristic of English noblemen. It was theirs by the right of birth—it was, as the poet had expressed it "part of them rather than theirs"—honour, pure, unblemished, and stainless, was theirs by birth, and ought to accompany them unsuspected and unspotted from the cradle to the grave. Such was the opinion he entertained of the noble Lords who constituted that assembly; and he would feel that the light of that House, which once beamed so brilliantly, would be at once and for ever dimmed in the eyes of the country—that their occupation would be gone, and their purpose fulfilled, if that honour were to be tarnished by sanctioning such principles as were now sought to be introduced; and it would be of little consequence to him whether their Lordships' career were to be brought to an early close, or whether they were to be permitted by their new masters, 1261 the lords of the League, to cumber with their useless splendour the land which they could no longer benefit.
§ The EARL of MALMESBURY
said, that he was not at all surprised at the anxiety which was evinced by the noble Lords to hear the noble Earl who had risen with him on behalf of the Government, after the very able speech that had been just delivered by his noble Friend; but although he admitted that it might be considered presumptuous in him to address the House after the noble Earl who had just sat down, still, when he found himself face to face opposed to those men whom he had faithfully and zealously supported for a number of years, he was induced to break through his usual rule of giving a tacit vote, and to intrude himself on their attention while he offered a few observations. He felt deeply the situation in which he was placed by the deplorable event of November last. He had been accustomed from early years to surrender his own opinion with almost blind confidence in deference to that of the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Wellington) and the other Members of his Government. For that noble Duke he entertained the sincerest esteem, and that deep affection which every Englishman felt for him, because he believed, if it had not been for the signal services he had rendered his country, their Lordships might not now be discharging those functions they had inherited from their ancestors. No one could feel personally greater respect for the noble Duke; but he almost as deeply felt, and sincerely deplored, the course which, in his high sense of duty, the noble Duke had thought it necessary to adopt with reference to the present measure. If the Bill had been brought before their Lordships under ordinary circumstances, there would have been but one course to pursue — but one way to treat it. They would have considered its merits as it affected the interests of the people of this country, and the public good, and would have pronounced an opinion of its merits according to their conviction; but he hoped he would not be considered wanting in courtesy if, after the way in which the Bill had been introduced, he gave expression to the opinion that now two reasons existed which might influence them in their deliberations, and induce them to pass the Bill, rather than the conviction that it would be for the good of the country. He might be borne out in this position by referring to the division which took 1262 place on the 18th of April, 1842, on the Motion made by the noble Lord behind him (Lord Brougham) to repeal all duties on corn, and in favour of which only four Peers voted in addition to the noble Mover, while 119 Peers had voted against the noble Lord. Might not he (the Earl of Malmesbury) then say without discourtesy, that if the Bill were passed, it would be passed—not because their Lordships entertained the conscientious conviction that it was best for the country; but either because they felt the necessity of placing implicit and unbounded confidence in the First Minister of the Crown, or because they conceived it to be loudly and sincerely demanded by the majority of the people of England. These were the only two reasons which he could conceive could induce the noble Lords, who, in April, 1842, had voted against the Motion of his noble Friend, and left him in a minority of five to support a similar measure now. He would not now go into the arguments which had been adduced in favour of the present policy, though, had time permitted, he would have been glad to touch upon them; but he would pass them over, and allude to the acknowledgment that the present measure was a great experiment. It was not such a great experiment as they believed. A principle analogous to that of free trade in corn had been tried in another part of the British dominions. He alluded to the Hebrides, the Western Isles of Scotland, and the coast opposite to those Islands. Their Lordships might not be acquainted with that locality, but it had been his fortune to visit it on three different occasions. Owing to the irregularity of the beach, and the deep bays and indentations of the coasts, it possessed between three or four thousand miles of seaboard. On the rocks which bordered that seaboard, there grew a production which appeared to be a peculiar gift of Providence to that wild and desolate shore, called "kelp," which, on being burnt, gave large quantities of alkali. In the year 1827, the persons employed in the manufacture of alkali numbered 180,000. Previous to the year 1829, that product was protected by a duty of 8l. 10s. per ton; but in subsequent years it was reduced to 6l. 10s.; in 1830 that protection was lowered to 5l.; in 1831, to 2l.; and lately it had been entirely abolished. Now what was the consequence? The islands were suddenly reduced from a state of flourishing prosperity under protection, to the greatest destitution by the withdrawal 1263 of it, and to a state similar to that in which, in his opinion, the agricultural districts of this country would be reduced by the passing of the proposed measure. When he visited the islands in 1839, they were in a most deplorable state—the ancient chiefs had sold their estates—a few of the population were employed as shepherds in tending flocks of sheep; but the great majority were reduced to the greatest distress by being deprived of their labour in consequence of the duty on kelp being abolished. And for whose benefit had those disastrous results been brought about? Why, for the benefit of the Neapolitans, who supplied this country with sulphur, and this was proved by the temporary activity which was restored to the kelp trade during the disputes with Naples a few years ago respecting sulphur. Mr. Poulett Thompson, who had been instrumental in obtaining the abrogation of the duty, had afterwards visited the islands with him (Lord Malmesbury), and was much struck with the deplorable state of destitution to which they had been reduced, by depriving them of protection to this sole article on which their existence depended; but being a free trader, though he deplored the loss to the inhabitants, he justified it on the principle that the interests of the minority should bow before those of the majority. As a general principle, that was undoubtedly true; but when the minority consisted of thousands and tens of thousands of families, it became a question whether the Government ought not to have paused before it sanctioned such a measure, and calmly balanced the loss and the gain. It had been said by a noble Earl, who had spoken with great ability that night, that the present was a landlord's question. Did the noble Earl believe that this country was entirely rented by farmers, and that the occupier and landlord were not very often one and the same person? By a return which he held in his hand, having reference to his own parish of Christchurch, one of the largest in England, and containing 35,000 acres, he found that only 5 persons, including himself, held 500 acres each; only 8 between 200 and 500, 12 between 100 and 200, 11 between 50 and 100, 22 between 20 and 50, and 246 between 15 and 20 acres. Now, he would ask, who would suffer most by these measures of the Government in the parish of Christchurch? He would ask, whether those 246 persons would not suffer according to their 1264 means far more than himself, if any depreciation should take place in the value of produce in consequence of the passing of this measure. With regard to the right rev. Prelates, he would remind them that they were the guardians of the interests of the parochial clergy. To those interests they were bound to attend, though on this question the interests of the parochial clergy and their own might not be the same. Some of the right rev. Prelates had fixed incomes; but every clergyman by the Commutation of Tithe Act was paid, not by a fixed income, but according to the old quantity of grain raised when agriculture was comparatively imperfect; and they would be paid according to the new price, however depreciated it might be after the passing of this Bill. He was, moreover, apprehensive of the danger likely to be incurred by making this country dependent on foreign nations for food in time of war; and to show that fear was not altogether imaginary, he would refer to a correspondence that took place between the Earl of Suffolk and Mr. Harris (the noble Lord's ancestor), at a time when the latter Gentleman was British Minister at Prussia, in the time of Frederick the Great. A Treaty was made with Queen Anne, and confirmed by the Treaty of Utrecht, by which Dantzic came into the power of Frederick, who immediately caused very high duties to be placed upon the imports of British goods; and on being remonstrated with by Mr. Harris on behalf of his Government, Frederick the Great caused the ports of Dantzic to be completely closed up against the British. This was done at a time when it was the only place that this country could obtain any corn from. He did not wish to speak harshly against the Prime Minister. He did not wish to impute dishonest or dishonourable feeling to him; but it was a deplorable fact when the Prime Minister came down to the House of Commons and made the appalling confession that for thirty years, and during the reign of four Sovereigns (to use his own words), he had misgoverned and misguided this country. But if he did not impute dishonesty to the right hon. Baronet, what could he say of his judgment and courage? What had been the effect upon his party of this conduct? Was that the Minister for whom their Lordships would sacrifice their conscientious convictions? Was that the Minister for whom the Peers were to become converted without being convinced? As a plain country gentleman, he must say, that such a Minis- 1265 ter and such a man he would neither support, nor follow, nor serve. Had such a Bill as this been called for by the country? The verdict as to protection and free trade was given by the people in 1841. There had been no general election since that year; but every single election that had lately occurred had gone to prove that the people had no confidence in the Minister, and that the constituencies were anxious to dismiss those former representatives by whom they had been deceived and betrayed. But if he were wrong in this statement, the real opinion of the people was easily ascertained; and it was their Lordships' duty to ascertain it. The House of Lords had been made, by the Constitution of the country, a bulwark against the tyranny of the Crown on the one hand, and the encroachments of the people on the other. If they gave way, on the one hand, to the allurements of the Minister, either to save him from voluntary and disgraceful difficulties; or on the other hand, to the rash impatience of the people themselves, they at once abolished the conditions by which they were created. But he would never believe that such could be the case, for their course was, by the Constitution, and by the laws of the country, made so easy, that they could not mistake it. This Bill had been sent to them by a clear majority of the House of Commons; but he denied that it had been sent to them by a clean majority. To such a measure, so sent up to them, he could not give his assent. If, on the other hand, they forced the Minister to a dissolution, and a new House of Commons sent up a Bill which had passed by a clean majority, he should, in that case, feel it to be his duty, as an English Peer, to bow to the decision of an undoubted and indubitable majority of the English people.
The EARL of HADDINGTON
assured their Lordships that his anxiety to address the House when the noble Earl who had just sat down had risen with him, did not proceed from any notion that he was about to perform a very agreeable duty. Neither in that or the other House had he ever risen with more unfeigned reluctance or with feelings of greater pain. That reluctance and that pain did not proceed from any doubt or hesitation in his own mind as to the line of conduct he had pursued; but arose from feelings of the deepest regret at finding himself opposed to so great a number of their Lordships for whom he felt the greatest respect, with whom he entertained so many opinions in 1266 common, and with whom it had been for so many years his pleasure as well as his pride to act. The noble Earl who spoke the last but one, towards the conclusion of his speech uttered a sentiment in which he entirely concurred—that it was well for the country that in public opinion consistency and character were combined together. He concurred in that sentiment; but like many other sound opinions, if carried out to its utmost consequences, it might deter men from avowing even an honest change of opinion, which it could never be derogatory to a man's character to avow under any circumstances, if the change were honest, and which on questions of pure expediency, like that before the House—for he denied that it involved any of those great principles which some noble Lords, in a spirit of such astonishing exaggeration, had connected with it—he should never be ashamed to avow. But how far he had changed his opinions on the Corn Laws he would now beg leave to state, for he thought that noble Lords on the cross benches would not insist upon judging his present conduct by their opinions on the subject, but rather by his own. He had for a number of years before the formation of the present Government been of opinion, that there had been a great deal of exaggeration on both sides of the question. He had not given vent to his opinions in Parliament, perhaps, for he really forgot how long it was since he had made a speech on the subject.
The EARL of HADDINGTON
had not the slightest recollection of having made a speech on the Corn Laws in 1841.
The EARL of HADDINGTON
That might be, but he had no recollection of having made a speech on the Corn Law for many years. However, he had long been in the habit of expressing his opinion to his friends in private conversation, that the repeal of the Corn Laws would make no great difference to the landed interest, and that agriculture would not be injured, were it not for the panic which would accompany the change. That panic once allayed, matters, he thought, would go on pretty much as before. He was bound in fairness to state, also, that he thought there was much exaggeration upon this subject in the views of the manufacturers; 1267 for he could not believe that the alternate seasons of depression and prosperity, of abundance and glut, were to be attributed to the Corn Law; and he thought that, if any injury to the manufacturers had been derived from protection, they must not stop short at the Corn Law, when it must be attributed also to the protection which they were so very anxious to maintain to their own interests. With these opinions he came to London on the 31st of last October; illness had prevented him from attending the Cabinet Council held on that day; but he had attended that of the 1st of November, when this question was discussed. Now, unquestionably, with respect to Ireland he did not think at that time that the Cabinet had sufficient information to enable them to adopt so strong and extensive a measure as this; but, though he did not think that the state of Ireland was a sufficiently strong ground of itself for adopting so strong a measure, he must own that he had heard with great surprise the doubts which had been thrown, in the course of the debate, on the state of destitution of the people in that unhappy country. He held in his hand a statement of the prices of potatoes up to the 24th of March throughout the country, which had only that day been laid on the Table, and he must say that it was a most alarming statement. However, he did not found the justification of the course he was now following on the state of Ireland. If, therefore, the right hon. Baronet had told his Colleagues, without any reference to the state of Ireland at all, that his opinions on the Corn Laws had changed, that he held them to be impolitic to the landed interest, and unjust to the rest of the community, and that he was anxious that his Colleagues should reconsider the whole question with reference to the final adjustment of it, he (the Earl of Haddington) should not have been surprised at that statement; he would not have shrunk from that inquiry, but would have gone cheerfully into it, and have expressed no difference of opinion from his right hon. Friend. Well, two of his noble Friends adhered strongly to their opinions against any change in the Corn Laws, and the Government was broken up: but if, after the statement of his right hon. Friend to his Colleagues, the Government had gone on and been a united Government, he should have consented to form a part of it, and for these reasons: he felt that the Corn Laws were gone—that they were doomed from the moment 1268 that, in addition to that great accession of strength which those who opposed them had gained in public opinion, his right hon. Friend had thrown the weight of his great authority into the scale against them. Then there had arisen great apprehensions in the course of the month that had elapsed on the subject of the peace and prosperity of the manufacturing districts, and considerable alarm of a stagnation of trade, which was coincident with the alarm arising out of the railway speculations; and that was one of the elements which had led to his decision. Moreover, when his right hon. Friend opened to the Cabinet the whole plan of his policy, he (the Earl of Haddington) certainly felt that that made an entirely new question of it. Still, he had some apprehensions, and his apprehensions were founded on the effect the change in the policy of the Cabinet was likely to have on the Conservative party. The question then was, "Shall this subject be brought forward by the right hon. Baronet as head of Her Majesty's Government; or shall he resign, and shall it be brought forward by another Government already pledged to free trade?" He certainly had felt that the great Conservative body of this country would be more offended by seeing the right hon. Baronet advocating, out of office, the principles of free trade, than they would be by seeing him proposing boldly, as Minister, that which was the result of his own honest convictions. However, the Government was broken up; the noble Lord on whom Her Majesty laid Her commands to form a Government, attempted to do so and failed, and the Government of Sir Robert Peel was reinstated. He (the Earl of Haddington) did not think, after what he had already stated, that he need give any explanation as to his conduct in continuing to hold office. For himself he would say, in the most solemn manner, that in the course he had adopted, he had not been actuated by any love of office whatever; for he was not only ready, but should be glad to lay down office to-morrow, and remain a private man for the rest of his life; and certainly there was nothing that any Minister could do for him, or advise Her Majesty to do for him, that could compensate for the loss of his fortune, which must follow from this measure, if the apprehensions of the noble Lords on the cross benches were realized; for the greater part of his rents were paid on the price of corn in the county 1269 town, and consequently, if this measure caused a depreciation of 20 percent in prices, as the noble Lords on the cross benches held it would do, he should lose one-fifth of his income. He must say that there had been much exaggeration on the part of several noble Lords who had opposed this measure, as to the results which might be anticipated from it. Some noble Lords had not been content with prophesying that all manner of evils would follow the adoption of the principle of free trade, so far as the prosperity of the agricultural interest was concerned, but they had also prophesied ruin and destruction to Church and State, and had predicted that it would eventually lead to general anarchy and confusion. His noble Friend on the cross benches (the Duke of Richmond), had opened this formidable battery of awful prophecies, and had concluded his speech by a tremendous announcement of the evils which were to follow the adoption of this Bill. [The Duke of RICHMOND: I referred to the results of clamour and agitation.] His noble Friend was followed in this course by the noble Duke who sat next him; and he must own that, to his no small astonishment, the example was also followed by his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) in one of the most able speeches he had ever heard in that House. That noble Lord had displayed first-rate Parliamentary talent; and this display had been most gratifying to him (the Earl of Haddington), when he considered the character of that noble Lord, and the high position he was one day destined to fill in this country. Although he lamented that the formidable battery of that noble Lord's eloquence had been directed against the present measure, and though he thought much of his argument erroneous, misapplied, and exaggerated, he had been rejoiced to see the strong Conservative principle maintained throughout his speech. That noble Lord (Lord Stanley) read an extract from the speech of a radical man, delivered at some meeting of the Anti-Corn-Law League. He must own he was astonished that his noble Friend should illustrate his argument by quoting that man's speech. He had no doubt that man expressed his sincere convictions; but he spoke excessive nonsense, and that his noble Friend knew very well. If he (the Earl of Haddington) believed that his right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) was pursuing his present course from a cowardly submission to the clamour of the Anti-Corn-Law League, or that he 1270 would follow up this measure by further submission to the same body, no human power could induce him to become a consenting party to this Bill. He was convinced that the evils and dangers anticipated by his noble Friends as likely to result from the adoption of this Bill, were much more likely to ensue if their Lordships threw out the measure. His decided opinion was—and it was an opinion he had long entertained—that the principle of free trade in corn had been growing in favour with the people of this country. He believed that a large portion of the landed interest itself had ceased to apprehend any evil consequences from the adoption of that principle, and were anxious for a settlement of the question. This Bill had been sent up by a majority of nearly 100 from the other House of Parliament, and he considered that very serious consequences might ensue from its rejection by their Lordships. The Government were told that they ought to have appealed to the country on the question. It was very easy for irresponsible Members of that House to talk of appeals to the country on a question which, as it materially affected the food of the people, must necessarily give rise to great agitation and excitement; but he believed that if Sir R. Peel and his Colleagues had determined upon appealing to the country, they would have taken a most fatal course. He admitted that the Government had incurred great responsibility in bringing forward this measure; but he thought that responsibility would have been greatly increased if they had thrown the whole question open to agitation at a time when the feelings of the people were much excited on the subject. Why, he would like to know, was not the House of Commons competent to deal with the subject? The Government had been charged by the noble Earl near him with misleading the people, with misleading the constituencies, and with misleading their supporters in 1841, by not declaring what their intentions were. Undonbtedly, if at that time the Government had had any intention of proposing a measure of this kind, it would have been most unbecoming and disgraceful if they had not given some intimation of their views; but the fact was they had not entertained any such intention, for Sir R. Peel had openly and boldly avowed a complete change of opinion on this question. [The Duke of RICHMOND: Hear, hear.] His noble Friend on the cross benches cheered 1271 that statement. Did not the noble Duke believe that Sir R. Peel had changed his opinion? It was impossible to doubt that his right hon. Friend's conduct had been dictated by a strong and sincere sense of public duty. What earthly object could he have in proposing such a measure as this? Could it be conceived that a man of great sagacity and foresight, occupying the highest position in the kingdom, possessing the confidence of his Sovereign, of his party, and of the country, would wantonly, like a madman, throw away his power, without any assignable motive? He was convinced, that before many years had elapsed, it would be acknowledged that his right hon. Friend had done more essential service to this country than any Minister for a long series of years. He certainly should be glad if it were in his power to deal with the details of this question in such a manner as to carry conviction to the minds of any of their Lordships; but he must own he felt very unequal to it; he was but a very poor political economist. But those who had addressed the House had already done ample justice to the measure itself, and none more than a noble Earl on the other side of the House, who spoke early in the debate, and who made a speech of the most distinguished ability, showing a most consummate knowledge of the subject. A noble Friend of his, stung by the eloquent eulogium pronounced last night upon Sir R. Peel by a noble and learned Lord, and fearful that the disposition to indulge in personalities might die away in the course of this dull debate, had, following the example of the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond), discussed the distinction between the personal honour and the public character of statesmen. He thought it would have been more becoming in his noble Friend to have adhered to his resolution of not indulging in personalities, especially considering the vote which the noble Marquess was about to give, and the friends around him were about to give; and considering that though Sir R. Peel had excited so strong a feeling among his friends and supporters, he, at least, brought forward a measure which the noble Marquess had proclaimed that he considered as the best that had ever been brought forward. [Lord NORMANBY: No, no!] That might not be the opinion of the noble Marquess; but he thought he had heard several other noble Lords on the opposite side of the House make such a statement. If he might judge, in particular, from the 1272 speech of a noble Earl whom he did not then see in his place (Earl Fitzwilliam), the noble Lords opposite had not much fault to find with the Bill—except that they would have preferred an immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. [The Marquess of Normanby intimated his dissent.] The noble Marquess shook his head; but he (the Earl of Haddington) suspected that the noble Marquess stood alone among his noble Friends—for certainly some of them had stated that they thought it would be a great deal better to have immediate repeal. There was no doubt, however, that the noble Lord was pledged to support the principle of the Bill; and accordingly it would have evidenced a more generous and liberal feeling if the noble Marquess had kept himself to that, and not indulged in personalities. He conceived that the great object of the Corn Law was to prevent fluctuation, to secure steadiness of price, and to make us independent of foreign nations. Now, with all the attention he had been able to pay to this question, he could not find that it had answered any one of those objects. He did believe that the Corn Law had to a certain degree—by having gained the confidence of the agricultural body—contributed to the improvement of the land. He meant that it had induced the agriculturist to invest capital in improvement. That opinion he still retained; but he did maintain that the change which was now proposed was much more likely to secure steady prices than the present law. He did not believe that fluctuations could ever be altogether avoided, for as long as they had changeable seasons they would have fluctuations; but he believed that by a free trade in corn; by the quantity which happened to be wanted, and which the interests of parties induced them to send to this country at the time when it was wanted; by its coming in equally at all times, would secure a greater steadiness of price than at present. The tendency of the sliding-scale, and indeed of all protection, was to accumulate a vast quantity of corn, and to inundate the market, perhaps at the most inconvenient moment, by the introduction of a large quantity of grain when it was not wanted. Why, he recollected that on one occasion 1,200,000 quarters, out of an importation of 1,800,000 quarters, were let into the market in one week, to the great injury of the farmer, who had sold the greater part of his crop at a low, or, at all events, a very reasonable price, in the 1273 hope that, at that part of the season, when the prices of grain generally rose, he would be able to indemnify himself, but who was deprived of this benefit, probably, by some trick of the market. With respect to the question of foreign supply, he was unwilling to go over the ground which other noble Lords had gone over in a manner which he could not hope to emulate; but he must say that he had no apprehension of not having a supply from abroad when it was wanted. The instance mentioned last night by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) of 1,500,000 quarters having found their way into this country in 1810, principally from France, was a strong proof of the groundlessness of the apprehension. His noble Friend who spoke last instanced a negotiation of his able and distinguished father, in 1773, at the Court of Berlin, and said that Frederick the Great determined, in spite of all the advice given him by his Ministers and diplomatists, to close the port of Dantzic. That was an isolated case, and could have no very important consequences; but there was now a public opinion even in absolute monarchies, which could not with impunity be defied. When it was for the benefit of the people that the Prussian ports should be opened, the King would never refuse it, or expose his people to any inconvenience or distress. With respect to excessive importations from abroad, he thought the apprehensions equally unfounded. He could not imagine where they were to come from. For twenty years previous to 1842—under the absolute protection which then existed—there had been enormous importations—in one year, for instance, to the extent of nearly 3,000,000 quarters; and he did not see how any increase could possibly occur under the proposed Bill—for where was it to come from? His noble Friend (Lord Stanley) had gone back to the days of Edward IV. to show that protection had always prevailed in this country. He (the Earl of Haddington) would not go so far back, but would at once admit that, taking one period with another, that principle had regulated our legislation. That was true; but at the same time it had been constantly found necessary to change it, either in compliance with the wishes of the farmers, or from other causes; and even at periods when the protection was very low indeed, so low as to be almost nominal, not less than 3,000,000 more acres were brought into cultivation, in consequence of the increase of population. Had we not the 1274 same growing market now? He firmly believed that the increase of population would fully counterbalance any pressure that might at first arise from the passing of this measure. On the other hand, if its effect should be to bring corn within the means of thousands of our poorer fellow countrymen, that would be a source of gratification to every benevolent heart. It was a fallacy to assert that the prosperity of the agricultural interest was solely to be measured by the price of wheat; and he felt quite convinced that if corn were at a reasonable price the landlords would still get as good rents, and the fanners make as good profits. The authority of the late Lord Spencer had been quoted, to the effect that a repeal of the Corn Laws would not cause a fall of prices. That might be going too far; but this he would say, that he did believe if there was at first a slight depression, it would ultimately be counteracted; besides that there would be an improved system of husbandry, and a general prosperity in agriculture. It had been said that Her Majesty's Government were seeking, by unfair means, to induce their Lordships to agree to this Bill. He could assure them that they had no desire that their Lordships should give any but an honest verdict. But at the same time he thought they were bound to consider the time and the circumstances in which this measure was introduced. He did not believe that it would in the slightest degree diminish the legitimate influence of the aristocracy. He respected the important services they had rendered to their country; and he should heartily grieve that any thing should occur which could lessen in the slightest degree their influence with their neighbours in the country. It was, however, because he entertained these sentiments that he would regard with so much alarm the alternative of their Lordships throwing this Bill out. He did believe that they would be entering on a hopeless conflict for the maintenance of a Corn Law, and that in such a contest they could not but be ultimately defeated. If this Bill were thrown out, nothing would be more likely than that those noble Lords who seemed so much to desire a dissolution would have the benefit of it, and that there would be a general election. His own impression was that the return of a new Parliament would show an overwhelming majority in favour of free trade, and that their Lordships would, under that pressure, be in a manner compelled to pass 1275 the Bill. Indeed, most of their Lordships who had spoken had stated that if the country really and deliberately decided in favour of free trade, the House would be compelled to accede to their request. Well, in the event of a general election, they would be directly and obviously yielding to pressure from without. Government had been taunted with yielding to the clamours of the Anti-Corn-Law League. Government had done no such thing. The League had been clamouring for he did not know how many years before the Government took the least notice of it. Let him be allowed to tell the House that the great success of the Anti-Corn-Law League was a fact which it was impossible either for the Government, or for their Lordships, or for the other House of Parliament, to overlook. The League was set a going by a company of gentlemen whose proceedings he was not there to defend; on the contrary, he deprecated the language which they had held — he disliked the views and opinions which they entertained as much as could any of their Lordships. He disliked the principle of agitation—of organized agitation—as much as the noble Duke on the cross benches; but there were a great number of persons who had joined the League—of all shades of political opinion, and all classes of society—men, indeed, belonging to classes whose interest it was, as much as it was the interest of any, that the peace of the country should be maintained. Thousands of such persons were members of the League, with no feelings whatever—with no ulterior views whatever—other than the achievement of a free trade in corn. And how had they succeeded? Two short years ago, in Manchester and Liverpool, they met with little sympathy. Was that the case now? Their Lordships would recollect the thousands and thousands of pounds subscribed, not only at Manchester, but throughout the country, for the sake of obtaining free trade; but besides this, he had seen very considerable changes in the opinion of the landed interest itself. The farmers appeared to wish only for a settlement of the question, and if they were alarmed at the possible effects of the Bill, no such eager demand for a settlement would be made; conscious as they must be that total Corn Law repeal was the only way by which the great question could now be disposed of. Throughout this debate he had been principally pained by the injustice done to his right hon. Friend at the head of the Go- 1276 vernment. Now, he did not think that there ever was a Minister at the head of affairs in this country who was more exclusively desirous of doing his duty—of being guided only by his sense of what was right, irrespective of anything else. He had been in the Cabinet between four and five years, and he could not be mistaken on the point. Never was there a Minister of greater and more unimpeachable integrity than the right hon. Baronet. He believed, too, that he was a man of the profoundest sagacity. [Laughter.] He would ask noble Lords who laughed how long it was since they entertained a different opinion upon the subject? He repeated that his right hon. Friend was a man of great political wisdom—he had the greatest confidence in his judgment; and their Lordships would recollect that it was not long since they had entertained the same feeling. It did not become him to prophesy; but he could only say, that if his right hon. Friend was right in his anticipations of what would be the result of the measure, he would turn out to be a great benefactor to the people of this country, and to no class more than to that of the landed aristocracy. The Government had been taunted with not having stated the probable results of their measure—with not having stated their expectations as to the probable price of corn. Now, a more preposterous and unreasonable proposition than to attempt to make the Government do anything of the sort he had never heard. When the Corn Bills of 1815, of 1822, of 1828, even of 1842, were introduced, nobody pretended to state exactly what he conceived the prices of corn would be. True, his right hon. Friend, in proposing the existing Corn Bill, anticipated in general terms that corn would fluctuate between 54s. and 58s.; but the result had not turned out to be so. There was, therefore, no inducement to attempt to predict the probable prices of corn admitted free, when so little success had attended the anticipations which had been indulged in as to its probable cost when they had at all events a fixed rate of duty to guide them in their calculations. Although, then, a Minister might be fairly expected to say that he anticipated generally beneficial results from the measure, it was preposterous to ask him to enter into minute details as to those expected advantages. He thanked the House for the attention with which they had heard him; and he could assure them that he had never given a vote with less hesitation than 1277 he would that to affirm the proposition of Government.
The MARQUESS of NORMANBY
rose to explain: His noble Friend who had just sat down had completely misrepresented him—had put words which he never uttered into his mouth—had made him express opinions which he had never entertained, and had also imputed motives to him which would be most unworthy if they were not most improbable and absurd. He must, therefore, beg for a moment's attention to set himself right with their Lordships. His noble Friend had found fault with him because he had commented on the public character of the Prime Minister, stating that he (the Marquess of Normanby) had used strong and injurious language towards a man who was advancing the measure which he (the Marquess of Normanby) considered best for the interests of the country. When his noble Friend made that statement, he had, in a manner not unusual in the House, interrupted him by exclaiming "No." Upon which his noble Friend had stated that he (the Marquess of Normanby) saw no distinction between a fixed duty and a sliding-scale. What he (the Marquess of Normanby) had stated was, that he should have preferred a fixed duty, and that if a fixed duty could not be imposed, he should have preferred the immediate extinction of any duty at all. Then, as to the more important point in his noble Friend's speech, in which improper motives had been imputed to him. He had differed with his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) upon the question of the qualities to be looked for in a statesman, and he felt it his duty to express that difference of opinion; but he could not admit that anything he had said could be called personal. What he had stated was, that Sir Robert Peel had for the last three years done everything in his power to retard the progress of such measures as the present, and that he did not think it was of such stuff that the Ministers of this country should be made.
§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
(who rose with Earl Grey) said he could assure their Lordships that it was with very great regret that he interfered with his noble Friend, feeling that his noble Friend was so much more worthy from his great abilities, his extensive acquaintance with all Parliamentary subjects, as well as being more accustomed to public speaking than himself, of occupying the attention of the House at that late hour. He supposed he 1278 must begin his address like almost every other noble Lord who had spoken on the subject by expressing his regret—Prologues precede the piece in mournful verse—that he was compelled to array himself in opposition to many noble Friends of his with whom he had been in habits of alliance, and between whom and himself there always had existed a good understanding. But he confessed he then found himself divided from them by circumstances over which he had no control. He gave them every possible credit for being influenced by the most honourable motives, as public men, in the course which they were pursuing; and having said so much, he thought he had a right, as a public man, to express his own sentiments on so important a subject as the present—a subject in which the general interest of the country was so deeply concerned; and he only regretted that he should be obliged to ask their Lordships' attention at such a late hour of the night. He did not believe their Lordships were more interested in the question than the humblest man in the community. Nay, he felt convinced that the lower they descended in the social scale, the more the individual was concerned. He conceived that those who were opposing this measure, were the real protectors of the poor. It was not the poorer class who were urging on the question: it was the rich manufacturers—it was the aristocracy of wealth that was interested in abolishing protection; and in the contest between two classes of aristocracy, it was the poor man that was likely to be the sufferer; and, therefore, it was, that he said that his noble Friends who agreed with him on this question were the real protectors of the poor man. It was the power of wealth that was urging on this measure—it was the power of the steam-engine, which with its wonderful and varied applications led the manufacturers to believe that if they could lower the price of food and fuel, they could flood the markets of the world. In the most democratic of countries, America, the principles of protection were stedfastly maintained. To one exposition of those principles he should refer. There were publications which represented the views generally entertained by communities. The Times newspaper, for instance, might be quoted as an organ always expressing public opinion in this country. Now, he should quote the American Times. [The noble Earl then read 1279 a quotation describing the protective system as purely democratic in its tendency, as fostering industry, as enabling the poor man to acquire a competency, as designed not for the few, but for the many, and, though productive of common good, as conferring its peculiar blessings upon the lower classes.] To these opinions he fully subscribed; and he believed their Lordships were influenced in the views which they took upon the present question not as one involving their own interests, but by a desire for the common good. If he were to look to his own interests, he should benefit by a measure which for a period lowered the value of property; for then as a great proprietor he should be able to put his hands upon the surrounding small properties. The small proprietor was, he feared, often in debt, and his property mortgaged, thus depending on a small balance; and when that was swept away his property must come into the market. It was the small proprietor, therefore, more than any other, that their Lordships were called on to defend. This country had flourished under the protective system. They saw by the statistics which were on their Lordships' Table, that the system of protection had advanced the shipping, the commercial, the manufacturing, the agricultural, and in fact all the other great interests of the country. Though it was said the farmers had not made such a progress as other classes in improvement, he would show them by a few facts how the agriculturists of this country had discharged their duty, of providing sufficient food for an increasing population, and giving the poor man cheap bread—cheaper than he ever would have under any system of free trade; that they had succeeded in keeping pace with the wants of an increasing population in a manner which was quite astonishing, at prices which had diminished. In 1825 the population of England was about 16,000,000, and the average price of corn 60s. a quarter. In 1835 they had increased to 18,000,000, and the price of corn was 56s.; and in 1845, with a population of 20,000,000, the price of corn was 52s. Then, again, the produce of the country under the protective system had increased from 3,900,000 quarters of wheat to 5,800,000. As another proof of the elastic character of the resources of the country under the same system of protection, he would instance the revenue maintaining its equality with the public expenditure notwithstanding the 1280 great reduction of taxation. Sir R. Peel, speaking in 1844, said "the elasticity of commerce to meet a decreased revenue, had been produced by the condemned system of the Corn Laws; and the question was whether that could be a radically vicious system under which commerce had been so extraordinarily elastic that it had maintained the revenue, notwithstanding the great diminution of taxation." This being established, he would show that the price in this country of food other than bread had decreased under the present system. He held in his hand a return of the contracts for Greenwich Hospital in 1791–2, and 1841–4–5. The result was most extraordinary. The whole ration in 1792 consisted of flour nine ounces, bread fifteen ounces, and meat four and a half ounces; and the cost then was 6d. per ration. Now the ration consisted of beef or mutton thirteen ounces, bread sixteen ounces, potatoes one pound, cocoa three-quarters of an ounce, and moist sugar three-quarters of an ounce, and the cost of the ration was only 7d. and three-sixteenths. He maintained, therefore, that food had been made cheaper under a system of protection. His noble Friend had alluded last night to the capital invested in agriculture; but in addition to his noble Friend's statement, he would mention there had been an enormous increase in the shipping employed for the use of agriculture, there being in 1845 no less than 679 ships of 219,764 tons, and having 11,434 seamen engaged in the guano trade alone, no small proof of the exertions making to raise food to meet the wants of a growing population. He would also venture to speak of that disputed point, the condition of the labourer. He had taken great pains to acquire accurate information on this point, and he could assure their Lordships that in many respects it was much better than formerly. Many of the aged poor in his own neighbourhood had stated that sixty or seventy years ago they never remembered to have seen wheaten bread—in fact it was impossible to conceive anything more wretched than was the condition of that part of the country; no roads, the country unenclosed, the farmer killing and salting down the meat neeessary for his winter supply—no stock of any kind could be kept except during the summer months. Now under the system of protection, what a contrast! That whole district has been drained, enclosed, and brought into cultivation; and 1281 in consequence the poor were fully employed and well fed. But the truth was, that with respect to the condition of the labourer, whether agricultural or manufacturing, they must look at the condition of those above him, and see what were their profits, before they could form a right judgment as to the portion of those profits which should belong to the labourer. Their Lordships must know well that there was no description of employment in which profits were so small as in agriculture; and having himself had some experience, he was prepared to say, speaking generally, that from 10s. to 12s. per week was the highest rate of wages that could possibly be afforded out of those profits. Another important question on this subject was whether the rate of wages was regulated by the price of food. This was a question much controverted, and he was satisfied that both the parties who discussed it were right. He was satisfied that with respect to the wages of the manufacturing labourer the price of corn had little to do; but not so with the agricultural labourer. There were three ingredients that formed the value of labour—skill, demand, and price of food. The skilful and ingenious mechanic could get high wages, because he was skilful and ingenious, without reference to the price of food. When manufactures were prosperous, skilful labourers were in great demand; and they were engaged at high wages without reference to the price of food. But agricultural labour required, comparatively speaking, no great skill; all the labourers in this respect were pretty much alike; and during a large portion of the year their labour was of very little profit, under which circumstances it was true that an important ingredient in the calculation of their wages was the price of food. It was evident, therefore, that, in the agricultural districts, wages would oscillate with the price of food; whilst the manufacturer, whose machinery was perpetually in motion, and who made his profits from the quantity of his produce sold, would be indifferent as to the price of food. He would say, also, that it was a most important thing for the labourer that the price of corn should not fall excessively low, for if it did, his condition must be seriously injured. Another portion of the question was the influence of prices on the rate of mortality. He held in his hand a pamphlet written by a manufacturer of the name of Barker, 1282 from which it appeared that, in the manufacturing districts, the annual number of deaths in a population of 1,000,000 was 21,860 when the price of wheat was under 50s. a quarter; 20,618 when the price was between 50s. and 60s.; 20,030 when the price was between 60s. and 70s.; 19,502 when the price was between 70s. and 80s.; 19,873 when the price was between 80s. and 90s.; 19,206 when the price was between 90s. and 100s.; but when the price was above 100s., the rate of mortality began to increase again. It further appeared that the same result wss observable in the agricultural districts, although not in precisely the same degree. The cause of this was, to his mind, evident. A low price of corn threw numbers out of employ—their health was injured from their deteriorated condition; a high price produced the same effect from a different cause; he feared it was, that the wages did not rise sufficiently to meet the cost of food. It was clear, therefore, that the middle or moderate price was the best for the health and comfort of the poor. He had now stated quite enough to show the state and condition of this question; and he boldly asserted, without fear of contradiction, that the Empire had been in a most flourishing condition under the Corn Laws, and so continued to be. Then why were they to make a change? And this was a question he had not yet heard answered. It was originally stated that Ireland was in such a condition that it was necessary to do something to supply that country with food; and at first sight he had thought there was a necessity for some alteration. It was not, however, necessary, after all that had transpired, to go into the question whether there was a famine in Ireland; for that plea had been abandoned by the Minister in the other House of Parliament, and in this they had heard little about it. Sir R. Peel stated in his last speech upon that subject, "that he did not rest his support of that Bill upon the temporary ground of the scarcity in Ireland;" so that that argument in favour of the proposed change might be considered to have been abandoned by Her Majesty's Government. His noble and learned Friend opposite (Lord Brougham) had said that the distress in Ireland was much less than had at one time been apprehended, in consequence of the introduction into that country, under the direction of Her Majesty's Ministers, of a large quantity of maize, giving credit to the Government for having, as 1283 he supposed, checked the progress of famine. Now, he (the Earl of Hardwicke) found that only 53,000 quarters of maize had been imported into Ireland since the commencement of the month of January up to the present time; whereas it appeared from a return which he held in his hand, that the following exports of corn and of flour and oatmeal, from Ireland, had taken place during the months of April and May last:—In April 19,540 quarters of wheat, and in May 33,372 quarters; in April, 10,148 quarters of barley, and in May 11,089 quarters; in April, 80,803 quarters of oats, and in May, 93,888 quarters; in April, 89,000 cwts. of flour, and in May, 101,898 cwts.; in April, 50,360 cwts. of oatmeal, and in May, 69,194 cwts.; so that the quantity of maize imported into Ireland, by order of the Government, bore but a very small proportion to the amount of produce which had been sent out of that Country, showing more clearly than any words or arguments, that no want of food existed at any late period in that country. His noble and learned Friend opposite (Lord Brougham), had said that his opinions upon the subject of the Corn Laws had never varied.
said, that what he had stated was, that he had always been opposed to the sliding-scale.
§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
continued.—He found that in the year 1827 his noble and learned Friend, according to the reports of the debates in the other House, had made a most eloquent speech in favour of the sliding-scale. He spoke at such length and so strongly in its favour, with that pleasing excitement which always gave such satisfaction, and with such liveliness of manner, that, according to the report, there was such coughing in the House, and such interruption, that the progress of his noble and learned Friend's speech was stopped, and he (Lord Brougham) "hoped that the Gentlemen who interrupted him would abstain from further impediments—their efforts would only affect themselves, and bring on colds and coughs to-morrow from unnecessary exhaustion." He knew the importance of the opinions of his noble and learned Friend; and though he had forgotten, amongst the immense number of speeches he had made, this particular advocacy of the sliding-scale, he must be as fully excused as others who did not recollect a speech made at a former time.
rose to borrow the volume of Hansard, saying he was very 1284 curious to read the speech, because his noble Friend had only said that he was prevented from making it, and had not read any argument from it.
§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
resumed. The noble and learned Lord entered into some calculations respecting the exports of corn to this country from Dantzic. He said that the charges above the price of the corn would be 10s., viz., 5s. for freight, 2s. for insurance, and 3s. for other charges. But that was very inaccurate; a more exact estimate showed that the charges amounted to no more than 6s. 4½d.
explained, that that was not his calculation; for, on the contrary, it was the argument used by his opponents. They contended that if the price at Dantzic were 30s., and the charges 10s., certain results would ensue; to that he replied, that they could not tell whether the price at Dantzic would be 30s. after the English Corn Laws were repealed.
§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
said, that he was merely taking those parts of the noble and learned Lord's speech which seemed to him to require contradiction. He should now, however, go to another portion of the subject, namely, fluctuation of price, and its effect upon the small farmers. The industrious and honest farmer depended more upon the steadiness of price than upon anything else. He must pay his rents out of his yearly profits; and the moment the price fell below a certain amount, he would be completely destroyed; and he could, from references to documents which he held in his hand, easily show that the existing Corn Law had maintained prices in England more steadily than in any other part of the world similarly circumstanced. He would refer to Philadelphia, as an instance,—a country which did not grow enough of corn for its own consumption, to point out the effects of a free-trade policy in producing fluctuations of price. From 1834 to 1840 the fluctuation in that country was 47 per cent; while in England during the same period it was only 33 per cent; and the extreme septennial fluctuation in Philadelphia was 270 per cent; while in England it was only 207 per cent. It had been said, however, that the tenant-farmer had nothing to do with that portion of the question: that the landlords had only to reduce their rents, and that would settle the matter. Upon that subject his noble Friend behind him (Lord Stanley) had said all that was requisite; and he (the Earl of Hardwicke) might add 1285 that if the incomes of their Lordships were reduced but one-fourth the consequences to the country and to the manufacturing interests would be disastrous in the extreme. In a correspondence which had taken place between Mr. Senior and Colonel Torrens, one of the great political economists of the day, he stated that the effect of a reduction of rents would be that, with that reduction in rent, there would be a corresponding reduction in the value of the industry of the labouring man, and a reduction in the price of his labour. In that opinion he (the Earl of Hardwicke) entirely concurred. The most important question that remained for consideration was the absolute necessity of keeping this country independent of foreign countries. That wise policy had been the policy of our ancestors for ages past, and had led to the settlement of the present Royal Family upon the Throne; for it was to render us independent of Popish influence that caused the settlement of the Crown to the exclusion of the Stuarts. Were not all the evils which had befallen this country attributable to either foreign connexion or foreign interference? Our enormous debt had arisen from these causes alone. He would trespass on their Lordships but one moment more for the purpose of calling their attention to their own position. It was perfectly notorious that the present Parliament was assembled under the Government of noble Lords opposite upon the particular question now under discussion; it was the ground on which the Conservative Government came into power. Sir R. Peel, on the Motion of want of confidence, on the 31st of January, 1840, said, "Agriculture has improved since 1834. It is owing to your fostering hand (addressing the Government benches), and the manly and decided tone which you have taken on the Corn Laws. I said previously, and I now repeat, that I consider liberal protection to domestic agriculture indispensable." Speaking of the principles which would prevail if a new Government came into power, he said, "I can answer for this, that if the principles I profess do not prevail, of that Government I will become no party." This was the language used by Sir R. Peel previous to the dissolution of Parliament, and which language gave him (Lord Hardwicke) confidence in the course Sir R. Peel would pursue; this was the language which caused the great country party to rally round Sir R. Peel and overthrow the Whig Government. In his speech on the opening of the present Session, 1286 "I should have wished," he said, speaking of himself, "that another Parliament should have an opportunity of considering this question, but there did occur that during the recess which precluded me from taking that step." He then alluded to the visitation of Providence which had befallen Ireland, the consequences of which it was difficult to foresee. Ireland was the whole question. Sir Robert Peel was ready to dissolve had it not been for Ireland. Well, but that question was settled. It was, therefore, their bounden duty to afford the people of this country an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion upon this question by rejecting the Bill.
rose to explain. He found that the reports of proceedings in Parliament, at the time his noble Friend had referred to, in quoting what he represented as his (Lord Brougham's) opinions, were by no means so accurate and full as the reports of the present day; and anything equal to the nonsense that some of the speakers were made to say he had never read. The noble and learned Lord then quoted portions of speeches made by himself in the House of Commons, in March, 1827, when, instead of expressing his concurrence in the principle of the sliding-scale, he declared his approval of the principles of commercial reform which the Government had then recently entered upon, but confined within his own bosom his sentiments upon the subject of free trade; he certainly did not express his concurrence in the sliding-scale.
§ After some discussion as to the convenience of the House sitting on Wednesday (which was also the anniversary of the Restoration of Charles II., on which day the House is not accustomed to sit), debate adjourned to Thursday.
§ House adjourned.