HL Deb 23 April 1850 vol 110 cc672-3

presented petitions from several parishes in the county of Cambridge. All these petitions expressed similar sentiments, and complained of the excessive distress under which the agricultural classes were labouring. The petitioners stated that the only prospect they had was of suffering more, and in the end of encountering entire ruin. They stated that they found it totally impossible to compete with the foreign corn-grower. Those persons who had been told, when free trade was established, that they could safely embark their capital in agriculture, were now finding that they were ruined. It was said that all this was an experiment; but it was an experiment which was now being so rapidly carried out, which occasioned so much distress, and caused so many persons to be ruined, that it would not be long before the House would be called upon to give the agricultural classes some relief. Why was this relief, which was so much needed, not given? Noble Lords on the other side of the House would no doubt refer to the state of the revenue, and say that it had improved since free trade had been established. They would say that the property tax paid well, and that the commerce of the country had increased, and was still advancing. They would say that farms could be easily let, and that agricultural exertion was never greater than at the present time. He must deny that the returns of the property and income tax afforded any refutation of the fact that great distress existed throughout the country. Farms would let, no doubt, so long as men were willing to speculate upon the same principle as others speculated in the funds. He believed that there were causes in rapid progress which would enable both Houses before long to give relief to the distress of which the petitioners complained. Although the noble Lords opposite had held out hopes that prices were so low in this country that foreign corn would not be sent to our market, he was sorry to say that the facts were quite the reverse, for every day we were receiving large supplies of foreign grain. [The noble Earl then read a portion of the leading article of yesterday's Mark Lane Express, which related to the extreme depression of the corn trade—the weekly arrival of immense sup- plies of foreign grain, and showing that the consumption had not increased in consequence of low prices.] It was said that noble Lords who were opposed to free trade were alarming the public mind by the complaints of agricultural distress; but nothing could be more erroneous than this statement. It did not seem that the supply of flour in the metropolis had been increased in consequence of low prices. There was no prospect whatever of any increase in the value of agricultural produce, and no person would venture to say that the present prices would continue, without the entire ruin not only of the agricultural but of the other classes of society. A noble Earl opposite had spoken of "hanging up his coronet" rather than go back to the old system; in his opinion, however, the time was not far distant when that noble Earl would have to do so. But for what reason was it that they were to retain this theory? For the interests of the manufacturing class, which represented but 26,000,000l. of the capital of the country, while they were ruining the class which possessed 260,000,000l., and perilling every other interest in the country. From the extreme distress, however, of the agricultural classes, he derived hope that some measure would shortly be adopted for their relief.

Petitions to lie on the table.